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Archive for December, 2014

While some of you will be spending Christmas Eve with family I’ll be spending it watching “The Interview”, the latest Seth Rogen – James Franco bromance that lead to a massive hack of Sony and an escalation of tensions between the United States and North Korea that could very well lead to World War III or at least the first ever official cyber war.

I will be doing so not because I particularly want to see this movie, which received poor reviews and probably won’t be worth the money I’ll have to spend to do so, and not because I want to stick it to North Korea and their attempt to censor us, but because I want to support the fact that it’s getting released online in the aftermath of Sony’s decision to pull it from theaters.

My hope is that if enough people watch it online movie studios will be forced to consider straight to streaming options in the future as a legitimate distribution method for new releases.  And why shouldn’t they?  Lots of people don’t like going out to movie theaters where you run the risk of having the back of your seat kicked or sitting behind someone taller than you who blocks your view.  Not to mention the people who talk during a movie or play with their phones.  There’s even a chance that a protest could break out during the movie, as it did the last time I went, or something far worse like a shooting or stabbing incident.  Why should people who want to watch a movie in the comforts of their own homes be penalized?

Just because we can watch a movie at home doesn’t mean we’ll always want to.  Going out to a movie is still a great date night destination and it’s still something that we’re going to want to do with our friends for certain films.  Some flicks, like those of the big budget, action adventure variety are much better when viewed on a bigger screen with surround sound for added affect.  Give us choices and we’ll choose wisely.  Give us limited options and we’ll just watch it online for free from one of the dozen or so sites that stream bootlegged versions.

At the very least movies should be streamed online a lot sooner than they currently are.  Why do we have to wait a month or more before we can watch a movie at home?  Case in point:  I just had to wait several months to watch the summer blockbuster “Guardians of the Galaxy”, just getting a chance to see it in December for the first time.  Think about that.  I watched a summer blockbuster in the dead of winter.  I can understand not wanting to release it online at the same time it’s in theaters but three months later?  Why not release it online as soon as it stops it’s theatrical run?

If Aereo’s attempt to bring us cable television online proved anything it’s that the masses are ready to consume entertainment their way, at their convenience.  And if Aereo’s defeat in court proved anything it’s that the powers that be aren’t ready to give us that control yet.  The Interview’s online release is historic but it’s probably not a foreshadowing of things to come.  That’s a shame.  Give the people what they want when they want it!  Don’t let the terrorists win!

Shouldn’t all movies be released online right away or soon after they hit theaters?

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#588 – The Phoenix Foundation

Food drives.  Coat drives.  Toy drives.  It’s that time of the year again.  Time for us to volunteer a few hours at a shelter or give away our spare change to a panhandler on the subway.  Time for us to get into the holiday spirit and pretend to care about someone other than ourselves for five whole minutes.  The time of year where we all try to make ourselves feel better by doing something nice for someone else even though it’s disingenuous and we’ll ultimately just wind up feeling worse about ourselves.

There has got to be a better way to help our fellow man but to date we haven’t found it.  And that’s a shame.  But it’s not surprising.  There’s a real disconnect that exists between the homeless and the rest of society.  A disconnect between our desire to help and our willingness to get our hands dirty.  A disconnect when it comes to trust between giver and recipient in which there is an assumption that any money you give to a bum will just be used for alcohol or drugs.  Combine that lack of trust with a negative stigma surrounding aggressive tactics that bother people when they are trying to commute to work and what you wind up with is a society in which the majority of people are apathetic about the downtrodden.

What can we do about this disconnect?  Well I’ve been thinking about that lately and I think the answer is an obvious one: nothing.  If people are going to be apathetic about something I say let them.  Don’t try to force the issue.  Don’t try to squeeze a square peg into a round hole.  Don’t try to reinvent the wheel.  Instead the key is to try and find something that they do care about.  Something that they are passionate about.

Take me for example.  I’m one of those people who refuses to give panhandlers on the street money as a matter of principal.  For a long time I thought that made me a bad person.  But then I realized I’m not a bad person.  I do want to help people.  It’s just that I only want to help certain people.  Some random John Doe with his hand out?  He can go scratch.  An unemployed recent college graduate living at home with his parents?  Sign me up.  Crazy guy on the street corner shouting about the end of days?  Lock that guy up and throw away the keys.  Cubicle dweller stuck in a dead end job with limitless potential as an app developer?  Yes please.

Essentially, what I’m talking about is starting a charity for the middle class.  Think of it like Go Fund Me on a larger scale.  Known as the Phoenix Foundation, since it will be leading to someone’s rebirth, this organization will raise money and then provide “scholarships” to worthy applicants who are looking for some help to better their lives.  Whether it’s free rent to a young millennial so that they can live on their own while looking for work or paying for a college dropout’s acting classes there’s no shortage of ways that we can help hard working people who are looking to make something of themselves.  I’m not talking about providing food and other basic services to needy people.  There are already dozens of organizations that do that.  I’m talking about providing life changing services to people who just need a little extra boost to get over the hump.  Name one organization that does that?

Applicants would obviously have to go through a rigorous screening process before being awarded funds and they’d have to show progress on a monthly basis in order to keep the funding coming.  No free handouts here.  This is not your ordinary run of the mill charity.  This is an instrument of change.

Now, I realize that a charity for the middle class sounds funny but I really, truly believe that this organization could do a lot of good.  Just think about all the creative people stuck in dead end jobs who could have the time to follow their dreams.  Think about all the books that could be written.  All that art that could be created.  All the apps that could be developed.  All the businesses that could be started.  No longer would hard working, middle class people have to make excuses.  No longer would they have to say that they didn’t have enough time or enough money to accomplish their goals, to turn their dreams into reality.  We’d be buying them time.  Buying them a new future.

Doesn’t that sound like a cause worth donating to?  A charity worth contributing to?  Or would you rather continue to feel bad about yourself?  Continue to turn your back on your fellow man, even one who works hard with their head down and never asks for help?  If you ask me the choice is clear.  Let’s help those who want to be helped.  Those who can impact society in a major way if we let them.

Are you more inclined to give money to the guy disturbing your commute or a recent college graduate who needs money for grad school?

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#587 – Bandwagon Cap

The latest issue of Sports Illustrated made mention of some forthcoming patents for innovations in the sports world.  Some of these ideas ranged from the absurd (a lounge chair with a built in cooling system) to the practical (a helmet that “bleeds’ when you’ve suffered a head trauma).  But the one idea that stood out to me the most, the one idea that I can actually see becoming a real thing, was the idea of an interchangeable baseball cap, a so-called Bandwagon Cap.

Instead of having to buy a new hat whenever you decide you want to root for a different team all you’d have to do is swap out the logo on the front.  Hat manufacturers and die hard fans aren’t going to like this idea but fashionable celebrities and fair weather fans certainly will.

To be honest I’m with the fair weather fans on this one. I’ve never understood why someone has to stay blindly loyal to their local team.  Let’s say you live in San Francisco and you’re a 49ers fan.  Things are going great for you when Joe Montana and Steve Young are leading you to championships.  By all means root for the team to win.  But right now things are not going so well.  Your not going to make the playoffs this year.  Your coach is on the way out after a power struggle.  Your quarterback is falling apart.  You have multiple players getting arrested for DUI and rape and gun charges.  If you wanted to get off this sinking ship and go root for a more exciting team I wouldn’t blame you.  You don’t have to denounce the 49ers.  You can come back when they’re relevant again.  But there’s absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t be allowed to abandon them and jump on the bandwagon of the “next man up” Arizona Cardinals who are looking to go to their Super Bowl with their third string quarterback in a year in which they are the host city.

I’ve even written about fandom before, saying that when it comes time to picking a team, “The reasoning shouldn’t matter.  The only thing that should matter is that we’re making a conscience decision to root for a team and not just blindly accepting that we’re going to root for the local team because it’s convenient to do so or because our parents did.”

I still firmly believe that and as such I’m a big supporter of this Bandwagon Cap idea.  In fact, now that Derek Jeter has retired it’s officially time for me to move on and pick a new baseball team to root for.  Maybe it’ll be the revamped San Diego Padres.  Maybe it’ll be the Chicago Cubs and their rising stars.  Maybe it’ll be some other flavor of the month.  Whoever it winds up being I should have the right to chose and maintain the right to change my mind.  With the Bandwagon Cap I may be able to do just that.

Just think about how much money the Bandwagon Cap will be saving Justin Bieber!

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After four years of Spanish classes in high school I could count to ten, say hello and goodbye, and insult someone’s mother.  Not exactly enough to get me through a conversation with my Spanish speaking family in Uruguay.  Thankfully the days of saying “que” every five seconds while rapidly thumbing through a Spanish-English dictionary are now a thing of the past.

That’s because Skype has released a new product that translates from English-Spanish in near real time.  What the what?!?!

According to Peter Bright, a reporter from Ars Technica, who took the software for a test drive, using this technology was a mind blowing, Star Trek style experience, that was the most futuristic thing he’s ever seen.  Here’s what he had to say about his experience:

“I spoke English. A moment later, an English language transcription would appear, along with a Spanish translation. Then a Spanish voice would read that translation.  It took a moment to get used to the pacing of the conversation—the brief delay for the translation means that if you understand the language of the other person, there’s a temptation to respond immediately, without waiting for the voice to read the translation—but once this rhythm was learned, the conversation was fluent and continuous.”

This technology is a total game changer with obvious implications for businesses making our already inter-connected world seem even smaller.  But just think about the impact it could have on your social life or the way you interact with family members.  Immigrant grand parents who still speak their native tongue and can’t communicate with their grandchildren now can.  Star crossed lovers from different cultures can now speak freely.  Language barriers cease to exist.  Cultural differences cease to exist.  Roadblocks to innovation cease to exist.

I’ve often said that the world would be a better place if we all spoke the same universal language.  Of course that’s never going to happen since we’ll never be able to agree on what the language should be and there is something to be said for maintaining some level of cultural individuality.  But with Skype’s translator we now get the best of both worlds.  We get to communicate instantaneously in the same language as if we were all speaking the same native tongue and we get to still maintain our own unique local flavor.  This could truly be one of the most influential technological breakthroughs of the modern era.

I can’t wait to see how fast innovation speeds up now that we’re all on the same page.

Is a Skype Translator the Greatest Idea Ever?

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The other day I was nearly brought to tears by news of the moronic Greenpeace publicity stunt that inflicted irreparable damaged to the 1,500 year old Nazca Lines in Peru.  A horrific act that is the functional equivalent of spray painting the Great Pyramids, this crime against humanity was perpetrated by the very people who supposedly want to protect the environment.  There will never be a crueler twist of irony than that.

As horrible as this act was there’s something equally troubling as it relates to this story and that’s the fact that when I start talking about the Nazca Lines no one has any idea what I’m talking about.  Maybe they’ve heard of the markings in Peru that can only be seen from the sky.  But they don’t know that they are called the Nazca Lines if they know of them at all.  This bother me.  A lot.

We’re talking about one of the World Heritage Sites.  One of the greatest treasures we have on Earth.  We should be holding this site in high esteem.  Teaching our kids about it all throughout elementary school, high school, and college.  And yet we don’t.  We don’t even mention it at all.  It’s such a secret, in fact, that when it gets desecrated it’s hard to find enough people outraged about it since most people are barely familiar with it.

Truth be told I didn’t know that much about it either until last year when I learned about it from watching Ancient Aliens on the History Channel.  Yea, that’s right.  I spent twenty years and a hundred thousand dollars getting educated but didn’t learn about one of the greatest things our species ever created until I watched a cockamamie cable TV show that posits that aliens have influenced almost every major historical event that’s ever occurred.  Why not every major event?  Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.  I’m sure future episodes will fill in the gaps.

That’s why, as crazy as it sounds, I think we should embrace the educational prowess of this show and create a museum that focuses on educating the masses about our past through the somewhat distorted lens of Ancient Alien influence.  It may not be a perfect approach to going about education but it sure does beat the alternative of ignoring the subject matter all together.

Visitors to this museum would learn about the Mayans, Aztecs, Egyptians and other ancient peoples that may have had contact with aliens.  They’ll learn about mysterious sites like the Nazca Lines, Easter Island, Stonehenge, and the Dragon’s Triangle.  The what triangle?!?!  Exactly.

Visitors could even wonder about what happened to the Ark of the Covenant or if Atlantis ever really existed.  From the unknown (what’s buried at the bottom of Oak Island?) to the speculative (was Merlin an alien who had influence over King Arthur?) there would be no shortage of interesting topics to explore at this museum.  What else would make the cut?  Essentially, anything that has ever been covered on an episode of Ancient Aliens.  All of the bizarre, unexplained mysteries that keep conspiracy nuts up at night.   Anything and everything from crop circles to the Bermuda Triangle.

If you think this idea is far fetched take note of the fact that there already is a museum of oddities:  Ripley’s Believe It Or Not in New York City’s Time Square.  If attractions such as the Bearded Lady can lead to $30 entrance fees just imagine how much money a museum featuring the unexplained wonders of the world could attract.  Especially with the added twist of ancient aliens possibly being involved.

The best part of all is that the subject matter is already perfectly suited for a museum.  In fact, you could go into almost any museum in the world right now and find something that was highlighted in an episode of Ancient Aliens!  From mysterious stone artifacts that look like astronauts to medieval era paintings depicting flying space ships there’s a ton of museum quality items worth displaying.  I mean are you really going to sit there and tell me that you wouldn’t come from far and near to see Crystal Skulls?!!?!

Aside from just highlighting what we already know and find interesting this museum would also educate the masses on what is not well known.  For example, did you know that the Sphinx predates the Egyptians?!  Or that Christopher Columbus claims to have seen a UFO while journeying to America?  Or that there is a Pyramid hidden in a cave inside the Grand Canyon!  Of course you didn’t!  But if you visited the museum you would know all that and much more!

In the spirit of Ripley’s Believe It Or Not this museum could even create fun hands on exhibits highlighting the best parts of ancient alien theory.  Imagine for example having an opportunity to crawl through a cave to discover pictographs or exploring a replica pyramid with a hidden burial chamber featuring hieroglyphics that depict other worldly visitors.  This would be a totally immersive experience that would make you feel like an explorer discovering something new for the first time.

Of course there’s no substitute for actually visiting these world renowned places and seeing the real thing.  But in lieu of having that opportunity, which most of us will never have, a museum that highlights all of these great places could be the next best thing.  At the very least it will raise awareness which will hopefully prevent something like what Greenpeace did from ever happening again.

And who knows.  Maybe if the aliens ever do return they’ll be impressed that we’ve embraced their influence and will spare us from annihilation!  An added bonus if there ever was one.

Is a museum dedicated to the subject matter on Ancient Aliens the Greatest Idea Ever?

 

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I’ve often said that I’ll be happy if just one idea from this blog gets implemented.  Well, if I could choose what that one idea would be it would be this: equal treatment for fountain water!

Now, I’m not talking about the kind of water fountain you might find in the center of a town square that shoots jets of water into the air at different timed intervals.  Those fountains are awesome and already get the respect they deserve.  Nor am I talking about the kind of water fountain you might find at a park or in a school that only dispenses a tiny bit of water no matter how hard you press down on the stupid, little button.  As frustrating as those can be they already get fair treatment since everybody hates them equally.  Rather, I’m talking about the kind of fountain water that you’ll find in a fast food restaurant as part of a bevy of beverage choices that you have at your disposal from a dispenser.

You see, these “fountain” drink dispensers have it out for water, always combining it with another drink option, making it hard to find and hard to get to.   Press the cup firmly against the lever for one drink.  Pull up another lever for water.  There are Rube Goldberg machines that are less complicated.

Why is this??! Why is it that water is always the drink that’s getting combined with something else??!! And why is that something else always the pink lemonade!!!  The pink lemonade for crying out loud!!!  It’s bad enough that water doesn’t taste like anything.  Not it has to serve the indignity of always having to share the spotlight with another drink.  And a repugnant one at that.

This isn’t right.  Water is the most important drink there is.  We couldn’t survive without it.  And how do we repay that which gives us life?  We treat it like an after thought.  Force it to share a tiny little space with some cockamamie fruity concoction moonlighting as a sports drink.  That’s no way to treat the elixir of life.

As a morbidly obese nation we need to be encouraging our youth to drink more water instead of soda.  How can we do that when it’s not even clear that water is an option?  How can we do that when water is regulated to second fiddle?

If only one idea from this blog gets implemented, let’s make it this one.  It’s about time water got the respect that it deserves.  Now if you’ll excuse me I have to run over to the super market.  I’m all out of Sunkist.

You see that little white piece of plastic in between the Diet Pepsi and the Tropicana fruity nonsense?  That’s the water!  Why can’t it have a more prominent place in the display?!?!

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#583 – Smart Earplugs

Considering that there is loud music outside my apartment right now that’s ruining my life this seems like the perfect time to write about smart earplugs!!!  Known as Hush and now seeking funding on Kickstarter these smart earplugs essentially combine foam earplugs, noise cancelling headphones, and a sound machine into one awesome product designed to give you a perfect night’s rest.

Whether you want to escape your partner’s snoring or sleep on a plane there are plenty of reasons why you’d want to take advantage of a noise cancelling device.  But what if you cancel too much noise and can’t hear your alarm clock, a fire detector, or your baby crying?  That’s where the smartness of Hush comes into play.  Since it connects to your smartphone you’ll still be able to hear important notifications whether it’s your phone’s alarm or an alert about an important phone call that you were expecting.

The best part though may be in the fact that it combines noise cancelling capabilities with the soothing effects of a sound machine.  Now you can have an easier time falling asleep without disturbing other people in the room.  As crowfundinsider explains, “Hush’s accompanied app allows the user to play a multitude of soothing sounds to help users sleep including, white noise, brown noise, pink noise, ocean wave, rainfall, fan, crackling fire, babbling brook, waterfall and thunderstorm. It can also play binaural beats for a more stimulating experience. Binaural beats play a certain pitch in one ear and a slightly higher pitch in the other. The brain tries to decipher the difference in these levels and this encourages either a more relaxed and calm state or awake and alert one. The binaural beats can be mixed with the soothing sounds to create a stimulating sleep experience.”

Since I’m such a light sleeper who has trouble falling asleep and staying asleep I’m a big fan of this concept.  Thankfully others are too as it has already exceeded it’s crowd funding goals with contributions from over 3,700 people.

Now if only they could so something about the raging Hip Hop and R&B concert going on next door…

Are smart earplugs the Greatest Idea Ever?

 

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