TIME technology

Hero Builds a Genius Machine That Can Fill 100 Water Balloons in a Minute

The Kickstarter campaign to fund it has already earned more than $100,000

Some people turn to Kickstarter for dumb ideas that clearly will not help anyone. (We’re looking at you, potato salad guy.) But other people, like this father of eight from Texas, use the crowdfunding site to raise money for something that could ACTUALLY ALTER THE COURSE OF HUMAN HISTORY.

Say hello to Bunch O Balloons, a contraption that solves a very real problem about water balloons: they’re so much fun, but they take forever to fill. No longer! This device will easily fill and tie 37 balloons in 20 seconds flat. You simply attach it to a hose and give it a gentle shake once the balloons are filled. Already tied, they’ll then drop right into a bucket below.

Creator Josh Malone set out to raise $10,000 to begin manufacturing this invention — and now, having raised more than $100,000, he’s clearly surpassed that goal.

This contraption will be especially handy if you’ve got sneaky pets who tend to pop your water balloons:

Now you’ll be all, Who cares? Give me just a minute and I’ll have 100 more where that came from!

TIME Internet

The Hottest New Exercise Equipment Is a Giant Hamster Wheel…for Cats

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Getty Images

A Kickstarter for this project has already raised more than $120,000

If you’re hoping to help your fat cat slim down, consider getting him this feline hamster wheel. It’s still in its funding stages, but a Kickstarter campaign has already vastly exceeded its goal of $10,000.

In just a few weeks, supporters of this exercise wheel — called One Fast Cat — have pledged well over $120,000. But why a hamster wheel?

“It’s good for cats to get some sort of workout and changing it up to keep them interested is important,” creator Sean Farley wrote on the Kickstarter page. “There are many ways to keep your cat lively, giving them access to energetic companions, making a play session part of their day, and/or offering them tempting exercise equipment for use when you’re not at home…that’s why we came up with “One Fast Cat” cat wheel.”

Okay then! Here’s a look at how the contraption works:

After giving this some thought, we’re not really surprised that the campaign surpassed its funding goal. It’s 2014. If there’s wine for cats, why can’t there be a hamster wheel for cats too?

TIME Startups

How Youtube Stars Can Actually Make a Living

Pedals Music Video—Conte

Patreon offers a new approach to crowdfunding

Being a YouTube star doesn’t actually pay all that well. Just ask Jack Conte, a singer and musician who has scored viral hits mashing up Pharrell songs and stripping down pop hits like Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” as one half of the indie rock duo Pomplamoose. Between the group and his solo work, Conte says his videos can rack up as many as four million views each month on the video sharing site. But all those eyeballs do little for Conte’s bottom line—in a good month, he collects $400 in advertising revenue from YouTube.

“There’s great ways for people to build an audience online right now,” he says. “There’s really no great way for people to make a living.”

After a particularly elaborate music video involving singing robots on a handmade replica of the Millennium Falcon earned him just a few hundred dollars, Conte realized that there had to be a better way to earn money online. He wanted what he calls a “quality driven Web,” or a space where artists could make money based on the passion of their fanbases rather than trying to lure millions of mildly interested passersby by “going viral.”

His solution was Patreon, a new crowdfunding platform that helps creators earn revenue from their most ardent fans on an ongoing basis. Unlike Kickstarter, where inventors and creative types solicit money from users in a month-long campaign frenzy, Patreon asks users to pay creators each time they produce a new work. That could be a music video, a web comic any other kind of creative project. As on Kickstarter, patrons are given varying prizes based on how much they donate.

The unusual funding model creates a new dynamic between creators and fans. It’s not as much about crafting one brilliant idea and marketing it well but rather building and sustaining an audience over the long term. The idea of individual fans supporting artists on such a granular basis might seem anachronistic in an age where YouTube has helped make media more accessible, but Conte believes people are still willing to pay for art. “Patronage is a very old phenomenon that’s occurred in people and in society for thousands of years,” he says. “It stems from an emotional response to someone’s art. It’s a feeling of responsibility and importance and a desire to be a part of what they’re making.”

Since launching in May 2013, Patreon has attracted 25,000 creators who are requesting funding for everything from science fiction short stories to Minecraft raps to video game reviews. So far patrons have paid more than $2 million for creative works on the site, with $1 million of that coming in just the last two months. The most popular creators can earn close to $10,000 per project on the site.

Molly Lewis, a ukulele player with a small but devout following on YouTube, believes Patreon could eventually become her primary revenue source as an artist. She’s currently convinced more than 400 fans to pledge $2,600 total for each new song she makes, more than double her original funding goal. To attract donations, she promises exclusives like videos of live shows and personalized limericks written for hardcore fans. “It’s kind of like a fan club,” she says. “The money they spend goes directly into my buying food and making more music. They can see their dollars at work in a way that you can’t really when you go to a Katy Perry show or something.”

This desire to get an inside track on the creation of a new project has already helped Kickstarter pull in more than $1 billion in pledges from people around the world. Experts believe the Patreon model can also reach massive scale since it’s appealing to both creators and their fans. ““Here you can evaluate the quality of output over time and then decide whether you want to continue subscribing or not,” says Anindya Ghose, a professor of information, operation and management sciences at New York University who also studies crowdfunding. “It’s a very positive self-reinforcing cycle where people give small amounts of money, which incentivizes artists to do a better job, which then leads people to give more money more frequently.”

Plenty of obstacles remain for the still-nascent startup. It’s not yet clear just how long people will be willing to continually support a single artist’s work—Ghose points out that a few popular creators pumping out subpar work simply to collect a check could sour new users on the platform. More worrying could be YouTube’s entrance into the donations space. The video giant launched a virtual tip jar of its own recently as a response to ongoing gripes that it’s hard to earn money directly on the site. For now, Conte contends that Patreon’s features differentiates it from YouTube’s less robust offering, while YouTube has expressed support for crowdfunding platforms like Patreon and Kickstarter.

Silicon Valley, at least, believes in Patreon’s future. The startup closed a $15 million round of venture funding in June which included leading venture capitalist Danny Rimer and Alexis Ohanian, one of the co-founders of Reddit. The money will allow the company to launch a mobile app and open an office in San Francisco instead of working out of the two-bedroom apartment where Conte and co-founder Sam Yam live.

As Patreon grows, Conte promises that it will remain focused on creators’ interests. The currently unprofitable company charges a 5% commission on all donations, and Conte vows the fee won’t increase in the future (Kickstarter and YouTube charge the same amount). Though he’s now a CEO, he’s still a creator at heart—Conte has 1,300 patrons of his own paying more than $5,000 for each new video he makes. He envisions a future where every creative person isn’t a starving artist or a pop megastar. There’s room in the middle for artists, too, and people will pay for their work because, as Conte says, “Everybody wants to be able to enjoy beautiful things.”

TIME Television

This Concept For a Breaking Bad Sequel Is Spectacularly, Gloriously Insane

Val Kilmer cutting off own hair.
Actor Val Kilmer cuts his hair off on stage while filming the new Terrence Malick movie during day one of Fun Fun Fun Fest at Auditorium Shores on November 2, 2012 in Austin, Texas. Rick Kern—WireImage

Naturally, it's a half-million dollar Kickstarter, and would star Val Kilmer and Slash. Shut up and take my money

Maybe you really, really miss Breaking Bad. Maybe you can’t wait for Better Call Saul. Maybe you’re an avid follower of Val Kilmer’s Twitter feed. Or maybe you just spend your days swimming around a pool filled with money like Scrooge McDuck. Whatever your reason, you could hardly be blamed for donating a few dollars to this Kickstarter that is requesting $500,000 to make a “sequel” to Breaking Bad called Anastasia.

Leaving aside the fact that TV series don’t have “sequels,” per se (usually you’d call it a spinoff or, you know, just keep making the show itself), it sounds pretty fantastic. Val Kilmer (because of course) and Slash (ditto) would play U.S. Marshalls sent in to track down whoever stole Walter White’s body in the opening scene of Anastasia‘s pilot (oh yeah, that happens). From there, it’s really anyone’s guess, but creator Lawrence Shepherd says that he’s already finished scripts for all ten episodes of the first season.

Some of you might be saying to yourselves, “This sounds mighty far-fetched to me.” Fair, but then again, so was a high school chemistry teacher becoming the biggest drug kingpin in the Southwest. Kilmer hasn’t signed on yet, but the man does love himself a good desert and in an interview with VICE, Shepherd seemed confident about his chances of landing the Top Gun star: “From what people tell me about Val Kilmer, you don’t have to pay him a million dollars. If there’s some money there, he’ll typically do it.”

Shepherd is a little more concerned about getting Slash — who would “stay in the ‘Slash’ character” and “will always be undercover” — due to the musician’s other obligations, but he’s sweetening the pot by naming Slash the show’s musical director. Other big names who will be invited to appear in Anastasia (as recovering addicts) will include Russell Brand, Jamie Lee Curtis, Steven Tyler, Dick Van Dyke, Drew Barrymore, Robert Downey Jr., Robin Williams, Neil Young and Eminem — all of whom would be permitted to improvise their own dialogue, which would “elevate Anastasia to an even higher level of quality and randomness.”

It’s also not entirely clear what the origins of the series’ title (Anastasia) is, but Shepherd has set his sights on at least one female co-star for Kilmer and Slash: Jana Mashonee, who would play Slash’s girlfriend.

Though production has yet to begin, Shepherd has already been compelled to change a few of his casting choices. He told VICE he was turned down by Laura San Giacomo (Just Shoot Me), and abandoned his first choice for Kilmer’s role — Nathan Lane — because of prospective travel expenses. These hiccups could explain why Anastasia has received just $440 of its half-million dollar funding goal. The project’s August 1 deadline is rapidly approaching, but Shepherd says he plans to re-start it if the series is not funded on the first go-round.

TIME robotics

That Jibo Robot Does the Same Stuff as Your Phone, but People Are Freaking Out Anyway

jibo
Jibo

Jibo promises to be a lovable robot assistant, but it's unclear why you'd actually need one.

A crowdfunding campaign for a “family robot” called Jibo is picking up steam, blowing through its fundraising goals within the first day.

What is Jibo? It’s a little pod with a motorized swivel, equipped with cameras, microphones and a display. It recognizes faces and voices, and can act as a personal assistant by setting reminders, delivering messages and offering to take group photos. It also serves as a telepresence robot for video chat.

As of now, Jibo has raised more than $200,000 on IndieGogo–well beyond its $100,000 goal–and has racked up plenty of breathless coverage. Early bird pricing of $100 sold out long ago, but you can still claim a unit for $499, with an estimated December 2015 ship date.

Sorry to burst the hype bubble, but I’m not seeing how Jibo will more practical than a phone, a tablet or even a wearable device. Most of the things Jibo promises to do can be done better by the handset in your pocket–which, by the way, you don’t have to lug around from tabletop to tabletop.

To see what I mean, let’s deconstruct the scenario in Jibo’s pitch video, in which a man gets home from a long day at work. Jibo, perched on a nearby counter, turns on the lights, records an order for Chinese take-out, then starts reading back a voicemail from his girlfriend. The man then doubles the take-out order on the fly.

It’s the kind of demo that makes perfect sense unless you think about it too much. If home automation goes mainstream, a dedicated robot won’t be necessary, because our phones will do a better job of signaling when we’ve walked through the front door. The idea of having your messages read to you when you get home is a throwback to answering machines, which are obsolete now that we can check our messages from anywhere. As for the take-out order, you’ve got to be the dullest person in the world to order “the usual” every time you get home, and I’m not sure the man’s girlfriend will take kindly to having no input on what food she gets.

There is something to be said for a device that can persistently listen for your commands and act on them, but this is the same problem that wearable devices are trying to solve, and they’re better-suited to being wherever you are. While group photos and telepresence are potentially useful, now we’re getting into some very specific situations that don’t really justify a $500 purchase, regardless of how endearing Jibo tries to be. The only way Jibo makes sense as a robot is if it gains more physical capabilities, like a way to clean your windows or cook dinner, but it’s far too early to say whether that’s going to happen.

Maybe it’s unfair for me to judge at such an early stage, but that’s exactly what Jibo is trying to do through crowdfunding. The creators are asking people to throw money at something they’ve never seen, that has only been shown to the press in limited demos, and that won’t even ship until the tail end of next year. All we have to go on right now is a slick-looking pitch video and a whole bunch of promises. As talented as the folks behind Jibo seem to be, I’ve seen enough undercooked crowdfunded projects to know that some skepticism is in order.

MONEY Taxes

Potato Salad Kickstarter Guy May Have to Swallow $21,000 Tax Bill

potato salad
Let them eat... potato salad? Denise Bush—Getty Images

Perhaps you’ve heard about the Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to make some potato salad. It started as an attempt at irony but has now raised more than 70,000-completely-serious-dollars — inspiring awe, anger, less-successful copycats and plenty of jokes.

For those wondering where all that money will go, the Tax Foundation has an (at least partial) answer: The taxman.

According to the think tank’s calculations, project founder Zack Danger Brown should owe federal taxes of $8,632, Columbus city taxes of $1,510, Ohio state taxes of $1,712, plus $9,313 in payroll taxes. That all adds up to a whopping $21,167 — and that assumes donations stop after $70,000. (Spoiler alert, the total figure has already jumped $1,000 in the last couple of hours.)

The reason for this big bill is that funds raised on Kickstarter are considered income and can generally be offset only by expenses directly related to the project.

So unless Brown is adorning his potato salad with Wagyu beef, white truffles, and gold leaf, he could be looking at a 32% effective tax rate.

If he does as many are suggesting and donates any leftover cash to charity, he might be able to offset some of that with a charitable contribution deduction — though the Tax Foundation says he’ll still be liable for payroll taxes.

TIME Food

Internet Raises Over $11,500 For Some Guy to Make Potato Salad

And the money keeps coming in

Folks, when a regular guy tries to crowd-fund his potato salad and ends up with an unexpected windfall of $11,500, you know the American Dream is alive and well.

A Kickstarter created by Zack “Danger” Brown of Columbus, Ohio asked the Internet for a mere $10 to make a potato salad. But the Internet heard his call for help, and he found himself with over $11,500 of potato salad funding, and the money keeps rolling in.

Brown posted that if he reached $3,000, he would rent out a party hall and invite the whole internet to eat potato salad. But no updates have indicated what he’ll do with this much money. How long does $11,500 worth of potato salad keep in the refrigerator?

Not to be deterred, another would-be chef in the UK has asked Kickstarter for £10 to make coleslaw. At the time of writing, he was up to £12.50.

 

TIME Google

YouTube Is About to Change Drastically

Google Inc.'s YouTube logo is displayed behind the reception desk at the company's YouTube Space studio in Tokyo, on March 30, 2013.
Kiyoshi Ota—Bloomberg/Getty Images

YouTube is introducing a new way for its legion of video creators to make money on the site. The Google division announced Thursday at Vidcon that it is launching a crowdfunding system called Fan Funding that will allow viewers to donate as much as $500 to video creators. The feature, which will function more like a tip jar than the highly coordinated campaigns on sites like Kickstarter, is being tested among a select number of channels in the United States, Mexico, Japan and Australia. Creators can apply to have their channels added to the trial.

Internet users have shown a huge appetite for funding video projects in recent years. On Kickstarter, Film and Video is the second most-funded category on the site, with people pledging $224 million to such projects over the years. Patreon, a newer startup that was launched by a YouTube creator seeking more revenue, has generated $2 million for creators since it launched early in 2013. By adding a donation model of its own, YouTube may be able to keep its stars more tightly bound to its own ecosystem, rather than seeing them venture off to other sites. But YouTube says its own donation system is meant to be additive, not a direct competitor to these other sites. “Fan funding is an addition to goal-based fundraising like Kickstarter, as well as subscription-based fundraising like Patreon, and we hope creators continue to use all these tools to reach their greatest levels of success,” YouTube spokesman Matt McLernon said in an email.

YouTube will take a 5% commission on all donations, plus a flat fee of $0.21 to cover costs, McLernon said. Kickstarter and Patreon also charge a 5% commission, while crowdfunding site Indiegogo’s fees range from 4% to 9%. In addition to the donation system, YouTube announced several other new features, such as support of video shot at 60 frames per second and a new weekly radio show on Sirius XM starring YouTube star Jenna Marbles.

TIME Television

Seth MacFarlane’s Donating Up To $1M to the Reading Rainbow Kickstarter

"A Million Ways To Die In The West" Photocall
Seth Macfarlane attends a photocall to promote "A Million Ways To Die In The West" on May 27, 2014 in London, England. Anthony Harvey--Getty Images

The "Family Guy" and "Ted" creator has pledged up to $1 million to help make a web version of the classic kids show

Were you one of millions of kids who was a fan of the PBS show Reading Rainbow? Seth MacFarlane sure was. So much so, that the Ted and Family Guy creator has just pledged a small fortune to a campaign working on bringing the educational show that promotes reading back in web form.

LeVar Burton, the actor who hosted the show until its cancellation in 2006, launched a tablet app inspired by the show in 2012. But as he notes on his Kickstarter page, tablets aren’t accessible to everyone. Thus, he launched a fundraising campaign to create a web series of the show for teachers to use as an instructional guide. If the campaign’s total goal of $5 million is reached, Burton promises that the show will be able to reach 7,500 classrooms for free.

So far the campaign is about a million dollars shy of that goal, but MacFarlane has now pledged to match up to $1 million in pledges made on the Kickstarter website, Burton said a statement on the fundraising page Thursday. (MacFarlane’s publicist also confirmed the pledge to the Associated Press.) So for every dollar that’s pledged from now until Wednesday, July 2 — when the campaign ends — MacFarlane will match with his own money.

“But before you start calling your friends and spreading the word, please help me thank my friend, Seth, for his amazing generosity,” Burton wrote on the Kickstarter page. “With his help, we can make an even bigger difference for an entire generation of kids. That’s just huge.”

TIME Video Games

Shovel Knight May Be the 8-bit Homage We’ve Been Waiting For

+ READ ARTICLE

The music in Shovel Knight‘s launch trailer sounds nothing like the music in the game. I can personally vouch for this.

The trailer (above) is all dour, thrash-y, melodically minor guitars and calf-murdering double-bass drumming. The actual game is scored with scritch-popping chiptunes (that’s the hipster way of talking about 8-bit music in 2014). With respect for Jake Kaufmann, who’s listed as developer Yacht Club Games’ sound designer, the trailer’s music doesn’t hold a candle to the mad genius of his vintage-infused in-game tunes, like this one:

Shovel Knight is an 8-bit-like (coin a genre), a platformer starring a shovel-wielding knight, out to defeat the evil foozle, and his thumb-torturing adventures along the way. It’s like Wizards and Warriors meets Castlevania meets Faxanadu (and I’m told, DuckTales — for shame, I never played that one). It’s the result of a wildly successful Kickstarter that blew past its $75,000 goal by nearly a quarter of a million bucks back in April 2013. It’s the latest release in a sudden parade of mature Kickstarter-spawned games putting paid to crowdfunding’s promise.

Bask in its unabashed genuflection to 1980s game design tropes. Bathe in its classic NES color palette. Chuckle at the notion of a horn-helmed knight nobly brandishing a sharpened spade. William Faulkner said it best: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Faulkner would have understood (and probably played) Shovel Knight.

Shovel Knight costs $15, and you can have it on PC, Mac, Linux, 3DS or Wii U this Thursday, June 26.

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