See you next week in New York

I’ll be helping build a larger meetup focused on pre-ICO companies in New York on April 23 and I’d love to see you there. It will be held at Knotel on April 23 at 7pm and will feature a pitch-off with eight startups  and two panels with some yet-unnamed stars in the space. Let’s get together and talk about the hottest – and most controversial – topic in investing.

I’d love to see you there, so please sign up here. Early bird tickets are sold out and the regular tickets are going fast.

The event will be held at 551 Fifth Avenue on the 9th Floor and you can sign up to pitch here. This is still an experimental format and industry so let’s see how it works.

The Skagen Falster is a high fashion Android wearable

Skagen is a well-know maker of thin and uniquely Danish watches. Founded in 1989, the company is now part of the Fossil group and, as such, has begin dabbling in both the analog with the Hagen and now Android Wear with the Falster. The Falster is unique in that it stuffs all of the power of a standard Android Wear device into a watch that mimics the chromed aesthetic of Skagen’s austere design while offering just enough features to make you a fashionable smartwatch wearer.

The Falster, which costs $275 and is available now, has a fully round digital OLED face which means you can read the time at all times. When the watch wakes up you can see an ultra bright white on black time-telling color scheme and then tap the crown to jump into the various features including Android Fit and the always clever Translate feature that lets you record a sentence and then show it the person in front of you.

You can buy it with a leather or metal band and the mesh steel model costs $20 extra.

Sadly, in order stuff the electronics into such a small case, Skagen did away with GPS, LTE connectivity, and even a heart-rate monitor. In other words if you were expecting a workout companion then the Falster isn’t the Android you’re looking for. However, if you’re looking for a bare-bones fashion smartwatch, Skagen ticks all the boxes.

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What you get from the Flasterou do get, however, is a low-cost, high-style Android Wear watch with most of the trimmings. I’ve worn this watch off and on few a few weeks now and, although I do definitely miss the heart rate monitor for workouts, the fact that this thing looks and acts like a normal watch 99% of the time makes it quite interesting. If obvious brand recognition nee ostentation are your goal, the Apple Watch or any of the Samsung Gear line are more your style. This watch, made by a company famous for its Danish understatement, offers the opposite of that.

Skagen offers a few very basic watch faces with the Skagen branding at various points on the dial. I particularly like the list face which includes world time or temperature in various spots around the world, offering you an at-a-glance view of timezones. Like most Android Wear systems you can change the display by pressing and holding on the face.

It lasts about a day on one charge although busy days may run down the battery sooner as notifications flood the screen. The notification system – essentially a little icon that appears over the watch face – sometimes fails and instead shows a baffling grey square. This is the single annoyance I noticed, UI-wise, when it came to the Falster. It works with both Android smartphones and iOS.

What this watch boils down to is an improved fitness tracker and notification system. If you’re wearing, say, a Fitbit, something like the Skagen Falster offers a superior experience in a very chic package. Because the watch is fairly compact (at 42mm I won’t say it’s small but it would work on a thinner wrist) it takes away a lot of the bulk of other smartwatches and, more important, doesn’t look like a smartwatch. Those of use who don’t want to look like we’re wearing robotic egg sacs on our wrists will enjoy that aspect of Skagen’s effort, even without all the trimmings we expect from a modern smartwatch.

Skagen, like so many other watch manufacturers, decided if it couldn’t been the digital revolution it would join it. The result is the Falster and, to a lesser degree, their analog collections. Whether or not traditional watchmakers will survive the 21st century is still up in the air but, as evidenced by this handsome and well-made watch, they’re at least giving it the old Danish try.

ICOs like to move fast and break (lots of) things

Startup life is full of quick, lateral thinking. “Move fast and break things” is the mantra. However, with the rise of token sales – essentially vehicles for untested startups to raise millions in a few minutes – lots of stuff gets broken and little gets fixed.

Take BCT – the Blockchain Terminal – for example. This frothy project led by Bob Bonomo, a former hedge fund guy turned Blockchain guru, features some interesting breakages.

Yesterday at about 3pm Eastern Time the company’s FAQ – which has since been updated but is still hidden here – read something like this:

While this sort of techno greeking is fine if you’re sending mock-ups back and forth, the token sale had been running since April 1st, a fact that was baffling to me and another reporter. Was this an April Fool’s joke? No, because when I visited the sale’s Telegram room I found a group of happy buyers asking questions about their future tokens.

Ever the reporter, I asked if anyone had seen the terminals and a community manager sent me this:

Interesting… blank screens at a demo event. The other CM, quicker on the draw, sent this:

Fair enough. In fact, crypto needs a product like this to legitimize it with Wall Street. But clearly they were moving so fast that the wheels were falling off.

Finally I did the obvious thing: visit the white paper. There we find that the Terminal is being built in conjunction with FactSet, a venerable research company that has seen all the vicissitudes of financial data. In fact, the paper is a tour-de-force on par with the best of the white papers I’ve seen. But we also discover that the white paper is a draft.

In short, BCT wouldn’t pass the average human investor sniff test but is definitely well on the way to completing its token sale. This is a problem.

BCT is not alone. I’ve spoken to development houses working with founders who barely understand cryptocurrency let alone understand their own token sales. I’ve seen founders’ eyes light up like the Big Bad Wolf eyeing Porky Pig when they talk about all the capital they will unlock. And I spoke to a founder on stage who said he would be very careful with the $80 million they raised for a company designed to raise money for ICOs. Greed is clouding this market in ways that are at once dangerous and comical.

There is precedent for this. In the early days of the Internet and even the frothiest dot-com days you could see the avarice in the eyes of Pets.com and Cisco executives who knew that big money was just around the corner. And we can’t begrudge these founders their excitement. What founder wouldn’t want the sweet feeling of being fully funded for, we presume, the next decade?

I’ve been following token sales with great interest over the past few months for a few reasons. First, I understand the hype cycle. I’ve seen tactics used by token sellers used before by hardware sellers, most notably with flops like the Phantom gaming console and the Notion Ink Adam, and there is a stink that permeates projects that are, at best, half-baked.

I want token sales to thrive as a method to raise capital. I want small startups to be able to turn on a spigot previously available to the well-connected and well-heeled. But the exact opposite seems true. Bankers are moving into a technology space that they little understand while carpetbaggers – lawyers, PR folks, advisors – are working hard to extract cash out of these windfalls. In the end the token sale industry should formalize itself and become as boring as the VC industry. I just hope it survives long enough to get there.

MailChimp clarifies its anti-ICO policy

Nobody wants to deal with ICOs. MailChimp, the popular mass mailing platform, has officially banned users who want to send emails about ICOs/token sales in its terms of use. They write in their legal policies page:

Also, we cannot allow businesses involved in any aspect of the sale, transaction, exchange, storage, marketing or production of cryptocurrencies, virtual currencies, and any digital assets related to an Initial Coin Offering, to use MailChimp to facilitate or support any of those activities.

However, in a Tweet, the company wrote that all cryptocurrency discussion was verboten. I’ve asked them to clarify their position and I will update it when I hear back.

Ultimately the big communications companies – Facebook, Twitter, and the like – are making these decisions in the dark. There is little SEC guidance on token sale marketing in specific but, given the scammy nature of most ICO marketing, they figure they’ll play it safe and ban it outright. This should a boon for services like Substack and apps like Sendy that strip away some of the MailChimp frills but are fairly agnostic when it comes to what you can post.

Ultimately this means two things will happen: first, legitimate, Wall Street-based token entities will begin using more expensive and vetted services and the ICO scammers will keep spamming us with ladies in bikinis.

This DIY, Alexa-connected robotic tank will bring you a beer

As we enter the upcoming Golden Age of connected robotics it’s important to stay well-lubricated. Thus we must invite the Walabeer tank, a DIY, Alexa-connected robotic tank that serves beer, into our homes and hearts.

The project uses a toy tank chassis connected to a Walabot, a device that lets your projects see through walls. Once all of this is connected to a Raspberry Pi and, in turn, Alexa, you can ask the Walabeer Tank to turn on its lights, open its cargo hold, and follow you around the house. The complex cargo lifting mechanism uses Erector Set pieces and a slow servo motor.

Balázs Simon created the tank as a proof-of-concept project and there is a full bill of materials and build description here.

“There are things that deep inside every man wants to have. Combining beer and tanks is one of these things! This project will be about this thing, a voice controlled tank that delivers beer to you with an autonomous “follow me” function or with an RC control. Let’s build the beer tank of our dreams!” wrote Simon.

While it’s unclear what this beer tank does when it runs out of beer – it cannot yet open the fridge, for example – it’s nice to know someone out there is watching out for our thirsty gullets as we rocket headlong into the future.

Winklevoss-led Gemini announces a self-regulatory group for crypto

 Gemini, run by the Winklevoss twins, is one of the most Wall Street oriented exchanges on the crypto markets. Originally envisioned as “bitcoin in a suit,” it is now leading the way in self regulation with a new Virtual Commodity Association, a self-regulating group that aims to take the guesswork out of crypto in the future. “We believe a thoughtful SRO framework that provides… Read More

The Wave is a ring that controls sound as if by magic

 Out in the desolate wastes of deepest Iceland, magic blooms. The Icelandic sagas tell of fairy houses to magical rings that control the world, and now one of those, the Wave, has landed on the internet. The Wave is a ring that controls sound. It is essentially a wearable MIDI controller that lets you play and modify sounds as it’s made, allowing you to play music in thin air. It’s… Read More

This shoemaker in Barcelona sees a crypto future for artisans

Tiago Maximo’s grandparents were shepherds. They word solid, handmade boots into the fields, trudging through dry grass and mud, over rutted country roads and through barnyards. He brought that tradition – handmade boots for people who appreciate quality – to his business, Urban Shepherd – where sources boots from Portugal to sell to customers in Barcelona and all over… Read More

These robotic skiers hit the slopes in style

 Researchers took part in the Ski Robot Challenge last month and the resulting videos – essentially quick cuts of robots in ski jackets totally whanging off the gates and spinning out in the powder. The Challenge, run by the Korea Institute for Robot Industry Advancement, is sort of a Winter Olympics for wonky androids. The rules are pretty complex. According to Spectrum: Each robot must… Read More

Fret Zealot adds lights and learning to your guitar

 I’ve been messing around with LED-embedded guitars since the original GTar. Designed to help beginners learn and players look like all supersonic freakadelic on stage, they have quickly become commonplace if expensive. Now Fret Zealot has something that can turn your guitar into a laser light show in a few minutes. Designed as an $199 add-on to any acoustic or electric guitar, this… Read More