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Archive for August, 2012

#79 – Item 47

Hollywood is responsible for a lot of bad ideas.  Waterworld.  Gigli.  Anything with Katherine Heigl in it.  But ever so often they come up with a great idea and the latest example of this is the new Marvel One-Shot:  Item 47.  This short film is approximately twelve minutes in length and will appear on the release of the Avengers on Blue Ray on September 25th.

The basic premise behind the film is that two ordinary people stumble across a weapon of alien origin left behind during the climatic battle scene in the Avengers.  The duo then proceed to use this weapon to rob banks.  It’s not yet known whether this mini-movie will result in these new characters appearing in the Avengers 2 or if this is a just a one time deal to add some content to the DVD extras.  Regardless it’s a great idea and it’s not without precedent as Lost did something similar for the release of their final season on DVD when they created a new mini episode starring Ben and Hurley to show what wound up happening to the Island.

I’m a big fan of fan fiction but this new form of content is a whole lot better than that for this isn’t a YouTube clip of some guys  in their parent’s basement reenacting a scene from Star Wars.  This is a real movie made by the actual producers of the original film.  And if it has implications for future films or ties up loose ends from previous films then it gains even more value.

I would love to see Hollywood continue this trend and create more spin-offs, webisodes, and DVD content.  The more the merrier.  But then again I won’t hold my breath.  After all, this is Hollywood we’re talking about and the next Expendables is always right around the corner.

Item_47_poster.jpg (810×1247)

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#78 – Eva

On my way home from work today I walked by an Italian Restaurant and noticed a couple sitting outside. This couple stood out to me from all the others not because the woman was attractive, which she was, but rather because the douchebag that she was with was more interested in his iPhone than in her.

I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her as her eyes darted around the room looking for something interesting to hold her attention since her date wasn’t getting the job done. If I had any game at all I would have went up to the table, said something witty, and whisked her away to a better life. Instead I turned away and went back to thinking about last night’s episode of Monday Night Raw.

Fortunately for our mystery damsel in distress there is hope out there as the restaurant Eva, based in Los Angeles, has taken it upon itself to discourage the use of cellphones within their confines by offering a 5% discount to anyone who parts with their phone during their meal. You can read more about this promotion here from CNN: (Eva)

The article points out that patrons at another establishment in Washington, D.C. that recently underwent a similar experiment ultimately decided that they couldn’t live without their phones since they wanted to take Instagram pictures of what they were eating. And while that may be motivation for some to want to hold onto their phones I sure hope that it’s not enough motivation to drown out the voice of reason on the other side of the coin. A side that knows there’s more to life than the score of the game or the latest tweet. A side that knows that what really matters most is the person sitting across from you.

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#77 – Seedrs

“Jeremy Grey: Okay, what’s our back story?

John Beckwith: We’re brothers from New Hampshire. We’re venture capitalists.

Jeremy Grey: I’m sick of that. Let’s be from Vermont. And let’s have an emerging maple syrup conglomerate.

John Beckwith: Wait, that’s stupid. We don’t know anything about maple syrup.

Jeremy Grey: I happen to know everything there is to know about maple syrup! I love maple syrup. I love maple syrup on pancakes. I love it on pizza. And I take maple syrup and put a little bit in my hair when I’ve had a rough week. What do you think holds it up, slick?”

That exchange is from Wedding Crashers and if you didn’t realize that please stop reading this blog because we’re no longer friends.  I posted that because ever since  the first time I heard Vince Vaughn’s character say that they should pretend to be venture capitalists I’ve naturally wanted to be one.

And now thanks to the new UK based start up, Seedrs, I will finally get my chance.  (http://www.seedrs.com/)  Seedrs is another crowd sourcing service in the vain of Kickstarter but the big difference is that instead of just investing in a project you’re investing in an actual company as you get back shares of the company in exchange for your investment.  Suddenly finding the next Facebook isn’t just for the  Marc Andreessens and Paul Grahams of the World.  Now it’s for the likes of me and you.  To find out more check out this video from their website:

All in all, I think that this service has the potential to be a real game changer as it makes it easier for start ups to acquire funding.  And anything that makes it easier to innovate and start new companies is something that I’m all for.  The only question that remains is whether I should use the service to pursue funding for my own ideas or to seek out a company that I’d like to invest in.  I think I might go the way of investing as I have a really good eye for spotting the next big thing, the current state of my fantasy teams and stock portfolio not withstanding.

Move over John and Jeremy. There’s a new venture capitalist in town!

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#76 – Upstart

They came.  They saw.  They conquered.  For over two weeks some of the best athletes in the World captured our hearts with memorable and heartfelt performances that won’t soon be forgotten.  But now that the Olympics are over it’s time to get back to the ideas that really matter and there’s nothing that matters more than enabling someone to follow their dreams.  Which is why I’d like to take this time to highlight Upstart, the new crowd sourcing start up from former Google executive David Girouard.  (http://www.nydailynews.com/2.1353/upstart-service-aims-new-grads-raise-money-online-fund-dreams-article-1.1132525)

This service works by matching you with backers who give you funding and guidance in return for a percentage of your future earnings.  Some people may be turned off by the idea of committing to giving away their future earnings but I think the risk is worth the reward if it means finally being able to get out from under a mountain of student loan debt and being able to pursue opportunities that you wouldn’t otherwise have the means to.  And if you think about it is committing a small percentage of your future earnings really that big of a loss?  Let’s say if you commit to giving away 6% of your earnings.  That’s the amount that I currently give up towards my 401K and I’m able to survive without it.

But if you’re still skeptical, and I won’t blame you if you are, you don’t have to take my word for it.  Instead, you can hear the elevator pitch from the guys behind the site as taken from their website (http://www.upstart.com/AboutUs.html).:

“We noticed that too many talented college grads take jobs they’re not excited about, rather than following their true passion. Whether constrained by debt or just comforted by traditional career options, too many students take the perceived “safe path.”

Upstart aims to help you with the most important part of pursuing your dreams – taking the first step. It may be as simple as applying for an internship, relocating to another city, or spending a few months in a garage working on your idea. Your Upstart backers will provide you with a modest amount of capital, combined with the support and guidance you’ll need. In return, you share a small portion of your income for 10 years. By matching you with the right backers and by providing just a slice of economic freedom – where repayment is based on your future success – we help you get started on the right path.

Whether you’re an engineer, artist, financial wizard, or entrepreneur – we believe the most important startup is you.”

Amen to that.  I’ve long said that human capital is our biggest wasted natural resource.  There are so many people out there who are stuck in career paths that they’re not right for, doing things that they don’t want to be doing.  How many recent college graduates are out there living in their parent’s basements, as I did not too long ago, struggling to get by because they don’t have the means to pursue what they really want to be doing?  How many people out there are sitting on potentially World changing ideas all of which go to waste because they lack the funding to get started?

I’m one such person and instead of starting my own company, I’m stuck in the Rat Race, giving away the best years of my life to somebody else instead of following my dreams.  I recently thought about moving out to Silicon Valley to try and change all that figuring that what I needed most was a change of scenery.  A new start to get me going.  Turns out though that I didn’t need a new start.  All I needed was an Upstart.

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The fifth part in a series of posts about the Olympics.

In a few days the gaze of the entire World will be focused upon Great Britain as they usher out the games of the 30th Olympiad during the Closing Ceremony.  I however will have my focus further East as I contemplate what has become of China’s much ballyhooed Olympic venues from 2008.  At the time the Bird’s Nest and Water Cube were hailed as marvels of modern ingenuity.  Now, not so much.  An article in the New York Times from 2010 (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/07/weekinreview/07wines.html) sums it up best:

“Beijing’s famous Water Cube has hoofed its way from Olympic stadium to light-show concert hall to stage for a Russian performance of “Swan Lake.” Its latest incarnation is as an indoor water park.

In the year after the Olympics, the iconic 91,000-seat Bird’s Nest hosted a Jackie Chan concert, an Italian soccer match, an opera and a presentation of Chinese singing standards.  But the local soccer team declined a deal to make it their home field, and the only tenants now are tourists who pay $7 to visit the souvenir shop.

By most accounts, the vendors hawking trinkets outside the stadium outnumber the foreigners who go there to gawk.”

In other words these once vaunted venues are now bonafide eyesores, going unused and unwanted, collecting dust, like my collection of Pokemon action figures.  What was once a source of pride is now a source of consternation.  But as bad as this may be for China things could be worse.  After all, they could be Greece where according to the aforementioned New York Times article, “21 of the 22 stadiums erected for the 2004 Olympics were reported last year to be unoccupied. The $14.4 billion cost of that party is being cited by some as a source of Greece’s potentially destabilizing fiscal troubles.”  Flash forward two years and those fiscal concerns are even more worrisome.

This is why I think it would make a lot of sense to create a Universal Olympic Venue at a neutral site.  Rather than have countries spend millions of dollars every four years to build new facilities from scratch, enhance existing facilities, and build up their infrastructure to handle the influx of tourists wouldn’t it make more sense to just go through this process one time?  Especially, when in doing so you could ensure that you would be taking the time to build state of the art facilities that meet current and future needs.

I’m sure that one of the main draws of becoming a host of the Olympic Games is the hope of a huge financial windfall coming your way from the boost in tourism to your country.  If the Games were suddenly held in the same city each year such economic boosts wouldn’t be possible anymore.  To counteract this concern I propose taking all of the profits from ticket sales, merchandise, memorabilia, etc. and splitting it evenly among all the countries.  Or if you wanted to get crazy you could even create an incentive payout system with the number of medals that a country won determining how much of the pot they got.

Of course this is a crazy idea that will get scoffed at by most people but isn’t sitting by and watching city after city make the same mistake, saddling themselves with venues that go unused, even crazier?

From Olympic Venue to Snow Park. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

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The fourth part in a series of posts about the Olympics.

The media has anointed Michael Phelps as the Greatest Olympian Ever and you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who can dispute that as he finishes his career with an astonishing 18 gold medals and 22 medals overall. The 18 gold medals are twice as many as the next highest total of 9, a mark which is shared by four people. It’s an impressive haul to be sure and one that will probably never be topped but does it really mean that Phelps is the best ever?

Of course if your measure of greatness is counting medals then yes it does. But what if the number of medals that somebody wears around their neck doesn’t tell the whole story? What then? Is Phelps really the best swimmer in the World or is he really just the best out of all of the people who have pursued a career as an Olympic swimmer? Whose to say that a great athlete such as LeBron James couldn’t have also won 18 gold medals if he had dedicated himself to swimming instead of basketball the way that Tim Duncan once did. And whose to say that there isn’t some software engineer out there who couldn’t have done the same thing.

Of course this is all conjecture at this point but just consider how many millions of people in developing parts of the World have never even learned how to swim let alone the fact that they don’t have access to an Olympic sized swimming pool to train even if they wanted to. Which is why I can’t help but wonder if the greatest swimmer of all time isn’t Phelps but is rather the son of a fisherman in a small village in the Philippines.

Which begs the question: are the accolades for Phelps warranted or is his success owed to the randomness of our lives? Consider the fact that if you’re born into a poor family you might never have an opportunity to play an expensive sport with expensive equipment. If you are born in a cold weather locale you’ll probably have a hockey stick shoved into your hand at an early age instead of a baseball bat. We are all products of our environments, victims of our circumstances. Those of us that rise above all that and have success are the exceptions not the rule.

That’s why I’d love to partake in a worldwide talent search to find out once and for all who the best in the World is at, well, everything. After all, Colin Farrell can’t be the only person who has been miscast recently. A thought which I am reminded of every time I watch a baseball game and see a backup catcher hitting under .200. I can’t help but think that maybe there is a back up goalie in the NHL who would actually be better. Could it be that the vast majority of professional athletes aren’t even playing the right sports? How many back up soccer players are actually Pro Bowl caliber place kickers in the NFL? How many Olympic gold medalists are wasting away in obscurity on NFL practice squads?

To put this all in perspective look no further than America’s new media darling, gold medal winning Gabby Douglas, who according to some estimates could land endorsement deals worth over $100 million. As legend has it she nearly quit the sport several years ago before her sister talked her out of it. How many other people out there battled the same doubts that Douglas did and wound up quitting? How many never even tried in the first place? Is Douglas really the best or is she just the best out of those who showed up in London?

The only way to find out is to test everyone at everything until we get it right. A massive undertaking to be sure but one that could be well worth it if it means that we’ll all be properly aligned, doing the things that we are best suited for.

Now if you’ll excuse me I have a date with a javelin. Might as well get this talent search started myself.

Greatest Olympian Ever? Or has someone else been miscast?

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The third in a series of posts about the Olympics.

The other day I talked about revamping the Olympics by incorporating some non-athletic pursuits.  My rationale was simple.  If the Olympics are about proving that you are the best in the World in a given event then the scope of events should extend to all walks of life.  Obviously the International Olympic Committee is never going to agree with me much to my chagrin.  So, if it’s sports and sports alone that they want it’ll be sports and sports alone that they’ll get as I will now offer up a few suggestions for revamping the Olympics in a more traditional way:

1.  Bring Back Baseball and Softball:  So let me get this straight.  Badminton is an Olympic sport but baseball isn’t?  Let me repeat that.  Badminton, a sport in which competitors actually try to lose on purpose is an Olympic sport but baseball is not?  This is so nonsensical that Major League Baseball had to establish it’s own international tournament called the World Baseball Classic with sixteen countries advancing to the final round.  Baseball isn’t just American’s pastime anymore.  It’s fast becoming a sport that’s played all over the World and it’s worthy of being included in the Olympics.   What’s worse is that softball which doesn’t have a professional league to support it is no longer an Olympic sport either.  At the very least that should be rectified.  Jenny Finch equals ratings.

No softball means no Jenny Finch.

2.  Include All of the X Games Sports:  Some of these sports have already crossed over to the Olympics in particular with the inclusion of snowboarding and other trick based sports during the Winter Olympics but there are still opportunities for further integration such as skateboarding events at the Summer Olympics.  After all, would anyone object if the fences that horses jump over were replaced with ramps that skateboarders fly off of?   And while we’re at it let’s not just limit ourselves to the X Games.  Let’s include all extreme sports such as wake boarding and mountain climbing.

How is this not an Olympic sport?!!

3.  Add a Wall:   If Trampoline is an Olympic sport then Wall Trampoline should be too!  It’s like trampoline on steroids.  Check out the video below to see some of the amazing tricks that one can do when provided with a trampoline next to a wall.  How is this not an Olympic sport?!!

4.  Add Parkour:  The only thing better than watching someone jump off a trampoline next to a wall is watching someone jump off a wall to another wall that just so happens to be attached to a different building!

5.  Bring Back Tug of War:  This was actually included in the Olympics from 1900-1920 which begs the question:  Why was it stopped?!?!?!

Aren’t we curious to know which country is the strongest?

6.  Incorporate the World’s Strongest Man Competition:  If you can pull a truck with your teeth you deserve a medal more than someone who can dance underwater.

This is a man who deserves a medal.

7.  Include MMA instead of Boxing:  When is the Olympic committee going to realize that nobody cares about boxing anymore?  The World has moved on to Mixed Martial Arts and the Olympics should too.  Or do you really want to keep watching a sport where a fighter can get knocked down six times and still win as corruption runs rampant?  How is that better than watching a mixed martial arts fight between the best that Brazil has to offer and the best from the United States?

Wouldn’t you want to see Anderson Silva with a gold medal around his neck instead of a championship belt around his shoulder?

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