The Pixelon Con

I’m always up for a good story about con men and/or con women. It’s fascinating to see how people get away with the lies and fabrications that keep their con going. It’s equally fascinating to see how the con unravels (because they always do). We may even admire the chutzpah of someone who tries to pull off the big con. For pure chutzpah the story of Michael Fenne and Pixelon is hard to beat. I used it as the inspiration for my fictional company,, in the first Rolly Waters mystery Black’s Beach Shuffle. Here’s a screenshot of the Pixelon’s homepage, circa 2000.

Seems legit, right? The promise of streaming video was a big deal in 2000.

The potential for high quality video on the Internet was a kind of holy grail in 1999 (Youtube didn’t happen until 2005). Pixelon claimed they’d invented a faster and more efficient format of video compression and investors forked over millions of dollars to finance this potentially game-changing company. But by June of 2000 Pixelon was bankrupt. It had been a scam from the very start.

In my earlier post, Confessions of a Dot Com Boomer, I talked about my time in the multimedia department of The company’s main revenue source at that time was the advertising we sold on free promotional CDs. One of the first companies to advertise with us was Pixelon. As part of the contract we were required to install Pixelon software on the CD and use it to show videos from the CD.

Not the “Pixelon ENHANCED” at the bottom right. A meaningless designation.

The Pixelon software seemed questionable to our technical staff right from the start. It appeared to be using standard MPEG compression (like on DVDs) packed inside a “wrapper” of programming code. To explain in layman terms it’s like having a shirt, then putting the shirt in a suitcase, closing the suitcase and telling everyone your shirt is now “enhanced.” There was nothing new about Pixelon’s technology.

It was not our place to question such details, however. The marketing department had a $1 million contract on the line. We installed the software (with a great deal of difficulty but that’s another story) and sent out the CDs. Meanwhile Pixelon was spending millions on its product launch party, iBash99, which included The Who, KISS, Faith Hill and any number of other popular music acts. The company would broadcast the event live using their new software. It was a technological disaster and very few people, if any, were able to stream the live video. The company spent $16 million on the event, 80% of their total assets.

As it turned out, Michael Fenne was really David Kim Stanley, a convicted felon who’d moved to California but was wanted by police in Virginia. Both charismatic and terrifying, he’d managed to talk a few early investors into his scheme and soon others had followed. Like many con artists, Stanley kept doubling down, making his scam bigger and bigger. A sharp-eyed creditor spotted Stanley’s photo on a most-wanted website and reported him to the police. Before long Stanley was back in jail and Pixelon was out of business. And never got paid for the advertising.

While some of the details of Rolly’s investigation into Eyebitz came from my time working at, the deception at the heart of the story was based on the Pixelon scam.

David Kim Stanley “God has blessed me with a unique ability to defy reality”

Pixelon: The True Story of Streaming Video’s Greatest Fraud

Camp Callan

In my first Rolly Waters mystery, Black’s Beach Shuffle, much of the action takes place in the Torrey Pines Mesa/Black’s Beach area. If you’ve visited Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, you may have come across this memorial for Camp Callan, which served as an anti-aircraft artillery replacement training center from January, 1941 to November, 1945. I’ve posted earlier about the vestiges of World War II history you can still find in the area around La Jolla, including the Guns of Bird Rock and Camp Matthews, but the area on the mesa and the beach was also an important part of the war effort.

The Army leased 750 acres of Torrey Pines Mesa from the City of San Diego which extended from the southernmost boundaries of Torrey Pines Park towards what became Muir Campus at UCSD. In return for an occupational permit to use the lower portion of the park, the military had to guarantee that no part of the park would be damaged and the park itself was kept open to the public. The area covered by the camp included what is now the southern edge of the current park as well as the Torrey Pines Golf Course, Muir Campus at UCSD, the Scripps Green Hospital and the Salk Institute and residential areas.

In June 1944 the training emphasis was changed and the camp began to prepare recruits for overseas amphibious assaults. On November 1, 1945, three months after the end of the war with Japan, Camp Callan was declared surplus. The San Diego City Council negotiated with the War Department to acquire all the buildings, which were then torn down and re-used for lumber to build homes for veterans. Many San Diego houses still standing today have frames built from the wood of structures at Camp Callum.

Recruits assault the cliffs above Black’s Beach. Photo from San Diego History Center
Recruits practice abandoning ship from the Scripps Pier. Photo from San Diego History Center
Nurses took part in the abandoning ship drills as well. Photo from San Diego History Center

Suspicious Vehicle

“Cops hated musicians, especially at two-thirty in the morning…They were preternatural enemies, musicians and cops, as far as Rolly could tell, complete opposites in temperament, personality, style.

Black’s Beach Shuffle
Who’re they looking for? They were looking for me.

I recently posted the story of my band’s drummer getting mugged after a gig. While I didn’t have nearly as many run-ins with cops and criminals as Rolly Waters does, it’s still an occupational hazard for a lot of working musicians. Let’s face it, the only people around at two-thirty in the morning are cops, criminals, graveyard shift workers and musicians. I was pulled over more than once by the police on my way home from a gig (I passed the sobriety tests, yay!).

But one thing I never expected was when my brother and I almost got arrested outside my own house, just after we’d unpacked the van and were ready to call it a night. The cops were professional, almost gentlemanly, but it was still an unsettling experience.

Coming home from the gig, I pulled up outside my house in Zeke, my Volkswagen van. We had to unpack the equipment and store it in the garage. For some reason, which I don’t remember, I didn’t pull into the driveway as usual but parked on the street while my brother ran in to unlock the garage. His short dash proved to be our undoing.

As we unpacked the gear, we noticed a police helicopter flying over the neighborhood, which wasn’t unusual for that part of San Diego (North Park) at that time. By the time we finished unpacking the helicopter had moved closer to our street. We made a joke about needing to get inside before the crooks ran through the neighborhood. I glanced up the street and spotted a patrol car heading towards us. Its headlights were off.

Then bam! The police helicopter’s spotlight was on us. The police cruiser zipped in behind our van. A cop jumped out and stared at us from behind the protection of his open door. He might have had his hand on his gun (in my fictional retelling he’ll have the gun drawn). I don’t remember if my brother and I actually verbalized our thoughts at the moment, but we both essentially thought, “Oh shit.”

“Good evening,” said the cop. “What’s going on here, guys?”

“This is my house,” I said, falteringly. It was the only thing I could think of to say. Two other police cars arrived, surrounding the van.

“We’ve had a report of a burglary,” the first cop said. He moved onto the sidewalk. “Please put your hands on the car.”

We dutifully followed his orders. The helicopter continued to hover overhead.

After that it’s a bit of a blur. They asked for our IDs. We explained why we were there at 2:30 in the morning. They checked inside the van and searched us as well. One of the other cops walked into our driveway, using his flashlight to search for any evidence of a crime. Eventually they let us go.

It turned out that one of our night owl neighbors had spotted my brother running in to the garage and decided a robbery was taking place. The cops said I should be glad that my neighbors were keeping tabs on things. I was annoyed that my neighbor didn’t notice it was the same Volkswagen van that sat in my driveway every day. I still suspect the cat lady across the street of calling it in.

Zeke at the scene of the crime
Zeke at the scene of the crime

I’ve often wondered how it might have turned out differently if the cops had turned up when we were hauling the equipment or if they would have treated us differently if we’d been younger men or of a different skin color. Hard to say. At any rate, it was a memorable and somewhat disturbing evening.

I should also point out that my wife, who was in the back bedroom, managed to sleep through the whole thing.

Rambler Wagon

A desert horizon, a trickle of water, a love story.

Read my very short story Rambler Wagon, along with some other great fiction and poetry in the free Kindle edition of the Evening Street Review.

Don’t have a Kindle? You can download a .pdf or ebook version here.

A Mooging

Drumsticks can take a beating, drummers not so much

Moogus the drummer is a recurring character in all the Rolly Waters mysteries. He’s a longtime musical partner and personal foil to the main protagonist, guitar-playing detective Rolly Waters. In the first novel of the series, Black’s Beach Shuffle, Moogus gets mugged after a gig. As is so often true of first novels, you write what you know and it’s true in this case. My band’s drummer was once mugged after a gig.

It happened a lot like it’s written in the book. We were performing at Patrick’s Pub downtown in the Gaslamp Quarter of San Diego. There was a restaurant next door to Patrick’s called The Crab Shack (or something like that. It’s long gone now). We’d finished the gig and were packing up for the night. I was walking to pick up my van so I could bring it back to load out the equipment. As I walked by the Crab Shack, a waiter stood in the door. He looked over at me and asked, “Hey, are you in the band?”

I answered yes and waited for the praise or criticism that almost invariably follows that question. In this case, however, there was something else on the waiter’s mind.

“There’s a guy in here,” he said. “He says he’s with the band. Somebody beat him up.”

I followed the waiter into the restaurant and sure enough, there was our drummer, sitting in a chair with his head tilted back, holding a bloodied towel to his nose. Two waitresses were helping him out. One of them had brought a glass of water along with a couple of aspirin. He told us what had happened. This is where my fictional mugging diverges from the real story.

In the novel I had Moogus get mugged by a professional thug, who mistakes the drummer for his intended victim, Rolly. In some ways it’s Moogus’ fault. He’s been working hard to make time with Rolly’s date the whole night, leading to his misidentification by the assailant.

In real life, our drummer was mugged by two teenagers. It might have been some kind of gang initiation. Or just for kicks. At any rate, they used the old trick of having one guy crouch down behind you while the other one pushes you from in front so you fall over the other guy. Once our drummer was on the ground they punched and kicked him a few times and then ran off. I don’t think they even took any money. They were lying in wait on a dark sidewalk. It was a thrill mugging. It was entirely random.

At some point the paramedics arrived and had a look at our drummer. They wanted to take him to the hospital. I assured him that I’d notify the owners at Patrick’s of what had happened and ask them to store his drums overnight. The medics put him in the ambulance and I returned to the club, packed up and went home for the night.

The injuries ended up not being too serious and he was back playing with us the next week. The sad thing is I don’t even remember the guy’s name. He was a sub who filled in for our regular drummer for a couple of weeks. I wonder if he ever played at Patrick’s again.

The other true bit I used in the story is that the back entrance (the band entrance) to Patrick’s did smell like rotting crab all the time because the trash bins for the restaurant were back there too. Ah, the glamorous life of the rock musician.