Note: I’ve asked Alex Daly, known as “Crowdsourcerous” to write a guest column for me this week. Alex has managed the PonoMusic campaign, one of the most successful in the history of Kickstarter. — Phil Baker.

About a year and a half ago I was working as a traditional film producer — raising funds for documentaries the slow and painful way: through grants. Of course, this is not the only painful route for traditional film financing; there are equity partners and investors who can front the capital, but they, too, can create a slow and difficult process.

At least with grants, the funding is donation-based. Investors, on the other hand, have the potential to assume creative control in exchange for their investments, which creates tension and complications around the filmmaking itself — or any creative endeavor.

One day in the summer of 2012, an accomplished editor and producer whom I had met through sharing an office space, approached me about fundraising for his film the untraditional way: through crowdfunding.

I had heard about Kickstarter, but only peripherally. Still, as I tend to do with most things, I agreed to the offer without knowing what crowdfunding was or how to do it. Who doesn’t love an adventure on the Internet? We launched the campaign three weeks later and raised $81,639, surpassing our goal by 163 percent.

Soon after, I raised funds for another documentary, and again we exceeded our goal, this time reaching about 1,000 backers globally. The money helped us finish the film, and we went on to the Tribeca Film Festival. After the second crowdfunding campaign, filmmakers started approaching me to run their campaigns, as I was someone who could raise money very quickly online through this amazing thing called crowdfunding, and I could do it well.

Around the same time, an article was written about me where I was dubbed “The Crowdsourceress” and by the end of 2013, I had raised a quarter of a million dollars for six successful campaigns, including indie films, tech startups and a theater production fronted by the Royal Shakespeare Company. I just finished a campaign for Oscar and Emmy-nominated filmmakers, and now I am raising money for Neil Young.

But you may still be wondering: What is crowdfunding? Here’s a quick overview: Crowdfunding is a way to collect donations online for an initiative or project from backers — the “crowd.”

Crowdfunding’s origins come from “crowdsourcing,” a concept where a financial goal is reached by collecting and leveraging small contributions from several parties. The platform that has become synonymous with the term crowdfunding is Kickstarter. Other popular crowdfunding platforms are Indiegogo and Rockethub.

Generally, backers receive a value in exchange for their donation, not equity. If we were crowdfunding $100,000 to finish a documentary, such a value might be a digital copy of film, an invitation to the film premiere, a T-shirt or a name mention in credits. So backers aren’t investing, but pledging for the actual experience.

Which brings me to where I am right now: crowdfunding on Kickstarter for Neil Young’s new audio player. The PonoPlayer, now three years in the making, creates an improved digital music listening experience.

On March 10, we launched a Kickstarter campaign for PonoMusic with the goal of raising $800,000. We have now surpassed that number by 93 percent. How? There are many moving parts to guarantee a successful campaign. Here are our top four:

First: Video. For our video, Neil shot several well-known artists such as Elton John, Eddie Vedder, Beck, Sting, as well as top music industry people who praised the product, which added tons of credibility to what we were trying to promote. Our aesthetic was docu-style and fresh, making it accessible and entertaining.

Second: Copy. For the project page text, we alternated between accessible and explanatory. The PonoPlayer is a complex product and we wanted to satisfy our backers’ questions and concerns as much as possible. We worked to tell a story through the text and to use our brand voice.

Third: Rewards. Apart from T-shirts and a sticker option, the rewards were the music players, which we offered at $100 off the retail price. This really incentivized our backers to donate now instead of waiting until the product is on the market. We also offered “Artist Signature Series,” which includes signed players by top artists at a slightly higher price point. These were extremely popular, and we worked to offer new ones that our backers requested.

Fourth: Audience engagement. We, Neil included, wanted to engage our backers as much as possible. Which brings us back to our main point: appeal directly to a huge community and provide them with a product they have been waiting for.

Most importantly, through Kickstarter, Neil gets to be fully involved with his fans and supporters. And once the campaign is done, he does not need to pay anyone back or run every move by an investor. That is the power of crowdfunding — the direct fan engagement. A portion of Neil’s note to our Kickstarter backers captures this.

“My experience here on Kickstarter has been life-changing,” Neil wrote. “After banging my head against the wall for almost three years, dealing with business experts who didn’t really understand what we were trying to accomplish (to rescue the art of recorded sound and make great music available into the future), I found you people. You are the ones who understand what this is. You have proven it with your amazing support.”

Crowdfunding has the power to revive art in a democratic way — whether it’s a new piece of hardware, a film, album or game. Kickstarter has now raised more than a billion dollars in pledges. So far, almost 60,000 projects have been successfully funded, while just over 76,000 have not. And more than $1 million are pledged daily. Daily. Purely for art. Times are changing.

Daly, known as “Crowdsourceress,” has raised millions of dollars through crowdfunding. She is managing the PonoMusic campaign, one of the most successful in the history of Kickstarter.

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While Apple makes many great products, such as the iPad mini reviewed last week, I wish it would address one product that falls far below its usual design excellence. It’s the wireless Apple Magic Mouse ($70), a beautiful-looking device that we use as much as the computer. It was introduced in October 2009, yet has undergone no noticeable improvements since then. It’s the one Apple product that I’ve found to be disappointing and inferior to other mice.

The Magic Mouse has many advanced features that make it appealing — such as a touch surface that works much like a touch display, an advanced laser-tracking system and a sleek form factor that’s quite beautiful — but it’s often frustrating to use and suffers from a number of design deficiencies.

The touch-sensitive surface on the top of the mouse replaces scroll bars and wheels used on other mice. But it’s so sensitive that if your finger accidently touches it while, say editing a Word document, it can cause your document to scroll to another location far from where you were working.

Another big issue is that it consumes batteries many times faster than any other battery product I’ve used, including other mice; I’ve been replacing its two AA cells once or twice a month. Based on sales of Mac desktop computers of 4 million to 5 million a year, that’s about 100 million batteries disposed each year.

For a company that prides itself on being environmentally friendly, it’s missed its mark with the mouse.

The Logitech Wireless Trackball M570 connects wirelessly to the computer. Courtesy photo

When the mouse is dropped on the floor from even from a few inches, the battery door comes off and the batteries often go flying, unusual for most consumer products. Reattaching the door is not at all intuitive because of its complex design.

I’ve also experienced problems when the mouse occasionally disconnects from the computer for no apparent reason. This seems to be a long-standing problem, as reported in Apple’s user forums.

Lastly, the Magic Mouse carries the legacy of being a single button mouse, something Steve Jobs insisted on, when most applications now have important second-button functions.

To use these functions, you either need to use a keyboard modifier key while pressing the top of the mouse or set a preference to use the right side of its top surface as its second button.

But because of the smooth surface, it’s not easy to know exactly where your finger is, and you often activate the left button when you want the right.

With Apple upgrading its iPads, iPhones and computers once or twice a year, it’s time to do the same with the mouse.

So what are some good alternatives? The closest equivalent is the $70 Logitech Ultrathin Touch Mouse T630 that’s more portable than Apple’s mouse and connects using Bluetooth. While it still has a single button, its batteries are rechargeable and the touch surface is less sensitive to accidental activation.

Another alternative is the Logitech Marathon Mouse M705 ($50) that uses Logitech’s 2.4GHz wireless technology. While it requires a tiny receiver plugged into a USB port, the single AA battery will last about two years and the connection is very robust.

While I was searching for alternatives to the Apple mouse, I came across the Logitech Wireless Trackball M570. I used to love trackballs, but assumed they were extinct. But no, Logitech told me they continue to be very popular. Based on Amazon reviews of this product, that certainly is true: 2,800 reviews average 4½ stars out of 5.

I’ve been using the trackball for about six weeks and like it a lot; it’s a keeper. It connects wirelessly in the same way as the Marathon Mouse and addresses nearly all the objections I have with the Apple mouse.

It has a precision trackball that’s thumb-controlled, a left and right button, a scrolling wheel and an additional customizable button for functions you use frequently, such as copy, paste and so on. The major limitation is that you cannot do horizontal scrolling.

What I like most is the precision of the trackball that lets me position the pointer much more accurately than moving the mouse on a desktop.

Sometimes, newer isn’t always better. ($60, Logitech.com).

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I must admit that when the iPad mini came out, it was a ho-hum to me. I didn’t rush to review it because it seemed redundant. After all, I had an older iPad, the third-generation 10-inch model with the retina display. But once the novelty wore off, I rarely used it. Carrying it with a MacBook Air was one device too many, and I would usually favor the notebook.

However, after a few months of using the mini, I rarely go anywhere without it. It’s just the perfect convenient size and weight that works so well for doing so much. At just about the size of a Moleskine notebook or small datebook, it’s small enough to carry.

It does many of the things that I had previously done with my iPhone, such as write emails or browse my favorite sites. But it’s more convenient for accessing websites and much better for reading spreadsheets, presentations and especially books, something I struggled to do the iPhone. The text is large enough and extremely clear, with the highest resolution of any Apple iPad. And because of its smaller size and weight, I find I read more ebooks and magazines than I did on the iPad.

The iPad mini is a scaled-down version of the original 9.7-inch iPad, but much lighter and with Apple’s sharpest screen yet. It’s perfectly proportioned to the page of a book, rather than the elongated shape of most other tablets.

But something surprising happened. Over time, the mini became more to me than another tablet. It reminded me of a Filofax, a once-popular, leather-covered loose-leaf binder that I used to carry to manage my calendar, address book and notes. That’s the way I look at the mini: something so personal and used dozens of times a day.

Experts predicted the mini at more than $300 could never compete with models from Samsung, Amazon and Google that cost about $100 less. But that’s not been the case. This product just resonates so well as your personal assistant.

The basic iPad sells for $329 with 16GB memory. If you add cellular data and a bit more memory, the price can skyrocket to over $600. I paid $629 for a 32GB memory and Verizon cellular LTE data built in. (And just as a reminder that Verizon can get away with whatever it wants, I had to pay another $30 for a connection. If you find, as I did, that you carry the iPad everywhere you go, you may want to buy a cover. I passed on the Apple cover that folds into a triangular shape, which I found to be more of a cute design than serving a useful function. Instead, I recommend the following two cases that provide protection while adding little bulk.

Logitech’s Folio Protective Case for iPad mini is a thin, stiff cover that wraps around the front and back of the iPad mini. The flap can be folded to prop the mini at two convenient angles for viewing and typing. It’s covered with a durable, washable fabric in a choice of red or black. The cover also turns on the mini when opened. $50, (Logitech.com).

One of the most ingenious new designs is the SurfacePad from Twelve South, a beautiful leather cover that positions the iPad mini and also turns the iPad on and off as the cover is lifted. The soft leather wrap protects both sides of the iPad, it leaves the edges somewhat exposed.

The SurfacePad adds just a little thickness to the iPad, the equivalent of two sheets of leather. The back half of the leather portfolio adheres to the back of the iPad with a reusable tacky adhesive sheet. SurfacePad is available in red, white and black leather. $70, (twelvesouth.com).

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Neil Young, the legendary musician, called me out of the blue in January 2012. He’d gotten my name from a mutual friend who had given him a copy of my book, “From Concept to Consumer.” I’d been a long-time fan and attended many of his concerts over the years, so it was exciting to talk with him. It also turned out to be one of the most important calls of my life.

Neil explained to me about his quest to bring the same high-quality music that he hears in his studio to the public. He explained how the movement to MP3s that reduces the data in the recording by 95 percent, was a huge loss to both the audience and the music industry. He was firmly convinced that those of us who love music would appreciate listening to high quality, uncompressed music, rather than what was being offered by the big electronic companies. He would later tell me that this effort was one of the most important things he has ever done in his career.

Neil invited me to meet him at his ranch in Northern California and asked if I could help him develop a music player that he would call the PonoPlayer (“Pono” means righteous in Hawaiian.)

It was an idea that existed in his mind and a few sketches, but clearly something he had thought about for years. It would be part of his PonoMusic system that would deliver the best possible sound.

Of course, I said yes and assembled a small development team, including a few very smart engineers with whom I had worked before. We then went to work over a span of two years, meeting regularly with Neil.

Neil Young’s PonoPlayer would replace MP3 players. Courtesy photo

Now, two years later, after several starts and stops, overcoming a number of technical challenges and being turned down by venture investors, Neil was ready to tell the world about PonoMusic.

He chose to introduce the product at South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, Texas, an annual music, film and interactive conference. Neil was the keynote speaker and drew 2,500 people to hear him talk about the importance of his mission: to save a dying art and bring back high-quality music (Listen here http://alturl.com/8hhy4).

Simultaneously, the company, now with a CEO and software head, introduced the product on Kickstarter to raise some funds, but more importantly to see whether people cared about this cause. If we listened to the supposed experts, we could have easily been discouraged. Many claimed MP3 was good enough, that no one can discern audio quality beyond a CD, and many said people just don’t care.

Kickstarter was the ultimate test. Would people be willing to commit to pay for a product on the spot sight unseen? Kickstarter rules don’t even guarantee that the contributor will get the product. We offered our players and special signature editions from many famous artists along with less expensive items, all with the goal of raising $800,000 in 34 days.

While I was hopeful, I was also anxious. Never could I have predicted what would happen in the first few hours of the campaign.

We went live on Kickstarter at 1 p.m. March 11 that preceded by a few hours the talk Neil gave to the packed ballroom. We figured the talk would bring awareness to the Kickstarter campaign and that’s when we’d see contributions begin. But before Neil spoke his first word, $300,000 was donated and the number passed $500,000 during the talk.

That was an auspicious beginning. PonoMusic raised its goal of $800,000 in the first day and by Monday was approaching $4 million. By Friday morning, PonoMusic became officially the most-funded project in Kickstarter’s technology category and the 11th-most-funded in the world.

I’ve worked on many products over the years, many of them iconic (Polaroid SX-70 and Apple Newton), but never have I worked on something so important, particularly to the world of music. It’s been an honor to play a part to help Neil fulfill his goals. While there is still an immense amount of work to be done, we have the wind on our back from those who believe in what we are doing.

Pono will go on sale in the fall, once we finish the engineering and prepare it for mass production, and once the PonoMusic store is completed. (ponomusic.com)


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The government-mandated phaseout of the incandescent bulb has opened the door for low-energy replacements. A couple of years back, compact fluorescent lighting, or CFL, was the favored alternative. But, now there’s something better, LED lights. They more resemble the conventional lights they are replacing and they don’t have the mercury found in CFLs.

What’s made LED lights feasible is their plummeting prices due to new design innovations, manufacturing efficiencies and subsidies from electric companies. Priced just a year ago from $60 to $90, LED lamps can now be found for as little as $10.

LEDs are tiny electronic solid-state components that emit an intensely bright light. Individual LEDs have been used in flashlights, lighting in cars and even large-screen LCD TV illumination. And now, many of these high-energy LEDs have been combined to create light bulbs to replace incandescent and CFL lights.

LEDs are more efficient than CFLs and last longer, and at their new lower prices provide a big savings. Replacing a dozen conventional bulbs with LED bulbs can save you $400 per year in electricity or $10,000 over the bulbs’ life.

Most importantly, some of the latest LED designs are much more suitable than CFL light bulbs that have weird shapes and produce uneven illumination. And while I haven’t tested them for many hours, they are advertised to last longer.

Cree light bulbs are said to save 84 percent of the energy compared to typical incandescent bulbs, are designed to last 25 times longer, and come with a 10-year limited warranty. Courtesy photo

I replaced most of my recessed lights and light bulbs a few years ago with CFL bulbs made by FEIT. These bulbs use a coiled tube shape — some bare and some inside a glass enclosure. They are far from a decorator’s dream —the coiled light pattern casts striped shadows on lampshades and the long bodies often peer below the bottom of lampshades or outside recessed fixtures.

CFL lights take a couple of minutes to reach full brightness, while LED lights turn on instantly. And, based on my experience, CFLs last a shorter time than their ratings say. While rated to last 13 times longer than the bulbs they replace, I needed to replace about half of the bulbs in the first year.

CFLs use about 25 percent of the energy of an incandescent, but because of their containments, they must be recycled rather than discarded. However, only some stores that sell them will take back the used bulbs. In the San Diego area, The Home Depot takes them, but Dixieline, where I purchased the bulbs, does not. So CFLs can save money, but they are not ideal.

What’s important in selecting one of these new LEDs? Long life, uniform light distribution, natural color temperature and the same size as the conventional bulb it replaces. It should also be capable of dimming.

In my quest for a better light bulb, I’ve been trying out some LED bulbs from Cree, an American company that has been a pioneer in the development of LED lighting. I first came across the company’s name on some of the first very bright (and expensive) pocket-sized LED flashlights. Cree designed and supplied the LED assembly to other flashlight manufacturers.

There are many brands that make LED lamps, including Philips, Sylvania and FEIT. But I found that at least for now, the Cree bulb most looks like and works like the incandescent bulb it is replacing. The other brands fail to emit light in a uniform pattern in all directions because they have designs that block the light with fins, covers or heat sinks.

The Cree LED bulbs are made with what the company calls Filament Tower Technology, which emulates the incandescent filament in which the illumination originates from the center of the bulb.

The Cree bulb emits a similar pattern with its halo-shaped arrangement of the LEDs inside the bulb around its center axis. The enclosure around this tower is shaped just like a light bulb, and has the same diffuse finish to spread out the light. The illumination appears to be similar in color to an incandescent. What was startling to me was that during use, the outer surface, which looks just like an incandescent bulb, remains cold to the touch.

According to Cree, the bulbs save 84 percent of the energy compared to typical incandescent bulbs, are designed to last 25 times longer, and come with a 10-year limited warranty.

I’ve been trying their 60-watt replacement version. It produces the same 800 lumens as a 60-watt bulb, but uses just 9.5 watts. It fit into lamps that have little room for anything longer or wider than a normal bulb, such as a garage work lamp with a shroud and a living room lamp with a lampshade bracket surrounding the bulb.

With local subsidies from electric companies, the bulbs cost less than $10; retail is $13. If you use them three hours a day, they will last for 20 years! The bulbs are available locally at The Home Depot. Seems like a no-brainer to me.

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