Friday, 17 July 2015

Indiegogo and Other Crowd-Funding "Scampaigns"


Lately there has been much interest in a new method of funding projects known as "crowd-funding". This model allows people (known as "backers") from all walks of life to participate in bringing an idea to reality, usually by contributing some money towards a project for which the "creator" is asking to be funded.

There are a number of problems with this model that are damaging the future of crowd-funding, spoiling this model for legitimate honest people who wish to play by the rules.

Prevalence of Scams

Many "too-good-to-be-true" devices are being promoted. While KickStarter (KS) has some rules stating that at least a working prototype should be available, Indiegogo (IGG) has no such limitation. The site features computer 3D renders of amazing products that have no basis in reality. They may be possible in 20 to 30 years, using Star-Trek-like technology, but not today. Even Apple, one of the world's richest companies with brilliant engineers and cutting-edge technologies at their fingertips cannot do what these crowd-funding creators wish to create, and no amount of money thrown at the project will change that.

Here are various questionable campaigns from the start, which have successfully been funded with a combined take-in of millions of dollars, with NOTHING to show for it.... And this is just a drop in the bucket! 

Nano-Plug - Hearing aid:

Indiegogo NanoPlug Campaign - $249,094 USD

Airing - CPAP replacement:

Indiegogo Airing Campaign - $928,494 USD (and up)

Smarty Ring - Notification ring:

Ritot - Projection Watch:

Just a small sample of MANY MANY scams...

Categorizing Scams

Here is my way to rate various scams that I have seen. It is based on whether a product never gets delivered ("fund and run"), whether it appears to function as stated but a complete sham scientifically ("snake-oil"), if it is just a repackage of an existing product but at much higher costs and trying to pass as a new product ("rip-off") and something that promises almost impossible performance and eventually gets delivered but with nowhere the same function or appearance ("star trek").  

  • Category 1 ("snake-oil"): Dodgy devices that look and function as stated, but have no reputable scientific proof that they really work. Example: NEO Neurophone
  • Category 2 ("fund and run"): Devices that are possible with today's technology and seem deliverable, yet never get to backers. Example: ZambiLight
  • Category 3 ("rip-off"): Products that already exist, mostly cheap Chinese technology that is "repackaged" or designed to look like a new device and sold at a huge markup. Examples: Orsto 2 Smart Watch, Light Phone
  • Category 4 ("star trek"): Product impossible to create as shown, with no intention of ever being able to deliver anything close to what is being promised. Backers do not receive their "perk" at all, or if they do it is a joke. Examples: Airing, NanoPlug, Smarty Ring, Ritot Projection Watch

There are many other examples, but too exhaustive to find and list here. However, doing a search will reveal more and more undeliverable scams that fall into any of these 4 categories, and I'm sure additional categories can be formed as future scampaigns develop. There is also the "bait and switch" which can be combined with any of these categories to appease backers so they have something delivered but far inferior and a misrepresentation of what they originally intended to fund and receive.

In Conclusion

When Indiegogo campaigns have no way of delivering what people were sold, backers get angry. However after a while, one by one backers move on with their lives and learn a hard lesson from crowd-funding and probably never trust it again. On the other hand, scammers have learned to use the site to fund their retirement. Some of the largest scams, raking in MILLIONS essentially provide these criminals a lifetime jackpot. And they will do it again and again.

Crowd-funding sites, intermediaries, financial institutions handling the money, and especially creators must be made more accountable. We cannot let the "free market" decide, because TIME AND TIME AGAIN has proven that more and more people are going to be scammed. These are not the same people.... Once bitten twice shy they say. It is NEW people who just heard of crowd-funding and never were scammed before. By the time the influx of new people diminishes, it could be years and years of successful scamming and criminals (who could be associated with terrorist groups or organized crime rings) using crowd-funding to raise money to fund terrorism or as a way to launder money.


Friday, 24 January 2014

Internet Of Things

The latest rage at CES 2014 was the "Internet of Things", a term used to describe the connectivity between traditionally non-computing devices such as home appliances, entertainment systems, monitoring hardware, vehicles and various other items in your home. The pervasiveness of home Wi-Fi and cheap and small chipsets, along with innovative new ideas from the manufacturers on value-added functionality, has driven forth a whole new wave of Wi-Fi enabled devices that communicate with each other, with your phone app, and cloud-based services to help you use and manage them.

Just imagine a future where your refrigerator talks to your scale when you are over-weight, which in turn talks to your fitness watchband and your treadmill, along with your alarm clock and toothbrush, to figure out how to schedule the best time for exercise and eating correctly. Your coffee machine turns on in the morning based on your alarm clock setting, which in turn also ensures you don't forget to brush. Your "smart-fork" reminds you on how to eat properly and for how long. Perhaps it suggests to your car when you are using the GPS to look for fast-food restaurants that you may want to think about a healthier alternative, while your refrigerator orders healthy alternatives from a local grocery store. Meanwhile, your smartphone processes all this data and schedules time for exercise, reminds you of your healthy-habit goals and warns you when your metrics are not up to par. The data is also sent to your doctor who monitors your health and also monitors whether you are taking your medications correctly, which also have Wi-Fi enabled modules built into their lids. And your dentist knows exactly how long you brush and when you smoke.

Sounds absurd, doesn't it? But all this is possible with the "Internet of Things". How this technology will be used exactly is still awaiting to be seen, but with more and more devices latching into the cloud, your data will be even more transparent to the countless corporations making these devices. The data will be used to improve products, but also to establish a pattern on how you use them and I am sure it will be used for targeted marketing campaigns. The granularity of your data cloud revolving around your own individual lifestyle movements and life-patterns will be used to greater potential to manipulate your choices, for better or for worst!

Monday, 20 January 2014

iPhone 5 Nano SIM Adapter Fun

I like to switch often between my devices depending on my daily mood and for testing apps (iPhone and BlackBerry). How can you do this on different phones which may have completely different SIM card slots? A SIM Card Adapter lets you easily use the same SIM card in all your devices. The secret is to ask your carrier for the smallest SIM card available, the nano SIM for the iPhone 5! Then use the adapters to convert up the size for mini, micro and regular SIM sizes when needed! I purchased the adapter from eBay store in Hong Kong for $1.00 US, with free shipping. That is ridiculous, considering the shipping alone from Kong Kong to Canada has to be most of that cost.

Some people have reported breaking their phones using adapters, and so the video here shows you how to avoid it. Namely, do NOT make the same mistake of inserting a SIM Card Adapter into your phone without a SIM in it. This will result in snagging your gold pins in the slot when you try to remove the adapter.

If you already made the mistake, and found your way to this blog without breaking your phone, it's not too late! Try this! Some adapters have a clear plastic membrane on one side to hold the SIM card so it doesn't fall out, while others just have an open window. If your adapter is open in the middle (no clear plastic membrane) you may be able to slide it out slightly and slip your smaller SIM card into the middle of the adapter and free it up that way. Alternatively, you can try to push down the first group of 3 gold pins using a needle, slip your card out a bit and repeat on the second group of 3 gold pins.

If your SIM adapter has a clear membrane, you won't be able to slip the smaller SIM card into it. You will have to pierce through the thin clear plastic membrane on your SIM adapter (which ruins it) but at least it saves your phone. Push the gold pins in carefully while pulling on the adapter gently to bypass the first group of 3 gold pins, then repeat for the second group of 3 gold pins. Do not force the adapter out or you will rip your pins and render your device useless! Then you can either tear off the clear plastic membrane and use the adapter like an adapter without the window!

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

iPhone 5c versus BlackBerry Z10

I've been carrying both an iPhone 5c and BlackBerry Z10 for the past month and getting to use both of them extensively! One of the fringe benefits of being a mobile app developer is that you are often given free phones either as promotional incentives to develop apps or answer developer surveys, of which I do both. Having had real-world experience on both phones for some time, I can give a more informed opinion on each phone's strengths and weaknesses. This experience has been enlightening and I encourage all "fanbois" to try the same.

While most users can paint an honest picture of their phone of choice, their impression of a competitor's phone is often biased by the person's personal preference, past experience on a platform and unwillingness to change or try something new. If you are a loyal iPhone user, or BlackBerry user, sure you can write a great review on your own phone features (iOS 7 or BB10). But to try and compare to another platform without having actually used the latest version extensively is simply passing on "hearsay" and false biased opinions.

iPhone 5c (iOS 7)

This is a nice phone, even being in a plastic case and having a slower processor than the 5s. Personally if I had the choice, I would spend the extra few bucks on a 5s. I don't see why anyone would want to buy a 5c compared to a 5s unless they absolutely had to have a color (which a case can easily duplicate), or if the price difference was significant. Obviously I am not the only one, as Apple's own sales figures have concluded the same. Users just didn't feel the price difference was sufficient to justify a 5c versus a 5s. But we are comparing to a Z10 here, so let's get with it!

I found the battery life was excellent on the iPhone. Camera is good but not perfect, as I had considerably more red-eyes with the iPhone than I did with the Z10. Keep in mind, there is a red-eye removal tool, but this may be due to the close proximity of the flash and camera. Once you get into the settings on the iPhone camera, you can actually improve your photo-taking considerably, but the stock initial camera screen that most people use will take decent pictures. 

There is no doubt the hardware is blazing fast on the iPhone 5c, even though it is slower than the 5s. Games performed very well. I did have a few buggy apps which would appear to choke the system, but overall it is a smooth experience. The iPhone shines in the app department, it has a huge ecosystem. Couple that with iTunes and Podcast support, and it is built for media-consumption. While that is a big strength, it can also be a big weakness. For people who are used to manipulating data and media as needed, outside the "walled garden", it can become a challenge. There are ways to do it, even without jail-breaking the phone, but the average user will not be able to do it. 

Apps on the iPhone are gigantic, and I found that with a 16gb model I was running out of space constantly. The media-centric focus of the iPhone really requires way more space. I like having Apple's apps on the phone (iMovie, Keynote, Pages, Numbers, etc.) but they hog a huge amount of space. The games are amazing and although many good ones are free, they come with a price... you will pay with huge memory consumption. Asphalt 8? 1.5 GB used. GolfStar? 847 MB, Even Angry Birds Go comes in at a whopping 519 MB. This is a device which needs SDCard support but which is sorely lacks, unlike the BlackBerry Z10 which you can function well with on a 16gb model and add your own storage later for media (like movies and photos). If you are in the market for an iPhone, I suggest you buy the most memory you can afford.

BlackBerry Z10 (BB10)

This phone is one of the best in the market, and coupled with the QNX-powered BB10 operating system, makes it blazingly fast. The all-gesture interface elminates the need of a home button which is a sore-spot to see on an iPhone. I have to use the home-button all the time to switch between apps, use Siri, close apps and perform other functions. There is simply no need for that button and it can break which is why the iPhone has a virtual home button option when it does. 

The BlackBerry Z10 is a work-ready device. BlackBerry has always excelled in that field. If you need to download files or content from the internet or your email, save it on your phone, manipulate it, archive it, attach it and send to other people, BlackBerry has it running out-of-the-box. You have access to the file-system so you can use it just like your desktop computer. The iPhone required additional apps to enable internet-browser downloading and media sharing to other devices on your WiFi network (outside of iTunes). That makes sense. Apple wants to shelter users from that stuff, and wants to provide a "curated" experience through iTunes which also appeases content-providers and the entertainment industry. BlackBerry is not strong in this respect, but it allows users to have more control of their files and how they move.

The app gap is still quite strong between Apple and many of it's competitors. The BlackBerry Z10 did not have as great a selection of apps. However, if you did not care about a specific or official app and just wanted some great games and productivity apps... The selection may be smaller, but the quality is still there. Unfortunately the type of integration with Podcasts is missing (or I can't seem to find it) on BB10. The funny thing is, I was using it on the Playbook to download but it never moved over to BB10. Apple has a full podcast app that lets you subscribe and keep current with content, which automatically downloads to your phone. BlackBerry World allows you to purchase movies and music, but you will have to use 3rd party apps for books, magazine subscriptions and so on. Apple has managed to wrap up all different media types under their iTunes umbrella into a unified experience.

True to it's core nature as a productivity/business device, the BlackBerry Z10 has an incredible keyboard experience for an all-touch device. It is not just marketing propaganda. I can honestly profess that using both iPhone and BlackBerry, I can type much faster on the BlackBerry keyboard. And this is not only because of predictive text. When I press on the screen, the BlackBerry gets my keys correct whereas on the iPhone I am constantly getting A and S mixed up, and other neighbouring keys. The Z10 is slightly larger but it is not the size here, I believe it is the algorithm and learning on the Z10 keyboard which makes the difference.  

In Conclusion

There are no clear winners. These devices are great in their own right, in different ways. 

I love the BlackBerry Z10 for just letting me get things done easily and not restricting me on anything. I can plug into any computer or browse the internet, download and transfer any file I want outside of any sort of software (like BlackBerry Link)... simply drag-and-drop anywhere, no questions asked. All the main social app integrations are there. I can expand my storage, hook up to an HDMI easily, swap batteries, run and go. The browser is incredible and the screen is nice and large.

I love the iPhone for the awesome selection of apps, amazing quality games, endless Podcast and iTunes content and all-around ease of use. The overall popularity means I can purchase just about any peripherals for it and there is a huge amount of support and product compatibility. Popularity also means many of your friends have access to the same socially-powered games and communication networks. The phone is built for entertainment consumption and gives you an easy way to manage all of it in one place.

For now I will continue to enjoy the benefits of both phones and have a SIM-card adapter that I will use to be able to swap my nano-SIM in and out of each device. This will be an interesting experience and we will see if the phones behave well having intermittent SIM use, or whether things go all out of sync. I highly doubt it, since most things will still update over Wifi. The only difference should be whether the phone works (oh yes, these devices have a phone in them, I completely forgot)? 

Friday, 3 January 2014

Chatbots Are At It Again

The chatbots are at it again on Gmail! This time, I accepted the chat so I can capture a sample script which carried on, despite me replying "chatbot" continuously to the conversation.

I hope Gmail can clean up their act and automatically scan their chat lines for spam, just like they do with email. It is an obvious annoyance that can be easily ignored (just don't accept a chat request from anyone you don't know). However, it is interesting how this chat technology has been exploited for this purpose.

In time, I suspect more clever chatbots may even masquerade as your friends and send you to phishing sites with some amazing deals they just bought and wanting to share it with you (and ready to rip off your credit card). Anyways, here is the chatbot script for as long as I cared to continue with it:

Suzanne:  look im NAKED!!!
 Sent at 10:14 AM on Friday
 me:  chatbot
 Suzanne:  have we chatted before?? im 23/f u ?
 Sent at 10:15 AM on Friday
 me:  chatbot
 Suzanne:  i'm sorry ... i get to be forgetful at times!!  how're you?
 me:  chatbot
 Suzanne:  Just finished taking a bath..long day been kind of busy but i'm feeling a little naughty now! so what's up?? ... want to have some fun? ;)
 me:  chatbot
 Suzanne:  long day i was in the shower forever just playin around and it always gets me horny lolz .. gonna change my clothes want to see ? ;) lol
 me:  chatbot
 Suzanne:  I'm kinda horny lolz :x  wanna play on cam ??
 me:  chatbot
 Suzanne:  gosh im wet, don't be shy babe...get in my cam chat and watch me play a lil ..i love being watched hehe
 me:  chatbot
 Suzanne:  mhhm nice and wet lol
 Sent at 10:20 AM on Friday
 me:  chatbot
 Suzanne: click the green "Accept Invite" button...k, then fill out ur info ....give it a second to load ..when you get in, I'd love for you to join me private ...k?
 Sent at 10:22 AM on Friday
 me:  chatbot
 Suzanne:  i use this site to play on cuz i don't want to be recorded !   ...this site doesn't allow users to record my webcam! you know?
 me:  chatbot
 Suzanne:  Accept the invite, if you need the link again its
 me:  chatbot
 Suzanne:  Its just accept my cam invite,
 me:  chatbot
 Suzanne:  credit card verifies your age, you'll get in for free thru my page but you need to verify that you're an adult ...can't show ass and pussy to minors .. u know?
 Sent at 10:27 AM on Friday
 me:  chatbot
 Suzanne:  let me know when you're done or if you need help ...i'll be gettin' ready for you ..K ? ;)
 Sent at 10:31 AM on Friday
 me:  chatbot
 Suzanne:  k ur good let me know when you're in babe.. it'll send you right to my cam once you're done
 Sent at 10:35 AM on Friday
 me:  chatbot
 Suzanne:  are you in yet ?
 me:  chatbot
 Suzanne:  well hey better give me some "gold" when you're on the site's like a flirt and I'd love some from you ..k?
 Sent at 10:37 AM on Friday
 me:  chatbot
 Suzanne:  k
 Sent at 10:39 AM on Friday

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Beware of Google Chatbots

You are checking your email on Google when suddenly a chat request from some unknown email address appears in your Google Chat listing. Curious, you accept the invitation, wondering if it is perhaps someone you know. The user's profile pic shows a somewhat provocative female, but unrevealing, and has no face to allow easy identification. The chat starts off with "What's Up" or "How Ya Doing". You reply "Do I know you?" and she quickly replies about how "lonely" she is and is looking to have some "fun". You decline with a "Sorry I'm not interested" and get bombarded with more replies and requests, increasingly of a sexually explicit nature, and inviting you to visit a webcam for more interaction.

As you ask her about how she got your email and repeatedly explain that you are not interested, you are met with more and more of what seem to be "canned" answers. You start to suspect something odd about the interaction. It soon becomes apparent that the other person is not interacting or understanding you at all. You, my friend, are another victim of a "Chatbot", a clever artificial-intelligence program designed to simulate human chat and which is spamming unsuspected Gmail user accounts.

In our increasingly interconnected social-network-based world, sites such as Google (which integrate chat functionality and other features into email) can be targeted by clever "bots" or computer programs which spam other random Gmail users to start chats. The chats appear to be designed to entice users to cam sites which then ask for money. Fortunately, it is easy to block and disable each individual bots. Once you realize what is happening, it is easy to recognize the signature profile information before even opening the chat (which typically has no personal detail, and shows a faceless but provocative female figure). However, there is currently no way to block all external chat requests (as far as I know) so if you get asked to add an unknown email address to your chat listing, simply ignore it.

On the other hand, you can also have some fun with these chatbots. Next time you get a chat request on Gmail from an unknown person, enter into a conversation and see how long it takes you to realize that you are speaking to a computer. Try to outwit the computer or discuss something that you believe only another human should know. Be polite, don't offend (just in case it is a real person - which is unlikely), but do get a first-hand experience of how sophisticated these newer chatbot algorithms can be. And maybe if you are really lonely, you may actually enjoy the interaction. But don't blame me if you end up getting spammed more and more!

Monday, 9 December 2013

Easy iPhone 5 File & Music Transfer

I'm a long-time BlackBerry and Windows PC user and wanted to simulate the experience of managing all kinds of files easily on my newly received iPhone 5c, without the need for using iTunes at all and without any physical connection to my computer. I found an easy way to do what I needed without any Jailbreak, just trying out various apps.... I narrowed it down to 2 free apps that handle what I need (MyMedia and Remote Files Free). I wanted to share it with others who need some of this extra functionality in an easy way. See the video above, and read on below to see how it works!


I want to be able to copy music, documents, photos, PDF files and everything else I can imagine from my Windows PC to the iPhone, and back. The Remote Files Free app connects to a Windows Network share drive. As long as both devices are on the same WiFi connection, you can link... The addresses are all local 192.168.x.x format. The iPhone sees your PC folder and you can move files around. When you copy them to your iPhone, they end up in the "local" app's file store. If you have music, you can upload entire folders and organize tracks. When you play a song, it will play the entire folder if you want so the folder structure becomes your playlist. If you want to copy stuff from your iPhone to the PC, you can do the same thing to transfer files the other way.

The other feature I needed was the ability to download and save practically any file format on the web to the iPhone, either to review later, share or email, or transfer to my computer. I found a free app called MyMedia which has a browser modification allowing download. In the video I used an MP3 download site as an example, but you can do the same with PDF files, documents, photos, videos, or anything you want. When it downloads the file, it saves it to the MyMedia app's file store. 

So here is the kicker... In MyMedia you can "Open in Other Apps", and you pick "Remote Files Free" (RFF)... when that happens, the file gets copied to the root file store of RFF as well. I usually delete it from the MyMedia app, and use the RFF app to organize my files, and also copy if needed to my Windows PC. This is good because I can also email or share the files. I was used to being able to do all this on my BlackBerry effortlessly and one of the things that frustrated me on iPhone was the lack of a central file-store with all of these options. Hopefully people will find this combination of free apps useful for this.... I am sure there are paid apps which do everything (both functions) and jailbreaking options which do even more. However, for someone who just wants an easy way to add this basic feature, this seemed a good way.