When I consider my options at a seafood restaurant, I go for halibut or sea bass. Both are offered wild-caught (a healthier approach than farmed). Both have a distinctive flavor and pair well with a variety of sauces. But once in a great while I come across catfish on the menu. I confess to never having tried it. The jury’s still out on whether catfish is a good choice vs. utterly lacking in flavor. Probably depends on the prep. All I know is, a catfish is a bottom feeder. If it’s anything like con man Ali Ayad, it really is lacking in flavor.
In the world of tech, catfishing is a disturbing practice. The “fisher” creates a false online persona (photo, bio, accounts), then trolls social media looking to establish relationships, usually for financial gain. The victim is lulled into a false sense of security through casual texting and email conversations, until he or she unwittingly hands over the money or even worse, gives access to personal information. Favorite catfishing targets: senior citizens and those looking for love.
A well-known example of catfishing involved former American football player Manti Te’o (a graduate of my alma mater, I’m embarrassed to say). Te’o developed an online relationship with a woman at Stanford University just as his name was starting to make headlines as a Heisman Trophy candidate. Te’o pulled heartstrings when he revealed to the sports media his girlfriend had leukemia. It took a full-blown investigation to determine not only the false persona of Teo’s girlfriend but also the con behind it: a childhood friend of Te’o’s who was in love with him. The resulting embarrassment undoubtedly affected his future NFL prospects.
Ali Ayad is our latest example of catfishing and his story is a whole lot more disturbing than Manti Te’o’s. Ayad started digital design company Madbird in 2020, from nothing but clicks on the keyboard. He invented a corporate website and claimed a random London street address as his office. He created a fake co-founder, stole photos of real people to build the rest of his executive staff, and developed a resume of high-profile clients he never worked for (complete with testimonials). Then he went in search of real people around the globe to put in the long hours to get Madbird off the ground.
It almost worked. Ayad hired fifty employees in a matter of months, convincing each to walk away from real jobs to work from home on commission, with the promise of a fixed salary after six months. One employee pitched the company to over 10,000 contacts, becoming Madbird’s “Employee of the Month”. Others in other countries uprooted their lives, anticipating Madbird as their ticket to eventual relocation to the UK. No client deals were ever closed and no commissions were ever paid.
Then Ayad made a misstep. He hired Gemma Brett, a designer from West London. Two weeks into her employment Brett innocently mapped the commute to Madbird’s offices. The street address turned out to be a building of residential flats. Suspicious, Brett engaged another employee to dig further into the company, and Madbird’s inauthenticity started to reveal itself. The BBC got wind of the story and conducted a thorough investigation, which you can read about here. The extent of Ayad’s charade will have you shaking your head. If nothing else, watch the on-street interview towards the end of the article where reporter Catrin Nye catches Ayad off-guard. Even in this confrontation Ayad believes he’s done nothing wrong.
Ayad reminds me of Rumplestiltskin spinning gold from straw; he’s just a lot more attractive and charismatic than the old buzzard from the Grimm fairy tale. Ayad’s also tech-savvy enough to convince perfectly intelligent people to go for his gold, which leaves me with two questions. Why did Ayad go to such lengths to start a company whose foundation was destined to crumble? And what are the consequences of his actions?
Nature’s catfish are typically harmless but there’s also a particularly nasty one, nicknamed the striped eel for its markings and shape. This catfish has hidden poisonous stingers in its fins. Handle with care; in rare cases, people have died from its venom. Maybe our man Ali Ayad is not just catfishing; he’s a bona fide striped eel. A bottom-feeder, still lurking, ready to poison his next victim. Watch out.
Lego Grand Piano – Update #6
(Read about how this project got started in Let’s Make Music!)
I worked outside of the box this week – literally. Bag #6 – of 21 bags of pieces – assembled into a portion of the piano I can’t attach to the section I’ve built so far. Its width suggests it’s part of the front of the instrument (just behind the keyboard) and it has a few moving parts, but darned if I can figure out how it’s going to connect.
Despite the furious background rush of a Prokofiev piano concerto, I completed this section with calm and confidence in just forty minutes. Either I’m getting better at this or the bags of pieces are shrinking.
Running Build Time: 5.6 hours. Musical accompaniment: Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Major. Leftover pieces: Zero (again!)
Conductor’s Note: The Prokofiev Concerto and Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto No. 5 (accompanying the Bag #2 assembly) were both included in the soundtrack of “The Competition”, a 1980 film starring a young Richard Dreyfuss and even younger Amy Irving. If you’re a fan of classical piano, it’s a must-see.