Crowd-Funding Campaigns

Every few days, someone messages me on a new and great crowd funding campaign.

Generally, this comes in the form of sharing a video – a video that makes many grandiose promises if I only donate a few bucks to the cause.  As a few of these campaigns have raised crazy amounts of cash, it seems that they are becoming more popular. Throw a coin at any “Make” fair, and see what I mean.

Now, this may be common sense, but I’d like to share my general way of looking at these crowd-funding campaigns in the hope that I won’t have to deal with people finding me a “Kill-Joy” when the next “big thing” comes along.

Questions I ask when seeing a campaign

What’s in it for me?

If I donate money to your cause, am I preordering a product, or buying a t-shirt that says “I liked it before it was cool”?

Pinonccio – $49 donation gets me a prototype

While kickstarter won’t run them, other crowd funding  sites will host “get a t-shirt” with donation campaigns. If you donate to these, you’ll get a t-shirt, but don’t plan on that t-shirt being anything more than a statement that you can easily be separated from you money.

Why hasn’t this been done before and how is it different?

Let’s say I run across a campaign for creating a garden time-lapse camera system. All I get until the $250 is a thank you and a t-shirt.

At this point, the campaign has satisfied the “something in it for me” angle. There is a real product, and I’m at least somewhat interested. But, is that product out there already?

A quick search on amazon shows me that producers of garden cameras do exist. And, a few of them are substantially cheaper than the $250 this campaign will cost me for one. Does this product provide something new? I may simply not like the company that provides the competing product. Maybe that company hasn’t listened to customer feedback. Perhaps there is a specialized feature I want. Or, maybe I’m just feeling generous.

If the product hasn’t been done – why not? Is there something fundamentally flawed with the idea? It’s possible that this particular product fits a very small niche, and that the only way  of seeing it released is a crowd funded campaign. Or, maybe this product has no real hope for success as the design itself has serious flaws.

Does the group have the expertise to pull the product off?

So, now we have agreed that they have enough of a “hook” for me to bite. At this point, the question becomes, can they make it happen?

Let’s say the campaign is for a desktop Fusion power generator, suitable for fitting into my flying car.

Does the group include a physicist? If not, do they have a good one on standby? If not, would anyone in the group have any way of knowing a good physicist? If not, has the group provided any evidence that they can solve the whole “fusion” part of the problem?

Is there any evidence suggesting that other companies have looked into this problem? Are there solutions out on the market now?

If the group lacks the expertise to build the idea, what are they bringing to the table?

Building a product takes more than having a bad comb over and the ability to shout “your fired”. If the group is going to pay to have the actual development done, have they shown a reasonable budget and plan for doing so?

In the case of a desktop Fusion generator, the evidence would need to be overwhelming before I’d even consider a donation. In fact, I’m not sure anything would convince me it wasn’t a scam. Extremely innovative products tend to have large money backing quickly. Large enough that crowd funding wouldn’t be talked about.

Returning to the Garden Camera, I’d probably look for a meaningful prototype, a good product manager with a gardening background, or simply some good engineers. The technology is known, and I wouldn’t need to worry about development of specialized high technology.

Are they over promising?

If I see a video of something so truly beyond the state of the art to be amazing, the question becomes, how is it real?

If a video advertises some whizz bang Artificial Intelligence, is there research that shows something is possible. For anything computerized, just imagine that instead of the ideal computer shown in the video – it’s your cell phone. How would your cell phone do at the tasks shown? If they are doing similar tasks with significantly better ability – how are they accomplishing it?

Or, are they just lying?

Very talented people are working on lots of the ‘space age’ devices we want to see. Every day. If those devices don’t exist yet, it may be for a reason. Just remember the ‘pet robots’ in the 90s. Yeah, they are cool, but they weren’t R2D2.

Does the group have a valid business plan? Do I care if they vanish?

Let’s say that I really hate the companies producing the garden cameras, and want to donate to this new garden camera company. Does this group demonstrate that my donation will help create a sustainable competitor?

If not, will I care that I’ve purchased a one-off product? In a year, how much will I care if the product breaks?

Perhaps I’m happy that I’ll get my garden camera and can worry about the same problem again later, if need be. That’s a perfectly good answer, but one I should be aware of.

Responding to a Campaign

I’ll generally ignore campaigns that I come across, unless either poked or prodded about it directly.

If so, I’ll walk through these questions until I hit a reason not to donate, and if I hit that reason, I’ll try to let whoever know why I’m not. If the campaign has gone “viral” and I think other people might donate, I might be more proactive about criticism. And, it’s also possible that I’ll share a campaign I’d want to see succeed.

If you share a campaign video, remember – you are sharing a request for money. Requesting money, in my book, removes much of your ability to complain when someone tells you where to go. Manipulative videos may insist that criticism is fighting against a greater good.

We enjoy the right to ask the public for money. In return, the public may criticize that request. Don’t like it? Build the product first using traditional means. And remember, if you are sharing a funding request, then realize the social dynamic of seeking contributions.

Saying Yes can be a Bad Thing

I watched closely as the Diaspora project got going. For those unfamiliar with the campaign, it was one of the first kickstarter campaigns to go viral. Earning $200,000+ in very little time.

Any experienced engineer watching would have smelled trouble. The grand yet completely undefined scope of the project. The lack of real requirements. The lack of any experienced or skilled developers. The poor choices of technology, showing blatant ignorance of the current challenges of competitors trying to do the exact same thing.

In the end, the group of students working this project put themselves through some very rough times. It’s impossible to say what might have happened if the product just fizzled out. And indeed, the tragedies associated with the project, may have happened anyway. Windfall earnings does weird things to a group and to friends. Still, I don’t think anyone could have predicted the eventual suicide of one of the initial members. I don’t think the success of the funding campaign can be directly blamed, but it definitely didn’t help.

Kickstarter does a lot of work to prefilter applicants and campaigns, and even there, people have found a real “bit” in terms of taxes and fees eating into the cash intended for development of a product.

A lot of campaigns fail, but that doesn’t mean the dream has to die. And many campaigns, on their second try, find and fix the errors with the first.

TL;DR

  1. Try to apply some common sense before sending random people on the internet your money.
  2. Asking someone for money gives them a right to ask why and determine if you deserve it.
  3. Giving someone money isn’t always helpful.

There’s a lot of cool kick starter projects out there. Fin and I have sent money to a few. We’ve gotten some cool stuff in return. Do your search before. And if somethings viral?

My experience with viral campaigns is that they are rotten. The cool ones I’ve found and funded tend to be more niche oriented. Though, sometimes, lots of people get onboard for a reason.

— Fate

On the Isla Vista Tragedy

Since I heard of the California tragedy, I’ve debated whether or not to write about it. But, the more I hear it being discussed, the more I feel an obligation to talk about it here. I’ve commented on other forums I have a huge problem with the current “hashtag” discussions going on. This blog isn’t about “not all guys” or about discounting random acts of violence against women or an over abundance of misogyny in our society.

No, this blog entry is about an issue I’ve spent many years of my life fighting. It’s about why I’ve made a whole series of decisions that led me to where I am. And it’s at the core of the tragedy on pretty much every level. Let me start by saying something to the “Every Woman” crowd in relation to this event:

The male domination of mass murders in the past 30 years has NOTHING to do with misogyny.

I know the killer posted a very long diatribe of hatred about women. I also have no doubt that this particular rampage killing reflected misogyny at its worst. But, immediately before he committed these actions, he openly acknowledged the EXACT reason why. Now generally, when feminists talk about rights and fighting sexism, I try to take a back-seat and listen. But lately, some well meaning women have started posting conversations we should be having with our children. These conversations may help gender violence in the future. But in trying to prevent a future rampage killing, it comes across about as useful as me explaining menstrual cramps.

From reading “the manifesto” (ugh! what fun), I’m fairly certain that the perpetrator of the California tragedy heard that talk. Not only had he heard it, there’s a fair amount of reason to believe he took it to heart. But then, something happened. The world began to look different, and hatred spewed forth with ugly, disastrous results.

In many of the earlier rampage murders, the reasons have been murky. But, this last character felt the need to inform us all of EXACTLY why he was doing it.

“You will finally see that I am in truth the superior one. The true Alpha Male.”

Or, to simplify:

Penis-Enlargement
Anything to make ‘it’ bigger

Oh yes, it does come all down to sex. Just not in the way that anyone is giving it credit. Now, there’s a discussion going on about how women are objectified in the media. But, let’s take a look at something we DON’T hear talked about.

 

DukeNukem
Girls like the big guy.

Quick – what negative messages does this image send to our children? Ol’ Duke took a lot of justified heat from feminist groups over the years. He was the quintessential male chauvinist fantasy. I can’t argue with the objectification of women in this picture. But, that’s just the start of our societal baggage rabbit hole.  What’s the general description of Duke?

Befitting an All-American hero, Duke is supremely physically fit and completely confident in himself and his abilities, accomplishing sometimes superhuman feats through sheer aggression and ruthless combat skills. He is quick to a wisecrack and frequently speaks his mind, but cares little for his detractors, as he knows his heroic physical accomplishments speak for themselves.

Duke is 6″4″ and is able to bench press at least 600 lbs.

Duke has a big penis. Large enough to make most porn stars say “Damn”.  Oh wait… They didn’t say that. But… you know it’s true. 6’4″? No way he’s not packing something.  The latest rampage killer wrote his whole life story, and yet, we ignore his stated purpose. “Alpha Male”. He was working to show he had a large penis.

Ok, yes, I’m definitely using some hyperbole here. Yet, I hope it gets the idea across. Penis size has long been symbol or… “measure”… of a man. Hopefully, as we grow older, our ideas of ‘value’ become far less juvenile.. But, there’s always a child somewhere deep inside of us. Whenever a woman is being turned into a sex object, men receive a message indicating the reasons why they aren’t the subject of that woman’s affection. Why they are inadequate. Flawed. Worthless. Don’t believe me? Take a trip over to any major “free” porn site, and look at what the ads are for.

Penis pills! Make her orgasm in 10 seconds flat! Gain muscle fast! All messages indicating that people are objects, not just the women involved.

inadequate
Yeah… That’s realistic.

“Am I a man?”

Occasionally, modern fiction hits some hard realities. In an episode of Firefly, a father obsesses with making his son a man and hires a prostitute to do the job right. After, the son is confused, wasn’t this experience supposed to grant adulthood? Is he different now?

We’re starting to circle a root cause now. In the case of misogyny, David Wong does a good job describing how hatred of women can form even in a modern man. If I throw a quarter on the internet, I’ll probably hit 3 people debating the misogyny of the killer. I won’t hear anyone talking about manhood, or how nastily pervasive entitlement interacts with ‘manhood’. Or how men obsess with trying to prove their ‘self-worth’.

The Problem of Self-Worth and Coming of Age

Years ago, a college professor started a class with a simple question. “How does one become an adult?” This particular professor had a knack for opening up discussions in the class, and then discussing the philosophical issues surrounding them. And this particular discussion was life-changing for me.

How do I know I’m an adult? What does it mean to be a man?

Our society has something of a “TODO” list to turn oneself into an adult. And at the top of this list? Sex. Virginity is not seen as a socially viable option anymore. It implies weakness and immaturity. As a society, we mock and embarrass men who haven’t ‘gotten any’. Other elements of adulthood form in our psyche early on. A certain amount of physical ability. Creation of wealth. Work. Completing education. What’s more, there’s an underlying agreement that adults are “productive members of society”. Then, we tie the adult “TODO” list into our self-worth. Women have seen some fairly amazing opportunities for growth in how they determine self-worth. It wasn’t long ago that going to college was strictly for the “MRS” degree. While this move has been positive for all, we’re seeing a burgeoning new set of issues form before us.

Society is a lot more complex.

“Coming of age” ceremonies are common in multiple cultures and tribal customs. They give children and adults clear knowledge of  their advancement into adulthood. Yet, as modern convenience and technology replaces the need for basic lifestyles, previously obvious measures of worth and value are lost. Worse, we worked to identify bad substitutes based in inequality and power. As those substitutes diminish, males (particularly white males) have something of an identity crisis going on.

Now, returning to our subject of rampage killings, there’s a multitude that revolve around sex and unrequited love. The theme, while common isn’t all inclusive.

The San Ysidro McDonald’s massacre, for example, would appear to themed around loss of income and envy of the wealthy.

The oft-discussed Columbine murders centered around retribution against bullies and “jocks”, attempting to prove physical prowess.

Boys are taught a lot of conflicting messages growing up. Old vestiges of long-past standards an society and new values not always fully formed. But, critically, boys are not often given the encouragement they need. We, as a society, do a poor job teaching what it means to be an adult. As we become adults, we have an idea of the things adults do, but not the why or how or meaning. Some grab onto a core set of values and advance them. Others live in an adult world, almost as if children trying on their parent’s clothes.

Prevalence of Male Suicide

School was rough for me, and making connections even moreso. I’ve struggled on a fair number of occasions with my own self-worth. But, even with those struggles still continuing, I decided during my college years that I would take the banner of helping children. That, I, as a personal mission, would do my best to be there if someone needed me to. If only because, I never felt like anyone was there for me.

My constant value, the thing I want to do… Is help people. While working as a disability services tutor, it clicked as what I wanted to do with my life. I worked to become a teacher. I’d be there for students that needed an ear. I was young, idealistic. While life led me in a different direction, I still try to spend a fair number of volunteer hours in mentoring students through a few different programs.

It’s important to me.

The current gender ratio of all male to female suicides in the US is 4:1. Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death for ages 15-24. Male teenagers are 5x more likely to commit suicide. While women do report as more likely to think about committing suicide or attempt in a non-violent way, men tend toward violent methods, and occasionally kill others as well.

In the past few days, I’ve seen a lot of anger floating around. Immediately after this latest rampage killing, multiple teenagers took to the internet and vented their frustrations about their similar ‘poor luck’ on the dating scene. Others collected these messages, and passed them around, as advertising of how misogynistic our society is. Some mocked the posters and even posted messages indicating that these people were “doing a good job weeding themselves out of the dating pool”. Or worse, subtly indicated it might not be a bad thing if they ‘ended the problem’.

Yes – please poke the already troubled youth into yet another frenzy so we can have more dead bodies. One of the hardest lessons I’ve learned in my life – Broken people will potentially latch onto some very negative, damaging things. You can point out to a broken person the damage their doing, attempt to show them the negativity. But, if you don’t address the underlying issues? You’ll drive them even further into that thought pattern, or into potential despair.

Solutions aren’t that easy

I’d love to end this discussion for some grand plan of ‘how to make things better’. I don’t think it exists. The basic issues of defining adulthood and ‘what it means to be a man’ aren’t going anywhere easily. Others far more intelligent than I have written about them. And, the discussion is anything but new. Philosophers have been pontificating about ‘our place’ since before Socrates and Plato.

For a long while, I’ve believed in the need for men to be more active and engaged in gender equality and justice. Even the most well meaning of “Mens Rights” activists, will often find themselves besieged by movement  toward misogyny. Even though these groups have a few good points (Men have a right to be stay-at-home fathers!), I’ve never felt them to be overly healthy. Looking at the demographics of these groups, and their literature, we see a lot of anger over ‘loss of privilege’.

I do believe that ‘telling your story’ for women will help reduce misogyny in our society. Hearing the viewpoints of others is critical toward development of empathy. That empathy will likely help people consider their choices in a different light before acting like an ass. Or, realize how wrong a situation is when alcohol is involved. I know that Fin has taught me a lot over the years to better understand the female perspective. I’ve slowly learned to only mostly make people uncomfortable. Realize though, stories are powerful, and how you tell the story can be more powerful. At some point, telling ones story can be cathartic. If it comes from a desire to be heard? You’ll help women gain confidence. Feel that they aren’t alone. But largely, you’re helping women here.

Now… if you start speaking to men, thinking this will help us ‘see’ what’s going on. Well, you get the response that’s going on and the flame throwing / back biting on the internet. Those of us that care largely enough to hear the story, don’t need to be told we need to hear it. And those that don’t?

Well, let’s flip the coin over to my views of what men do need to do.

I can call out misogynistic jerks, all day long. While that is helping the women in my life, it’s not helping the misogynist jerk. That energy might hopefully feed into making a woman feel better about men, or at least feeling comfortable walking down the street. But contrary to all the feel-good (or let’s rage!) articles out there, I won’t be helping remove misogyny from our society. And what’s more, it won’t stop the next mass shooter or tragedy.

What will?

Children (boys and girls) need role models and an understanding of how to healthily judge and build their sense of self-worth. Adolescents need a strong transition to adulthood. Young adults need mentored to become the leaders of tomorrow.

I’ve stolen some of Fin’s general philosophy for my own. Real change comes from our everyday actions.

Instead of writing some sort of prescription or magic pill, that will “solve” everything, I’ll leave with what I’m doing to make things better.

I work with kids. I volunteer when given the opportunity. I encourage young girls to get involved with technology. I work to give young boys an example of what hard work can give. I support my wife her efforts to teach others about gardening, planting. I write this blog. I  try to avoid joining angry rants and causes that exist as nothing more than flash-mobs of rage. I share my experiences with those that ask. I thank those kind to me. I muster what smile I can give on a bad day when somebody smiles at me.

It’s not much, but it’s something.

— Fate

Charity for Dummies (Part 1)

Ask a conservative how the poor will eat without taxes, and they’ll be sure to point you to charities. They exist for just about every circumstance and cause out there – battered women, abused children, blood donation, breast cancer awareness, the list goes on. Volunteers offer their time for construction work and house repairs, disaster relief, passing out food, collecting money, … – again the list goes on.

On a personal level, I see charity as a good thing. Without personal charity, my journey to Kansas City would have been much different. But, someone was willing to lend me a hand when I needed help up. Examples of that sort of thing are fairly widespread. In the local area, 98.8 (among other radio stations), offers help to random people during Christmas season.

Unfortunately, I believe that charities are also being abused. My employer, as well as many others in the Kansas City area, encourages people to give to the United Way. And wouldn’t you know, it’s easy. All I have to do is fill out a form, and every paycheck I can donate any amount I’d like. Wow, isn’t that Great? Well, …

No, it isn’t.

The reasoning behind giving to United Way? “If it’s too hard to figure out a charity you want to give to, give to them and they’ll figure it out for you.” It rather reminds me of a science fiction classic, where people design robots to worship God for them. A charity like United Way isn’t charity to support a cause, a passion, or a belief, it is simply charity for the sake of charity. Or, as I like to call it, guilty giving.

Don’t get me wrong, the United Way does some really good work. They write grants to some great organizations! And occasionally they’ll even help out and do volunteer work or charitable work directly. When it comes right down to it though, they exist to collect money off of our collective guilt.

Guilt is a powerful thing – a basic human emotion that says something is wrong. And while there are circumstances where guilt is uncalled for but natural, I question the creation of organizations that seek to relieve us of our guilt by simple transfer of wealth.

The level of ease with which charitable giving now happens allows us to live like a drunk driver that goes to AA meetings. We give to charity, therefore our rape of the poor and down trodden is meaningless. We can fill free to litter the streets with our garbage, because we pay for prisoners to pick it up.

Paycheck donations to charity do not require us to examine lifestyle or put forth any effort to consider our value systems. You sign a form, and after a few months, the donation to charity becomes another line item on the paycheck, right beside Social Security tax deductions.

And then, when someone sees your behavior, notes that how privileged you are and that there exist others without the same opportunity? When they pull up the mirror and reveal and show that you have done nothing to benefit the society that has given you the gift of wealth? Why, THEN you can point to a forgotten line item on your paystub and say “Look, I give to charity”.