How to ask the Internet to Help When Your Laptop is Stolen

On Apr 4th, at 4:35pm, Paul Daniel Raynal, a suspected fugitive from Portland, OR stole my MacBook Air and iPhone from Joy’s Cafe in San Francisco, CA. If you would like to learn more about this story, here’s my blog post on it.

It was an epic 3 days. Phew! Extremely emotionally taxing to say the least. I would not ever want to go through that again. However, if you inevitably find yourself in this situation, this is  how I asked the Internet to catch the thief and a bit of lessons I learned along the way.

Timeline:
2014/04/04 4:35 PM Raynal stole my MacBook Air and iPhone from Joy’s Place in SF
2014/04/04 4:57 PM I reported a theft to the police
2014/04/04 7:13 PM The police arrived at the scene
2014/04/05 1:00 AM I received the surveillance footage from Joy’s Place
2014/04/05 1:27 PM Video and blog shared on social networks
2014/04/05 Link to blog and YouTube video start to go viral on Hacker News, Reddit, Facebook and Twitter
2014/04/06 YouTube video reaches 150K view count
2014/04/07 Local news media features video and story
2014/04/07 4:15 PM Received a tweet from Sydney that Raynal was apprehended by SF Police

Disclaimer: This guide only works with video or photo evidence.

Once you realize your computer or iPhone is stolen:

1. As soon as you realize your device(s) is stolen, activate your installed theft protection first. Sending the activation signal as soon as possible gives your devices the greatest chance of getting this message. In order to trigger most protection software, your device(s) must be connected to the internet. If the thief is experienced, the first thing they will do is to turn off your device, so the window of opportunity is extremely small. If you have an Apple device, Find my iPhone software is included (also works with Mac computers). If you don’t have Find my iPhone, there are other free third party option such as Prey Project. In addition to locating your device, it has some additional features such as taking photos of the suspect.

NOTE: I did not do this until 30 minutes after the theft, which was already too late. The devices never showed up online again and thus the signals send by me to locate and lock were never received by the devices. If you must, grab the nearest person with a computer and ask if you can use their computer to activate the signals immediately.

2. Call the police and report the incident immediately. Theft is usually at the bottom of the priority list for most law enforcement agencies. So it will take several hours until the officers will arrive. Do NOT leave the crime scene. Be there when the officers come. They will come. I waited roughly 3 hours.

3. While you’re waiting on the law enforcement to arrive, contact the manager/owner of the business and ask for any surveillance footage. If you can get the footage before the officers arrive, you will save some time. Timing is so critical and you must get a good description and video if possible to the police. If the manager asks you to come back when it’s more convenient for them, you will lose that much time. So be persistent and ask for the footage at the earliest time possible. Also make sure you get a copy for yourself.

NOTE: We didn’t get the video in time and theft cases like this don’t warrant weekend investigations. So the case was left without active assistance over sat-sun. If we had gotten the video before the law enforcement arrived, they could have started searching for the suspect on Fri.

4. After filing the report with the police, make sure you get the case number and the phone number of the police station which has jurisdiction over your case. You will get an inspector assigned to your case later. The inspector will be the person to whom you should pass over all the evidences you collect.

5. If you have a renter’s insurance, call the insurance company and report the incident. Make sure to give the case number. For some theft cases, insurance can cover a portion of the losses even though the incident happened outside of your residence.

6.  With the copy of the surveillance footage, create a collage of the suspect from many different angles. Also write a clear and eye-catching slogan. Below is what I made.

laptop-stolen-cover

laptop-stolen-cover

7. Edit the video footage to be a digestible size and upload to YouTube, Vimeo, and Instagram. The video needs to be just long enough to tell a compelling story, but not too long. I made mine 2:30 minutes, trying to fill as much of the time with images of the suspect and the events that led to the theft. Some people will complain that it’s too long. Don’t mind those comments. The video has to be long enough for people to observe the suspect’s face at multiple angles, body shape, peculiar behaviors, mannerism, outfit and so on. However, to keep people engaged during the entire duration of the video, add annotations to the video to give some contexts to what is going on.

8. Write a blog post where people can find all the nitty gritty details. Enable comments to make sure people with tips can leave a message. Include the case number and police station phone number to allow direct reporting. Also provide multiple ways to reach you such as Twitter and Google+. For your safety, you should not include personally identifiable information such as email or phone number. Make sure your blog can handle increased traffic. Mine crashed on day 1 and had to revive my old Tumblr blog as an emergency patch up. Here’s link to my Tumblr blog.

9. Now start with Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Nextdoor (social network for neighbors). Ask your friends, family and acquaintances to share the photo collage you created above with a link to the video and link to your blog post. (*** Make sure you make this post “Public” so anyone can share).

facebook_share

facebook_share

10. The goal is to get as many people to watch the video as possible. Identify friends that have a large number of followers as well as influence on social networks to share your story. For my case, one of my friends posted a link to my blog on Hacker News. Then someone who saw the post on Hacker News decided to share on Reddit. I received 150K + view count on YouTube within one day, thanks to people sharing.

11. Once your video starts trending, ask a few local media channels to cover your story. If they see your video view count approaching 100K+, some of them will decide to pick up your story. The importance of getting local media involved is that they have concentrated media coverage and can get your video in front of many people in close proximity to the crime. The person who identified the suspect watched my video through a local news station’s website.

Tips

1. Provide frequent updates to your audience both on your blog and social networks. Keep people interested and ask them to share multiple times.

2. There are trolls. Don’t be alarmed that there are spiteful and mean-spirited cowards out there who will hide behind their monitor and take sick pleasure out of leaving meaningless and nasty comments. Don’t be bogged down by these haters. It will be emotionally taxing if you do let them get to you. The more viral your story goes, the more trolls you will notice. I decided not to engage in any conversation with them but made a video pleading people to stop arguing about what I should’ve done and to focus on the task of catching this thief. Most sympathetic decent people will hear your voice and understand your predicament.

3. Remember, criminals can be deceiving. Do not focus on hair color, clothes, or even gender. The suspect in my case turned out to be a male.

4. Be tenacious. It takes a lot of effort to keep the video going viral. Continue to ask people to share.

If you have any question, please feel free to leave a comment below.

Laptop Thief Day 2

Thank you all who have said encouraging words and gave me tips on who she may be. I actually have one very good lead and will see if this will help ID this thief. I know I may not get my computer back but I do not want this criminal to continue feeding on innocent people. So for the principle of the matter I am determined to find her and stop her from making people’s lives miserable.

New Updates on “This Girl has My MacBook Air”

Thank u thank u. All my friends and good Samaritans out there who are helping me in my effort to get my computer back. Had a few people on YouTube and Reddit who claimed they know her. Yay!

The thief still remains at large. Any tips will be appreciated.

On the side note, too many trolls are flooding the posts with hateful comments and are distracting people from finding this thief. Most of those people are putting blame on me. Calling me stupid and deserving to have these expensive electronics stolen from me. I know I shouldn’t have left my computer unattended but I had false sense of security because I go to the same coffee shop every day and I know every single employee and regulars who were there when the crime happened. But how can a decent person defend an apparent thief who came in with one motive in mind, which was to steal someone’s computer. The thief sat there for an hour looking around to find her target and did not hesitate to take advantage of the opportune moment. This could happen to anyone the moment you drop your guard a little at a public place. I’m determined to find this thief for the principle of the matter and hope that no other coders/designers/any other techies around the Bay Area who love their computer more than anything fall victim to this bottom feeding scumbag bitch.

One more note, I got all my codes backed up unlike some trolls bashed me about. What I lost is some of my illustrations and most recent personal files.

This girl has my macbook air

New Updates: CASE SOLVED! The thief is in police custody. This courageous woman named Sydney read a news article about my case on SFWeekly this morning and spotted this person walking down the street in the financial district. She followed her into a Starbucks. The suspect sat without ordering anything and started to find her next prey. This heroine called the police and waited at the coffee shop until the police arrived. She showed them the video footage and got her arrested. The major twist to this story was the thief was actually a male. He did identify himself as a transgender though. But according to the description I got from Sydney, he seems more of a guy than a girl. He had multiple fake identifications so the police had to take him down to the police station to get his finger prints to ID him. He already had several prior felony charges and I believe one pending warrant issued out on him. Also through the process, some people have come forward and claimed that they were victims of this guy as well. If you suspect you had your belongings stolen at one point in the past by this guy, please email any evidence or your police case number to garret.tom@sfgov.org. Let them know you would like to link your case to mine (my case number is 140281005).

Sydney’s Twitter is @spfff. Please give her a warm thank you for being such a hero.

And thank you all for sharing my story. You made it all happen. Please accept my sincere gratitude for being such a good force in this world.

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Day 174 – Make my first iPhone app in 30 weeks (Debuting Pieces!)

This is part of “Make my first iPhone app in 30 weeks” series.

It’s week 25 and I have not been keeping up with my blog for the last 8 weeks. I gotta admit. I got lazy. But during that entire time, I was developing my first app ever. It’s called Pieces. It’s a stop motion app which can detect a piece of paper in each photo frame and unskew what’s drawn in it to create a stop motion manga. Coming soon to iTunes store!

Pieces logo

Pieces logo

Day 120 – Make my first iPhone app in 30 weeks (Motion and Dynamics)

This is part of “Make my first iPhone app in 30 weeks” series.

Motion (adds subtle motion)

  • UIInterpolatingMotionEffect – allows to add depth to the UI
  • UIMotionEffectGroup – Add UIInterpolatingMotionEffect objects to apply change simultaneously

Dynamics (adds realism)

  • UIDynamicAnimator controls the physics engine
  • UIDynamicBehavior needs the objects that conform to UIDynamicItem protocol to be added to it. UIView and UICollectionViewCell conform to this protocol out of the box.
    • UIGravityBehavior
    • UICollisionBehavior
    • UIAttachmentBehavior
    • UISnapBehavior
    • UIPushBehavior
    • UIDynamicItemBehavior
  • UIDynamicAnimatorDelegate allows the delegate object to be notified when the animation pauses or resumes.

Day 119 – Make my first iPhone app in 16 weeks (Concurrency)

This is part of “Make my first iPhone app in 16 weeks” series.

Concurrency

When to avoid:

  1. Networking (use asynchronous API’s instead)
    1. initWithContentsofURL needs to be used with asynchronous API’s. Otherwise, it will block the main thread.
  2. Reachability (use asynchronous API’s instead)
  3. Idle Behavior (use NSTimer instead)

Best concurrency architecture

  1. Thread confinement – one object on one thread (NSOperation provides this functionality)

NSOperation

  1. Encapsulates code & data
  2. Can query for the state of execution (isExecuting, isFinished, and isCancelled)
  3. Can set dependencies (let a particular operation be dependent upon another operation) – very useful!
  4. Can set priority

NSOperationQueue

Regulates a set of NSOperation objects

  1. Can suspend and resume
  2. Can up-throttle or down-throttle the queue

Day 118 – Make my first iPhone app in 16 weeks (imageNamed vs. imageWithContentsOfFile)

This is part of “Make my first iPhone app in 16 weeks” series.

imageNamed vs. imageWithContentsOfFile

  • imageNamed decompresses the image immediately
  • imageNamed cached by OS (perfect for frequently used images)
  • imageNamed is used by iOS to load nib referenced images (images referenced in nib or storyboard)
  • imageWithContentsOfFile decompresses the image on demand (lazily loaded when it displays on the screen)
  • imageWithContentsOfFile is NOT cached by OS (perfect for infrequently used images so that there is no cache pressure)