Machine Learning to Stream “DeepFake” Videos in Real-Time

Machine learning is one of the major goals of the more general term of artificial intelligence. Earlier this year I read about so called “DeepFake” videos on the popular German computer science news service Heise. While the entire topic in that article is a bit sleazy, I was intrigued by the possibilities of that technology.

Basically, the “DeepFake” technology uses existing machine learning / deep learning algorithms to create models that can manipulate data in a certain quite predictable way. If you input a headshot photo of a random person, that “model” can make that person look like a very specific person. That sounds very abstract.

An example:

If I take a photo of myself, the “Nicholas Cage” model can make me look like Nicholas Cage!

In the case of those DeepFake videos, an entire video scene was processed by a certain model and basically made the actor look like a very specific different actor. So as a result, you would get a video where the actor looks very different from the one who was shot in the original film.

Real-Time is Key

For quite some years we’ve been working with streaming video for our Sky Drone products, which come in many different flavors. As a result, we have a bit of experience on how to stream video real-time. Then we thought further on how that technology of “deep faking” could work with real-time video chat. As a result, we used all the technology knowledge at hand and created a small web service that allows you to video chat with yourself. Yet, you won’t see your face, but the one of a person you choose to be. This is how it looks like:

The small website is not fancy nor is it easy to use. It just works — if you use it the right way. If you’d like to try it yourself, you can follow the instructions we posted on Reddit.

TRY HERE: Reddit – Video Live-Stream DeepFake Testing

Here is a video of a user in India who gave it a try:

How it works

You can see yourself through the webcam of your computer. That video is being streamed to a cloud computing cluster we operate. On that cluster, the “AI model” for the selected person is being applied. The resulting video is then being streamed back to your computer and shown on the screen. As a result, your face looks quite different from your actual face.

You can try to smile for example, and the model will modify the smile to a smile that celebrity would do. This includes the kind of teeth that celebrity has, the mouth and lip shape, etc.

For example, this is how it looks like when we smile while being Nicolas Cage:

Of course, a photo of a computer screen is not that nice and it does especially not show how movement in the video shows you as a “different person”. Yet, it can at least give you an idea on how that might be. Feel free to give it a try yourself.

The Future

We have some ideas on how this can be used in future – for legitimate purposes, of course. As I don’t want to spoil your thoughts … What do you think this can be used for?

Experimenting with Solar Panels

As I mentioned earlier, we are building a house in my home town Bad Langensalza. Since my teenage years I’ve been fascinated by technology of many kinds. That lead me to study computer science and later on focus my entire professional life around that. Now, building a house is – generally speaking – a rather traditional kind of engineering work. Putting up walls, a roof, do some ground, etc. We’ve found a great company to take care of all of that, but more about the house topic in later blog post.
 
Let me give you a little insight into my motivation on experimenting with solar panels. The house “package” we chose, came with a standard natural gas-powered heating system. That system is supported by simple solar tubes to pre-warm water. Those solar tubes don’t generate electricity, they just warm up the water. It’s basically just black tubes with water inside. We personally feel that fossil resources are generally something we should try not to use too much of. So we upgraded our “package” from the natural-gas-powered heating to an entirely electric-powered air-water-pump system. It is generally speaking quite similar to a split-type A/C that’s popular in Asia and other parts of the world. One reason for choosing that and paying for the additional costs was to allow us to eventually support our heating system with solar panels that generate electricity (see photovoltaics). Heating is in Europe what air-conditioning was in Hong Kong. It is essential for a comfortable home with Gemütlichkeit. Especially in the winter months, of course.

Before I left Hong Kong, I bought a “solar panel kit” from China and shipped it over along with my household. It consists of the following:

  1. 100W Solar Panel (monocrystalline cells)
  2. Controller unit
  3. Power inverter unit (convert DC to AC)
  4. Some cabeling

Back in Hong Kong, I already unwrapped the set to test it. You can’t be too trusty with the mainland Chinese vendors. I quickly realized that I needed a battery to get the entire thing working properly. So I decided to push that testing back to when I’m in Germany. I was quite sure my dad still had some car battery hidden in his garage somewhere. Guess what? Of course, he still had a battery!

After finally having found some time to do my experiment, I unpacked everything and set it up in their garden. I connected the solar panel to the controller. Connected the controller to the battery and connected the power inverter to the battery as well. Then I connected a consumer (a FM radio) to the power inverter to test it and switched everything “on”. Guess again: What happened?  Yep! Nothing happened. Here is how that set up looked like:

Basic solar panel setup: panel – battery – inverter – controller (left to right)

Here is a quick video about that:

Technically, it should work like this:

  1. The solar panel converts the sun’s energy into 14.4V DC electricity.
  2. The controller takes that electricity and passes it on to the 12V car battery to charge that battery.
  3. The controller ensures, the correct charge is passed. So you have to configure which type of battery you have. This depends mainly on the number of cells your battery has (e.g. 3 cells, 4 cells, 6 cells, etc).
  4. The converter simply consumes the 12V DC electricity from the battery and converts it into 240V AC electricity.
  5. Any standard consumer electric appliance can then be powered by the converter’s output (e.g. a radio).

As my radio didn’t turn on, there was apparently something wrong with my setup. So I tried several other options. The controller (the most right device in the photo above) also has two more additional outputs besides the one for the battery:

  1. A direct consumer output (voltage can be adjusted), and
  2. Two USB ports

I tried to connect the power inverter to the direct consumer output of the controller to see if my radio turns on then. Nothing happened again. Yet, the controller has a display that appears to be operating correctly. So I quickly got a USB cable and tried to charge one of my old phones through one of the USB ports. That worked flawlessly and with about ~2A output current, the phone charged up quite quickly. Have a look at the charging working properly:

Conclusion Test 1

It appeared that the solar panel worked well. The controller seems to have worked too. Also, when the battery is connected, the controller’s display output indicated that it is charging correctly. Hence, I assumed there was a problem with the inverter unit. I double-checked whether I connected the unit properly. It appeared to be getting enough electricity. That’s because the fan turns on automatically when I switch the inverter on. So it seems to be receiving enough electricity from the battery or in the other test directly from the controller. My conclusion was to try another inverter. So ordered one on Amazon.

Test 2 – New Inverter

The new inverter I ordered off Amazon cost just €20, but is also just a 300W inverter as opposed to the original inverter I got with the whole set that can do 1000W. Anyhow, I only have a 100W solar panel so far. The whole setup with the new inverter looked like this:

Setup #2: solar panel, battery, inverter, controller, radio.

Believe it or not, the setup worked out-of-the-box now. I managed to get some sound out of the radio and finally listen to the weather forecast. The lawn obviously needed some rain soon! Here is a quick video of the setup with the radio playing:

Solar Panel Photo Gallery

 

Upcoming Solar Panel Tests

I’m now curious on how this works with multiple solar panels and larger electricity storage. Especially, how I need to wire it to get it working properly and how much electricity it can actually collect, convert and store. Of course, there are all these theoretical calculations you can easily run based on how much a solar panel can process, what the average sunshine time is in your area, how you convert and store the electricity and so on. But all these are theoretical values and I was never a fan of plain and dry theories. I got to try it myself. See it in action and experience its practicality.

So my next solar goal is now to:

  1. Get 2 more 100W flexible monocrystalline solar panels
  2. Replace old battery with 2 new car batteries that store at least 80Ah each
  3. Install all 3 panels and 2 batteries in a more semi-permanent setting
  4. Let this run / charge / consume for a few days / weeks

 

The Purpose

My end goal is to cover certain roofs of our new house / property with solar panels. As we are planning to have a carport and a permanent awning for the terrace, my plan is to cover both with solar panels. Here in Germany we of course have service providers / construction companies where you can order your terrace awning or carport with a solar panel roof including the construction of such. Think: all-inclusive-service. That would be the laziest option, but also the easiest one of simply getting it done. As you can imagine, these installations are then quite expensive. I was looking at a 10m x 4m terrace awning that’s completely covered by solar panels and the price was something in the range of €35k ($41k). That is quite A LOT I find and not even close to my budget. Though, including labor I guess it may be a fair price. Yet, we still wouldn’t have a carport yet.

So, I’m experimenting with these solar panels to figure out if the solar panel part is something I could perhaps do myself. It may or may not be practical for various reasons.

  • Perhaps there’s too much work involved?
  • Perhaps the pure material costs are too high to justify their use?
  • Perhaps the efficiency of the solar panels aren’t as good on average as sellers claim them to be?
  • Perhaps my plan gets killed by special EU customs duty on Chinese solar panels?
  • Perhaps storing electricity is not efficient enough?
  • Perhaps the batteries for storing them aren’t as reliable as they should be?

There are so many questions and there are probably a lot more I haven’t even thought about yet. I won’t be able to answer at least some questions to my satisfaction, if I don’t get started. I simple need to get at least some steps closer to entirely understand the practicalities behind using solar panels. That’s what I’ll do in the next months. Let’s see how that goes.

Stay tuned for more stories on solar panel experiments and our house construction process, progress or non-progress. 

 

Products mentioned:

Fighting SPAM on kozen.de

I recently re-launched this blog and for quite some years I have been having problems with spam. This blog is powered by WordPress — probably the most popular blog software out there. It is a popular target for spammers and other attachers who want to spread their “news”. Since the inception of this blog 13+ years ago, I’ve been receiving a lot of spam comments.

Spam Comments on kozen.de

To fight off that spam, I’ve installed a plug-in called “Spam Karma” many years ago. It was working quite well, but for some reason it has stopped working. That’s probably related to the fact that the developer stopped maintaining it quite some years ago.

WordPress has its own spam fighting plug-in, which ships with WordPress by default. However, that’s built on top of an online service that you need to subscribe to. To have any significant spam fighting result, that subscription costs money. I can understand why they’re charging for their service as it keeps its database up-to-date with all the typical spam phrases, keywords, methods, etc. that those really creative spammers come up with.  Yet, I believe there are a lot of other techniques that can be deployed before having to look at those real-time databases to catch the latest spam.

In fact, almost all spam I receive is always the same kind of stuff. There’s pharmaceutical products, health product, online products/services/websites, etc. To the naked eye comments relating such topics can be easily identified as spam. It’s not just the content, but also the way how these comments are composed, how their authors are called, what their backlink links to, etc.

So I ended up using a different anti-spam plug-in called “Antispam Bee” and as a form of saying “Thank you” to the author, I’m writing this blog post. I hope they are getting more people using their plug-in. It seems to work fine for me so far. The chart above shows the number of spam my antispam bee is collecting by day. It’s not that many at the moment, but if you add this up over the year, I would end up with thousands of spam comments, which I simply don’t have the time to process manually.

So again, a special thanks to the developers of Antispam Bee. Great job!

If someone of you is in the need of a spam fighting plug-in. Give the Antispam Bee a try. It works well for me.

How and why we shipped our household from Hong Kong to Germany

We recently moved from Hong Kong to Germany. Before we moved, we thought about how much of our household in Hong Kong we should bring with us to Germany.

In cases like this, we usually do a very basic simple cost-benefit analysis with some pro/contra arguments. We knew that for many people it might not make sense to bring their entire household over. If you’re looking at the plain costs involved with the shipping process that might often be the case.

Costs are a big factor

We definitely had more stuff to bring over than we could have brought with us on the plane. So there would have always been quite a number of boxes we could have shipped with Hong Kong Post for example. They are cheap and reliable if the amount (size & weight) you ship isn’t too much. For us, the main things we really wanted to bring were toys & gifts, clothes, some of my computers / electronics and my wife’s camera & film equipment. All of that was quite heavy and bulky already so that it would have had some significant cost to ship it by post.

Then we thought about shipping our entire household and how much more that would cost. After doing quite some research, asking for quotations and having site visits of “relocation consultants”, we figured out that we would probably need an entire 20 foot shipping container. So we got the price for that and compared it to the cost of all the goods we had if we would have to buy them new again in Germany. Usually, you would compare it with the current value of the goods at that time, but to be honest: If you get rid of all your stuff in Hong Kong and then you buy it again in Germany, you’ll have to pay the full “new retail price” there. So it is actually more accurate to compare the retail prices.

It turned out shipping our stuff over would be about 33% cheaper than buying everything new again in Germany. That didn’t even factor in costs we would have had for shipping the other “important” stuff by post, like I mentioned earlier. I guess with that we would have probably ended up at around 50%.

Time is a factor too

At the same time, we thought about the time we have at hand. We’ve been living about 6 years in our loft in Hong Kong. As it is usual, over the 6 years we’ve collected a lot of things we thought we needed. Relocating to Germany gave us the chance to sort some stuff out and give it away. Yet, we are usually quite lean in terms of the stuff we get. So most of the things we had were quite essential and in good shape. We knew that after we arrive in Germany and we move into our new home, we would need to get most of those things again. That means, we would have had to go to department stores, furniture stores, etc. to select and buy the same stuff again. Maybe we could have ordered most of it online, but in the end, all of that would have eaten up a lot of our time.

So besides saving money by shipping our household items over, we also save a lot of time by not having to get the same / similar stuff again.

What shipping company to use

Like I mentioned earlier, we’ve looked at several companies. Considerations for us was of course the price, but also the level of service quality they provide and whether we feel subjectively safe with them. That last bit had a lot to do with the sales person they had serving us. Of course, the final shipping service might be worse, but if the sales person already made a bad impression, how good could their actual service have been? That’s all quite hypothetical, but there is a bit of truth in that, right?

Anyhow, we were looking into the following companies. They are ordered by preference top-down, with the top most company that we chose in the end. In case you are in the need of a relocation company, have a look yourself and feel free to contact them. At most companies you can get an initial quote by email.

Shipping / Relocation Companies:

  1. SwiftRelo (we went with SwiftRelo)
  2. Links Moving / Baggage XS
  3. VanPac
  4. AGS Four Winds
  5. Allied Pickfords
  6. Santa Fe
  7. Transworld
  8. Crown Relocation
  9. ReloSmart
  10. Unigroup
  11. Asian Tigers
  12. Asian Express International Movers
  13. Meta Movers
  14. Team Relocations

In terms of price, #1 and #2 ended up at the same price in the end. We still went with SwiftRelo, because I liked their sales person. Because there were a few hiccups in their service, I would probably give Links Moving a chance the next time. They weren’t significant ones, but I feel like it could have gone more smoothly.

Lessons learnt

Relocating to a different country obviously involves cross-border transport of goods. Usually that involves paying customs duty. If it is a family relocation, that customs duty does not need to be paid for household goods. Every destination country is different in that respect. Germany for example required us to prove that we were living in Hong Kong for at least 12 months. We thought that would be easy, but it wasn’t as straight forward as it should have been.

Bottom line, even though we had shipping clearance before our container left the port of Hong Kong, it was detained in the port of Bremerhaven, Germany. German customs required us to file some further explanation and provide additional documentation (utility bills of the last 12 months) to prove we’ve been living outside of Germany for long enough. Even though, I was incredibly quick replying to their requests, a public holiday came up in between and in the end our container was locked up for 5 days in Bremerhaven, which cost us a total of €300 (€60 per day). That could have been avoided by an experienced relocation company that asks for truly all necessary documentation beforehand. Though, I have to say, there is always the possibility that customs asks for additional explanation or documentation. Yet, I feel this could have been handled better.

Broken wardrobe

So far, we only noticed one of our furniture pieces to be broken. It was the largest piece – our wardrobe corner unit – which was but at the bottom somewhere and then boxes stored on top of it. Because it was a hollow piece, after the long journey it was completely deformed.

Full service relocation

We wanted to get a door-to-door relocation. That means we get a team that comes in, packs up everything into boxes, loads that into the container and our stuff gets shipped off. The packing took about a morning (8am-12pm) and loading everything took about another 4 hours so that they were done about 5pm.  In Germany, we also got a team of local guys who unloaded our stuff in the record time of 2.5 hours. Though, there we only got everything loaded into my grandma’s garage. Our house hasn’t been built yet (but we’ll start soon hopefully!), so there wasn’t any other place we could put our stuff to.

About a month before the packers came to our loft in Hong Kong, I started packing things up bit by bit in the evening after work. The night before the packers came I was still packing and I ended up at around 38 fully packed moving boxes. I thought that was a lot. Then the packers came and started packing the rest up. Those were mostly not so important / not so crucial things like furniture, kitchen stuff, appliances, clothes, and so on. In the end, we ended up with 145(!) boxes. I was absolutely surprised. To be honest, though, the packers really packed every thing into boxes. An office chair was a box. The fridge was a box. The laundromat was a box and the printer was in its own box too. You can imagine how this can quickly add up to a high box count.

The destination garage in Germany is actually quite big. I always thought it would be easily enough, but to be honest, we just managed to fit it all in. It is not so easy to access certain boxes now, but we managed to find some important things already.

Conclusion

I still believe it was the right decision to ship everything over. It took quite some time to get it all packed up. It did cost quite a large sum upfront, but in the end we’re saving money and time because we don’t have to buy new things again. I would probably try another shipping company, but I’m not sure if their service would be much better.

Impressions from the move

Packers packing our stuff in Hong Kong
Packers packing our stuff in Hong Kong
Boxes everywhere in Hong Kong
Boxes everywhere in Hong Kong
Our stuff in the garage in Germany
The garage is almost full
The garage is almost full

Why we moved from Hong Kong to Germany

From January 2005 to December 2007 I lived and worked in Kunming (PRC) and from January 2008 to March 2018 I lived, worked, got married and got a beautiful child in Hong Kong SAR. Moving back to Germany after living in Asia for 13 years was quite a move. Somehow I feel like having to write down why we made that move in the end.

Summerfest at Kindergarten

Education – The Main Reason

It’s a common theme in Hong Kong: When folks find out they are to become parents they start freaking out – big time. That’s largely due to the clusterfudged situation of the Hong Kong education system. I’m sorry, but there is really no better way to describe that.

I remember when my wife was 5 months pregnant we had a nice dinner with friends – a couple who were roughly at the same stage. During that dinner he dad-to-be asked me: “Which school is your child gonna go to?” I didn’t know how to respond. Come to think of it, we didn’t even know the gender of our baby yet!

Parents are freaking out

To be honest, it really is like that. Even before you’ve given birth you should know where your kid goes to school. If you want it to be a good school, you got to make sure the child goes to the right kindergarten. To get into that right kindergarten, the child needs to go to the right nursery. Of course, there are entry tests (think job interview) for 2 year olds. So basically you’re building up your child’s resume from the birth onward. It’s like an arms race!

Private is expensive

All of this is regardless of how ridiculously expensive international schools are in Hong Kong. Let’s look at the German Suisse International School for example. The tuition range is HK$148,960 – HK$194,100 (€16,286 – €21,222), which can be paid at HK$19,410 (€2,122) per month, but before you are even allowed to join the school and pay tuition, you need to pay a debenture of about HK$500,000 (€54,668). Source GSIS Fees.

Let’s assume you have that money and are willing to pay for it. You still need to get (your child) in by going through interviews, submitting resumes, etc. at kindergarten level. It might happen that your 5 year old gets three photos placed in front of her: one of President Xi Jingping, President Donald Trump and President Vladimir Putin. Then she gets asked to tell their names and their current title. (I’ll let that settle…)

Public is in Chinese

Of course, there is the public school system too. However, most of such schools teach in Cantonese or Mandarin. For us to be able to support our child during education – may it be just simply being able to understand what the homework is about – we would need an English-medium school. There are still a few such public schools in Hong Kong, but as you can imagine, these are quite popular and therefore quite hard to get in as well. Their school fees are affordable as well at about HK$3,000 (€330) per month or so.

Memorize or Learn

Besides the “getting into the school” and “paying for school” topics, there is – most importantly – the whole topic of how your child is being educated. The style of teaching and what is best for your child.

Still today, many styles of teaching all across Asia are focused on memorizing knowledge rather than learning, understanding and creatively using your free mind to come up with a solution. It is something I personally embrace and it is also very important to my wife who was fortunate enough to receive a liberal arts education in the US. We want our children to be free thinkers who can create new things and make the world a better place because they can think way out-of-the-box. Think of it like that: If high ranking government officials in Hong Kong and China send their own kids out of the country to boarding schools and colleges in the UK, USA, Canada, Australia — you know what they think of their own education system.

Roaming BL City Arboretum

Health Reasons

In Germany the air quality is definitely better than in Hong Kong. The kind of food you can buy (at affordable prices) is also of higher quality here than what you can get in Hong Kong. Though the differences are (in my personal opinion) marginal, they are definitely there.

Future of Hong Kong

1997 Hong Kong was returned to China, which was sealed by a joint declaration signed between the UK and China, which guarantees Hong Kong’s extensive autonomy until 2047. Almost half of these 50 years have passed now. Hong Kong has prospered like never before, but politically, nobody knows where that incredible city is headed towards. No one has an answer about how Hong Kong will look like after 2047. The only thing Hong Kong locals are experiencing is that the China mainland is slowly but steadily creeping more and more into the everyday lives of Hong Kong people. There are many small cases that happened over the 10 years I have been there and it really felt it is getting more and more. Maybe that was objectively not the case, but let me give some examples.

The Chinafication Hong Kong

Things like this happened: Booksellers who sell books critical to the China mainland political system disappear from Hong Kong and suddenly pop up somewhere in China at a police station. China law is being practiced in Hong Kong at certain border crossing stations due to ludicrous reasons, simply to create precedence cases of that. Independent, reputable and China-criticizing media companies that get bought over by pro-party mainland companies. Mainland liaison officials constantly targeting demonstrators with public statements that get broadcast all across HK, which in turn tries to influence public opinion and split the society. Liberal lawmakers getting disqualified for office (though some of them were serving as lawmakers for over a decade already) over an oath-taking ceremony that they felt being too pro-China. China having the power to re-interpret the Basic Law (kinda mini-constitution) that Hong Kong exists by. More and more public schools teach in Mandarin rather than Cantonese or English. Mainland Chinese business folks buying up property in Hong Kong en-masse in cash – probably with some kind of dodgy money – driving up prices and making it harder and harder for younger generations to find places to live. And so on …

If you look at each of these incidents individually, they are not that important. Yet, combining them, looking at the bigger picture and the (most likely) goal of the final reunification of Hong Kong with the communist mainland China; you can’t shake the thought of slow assimilation of Hong Kong into the China-System. I might be paranoid here, but it definitely has that kind of feel.

My wife and I were “foreigners” in Hong Kong. We possess permanent residency there, which means we can go back any time we want and don’t need a work visa. We are flexible and if SHTF it would have been easy for us to simply get out. But we also know a good number of locals who don’t have that kind of flexibility.

So again, this wasn’t a major concern for us at the moment, but it was a topic of concern and I truly hope Hong Kong’s people and politicians find a common ground with their China Mainland counterparts for a prosperous future of Hong Kong that guarantees individual freedom, rule of law and an open society as Hong Kong citizens enjoy right now.

Space

Another reason for us to move out of Hong Kong was space. As I mentioned earlier, Hong Kong’s property prices are ridiculously expensive. We were fortunate enough to live in a 990 sqft (91 sqm) apartment that we owned there. Rent for that would have probably been in €3,000 per month range or so. Yet, we only had 1 bedroom for the 3 of us. It was tight, but we managed for quite a while.

Besides normal living space, there are also these moments I remember from my childhood in Germany. I was able to just open the door, go outside, ride the bike around with friends, play somewhere in the woods and so on. That kind of play is simply not possible in Hong Kong. Because everything is so dense, there are people, cars, buses, trains everywhere and up until a certain age, you basically can not let your child walk around alone in HK.

Park with ducks in the city of Eschwege

Work & Friends

These were probably the only factors that were counter-arguments for moving out of Hong Kong. The majority of our friends are in Hong Kong — though quite a number have left already to other countries as well. Our work was in Hong Kong and everything we’ve built evolved around that incredible city. Though, most of work can be done online nowadays, certain things we’d like to do in person. I personally liked working in Hong Kong, I liked my colleagues and I liked the kind of work we were doing. It was great, inspiring, challenging and yes, even the controversial conversations I’ve enjoyed. So again, work and friends were the arguments for us staying in Hong Kong, but everything else eventually outweighed those.

Family

When it was just my wife and me, it was easy to live in Hong Kong. Even without any immediate family of either of us in HK, we could live there comfortably. We had the freedom to move around, go on holidays and visit our family whenever we felt like it.

With a child your life suddenly becomes quite a different one. You want her to grow up with her grandparents. That’s great for the child, but also for the grandparents. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have a baby sitter option at hand, but that wasn’t that much of a concern for us. At the same time, for your child to be with her cousins and other relatives is quite something. It’s just fun.

Conclusion

While there were many reasons for us to move back to Germany, we truly loved Hong Kong and it was not an easy decision to move to Germany. Hong Kong is a very diverse city and in the 10 years I was living there, it never stopped to amaze me. There were so many hidden gems that surprised us and that happened again and again. Yet, the final reason for us moving was really for the sake of our daughter. She’ll get some great education, she’s got space to grow, play and roam around, she’ll grow up with at least one side of her family and she’ll be among many kids of her age whom might or have already become her friends.

We’ve moved to the small town of Bad Langensalza where I grew up in. Some of my friends still live here, most part of my family lives here too. It is a very different way of live here. It’s much slower (especially the Internet connection!), but it is great in its very own way.

We’re now in the process of building a house for us to live in. Again, it’s a much slower process than I anticipated, but I am sure I will share some stories about here as well. You’ll laugh your butt off! Stay tuned. Subscribe to my blog or join my Facebook page.

P.S.: Check out www.weitsprungmeeting.com (long jump meeting) which took place in Bad Langensalza two weeks ago. The world’s best long jump of the year took place right here in the green heart of Germany. Can you believe that?

A fresh look

So yesterday and today I’ve been tinkering with my blog and gave it a quick new look. The old style was from 2005 and I figured a 13 year old look might not up to our trained eyes yet. The new look still has some quirks like the cut off images on the right, but it is already way better than before. When I have time, I’ll probably fix those.

Just for the sake of documenting my progress, let’s check out some comparison screen shots.

kozen.de look yesterday:

kozen.de look today:

 

It’s a bit easier on the eye now. What do you think?

Why do I blog (again)?

That’s an interesting question and indeed the kind of the first one I was asked when I relaunched my blog yesterday.

I am using various social platforms for years now: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat, Youtube, Foursquare, WeChat, LinkedIn, Xing, BBM, Reddit, you-name-it. They all have the certain purpose — though, there are some that I really don’t quite get (Foursquare and Snapchat for example). Anyhow, none of them fits all my needs.

I’d like to share content in various formats. I like written content most, often accompanied by photos or maybe video, but sometimes it’s really just text. With other posts, there might not be any text. I want all my content to be accessible on the world wide web by everyone. So exclusively publishing it inside a walled garden like Facebook, is not that good IMHO. Audio is also a media I’d like to get into some day — though I still feel really awkward hearing my own voice.

Some content may be of more personal nature, some content maybe of more business / work-related nature. So context-related platforms like LinkedIn and Xing are not working all the time either.

As you can see, it is not that easy to choose a main platform to publish content on — if the requirements are as loosely defined as I defined them.

Furthermore, by posting my content on my own blog I retain full control over it. That’s not that much of a concern to me, but it’s a nice thing to have. I am happy to share my content and I truly hope it may help people in their life. One way or another. I have benefited in various ways from a lot of other people who shared their insight – may it be personal, business, tech or otherwise related. Perhaps someone might find some of my new content useful in future.

One of my greatest stories is that of Juergen who commented on my blog post Hong Kong ID Card – Fingerabdruck und Biometrische Gesichtsdaten inklusive, which I wrote 10 years ago in July 2008. A few years later, we actually met and became friends. He even ended up renting a room in our office in Hong Kong when we were renting out “serviced offices” there. Only then I realized it was actually him who commented on my blog post – way before he actually came to Hong Kong. That’s the kind of online content that brings people together. That’s what I want to share and how I want to build relationships with my readers with whom I then hopefully become friends as well.

Change is Good – Life in Germany Launch

It’s been almost 4 years since my last article and 13.5 years since my very first article here on kozen.de. Things have changed, priorities have shifted and life just keeps changing.

To celebrate and document that change, I’d like to revive kozen.de and publish a few more updates here for my friends, family, colleagues, acquaintances and everyone else who is looking for what I have to say. As usual, it might not always make sense to everyone, I might not be very logical (though, I try to be) and some topics might be boring to some of you. Yet, I believe, I have some interesting stories to tell about our new life (back) here in Germany now and everything that’s happing around that and around the world, where ever I am involved or interested in.

In the following weeks, you can expect to see:

  • Visual relaunch of this blog
  • Stories about building a house in Germany
  • How it is like to live in Germany
  • Thoughts and articles about cryptocurrencies, startups & ventures, property, tech and projects I’m interested in

If you want to stay up-to-date, you should subscribe to this blog or like my page on Facebook.

Yo compared to our Battery Watch app – Why Investors Value Yo At $10 Million – and – if Yo = $10m then Battery Watch = $20+m

I’m still baffled by the bold move of Silicon Valley investors valuing the company behind the Yo app at $10,000,000 USD. According to themselves Yo is:

The simplest & most efficient communication tool in the world.
Yo is a single-tap zero-character communication tool.
Yo is everything and anything, it all depends on you, the recipient and the time of the Yo.

To an ordinary mind like mine the app does not sound very interesting and from a targeting point of view too general than you could actually define a specific target audience for it. Yet, I was intrigued by the simplicity and most importantly by the buzz around it. About a month or so ago, I decided to download Yo. Right after it launched publicly, actually. I have 6 contacts on there and in the beginning it was kind of fun to Yo people just for the heck of it. Nowadays I only Yo ‘back’ if someone Yos me first.

The Wall Street Journal apparently has made a very compelling case that Yo might become a communications and marketing platform to allow people and brands to communicate with each other in a more simplified yet sophisticated way. For example, adding a link (that opens a website) to a Yo notification. To be honest, the real key word here is platform. That is what gets investors all nervous to throw money at you. To them, there is no benefit in funding just another app. It’s the platform behind the app that makes all the difference. Based on the anticipation of creating a simple and very direct marketing platform to bring brands closer to consumers makes check books open magically and throw money at an app that actually is absurd. In fact, Michael Santoli of Yahoo! Finance said: “When almost everyone immediately agrees that something is absurd – how can it possibly fail?”

So let’s look at the plain numbers thus far. According to the Yahoo! Finance article, Yo has “been downloaded 1 million times and has around 50,000 active users.” Based on a per active user valuation (which is how many tech and especially social media companies are valued by) that makes a staggering $200 per active user valuation. Compared to the $19bn WhatsApp takeover by Facebook which valued each of their 450 million active users at $42 per such user. The Yo valuation at 5 fold seems a little high. Anyway, another interesting aspect to look at, is the “stickiness” of an app. We at S4BB Limited look at a metric called “Retention” to determine the stickiness. In very simple terms, that’s the ratio between total downloads and active users. So at 50k active users and 1m total downloads, Yo has a retention of 5%. Common industry standard for a good / sticky app is something around the 20-25% retention mark.

Just to compare this to our recently re-launched Battery Watch app on Android: 193k total users, 103k active users, 58% retention. Here is a screen shot taken this morning in our Flurry app analytics console:

Based on the number of active users our valuation for Battery Watch should be twice the Yo valuation so we’d end up at $20 million. Based on the retention rate our Battery Watch should be valued at 11.6 times the Yo valuation. That would be an outrageous $116 million. Plus, compared to Yo, Battery Watch is even profitable already. Yo, b***!

Sure, Yo has all the publicity, the advantage of being located in Silicon Valley and the platform (hope) story behind it. While we don’t have the first and second point, our platform is currently being designed as well and will be launched in select markets very soon.

It remains to be seen how successful Yo can be in the long run. Right now it seems to be hip – at least on the investor and media side – but to build a long-term sustainable business model on top of that will be challenging. I wish the Yo team all the best in their endeavors.


More about Battery Watch: Battery Watch is a very simple, useful and yet fun battery monitoring tool. It combines essential battery information, useful TSA / UK DfT-compliant battery warnings with funny voices that make such a usually “boring / ordinary” utility app really fun to use. Try it for free through Google Play: http://bit.ly/BWatchA or BlackBerry World: http://bit.ly/GetBatteryWatch

About the author: Patrick is co-founder and CEO of S4BB Limited. An independent, boot-strapped mobile app company that has published over 48,000 apps for Android, BlackBerry and iOS. He is based in S4BB’s global headquarter in Hong Kong. Patrick has also co-founded and invested into other startups like Sky Drone, Toshi, TreeCrunch Limited, Skylab Mobilesystems Limited and Slate Takes Limited. You can find his full bio at www.patrick-kosiol.de or connect with him on LinkedIn, Xing or AngelList.

Running A Startup Isn’t Easy, Working At One Isn’t Either


It has been 9.5 years since I left Germany for China to help start Skylab Mobilesystems Limited. One year after I co-founded S4BB Limited and subsequently other ventures like TreeCrunch Limited, Slate Takes Limited, Sky Drone and most recently Toshi. Since moving from Kunming (Yunnan, China) to Hong Kong I have been involved in the local startup community by as much as I can just make time for it.

Last week for example I was filling in at Web Wednesday as it seems there were not enough mobile app developers who had signed up for the 6th edition of their famous Battle of the Apps. That night was a great experience with a rather small, yet interesting crowd I was happy to talk to before and after my stage appearance.

Some younger folks I talked to are thinking about starting their own project – I believe they were recent university graduates. Having the courage to launch your company in Hong Kong – especially when you are a Hong Kong-local – is a huge thing in my eyes. While in the west (and with “west” I mainly mean North America) the startup culture is being is embraced, it’s somewhat glorious and something to strive to. Here in Asia it is widely being avoided by young folks, though. There is a lot of tradition in play and a lot more of of parental control. As opposed to Europe, in Asia parents still have a lot to say when their fresh uni graduate kids look for their first job. Often the parents have paid hefty tuition for their kid’s education and therefore, they demand them to get a “proper” job at a large firm like a bank or an international conglomerate. That doesn’t event stop at folks who want to start a business themselves, it is going as far as getting the right job right after uni. In fact, I heard from some startups who did actually create a “care package” for a job applicant’s parents to show them how it is like to work at a startup.

When we started off initially, we did not take any external funding nor did we have any ‘family support’. In 2005 we just thought there might be a market for software running on mobile devices. Now those are commonly referred to as Apps. Even after almost a decade working in this field, having made many mistakes, paid for them monetarily and with time, still making mistakes (but keep learning from them); I still feel very much like running a startup. Or in matter of fact multiple startups.

Now running a startup isn’t an easy task. Sometimes, I meet people who want to start up themselves, but they don’t realize how hard it can be. Especially when you are coming from a “stable” job environment – I could actually elaborate for hours on the interpretation of ‘stable’ in this sense, but that’s for another day. So coming from a “stable” job and starting your own company is a tough step. First and foremost, your usual monthly salary just disappears over night. You will not have any (significant) income for months and or even years. You are not gonna have free weekends, regular 9-to-5 working hours or even proper vacations. While most people actually know that, expect it and prepare for the monetary part of it in terms of financial projections and goals; I believe a lot of people significantly underestimate the psychological changes that come with it. It’s surely not for everyone.

Working at a startup comes with many freedoms and sometimes even perks (like soft drinks, snacks and cool people that we are working with). Over these past years we have had 29 people who worked with us and left on their own will – at S4BB Limited alone. As a matter of fact, I was just thinking about that today and it motivated me to write this post. In the age group of 25 to 40 year olds the average time an employee is with the same company is probably something like 2 years in Hong Kong. I don’t have any hard number on this, but this is what we have seen here and it is also what I know from other local companies. Compared to Germany’s employees who stay 11 years on average with the same company, Hong Kong has quite some turnover. To be honest, the labor market is much more competitive here allowing folks to change jobs easily. Plus, head hunters (some of which are close friends) are very talented and motivated to place the right person at the right company. I also have to say that people don’t quit jobs, they usually fire quit their managers. I didn’t just think of that, it’s commonly known and I do agree to that.

Being one of those “managers” myself who has been fired by quite a number of employees, I have to admit that every single time I get fired, I feel devastated for at least a couple of days – depending on how close we were or at least I thought we were. I believe one of the main differences between working in a large corporation and in a startup is about processes and projects. In large corporations you usually have a bigger project that lasts for a couple of months or a duty that is rather constant or something similar. Startups are small, very small, that means they don’t have any manpower to waste at any given time during the day. This also results in many tasks and duties being shifted around on very short notice. To someone coming from a large corporation and now working at a startup that can be frustrating as one might not be able to see the bigger picture with constantly changing tasks or it can be motivating and even challenging. You just have to be the right person for it. Whether you run the show or you help run it.

The only big advantage startups have over established companies is speed:

  • Speed in developing and launching new products and services.
  • Speed in reacting to changes in the business environment.
  • Speed in decision processes that are necessary to be made quickly.
  • Speed in experimenting, failing and succeeding.

At my uni graduation ceremony the rector was holding a speech and I only remember one thing he said that: “In this new world not the big fish eat the small ones. The quick fish eat the slow ones.” You could also say it the Bruce Lee way: “Be water, my friend.

We never stop learning and should always be prepared for change – every day – and then embrace it.