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Archive for February, 2013

The latest in a series of posts about apps:

Everyday the line for the salad bar at Devon & Blakely is out the door and around the corner.  Thousands of poor schlubs spend their precious lunch breaks standing around waiting for a few pieces of lettuce just because there are no other good food options nearby.  Not me though.  I go out of my way, walking several blocks regardless of weather conditions,  to pick up a breaded chicken cutlet sandwich from a deli. 

I make this trek not because I like the food.  Nor do I do it to get fresh air or exercise.  I do it because I hate lines.  Despise them actually.  If I have any say in the matter I’ll make sure to avoid them.  At all costs.  Case in point:  when I was at World Series Game 6 in 2009 with the Yankees on the verge of winning the championship I went to the bathroom during the 9th inning just to avoid the post game line. 

So, it should come as no surprise that I would aim to improve mankind’s greatest waste of time.  And make no mistake about it.  Waiting in line is by far the largest waste of time known to man.  Worse than Angry Birds, Farmville, Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, MMOG’s, fantasy sports, porn, and all other time sucks combined. 

My solution as it relates to waiting in line for food is simple:  let’s eliminate the duplicity.  Why should we wait in line to order/pay and then wait around some more to actually get our food once ordered?  If we had the ability to order food while waiting on line to pay we’d cut down the amount of time spent in store considerably.  

The way to do that is through the creation of an app that taps into your phone’s GPS and upon sensing that you are within the confines of a fast food restaurant will pull up that establishment’s menu for you thereby enabling you to place your order.  If it sounds simple that’s because it is.  Plenty of restaurants already make it easy to order online through services like Seamless and some supermarkets like Stop and Shop even allow you to place an order at the deli counter while you are doing your other shopping.  The technology to make this happen exists it’s just that nobody has instituted this process yet as part of their in store dining experience.  

Perhaps it’s out of fear that patrons would place an order and then leave the store without paying or picking it up.  To which I would argue that they could already do that now whenever they call ahead an order and that in fact this app could prevent that by linking to a user’s checking/debit account and automatically deducting the cost of the meal as soon as it is ordered.  Furthermore, replacing the high school dropouts who are currently taking our orders with an app would be a vast improvement and would ensure that our orders aren’t heard incorrectly.

I would love to usher in this new time saving era by creating a universal in store food ordering app that would revolutionize the fast food industry.  But alas I won’t have the time to do it myself.  I have to go wait around for the subway to come.

Sure you could wait in line for a half an hour or more just to place your order or you could save some time and order while waiting.

Sure you could wait in line for a half an hour or more just to place your order or you could save some time and order while waiting.

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Last year I wanted to host a roast for my 30th birthday.  That’s right.  I was actually willing to pay money so that other people could make fun of me which is something that most of you endure for free.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a suitable location that could accommodate the number of people that I was anticipating.  (Apparently there are a lot of people who want to make fun of me.)  As a result the roast has been postponed indefinitely.  It’s a regrettable fate as dozens of jokes about body hair and baby carrots will now go unused.

And sadly it’s a fate that’s going to get repeated thousands of times over this spring as countless legions of fantasy baseball players take to mall food courts and dingy, dark rooms in the back of bars to conduct live fantasy drafts.  I’m sorry but the back room of a bar is for those moments in life when you contemplate if you’re drunk enough to consider hooking up with the two hundred pound behemoth that kind of looks like a grown up version of Winnie from the Wonder Years.  It’s not a place to be contemplating whether you want to use an 11th round pick on Cameron Maybin or Dexter Fowler.  And yet due to the fact that there is no where else to go that’s exactly where the majority of live drafts will be held.

It’s a shame really.  We are an intelligent species capable of putting a man on the moon.  We have made phones as powerful as computers that fit inside our pant pockets.  We have created plastic bags capable of being zipped.  We have conjured up over a thousand different types of ice cream.  We have even found a way to make Doogie Howser seem cool.  And yet we can’t seem to find an efficient, cheap, and easy way to convene in public.

That’s why I want to create a large public venue in every major city to serve as a one stop source for whatever uses people can think of. A place where the only limit to its capabilities are the bounds of our collective imaginations.  A place that can play host to roasts or sweet sixteens or events of far greater intellectual pursuits such as TED X gatherings.  A place that can allow of group of man children to conduct their fantasy draft or a group of women to have a Tupperware party or whatever else it is that women do when they’re not singing show tunes or talking about the Bachelor.  A place that will be more flexible than a ballerina turned stripper. 

Spreading for several acres this facility will be part convention center, part conference center, and part community center.  It will serve a myriad of purposes for a variety of groups.  It will be your one stop source for do it yourself entertainment. 

For those cities facing space constraints I would like to make a concerted effort to make use of existing spaces.  Utilize offices after hours.  Convert abandoned real estate spaces in strip malls.  Rezone.  Rebuild.  Restructure.  Whatever it takes to get the job done. 

For far too long we’ve accepted our fate.  We’ve crammed into tight, dimly lit quarters.  We’ve overrun food courts.  We’ve made due with the limited resources at our disposal.  No longer.  The solution to our public space problem is out there.  We just have to work at it.  And work at it we shall.  After all, if you build it, they will come. 

stage

I wouldn’t need to find a stage to perform on if I could just rent a publicly shared space.

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Sound mixing.  Film editing.  Cinematography.  The list of Oscars that nobody cares about goes on and on longer than Seth MacFarlane’s opening monologue.  If Oscar awards were UFC matches these awards would be the under card of a free event airing on Fox.  That’s because the average person doesn’t care about a hat worn in Anna Karenina or a computer generated wave from Life of Pi.  They don’t care about the set designs used in Lincoln or the graphics used in Brave.  If these people show any interest in a score it’s going to be one found on Sportscenter not the musical variety.

In actuality, there are really only about five awards that the casual movie fan is going to be interested in: best supporting actor and actress, best actor and actress, and best picture.  These are the heavy hitters.  The A-listers.  The reason why people on the East Coast stay up late past their bed time.  If these awards were a movie they would be the Avengers.  A group collectively stronger than the sum of its parts that equates to massive box office appeal.  Those other awards?  If they were a movie they would be a three hour period piece. The kind of movie that becomes a best picture nominee and is probably worth paying attention to but is not worth getting excited about.  The kind of movie that you watch when your snowed in and you’ve exhausted all of your other entertainment options.

That’s why I would like to create a new award category to honor something that every movie goer does care about.  Something that can make or break even the best of movies.  Something that is often overlooked and usually underestimated yet it’s impact can not be denied. It is, wait for it, wait for it, the opening credit montage!

You may not think that these two minutes are a big deal but trust me they are.  Case in point: the movie Lawless.  I didn’t have high hopes for this movie but I thought it might be worth checking out because I like Tom Hardy and Shia LaBeouf.  This was a movie that needed to hit the ground running in order to capture my attention.  A strong opening credit montage could have done that.  It didn’t.

As a result, I wound up turning off this movie after the first twenty minutes.  Something I would come to regret after finding out during Seth MacFarlane’s parody of actresses showing their boobs in movies that Jessica Chastain would appear topless later in the film.  I would later come to regret Googling images of this after seeing what Jessica Chastain actually looks like naked.

On the other hand there’s nothing better than the credit montages during the Bond movies.  Start movie with kick ass chase scene.  Cue montage set to expertly crafted theme song.  Resume movie.  Rinse, wash, repeat 20 times.

Critics of this idea would say that’s exactly the problem.  What’s the point of creating an award that the same people are just going to keep winning.  To which I would reply that Daniel Day Lewis keeps on winning Best Actor Oscars and no one seems to mind.  Besides creating this category would actually spur innovation and force everyone to think about this part of their movies.  It is after all the piece that could very well make or break the movie.  Capture our attention right off the bat or risk getting walked out on.  The choice is yours.

There's already so many Oscars given out.  What's one more?

There’s already so many Oscars given out. What’s one more?

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#161 – Target.me

I’m pretty sure that the Universe hates me.  Is out to get me even.  How else can you explain Google’s decision to come out with augmented reality glasses dubbed Google Glass just as I decide that I want to get Lasix Eye Surgery?  A burning desire to make the World a better place?  Try again.  An altruistic gesture born out of years of dreaming big and thinking outside the box?  Nope.  A nefarious scheme to gain access to every minute detail of our lives so as to exploit our habits and make money off of us?  Probably, but not what I’m going for.  Rather the only purpose of Google Glass is to screw me over.  The ultimate ironic twist.  Seeing me pay thousands of dollars so that I can go from wearing glasses to wearing glasses is just the Universe’s way of giving me the middle finger.

Not that I’m complaining.  The benefits of Google Glass seem to far outweigh any cosmetic drawbacks and from early indications there are going to be plenty of them.  None of that’s going to matter though when you suddenly gain the ability to digitally record your life (https://greatestideaever.wordpress.com/2012/04/21/11-recorded-life/), quickly take pictures during life’s serendipitous moments, obtain real time directions, and obtain instantaneous information about the places and things that you are interacting with.  Siri, eat your heart out.

It may all sound too good to be true but it’s not.  To prove it here’s a video that Google released recently to show off some of what Glass will be able to do:

There are however a few things that Google currently lacks that could prevent Glass from becoming ubiquitous right away.  The first is the limitations with maps in regards to indoor locations.  Unfortunately, those street view vans that drive around taking pictures can’t fit inside your office or the local mall.  Having glasses that give you directions while you walk down the street.  Awesome.  Having glasses that would give you directions within a building, say as you try to navigate your way around a museum.  Awesomer.

The second is Target.me.  My version of targeted advertising.  Instead of that scene in the Minority Report when Tom Cruise walks through a store and receives a customized message from the retailer Target.me would bring the advertisements to you wherever you are.  On the subway during your commute.  At the movie theater.  While you pump your gas.  Anywhere and everywhere that advertisements currently reside.

Instead of being force feed a steady diet of advertisements from injury attorneys and having to endure schmucks peddling energy drinks you would instead only see advertisements for products and services that you are interested in.  No longer will you have to flip through dozens and dozens of pages of sales for used cars when you read the newspaper.  Unless of course if you recently searched on Google for a used car.  In that case be prepared to start seeing lots of advertisements for used cars the next time you read the paper.

In a perfect World that wouldn’t be necessary.  We could watch television shows uninterrupted without having to pause every eight minutes for a commercial.  We wouldn’t have to sit through twenty minutes of previews when we go to the movies.  We wouldn’t have little pieces of paper that fall out of magazines.  But sadly we live in an imperfect World and advertising isn’t going away.

So, if we have to have advertising why not make the most of it?  Why should we continue to watch commercials for products that we’re not interested in?  Just because I’m watching a football game that doesn’t mean that I drink beer.  Just because I’m watching Pretty Little Liars doesn’t mean that I’m interested in a feminine hygiene product.  We don’t have to be constrained by one size fits all advertising anymore.   It’s time that we embraced targeted advertising and thanks to Target.me and Google Glass that may soon be possible.

Even if it takes a while for this to catch on there should still be more than enough benefits to wearing Google Glass that turn it into the next big thing and for that I couldn’t be happier.  The Universe may have thought that they were putting one over on me but I’ll be the one getting the last laugh.  All I have to do is wait for the contact lenses version of Glass to come out.  Take that Universe!

Will the benefits of Google Glass outweigh the cosmetic drawbacks?

Will the benefits of Google Glass outweigh the cosmetic drawbacks?

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The other day I was reading an article online about the Higgs Boson particle (http://www.foxnews.com/science/2013/02/19/higgs-boson-particle-may-spell-doom-for-universe/) when I came across something troubling.  No, it wasn’t the forboding headline that the particle may spell doom for the Universe.  It was the fact that at the top of the page there was an advertisement for Next Issue, the so called Netflix of magazines that allows you to pay a monthly fee for unlimited access to your favorite magazines. 

You would think that I would be happy about this considering that I love this app and previously wrote about it.  (https://greatestideaever.wordpress.com/2012/11/30/119-next-issue/)  And yet when I saw this advertisement I was raging mad.  The reason for my distain?  The fact that they are now offering new users two free months upon joining!  When I joined I only got one free month!  WTF! 

Similarly, I have beef with Vudu, a movie viewing app on Roku that is now offering new users ten free movies to build up their collections.  When I joined I only got one free rental!  FML! 

As if that wasn’t bad enough Verizon Fios is now offering a $250 Visa Gift Card for new subscribers who sign up for two years.  That’s a great deal for new customers like my mom.  Not so great for existing customers like one of my co-workers, who upon calling to inquire about getting this deal was told that he was out of luck. 

I get that these kind of deals are necessary to drum up new business but at the same time they are a slap in the face to the existing, presumably loyal, customers that you already have who are, quite frankly, the only reason you are still in business.  Going out of your way to impress/attract new business while tossing aside your existing users is just bad etiquette.  It’s the equivalent of being out at a bar and ignoring your girlfriend of three years to flirt with someone else that’s younger and more attractice.  Your girlfriend isn’t going to tolerate that kind of behavior and neither should consumers.

As existing customers we should demand that companies start paying more attention to us.  That they start rewarding us for our loyalty.  If they want to give handouts to try and attract new businses that’s fine just so long as they don’t forget about us.  If you’re going to offer up ten movies to new users why not also give a few free ones to existing customers as a token of gratitude? Shouldn’t we be at the point where there is a vanishing deductible of sorts for loyal customers.  The longer you stay with us the better your deal becomes. 

You would think that in today’s day and age of social media and brand awareness that some marketing company would have already figured this out.  And yet there are dozens and dozens of examples of loyal customers getting the shaft in favor of the new flavor of the month.  Not cool.  Not cool at all.

That's great but what are you offering existing customers?

That’s great but what are you offering existing customers?

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If there is one thing that is abundantly clear after watching the State of the Union Address last week, other than the fact that the people in attendance giving stand ovations way too often, it’s that the budget deficit is kind of a big deal.

In fact, President Obama’s entire legay could hinge on his ability to find a way to reduce the deficit by roughly 2 billion dollars without having to cut funding for education or other key programs.  Apparently, taking out Osama Bin Laden only gets you so far.

Luckily for the President I am on the case with a list of some great ideas to reduce the deficit.  Some of these may be feasible, others may be fantastical, but all of them have at least some merit.  Here’s a look:

Institute an X prize like contest:  It bothers me that there are only two solutions that politicians always revert to whenever money is an issue:  raising taxes and cutting spending.   Believe it or not there are other ways to do things.  If you are either incapable or unwilling to do the heavy mental lifting yourselves then bring in some heavy hitters from the private sector by way of an X prize like contest.  Offer up a nominal prize, say $100,000 to anyone who comes up with ideas on how to reduce the deficit.  Not only would the problem be solved but I would have $100,000 to spend on a lifetime supply of licorice nibs!

Raise funds don’t impose taxes:  When I was at Northeastern University we had to pay a yearly fee for student activities.  One year the merits of raising that fee were debated.  Surprisingly, the student body voted to raise that fee so that in turn higher quality performers could be brought to campus to entertain the student body.  Point being: if you give the people what they want they might actually be okay with paying for it.  Similarly, I feel that if the government needs money to pay for education or innovation hubs or military prowess don’t just raise taxes blindly.  Just ask the people to opt into paying voluntary taxes.  If there is a cause out there that means a lot to someone you’d be surprise how much they’d be willing to contribute to get it done.  Perhaps residents along the Mexican border would actually be willing to contribute to a voluntary tax for border security.  Or maybe residents in the Northeast that were affected by Superstorm Sandy would be willing to contribute to disaster relief programs.  You never know.  Instead of raising taxes blindly maybe the government should turn it’s attention to fund raising for individual programs.

Naming rights:  Why is it that only sports stadiums attract lucrative naming rights deals?  If the federal government is in need of cash why not auction off the naming rights to landmarks across the country?  The Walmart Washington Monument kind of has a nice ring to it don’t you think?  I wonder how much Mount Rushmore would fetch?  I can see it now:  Mount(ain) Dew Rushmore!

Area 51 Theme Park:  Area 51 has got to be the World’s worst kept secret.  The governemnt denies it’s existence and yet we all know it’s there.  Whether or not it’s home to a UFO that crash landed doesn’t even matter at this point.  All that matters is that there are people out there who believe that it did happen.  If you want to make a quick buck all you have to do is go along with it.  How do you do that?  It’s simple.  Just open up a nearby UFO musuem.  Maybe even an amusement park.  Give guided tours.  Turn the entire area into a tourist attraction.  The proceeds from tickets sales and merchandise will be enough to fund the next Space Race.

Space Tourism:  Speaking of Space is it feasible for the U.S. to establish a space tourism industry?  I’m sure a lot of people in the private sector would object to this but in theory if the U.S. extends its sovereignty into the air space above its land or establishes a permanent colony on the moon or Mars couldn’t they then in turn collect fees from private companies that want to operate there?

Mine and Sell Rare Earths:  Forget oil and water.  In the future wars could be fought over Rare Earths aka the minerals that currently power most of our electronic devices.  China controls a large portion of the World’s supply.  If the federal government could find a way to control domestic supplies it could raise a lot of money.

New Taxes:  I wonder how much money could be raised if we got creative with taxes and started collecting money from people who wanted to pay extra for certain conveniences.  For example, let’ say you don’t want to be bothered by telemarketers so you sign up for the Do Not Call Registry.  What if rather than just signing up you had to pay for the right to be on the list.  Even if it was just $1 a year that would probably raise a lot of money.  If the federal government nickled and dimed us for every little thing the way the airlines do they could raise a lot of money and people might actually be okay with these fees if the services are optional ones that add value and convenience to their lives.

I also wonder how much money could be raised from taxing fantasy sports winnings or even from just collecting on unpaid parking tickets from foreign diplomats.  Better yet what about collecting state sales tax on items bought online or imposing a noise pollution tax on the douche bag you lives above me or even a light pollution tax on businesses with obnoxious flashing neon lights in their store fronts?

Reduce military spending:  And last but not least if we do have to go back to inside the box thinking and find somewhere to reduce spending the military stands out to me the most.  I don’t necessarily mean that we should blindly cut spending but I do think that the military should start reconsidering the ways that they spend money.  In today’s day and age of dirty bombs and terrorist attacks from organizations not nations why do we even still have aircraft carriers?  Isn’t that an outdated model?  Don’t we need a military that’s quick and agile and able to adapt to any situation?  I’m willing to bet that we could have a smaller, cheaper and more efficient military without sacrificing our safety in the process.

Well there you have it.  Deficit reduced.  President Obama you can thank me later.  Or if you want as a token of your appreciation for saving your legacy you could name something after me.  I hear the good people of Delaware aren’t particular fond of their state’s name.

Mount(ain) Dew Rushmore?

Mount(ain) Dew Rushmore?

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#158 – Asteroid Defense System

I spend a lot of time, as we all do, thinking about petty little things that ultimately don’t matter. I contemplate players on my fantasy teams as I analyze statistics and agonize over who to acquire. I wonder about the plot of The Walking Dead and whether or not the Governor is a bad actor or just a bad character. And I spend an exorbitant amount of time trying to figure out if Kristen Stewart is pretty or not. For the record, as of now I’m leaning against it.

What I don’t do enough of, what none of us do enough of, is worry about the things that really matter. Such as figuring out how to sustain life on this planet. Case in point: this is the 158th post of a blog dedicated to changing/improving the World and it’s the first time that I will be mentioning an asteroid defense system. Sure, I’ve mentioned the word asteroid before. Twice in reference to mining them for natural resources. But never have I advocated the utilization of an asteroid defense system. Shame(s) on me. Where are my priorities? Did I learn nothing from watching Armageddon half a dozen times?

I received a rude awakening the other day, just as we all did, when a meteor crash landed in Russia, injuring hundreds, just as a much larger asteroid was coincidentally passing through our neighborhood at the same time. The impact of that meteor was 30 times more powerful than the impact from the Hiroshima nuclear bomb.

You can check out a video of the impact here:

By all accounts this was a relatively small object capable of inflicting some damage but it obviously was not large enough to wipe out life on Earth. It’s easy to dismiss this incident as an anomaly. As a once in one hundred years kind of event. But to do so would be short sighted. This wasn’t a false alarm. It was a wake up call. A proverbial shot across the bow from the heavens. We need to take this threat seriously. We need to do something before it’s too late.

But what can we do? What recourse do we have? Well for starters we could try to figure out a way to destroy them before they ever get to us! This article from the Los Angeles Times explains how that could happen starting with, “a new proposal to deploy an array of lasers that could vaporize asteroids from as far away as 93 million miles — the distance between Earth and the sun. Working in synchrony, the lasers could destroy a menacing asteroid outright or at least knock it off course. They call their device Directed Energy Solar Targeting of Asteroids and exploRation, or DE-STAR for short.”

However, before we can start destroying asteroids we first need to identify and catalog them. According to some estimates we’ve only cataloged about 3,000 of the 40,000 known objects so far. A paltry number. To improve upon that and to create an early warning system that gives people advanced notice of 1-2 days that a strike may be imminent NASA has led an effort to build two observatories in Hawaii that can simultaneously scan the entire visible sky twice a night. (http://science.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/02/15/16977795-meteor-warning-system-in-the-works-but-not-ready-yet?lite) However, it should be noted that the article mentions that the success of detection, “depends on a couple of assumptions.” One is that it’s not cloudy. Another is that the asteroid doesn’t go over the South Pole, “where ATLAS cannot see.”

Sounds to me like those are two major red flags that are cause for concern. Quite frankly I’m very concerned about all of this. There are so many near Earth objects out there that can do us harm whether we’re talking about asteroids or meteors, minor incidents or extinction level events. We can either chose to ignore the truth that’s out there or we can start taking this seriously and put all of our available resources into destroying, disintegrating, and/or deflecting these things before they take us out. Anything other than mining them would probably be a good idea and yet that’s all we keep hearing about because that’s where the money is. Shame on all of us.

Now if you’ll excuse me I have to run. I’m on the clock in my fantasy baseball draft.

I should spend less time trying to figure out if Kristen Stewart is hot or not and more time trying to figure out how to prevent an asteroid from crashing into Earth!

I should spend less time trying to figure out if Kristen Stewart is hot or not and more time trying to figure out how to prevent an asteroid from crashing into Earth!

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