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Nonfungible a new rage while fleeceware holds new risk

by JOY SCHWABACH | April 10, 2021 at 1:53 a.m.

Did you hear about The New York Times article that sold for $560,000 last month? The proceeds of the experiment went to charity. How about the digital flying cat with a Pop-Tart torso? It sold for $590,000. They're part of the brave new world of "nonfungible tokens."

"Nonfungible" means "can't be copied, unique," much like the items on "Antiques Roadshow." In the digital world, nonfungible tokens are sold in online auctions. If you buy a token, you own a link to a unique piece of digital art, music, video clip or what-have-you. Recently, a video clip of LeBron James' basketball dunk was tokenized. The buyer paid more than $200,000.

Before nonfungible tokens, digital files weren't considered unique because they're so easy to copy: Just send your friends the link. By using the blockchain, a kind of online ledger, each file gets a stamp of authenticity, which can be traded.

I've just been pitched on an nonfungible token for a novel, "Catch 42," by Felix Holzapfel, who once sold a digital marketing agency to a big firm. The auction for "Catch 42" and its artwork was still going on as I wrote this.

I read an advance copy of the book. The hero is an ordinary guy, scrambling to make a living, when a mysterious voice from the future asks for his help. It's an exciting story, with lots of helpful explanations of concepts like quantum mechanics, what Einstein called "spooky action at a distance." Links to TED talks on artificial intelligence, biotech and other new frontiers come at the end of many chapters.

Holzapfel considers his nonfungible token an experiment, a way to teach people about a new phenomenon. The auction will include original artwork in high resolution. All profits go to the artist in the first round, later to charity. You can read all about it at Catch-42.com. It goes on sale in the regular channels May 13.

Though in its infancy, the nonfungible token phenomenon is a way for artists, writers and musicians to benefit from royalties on their works, since the value of tokens on resale can go up in value as the artist gains fame. Recently, however, prices are down 70% from their peak, according to Bloomberg. The average token's price is now $1,400. But the idea behind the tokens is still sound.

Search on "NFT writer on the side" to find a podcast about turning your own book into a nonfungible token. Check out some of the art that sold for $69 million at beeple-collect.com. But beware. One guy spent $500 on a broken link. The art he bought was taken down after the website hosts found out it was fake.

NEW GOOGLE APP

Take a picture of a receipt, your driver's license or some important document and a new Android tool from Google called Stack, will automatically categorize it, making it easy to find in the app.

After installing Stack, I opened it and tapped the plus sign to add a document. When it asked me for the source, I chose "camera" to take a picture of a grocery store receipt. It was automatically categorized. Even the name of the store was slotted in. My driver's license was automatically stored under "IDs." What's more, I can search on text within any image or PDF. I typed "baguette" and a grocery store receipt popped up.

For more information, see Stack.Area120.com. "Area 120" refers to Google's tech incubator, where engineers try out new ideas.

FLEECED

Have you been fleeced? Fleeceware is another name for a type of malware app that lures you into downloading it for a short free trial before hitting you with a high subscription fee.

Avast, the antivirus company, found 204 fleeceware apps, with expected revenue of $403 million. The Apple App Store had more of them than the Google Play Store -- 134 compared with 70. Altogether, these apps were downloaded 1 billion times.

The most popular fleeceware are in categories like astrology, photo editing, music lessons, cartoon creation, video editing, and QR code scanners. Most offer a three-day free trial. After that, if you forget to cancel, it can cost you from $4 a month to $66 a week.

To cancel an Android app, open the Google Play Store, tap the hamburger icon (looks like three stacked lines), and choose "Subscriptions." Click on an app, then "Cancel Subscription" at the bottom of the page. It's a good idea to cancel in advance so you don't forget. You'll still get your free trial.

VIRTUAL HUG

Now that so many have been vaccinated, there's less need for Alexa's virtual hug. But it still might be nice to say, "Alexa, send a hug." She'll ask you whom you want to send it to. The recipient will see their Echo smart speaker light up in yellow. When I tried it, Alexa said: "Joy is sending you a hug."

INTERNUTS

• StillTasty.com tells you if you should keep or toss something from the refrigerator or pantry. For example, salsa can last a month after being opened. Olive oil lasts 18 months to two years.

• "Wolfram Summer School." Search on those words to find a summer school for graduate students, undergrads, professionals and professors.The topics include physics, science, technology and educational motivation. It all takes place online from June 28 to July 16. Wolfram is the creator of the Mathematica software system.

Joy Schwabach can be reached by email at joy.schwabach@gmail.com.

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