Look What the Catfish Dragged In

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.

Manti Te’o, aka “prey”

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.

The catfish himself

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.

Some content sourced from the UK Insight article, “Jobfished: the con that tricked dozens into working for a fake design agency”, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.


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.

Detail of the mechanics

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.

Climb Ev’ry Mountain

St. Brigid’s Cathedral dominates the quaint urban landscape of Kildare Town in central Ireland. The centuries-old stone church beckons the short walk up the hill from the village square, for a tour around Brigid’s domain. And while you’re on the grounds, you’ll be tempted to climb the adjacent tower for a bird’s eye view of the surrounding county. I assure you; the vistas are breathtaking.

A bird’s eye view from my own locale would be just as breathtaking right about now.  In the last ten days, I’ve ventured beyond my driveway once, for a mundane grocery shop at the local market.  For all I know, nearby Colorado Springs has been erased from the map.  For all I know, all my neighbors in the surrounding county traveled to a tropical island where they’re making merry, while I’m left to keep an eye on things back here at home.  Who nominated me for that job?

Proceed with caution!
The tower “stairs”

No kidding, the view from the tower at St. Brigid’s is spectacular.  Not only do you see all of Kildare Town below, but you’ll be mesmerized by the lush green acreage of the adjacent Irish National Stud (and its countless roaming thoroughbred horses).  When my wife and I visited several years ago, targeting Kildare Town to see the cathedral of her namesake saint, I figured light a few candles and say a few prayers; not climb a ten-story tower.  I have a mild fear of heights so you can imagine my trepidation.  And here’s the kicker: there’s no code-sanctioned, easy-to-navigate stairwell within the tower.  Instead, you hand over a couple of Euros for the privilege of climbing a dozen ladders to the top.  I almost called it quits after the first few rungs.

My longing to “rise above it all” today is not just inspired by the pandemic, nor even my acrophobia-be-damned adventure up the tower at St. Brigid’s.  I also think about nearby Pikes Peak, the highest of the Rocky Mountains in this part of Colorado.  “America’s Mountain” tops out at 14,115 feet, and I’ve hiked to the summit several times (the trail begins at 6,000 feet).  You begin the journey on a series of easy switch-backing trails, which then give way to a remarkably gentle incline through a forest of Ponderosa pines.  For several miles under the treetops, you have no orientation to suggest you’re even climbing a majestic mountain.  But once you hit the tree line, everything upwards is a moonscape: rocks and dirt and scrub brush all the way up to the summit.  The view is stunning; as if you’re looking down from space.  You can see clear to Wyoming to the north and Kansas to the east.

Pikes Peak, through Garden of the Gods

I could use a mountain (or a ladder-filled tower) on my property right about now, just to connect with the world around me.  Oh sure, rural living means the stay-at-home rules are a minor inconvenience, but it’d sure be nice to confirm someone else is out there.  The local news shows human interest stories every night on TV, but c’mon, how many of us trust the media these days?

Here’s my very favorite climb-ev’ry-mountain memory.  I grew up in a narrow canyon on the outskirts of Los Angeles; so narrow in fact, some stretches could only accommodate a single row of houses on one side of a winding two-lane road.  Biking with the cars was taking your life in your own hands, as was scaling the canyon trails into the domains of rattlesnakes and other wildlife.

Lucky for me, a steeply rising network of paved residential streets branched off the canyon floor less than a mile south of our house.  On foot, those streets became a kid’s adventure up and out of the isolation.  I’d stock a daypack with cheese sandwiches, Pop-Tarts, and anything else I could pilfer from the pantry.  Some days I’d go it alone; others I’d drag my brother with me.  Up, up, up we’d climb, rising breathless until we could peer almost straight back down to the canyon floor below.  The final stretch of the topmost street – with houses perched precariously along on its edges – afforded a view of Los Angeles and the nearby Pacific Ocean like none I’ve seen to this day.  There I’d sit, munching snacks, wondering what all I was missing down there in the big city.

Today it’s the same feeling, only different.  What am I missing out there in the big city?  Is Wyoming still to the north and Kansas to the east?  Are cadets still at the Air Force Academy, anticipating this weekend’s socially-distanced graduation ceremony?  Have the majestic red rocks of Garden of the Gods finally crumbled?  Truthfully, I can’t answer any of these questions, not while I’m stay-at-home.  But at least I can see the summit of Pikes Peak from here.  At least I’m confident St. Brigid’s Cathedral still stands in Kildare Town (Notre Dame in Paris, maybe not so much).  And at least I can revisit fond memories, the kind I never thought I’d yearn for again.  On that note, think I’ll make a cheese sandwich.

American Pastime

Over the next three months, on any given Saturday, the spotlight of college athletics will shine brightly on football. Millions of fans will flock to stadiums (or in one instance, a motor speedway) to witness this most American of sports. Tailgate parties will crop up hours before kickoff.  Team-branded merchandise will fly off shelves to the tune of millions of dollars.  Broadcasters will endlessly debate one team’s merits versus another’s shortcomings.  It’s fair to say college football will be a more consuming topic than the presidential election.


Last weekend my family and I experienced the unique opportunity to attend two college football games in Texas on consecutive days. UCLA played Texas A&M in College Station on Saturday, where A&M’s Aggies won in thrilling fashion in overtime. Then Notre Dame played Texas in Austin on Sunday, where UT’s Longhorns also won in thrilling fashion in double overtime. On Friday we could’ve added yet another game, passing through Waco as Baylor opened its season against Northwestern State.

Here are a few college football statistics for your consideration:

  • There are well over 100 NCAA Division 1 college football teams competing on any given Saturday of the season.
  • The combined attendance to last weekend’s games involving at least one team in the Associated Press (AP) Top 25 was over 1.5 million fans. That included UCLA-Texas A&M (100,443) and Notre Dame-Texas (102,315 – an all-time record for a Texas home game).
  • The face value of a major college football game ticket is around $100 this year.  Accordingly last Saturday’s AP Top 25 games alone generated $150 million (not counting merchandise, concessions, and parking).
  • There are eight college football stadiums in the U.S. with more than 100,000 seats, and another twenty-two stadiums with more than 75,000 seats.  The largest NFL football stadium has 82,500 seats.
  • Next Saturday’s college football game between Tennessee and Virginia Tech will be held at Bristol Motor Speedway (TN).  The 150,000 fans expected in the grandstands will shatter the all-time record for college football single-game attendance.

Sure, college football has some impressive numbers.  The game will only get more popular.  Yet last weekend also reminded me there are more indelible memories than the game or the venue itself.  Consider:

  • The heart-warming spirit of hometown Texas A&M.  As a fan of the opposing team, the reception in College Station is akin to a stranger inviting you into his living room for sweet tea and cookies.  I lost track of how many Aggies welcomed us to campus, wished our team well, or simply thanked us for making the trip.  Their politeness is downright 1950’s-sitcom.  With that in mind, add See a football game in College Station to your bucket list.
  • A&M’s Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band.  Also known as the Corps of Cadets, the four hundred musicians comprise the largest military marching band in the world.  Their movements are so coordinated and precise you’d swear you were looking at a computer-generated equivalent.  One Aggie actually apologized to me for the “old-fashioned” feel of the Corp.  On the contrary; it was one of the most impressive halftime shows I’ve ever seen.
  • The Littlest Fans.  Texas A&M and Texas alike draw a healthy number of families to their games.  My favorites are the little ones: those fans between the ages of 5 and 15.  They’re decked out in their team colors and face paint, with shiny hair ribbons and pom-poms.  We had several of them sitting right in front of us at the Notre Dame-Texas game.  Their innocence and unabashed enthusiasm were priceless.

My advice after my mega-weekend of college football?  Ditch the television.  GO to a game and see what you’re missing.  There happens to be one this Saturday, and not far from where you live.


You’re probably typing on your keyboard as you read this.  But imagine you have a handwritten document sitting upright in front of you and you’re simply copying the words one keystroke at a time.  Now imagine you have several keyboards at your disposal, each on top of the next like stair steps. Your hands move up and down the stairs, finding just the right key for each letter.  Finally, imagine one more keyboard beneath your feet, which you occasionally depress like the gas pedal of a car.  This my friends, is but a hint of what it takes to play a church organ.  It’s a complex, hard-to-grasp skill requiring an absurd amount of focus.  It’s abstruse.

24 - abstruse

The Basilica of the Sacred Heart at the University of Notre Dame is scheduled to receive a brand new organ; the first note to be played during the Christmas holidays in December 2016. This is the fifth organ in the 165-year history of the Basilica and as you would expect, the most impressive. The instrument will boast four keyboards (five if you count the one beneath the feet) and almost 5,200 pipes.  The pipe diameters are as small as a pencil and as large as a ship’s smokestack.  Listen for the shrill tone of a tin whistle or the booming alert of a departing cruise liner – this organ can duplicate both.  It can even duplicate the soprano, alto, tenor, baritone and bass sounds of the singing human voice.

An organ of this complexity and size – it will soar to almost four stories in height – is taking several years to construct.  But most remarkably, it is being assembled in the modest workshop of Paul Fritts & Company, in the outskirts of Seattle, by a grand total of six craftsmen.  The University chose this group because its founders were trained back through several generations, dating to those who built the most prominent cathedral organs in Western Europe.

Next spring Fritts & Company will host an open house in their workshop, to show off the nearly completed Notre Dame organ.  Then next summer when the University’s campus is relatively quiet, the organ will be shipped from the West Coast to Northern Indiana to be assembled in time for that first performance a few months later.  Can you imagine the responsibility of the drivers of those several flat-beds, trucking so many handmade components over the mountains and across the plains to their final destination?  They should have a police escort to clear the highways.

When I was in middle school I took organ lessons for a brief time, learning on a modest instrument in the loft of the small chapel of our Methodist church.  There were only two keyboards for the hands and a small keyboard for the feet.  I found it overwhelming to play with hands and feet at the same time.  To further complicate the skill – and this is true of most organs – there are a few milliseconds of delay between the time a key is pressed and the sound is issued (thanks to the mechanics of opening and closing the organ pipes).  So you’re playing the music a moment before you actually hear it.

I did perform in public once.  Every year our Methodist leaders would allow the church youth group to conduct the Sunday services – from the sermon to the bible readings to the music.  Our organist “rigged” the sanctuary organ for me so it felt more like playing that small chapel organ.  A little less abstruse, if you will.  Regardless, that was the end of my career as an organist.  Two hands on the single keyboard of a piano (with little else for the feet and brain to worry about) is more than enough for me.


This week I attended a conference at my alma mater; the University of Notre Dame.  The days were busy with leadership sessions, guest speakers, and networking, but there was ample time to walk the campus and experience the sights of times gone by.  It is a place where pride, sentiment, and fondness combine to where I am unquestionably drawn to it. In a word, I have a penchant for Notre Dame.

ND Dome

What is immediately apparent about Notre Dame these days is its physical expansion.  The entire campus of my undergraduate experience – now thirty years ago – is surrounded by new buildings, longer quads, and grander athletic facilities.  As a whole it is breathtakingly impressive, even for those who have visited many times before.  But when I cross the proverbial threshold from the new to the old; from the present to the past, to arrive in the sub-campus of my day, there comes a sense of calm and familiarity that can only come from experiences that leave a permanent imprint.

ND Quad 1

My walking tour took me past my academic and social haunts.  I passed several buildings where I experienced the triumphs and tragedies of the classroom.  I passed several dorms – including my own – where the memories of friends and roommates and dates and parties came back to me as if yesterday.  It was easy to get wrapped up in the blanket of yesteryear.

Students were everywhere during my walk.  I was delighted to see some of the same habits and activities.  Frisbee on the quad.  Boyfriend/girlfriend walking hand-in-hand.  Dozens of undergraduates desperate for the spring sunshine relaxing in shorts and t-shirts.  In that moment I wanted to be one of them again.

I captured my walk with a lot of photos.  Every turn – whether for beauty or nostalgia – had me pausing and clicking.  It was as if I was trying to capture the essence of my past and trap it inside of my phone.  Which I realized, in hindsight, was simply not possible.

ND Crowley

Notre Dame has some very special places.  There are two lakes in the middle of campus with quiet walking paths around them.  There is the Grotto – perhaps the most special of those places – where one can light a candle and say a prayer in the shadow of Notre Dame’s cathedral: the Basilica of Sacred Heart.  And there are dozens of corners where you disappear behind a building or down a walkway, and suddenly realize you are alone in the peace and quiet of the moment.

ND Lake

I walked past one of the lakes for several minutes trying to recapture the moments and voices of my years.  I sat at the Grotto trying to summon the spirits of such a significant time in my life.  Even at the bookstore – where Notre Dame’s name or logo is imprinted on everything imaginable, I wandered the aisles in search of… in search of… I’m not sure what.  Did I really believe I could purchase my memories in a shirt?  Or a book?  Or a photo?

Thirty years can change a place forever.  New buildings, new students, and the personality of a new generation dissolve the images of what once was.  And so, as I completed my journey down memory lane, I realized that what I sought, I already had with me.  My years at Notre Dame; my experience that was like no other, rests proudly and permanently in my memories.  No photograph or keepsake or paragraph will ever do it justice.