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Archive for April, 2013

I wish I could remember where I was the first time it happened.  Where I was the first time that I logged onto the internet.  But I can’t.  Sure, I can tell you where I was at other seminal moments in my life.  Where I was the first time I was handed a baseball card.  Where I was the first time that I rode a bicycle.  Where I was the first time my cat scratched me.  But when it comes to the internet I draw a blank. 

I guess that’s because for all intents and purposes it was a nondescript moment in my life.  I had no idea what this machine, what this thing would one day become.  How it would come to dominate every aspect of my life.  Simply put, I can’t remember because I’ve never tried to remember.  I never deemed it a moment worthy of my consideration.  1986 Topps baseball cards on the other hand.  Now that’s a different story. 

And yet it’s the internet and not the baseball cards that I can’t live without.  Whether it’s writing this blog, talking with friends on social networks, following breaking news stories, playing fantasy sports, or searching for love on dating sites the internet is my life.  The lines have been blurred so completely as to not be recognizable anymore. 

Which is exactly why I’d like to propose on this, the twenty year anniversary of the World Wide Web being made freely available, that we do away with the internet! 

Now before you chase me around town with pitch forks and torches allow me to clarify that I don’t mean to shut it down indefinitely like the plot of a bad JJ Abrams TV show.  Rather, I think we could all stand to benefit from just one day a year with no internet access.  That’s it.  Just one day.  That’s all I’m asking for. 

Just one day to allow everyone some time to take a step back from the daily grind and re-evaulate their lives.  To gain fresh perspective.  To spend some time with friends and family without their heads buried in their smart phones.  A one day sabbatical of sorts to recharge their batteries.  To ponder life’s deepest questions. 

Of course the immediate criticism that opponents of this plan would offer up is that shutting down the internet for an entire day would be a tremendous hit to the economy.  That hundreds of millions of dollar would be lost as businesses shut down.  That too much harm would be done that would far outweigh any benefits that may be gleamed from such a plan.

But such thinking is short sighted.  Sure there will be financial losses but just think about all the good that could come from this.  Think about all of the potential new companies that could be dreamed up overnight by CEOs and other like minded individuals who suddenly have a day all to themselves to think about their future and moreover our collective future.  Just think about what someone like Jeff Bezos could dream up if he could step away from running Amazon for just one day. 

The timing of such a day, if it were to take place, would be key though.  Ideally, it would just be on April 30th every year to honor its date of birth but that may not be practical.  The school year is winding down.  Baseball season is in full swing.  When it comes down to it this may not be the best time of year to take a day off.  But I’m willing to bet that such a time does exist.  A day when the stars align and the timing works out just perfectly that there are no major sporting events that day.  That there are no major events of any kind that day.

Perhaps such a day exists around the winter holidays.  When everyone is already in the frame of mind of taking a break and spending time with family.  Perhaps it could be New Year’s Day when everyone is already off from work, making resolutions, trying to get their lives in order for the year to come.  If there was ever a time to take a break from the daily commitments of the internet it might be that day.

So, while I might not remember where I was the first time I went online there still is hope for the rest of you.  There’s still the chance that maybe one day you will all remember where you were on that first internet free day.  On the day that you first decided to take back control of your lives.  Then again maybe not considering that we all rely on the internet so much to remember things for us. 

Come to think of it maybe that’s exactly what happened to me.  Maybe  I can’t remember because I’ve relied on Google too much over the years.  Maybe I’ve lost the ability to remember.  Which is exactly why we need to hurry up and create an internet free day before we forget why it is that we even want it. 

aol_logo

I can’t remember the first time I went online but I’m pretty sure it had something to do with AOL.

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I’ve been spending a lot of time lately obsessing over Google Glass; reading early reviews, brainstorming possible apps, wondering about potential price points, etc.  But in doing so I may have inadvertently overlooked another offering from Google that is just as cool and with just as much potential to change the World and the way that we interact with it.  The product in question?  A predictive personal assistant called Google Now, that is set to deliver you what you want before you even realize that you want it.

According to an article in the LA Times, “With Google Now you don’t even have to do search,” said Baris Gultekin, Google Now product management director, on Wednesday. “Information is right there waiting for you before you even ask. It’s all about providing you with the right information, based on your context, at just the right time.”

An article on Mashable details how it works: When launched for the first time (which can be done so via an update within the Google Search app), Google Now reveals a set of virtual “cards” based on what you might like and what you already search for, from the weather to your favorite sports team. Cards appear when you need them and if some populate that you don’t like, you can swipe them away. And similar to Apple’s Siri service, it also responds to voice commands.

Sounds good to me but is this new predictive personal assistant helpful or just plain creepy?  When it comes to receiving real time traffic and weather reports, sports scores, and stock price fluctuations it’s probably helpful.  But what happens when this new service starts drawing unwelcomed conclusions?  When it starts suggesting that you should stop on the way home and visit a strip club because your busy schedule suggests that you may be stressed out?  When it starts trying to take over your life instead of supporting it?  It’s bad enough that Google already knows everything that I search for.  Do I really want it knowing what I might want to search for?

These concerns while legitimate are probably far fetched and unwarranted.  Like any new service it will probably take some getting used it and it will undoubtedly have some kinks to work out but in the long run it’s something that is going to prove its worth.  The kind of thing that we’re one day going to wonder how we ever lived without.

When I go home tonight I plan on searching for this service in the app store and trying it out as an alternatiave to Siri.  But then again maybe I won’t have to do that.  Maybe it’ll already know that I want to use it.  Now that would be creepy. 

Google_Now_Cards

The future of search has arrived.

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#195 – Boomorbust.com

Just a few days after the release of ESPN’s 30 for 30, “From Elway to Marino”, we are once again reminded about how hard it can be to scout talent in the NFL as we watch the plight of West Virginia star Geno Smith unfold on national TV.  Arguably the best quarterback available in an admittedly weak class, Smith went undrafted in the first round last night.  Not only that but another less heralded QB, E.J. Manuel of Florida State, went before him.  How is this possible?

Could it be that this now infamous scathing scouting report had something to do with his fall?  Is it really possible that the general manager of every NFL team shared these same concerns?  Is it really possible that they arrived at these same conclusions from different angles? 

When we look back at the 1983 draft you can’t fault the Buffalo Bills for picking Jim Kelly who took them to four Super Bowls but how is it possible that Tony Eason, Ken O’Brien, and Todd Blackledge were all taken ahead of Dan Marino?!?!  Are NFL teams about to repeat history by passing up Smith?  The way that they already regret passing up Russell Wilson last year? 

Only time will tell but I wonder how history will judge this draft.  Will Smith prove his doubters wrong?  Will he use this slight as added motivation and play with a chip on his shoulder for the rest of his career?  Until we know for sure I can’t help but feel sorry for him.  It’s one thing to have your draft stock plummet.  It’s quite another to have it plummet while the entire World watches you squirm.

That’s why I wish that there was a better way to scout professional athletes.  A better way to tap into the wisdom of the crowd.  Instead of being influenced by one scout’s opinion, favorable or not, and instead of relying on the opinions of just a few trusted executives in your brain trust professional teams should utilize my new, yet to be created scouting service boomorbust.com.

This service will feature two primary components.  The first will be a ratings system based on attributes that would aim to form a consensus opinion on a player’s abilities.  For a baseball player that might mean there would be five categories listed to represent each of the five tools.  In theory the crowd should be able to then correctly rate what every player can or can not do.  For example a guy like Billy Hamilton would be likely to get the highest ratings possible for speed and low ratings in ability to hit for power.  These ratings would be subject to change though as the hive mind continues to tweak them on a daily basis as new data rolls in. 

The second component would consist of written scouting reports.  The best written and most widely agreed upon opinions would get voted up to the top of the heap and receive top billing  just like on a site such as Quora.  This format should weed out opinions on the extreme ends of the spectrum that are either too harsh or too generous.  In such a scenario it’s possible that the report that trashed Geno Smith would have never been given much credence at all. 

Aside from creating useful data that could actually inform the decision making process of professional sports teams such a service would also have mass appeal to fans from all walks of life.  If fantasy sports give you the chance to be an amateur general manager then boomorbust.com gives you the chance to be an amateur scout. 

And make no mistake about it there are a lot of wannabe scouts out there.  We all watch the games.  We all have informed opinions about what we see.  Some of us take to blogs or social media to share those opinions.  But what about the rest of us?  All of that collective knowledge is going to waste.   We watch a game and then move on to the next one before any value can be extracted from our experience.  Whose to say that our opinions aren’t better than that of the professional scout? 

Malcom Gladwell has said that doing anything for more than 10,000 hours makes you an expert.  If that’s the case then there a millions of sports fan out there who after a lifetime of watching games are now experts in their sport of choice.  It’s time that we benefited from that expertise.  It’s time that we make sure that what is happening to Geno Smith doesn’t happen again.  It’s time to find out who is about to go boom or bust.

geno1_0_standard_352_0

Don’t fret Geno, I’m here to help!

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#194 – PrePlay

As the movie Rat Race proved it sure would be a lot of fun if you could place bets on everything.  Not just on card games or on rolls of dice or on a tiny bouncing ball on a tiny wheel but everything.  Sporting events sure but more so life events.  On the outcome of presidential elections.  On the date of birth for your first born.  Heck, even who is going to be the next person voted off Survivor would be fair game.  Anything and everything that is something would be in play. 

I think that such a concept actually works best in the tech world.  When will Apple TV come out?  Which company’s smart watch will sell the most units in 2014?  What will the initial selling price of Google Glass be?  Will Tim Cook be replaced by the end of 2013?  The possiblities are endless.

Of course this isn’t a novel idea.  Sites offering these type of services have popped up before but have failed to reach critical mass.  There’s just too much uncertainty and risk.  It might even be conceivable that if there was enough money riding on the outcome of a Presidential election that perhaps nefarious individuals would actually be tempted to alter the results of said election to influence the payouts. 

Despite the obvious downside I still firmly believe that there is something to this idea if done right.  Last night’s NFL Draft for example would have been the perfect forum for such a concept.  Instead of just sitting back and watching a bunch of so called, self proclaimed experts shouting from the top of their soap box about the merits of each pick you could have shown off your own prowess.   Doing a mock draft is a total crap shoot.  Picking as you go is far more elegant.

Bill Barnwell from Grantland agrees and he stole my thunder with his piece on  how to make watching the NFL draft fun:  http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/9210126/bill-barnwell-watching-nfl-draft.  As he points out, “So how do you watch a draft full of players you probably haven’t heard of with no locks or guarantees? Well, you bet on it. The online sportsbook Bovada publishes bets on just about everything, and the NFL draft is no exception.”  He then proceeded to run through some fun over/under examples of bets you could have placed to predict draft position.  I hope anyone that actually was betting last night took the over on Geno Smith at 8.5. 

Which brings me to my new favorite app, PrePlay. (http://www.preplaysports.com/)  According to their website:  PrePlay is the world’s leading predictive game studio. We create mobile and tablet games designed and engineered to enhance the experience of watching sports, reality, talent, and award shows on TV. PrePlay users compete in worldwide social contests that involve predicting the outcomes of events they are watching unfold on live TV.

In other words if you can’t legally gamble on these type of events you might as well do the second best thing:  brag to your friends about how much better you are than them.  Which some would say even tops making a few bucks. 

I tried my hand at this app the other day while watching a Tampa Bay Rays baseball game.  The Rays are by definition a boring, non descript offensive team that struggles to score runs.  They aren’t exactly a fun team to watch play.  The 1927 Yankees they are not.  Watching an at bat by Jose Molina and hanging on the outcome of every pitch would be the ultimate test to whether or not PrePlay has staying power.  Much to my surprise it does. 

After I successfuly predicted the outcome of Molina’s at bat, to complete a streak of three straight successful predictions, I quickly closed out of the app so that I could retire on a high note.  I have yet to go back but the temptation is there.  And while I’d much rather be risking actual money on where my co-worker will be going for lunch today I’m content to settle for PrePlay.  For now.

MLB-PrePlay

Move over Zynga there’s a new social gaming heavyweight.

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“Do you feel that?  Is it just me or is it a little bit chilly in here?  There must be a draft coming through!”

That exchange, however corny it may be, is one that I’ve used over and over again with a friend of mine whenever a draft, whether real or fantasy, was about to start.  And tomorrow night I’ll get to use it again to usher in the NFL draft.  An event onto itself.  Aka the real day that Super Bowls are won or lost.

This year though the NFL draft is lacking for star power which usually comes from the offensive skill positions.  Your quarterbacks, running backs, and wide receivers.  Your show me the money players.  The game changers.  The franchise altering kind of players. 

A year after potential future Hall of Famers Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III headlined last year’s draft there are no such sure things this year.  How could there be when the top quarterback prospect, Geno Smith, might not even be a top ten pick (http://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2013/04/01/nawrocki-provides-scathing-assessment-of-geno-smith/) and when most of the top players available are offensive lineman?  This is a draft for real hardcore football fans.  For the kind of people who are usually still watching by the time the seventh round rolls around.  Not for casual fans or fantasy football geeks. 

And yet in spite of that this draft still carries considerable intrigue primarily surrounding draft pick trades.  Such as will the San Francisco 49ers use their bounty of picks to trade up?  What does Bill Belichick have up his sleeve?  Now that Revis Island has been relocated to Tampa Bay will any other star players get traded for picks?  The possibilities are endless.  It’s gut wrenching, nerve rattling, and extremely exciting all at the same time.  And it’s not for the feint of heart. 

This is what makes the NFL draft so great.  It’s theater.  High drama with massive consquences on a small stage.  The major league baseball draft on the other hand is an after thought.  It’s later rounds are conducted via conference call.  Via conference call!!!  Up until a few years ago none of it was even televised at all.  Thanks to the MLB Network that’s no longer the case but when compared to the NFL draft the MLB draft is still a joke.  It’s the minor leagues.  And here’s the biggest reason why: you can’t trade draft picks!  What!!??!?!  That’s the best part of any draft!!!!

Major league baseball has gotten a lot right recently from expanded playoffs and interleague play to the World Baseball Classic.  But when it comes to the draft they fall woefully short.  They strike out.  Allowing draft picks to get traded though changes all that.  Imagine if instead of forcing small market rebuilding teams to spend millions of dollars on unproven high school kids you could instead empower those teams to trade those high risk picks in return for established major league talent. 

Commissioner Bud Selig has long talked about competive balance and has gone to painstaking lengths to accomplish that whether it’s been the luxury tax or revenue sharing.  Why go to those lengths though and punish successful large market teams when you could have just allowed teams to trade picks?  By allowing for draft pick trades you’d be creating a system in which the smartest teams that draft the best and pull off the shrewdest trades would rise to the top.  Which is exactly what the goal of any league should be. 

So, tomorrow night when a slew of obscure middle linebackers from community colleges are being selected and later traded on national TV I hope that executives from MLB are watching and learning a thing or two.  That is if they can tolerate Chris Berman long enough in order to do so.

bud-selig

Hey Bud, don’t look so exasperated! I’m trying to help!

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#192 – Matter Chatter

The first in a series of on going posts about apps for Google Glass.

I hate small talk.  Hate it with a passion.  It’s beyond awkward.  I never know what to say and so I usually wind up saying nothing giving off the vibe that I’m socially inept.  I don’t want to be though.  I actually wouldn’t mind a little witty banter from time to time.  A little rapid fire repartee.  Something to take the edge off.  To diffuse the tension.  To turn yet another mind numbing 30 second elevator ride into my own personal soapbox or open mic night.  But to do that I’m going to need a little bit of help.  That’s where Google Glass comes in.

In the future it seems rather plausible that my new best friend will be able to provide me with information about someone that I encounter via a combination of facial recognition software and a standard Google search.  People will never again have to worry about forgetting someone’s name or how they know them.  The World just got a whole lot smaller.  But that’s not good enough.  Not for me at least.  Just recognizing someone or making new connections only just scratches the surface of what could be possible with Glass.  Enter Matter Chatter.  The app focused on talk that matters.

What this program would do is provide someone with focused clues about someone alerting the wearer to the common interests, favorite things and latest news about this person.  A detailed digital dossier of sorts culled from a variety of social media infused sources that would serve as the ultimate small talk cheat sheet.

The key for such an app is to make sure that it’s not overly obtrusive.  That it doesn’t invade a person’s privacy or suggest topics of conversation that are taboo in nature.  Such safeguards would probably be easy to put in place though.  I’m even envisioning a scenario where instead of culling data from social media people actually willingly offer up data about themselves that they wouldn’t mind talking about.  Social clues like, “ask me about my recent trip to Hawaii” or “don’t talk to me about the Yankees game because I haven’t watched it yet”.  Clues that could be updated on either a daily or weekly basis.   

Such a capability would have come in handy the other day when I was in the elevator with a senior executive at my company.  Instead of standing in silence it would have been great if I would have known that he was about to go on  jury duty as was the case no pun intended.  Rather than have to make small talk about the weather I could have asked him about the trial.  It would still be small talk but small talk with a purpose.  

I’m sure there are a lot of other great potential applications for Google Glass being dreamed up all around the World as you read this.  Apps that could make us healthier and happier and that’s great.  But to start out I’d settle for just making life a little bit less awkward.

movie_tune_in_with_tom_hansens_wesc_stash_bongo_headphones_from_500_days_of_summer_003

Or if you had Google Glass and the app Matter Chatter you could actually look at one another and have something meaningful to say!

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I’m the TV show killer.  Except for ratings juggernauts like Game of Thrones every new show that I start to watch gets the quick hook.  So much so that a friend once banned me from watching the Walking Dead.  Either I just have really bad taste (hello Cape!) or these shows are getting unceremoniously dumped too quickly before they have a chance to stretch their creative muscles.  For every show like The Event that rightfully deserves to get canned there’s a dozen shows like Alcatraz or Flash Forward or Terra Nova that were taken off the air just as they were starting to get good.

Some shows even get taken off their air when they are already good.  Case in point cult favorite Firefly which spawned a successful movie called Serenity.  There’s a reason why that movie was so beloved.  It’s because the source material was that good.  If given a chance to develop that hit movie would have been a highly rated TV show.  But TV shows are rarely given a chance to develop.  Zero Hour just got cancelled after two episodes!!!!  Two episodes!!!!  How is that fair?!

What’s the point of investing any time at all in watching a new show if there’s a very good chance that it won’t even make it through one season?  From now on I’m not going to watch any shows live anymore (sorry Revolution) and instead I’ll just wait for something to come onto Netflix so that I can binge watch an entire season (hello Continuum!).  

Congratulations Hollywood you are now living in a self fulfilling prophecy. Continue to rely on an outdated ratings system that leads to good shows with low ratings getting cancelled and in return you’ll continue to wind up with low ratings as people turn to other sources for entertainment.  Job well done.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.  To save TV from itself all we’d have to do is create a whole new ratings system.  A new metric for a new era.  One that is specifically designed for the influence of social media.  One that takes into account all of our different devices and methods of mass media consumption.  I’ll leave it to someone far smarter than me to actually devise the math that would be needed to create such a system but in the interim here’s a look at its likely components: 

  • Standard Nielsen ratings (whatever that is)
  • DVR views and in particular how soon after a show airs it is watched
  • Number of times older seasons were watched on Netflix, Amazon, and other streaming services
  • Number of times older episodes were watched on Hulu or the network’s own website
  • Number of illegal downloads
  • Number of social media mentions (combined number of Tweets, likes, etc.)
  • Number of interactions with “second screen” apps
  • DVD sales
  • Number of Google searches for show name or actors and actresses that appear in the show
  • Merchandise sales
  • Fan sites/Blogs/Tumblrs spawned
  • For sporting events include the number of fantasy sports participants (for some events like the NCAA tournament include the number of bets placed in Vegas)

Clearly there’s a lot that goes into a show’s popularity other than just archaic ratings.  While we may not yet be able to accurately capture water cooler talk we can reflect nearly everything else.  This new formula if it can be successfully created will be all encompassing.  It would be the proverbial “Full Nielsen”.  Until then I can only hope that Continuum and all my other obscure favorite shows live to see another day.

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Rachel Nichols aka Kiera Cameron as seen in Continuum. Am I going to get to see the scene depicted in this picture before the show is cancelled? Could a new ratings formula prevent that from happening?

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