July 31, 2012

Finding Your Roger Ebert: Human Filters Required for the Infinite Internet

20 years ago, Siskel and Ebert were the most practical movie filter we had. Two thumbs up, and you'd probably enjoy your trip to the movies that weekend. Two thumbs down was a warning to stay away.

It was a very helpful system.

Of course, over time, you started learning that when Siskel and Ebert disagreed, you tended to regularly side with one or the other.

Perhaps Ebert's single thumbs up was a better recommendation to your personal preference than the aggregate of the two?

Therein lies the problem with digital recommendation engines like Pandora. Because an aggregate of Bon Iver fans are not going to be nearly as similar to me in their musical tastes as an individual I can find among them.

It's why a news site's "Top 10 Most Read Posts of the Day" are rarely your top 10. As an individual, you just don't have enough overlap with the aggregate. And until Pandora robots REALLY get you, human filters are going to be better at picking out great things.

Until recently, my primary music filter had been Paste mPlayer, a wonderful weekly exposure to new music that I pay $2.99 a month for. Absolutely worth it. But, then my friend Carl Ryan sent me his May 2012 Spotify playlist.

Carl lives in L.A. and has worked in the music business since college, first at Warner Bros. and now at Interscope Records. He eats, sleeps, breathes music. He's at a different concert every night. And we have a lot of overlap in our musical preferences.

His monthly Spotify playlists are simply better than my Paste mPlayer subscription. And he's doing it for free on his own, just to organize his favorite new music for himself.

There's something big here. And it seems kind of old school. Heck, Roger Ebert was doing this in 1980.

We just need to start finding our own Roger Ebert for movies, music, technology, food and everything else.

July 25, 2012

Penn State’s Student Rebellion and the Problem with Nationalism

Recently, when rumors arose that Penn State may potentially remove the 900-pound bronzen idol of Joe Paterno from outside Beaver Stadium, a mass student rebellion rang out in support for JoePa.

And from the outside, none of us could understand what they were thinking - still in support for this fallen man, this proven myth?

But, we see this all the time. Next week, you will see massive Russian pride when the Summer Olympics begin. You will see athletes from every country have pride in that which we don't understand.

Nationalism causes you to overlook that which outsiders see so clearly.

July 24, 2012

Rid the Temptation or Fight the Flesh?

During college, I remember hearing a story about a guy who threw away his computer.

He was so serious about sexual purity, he decided to get rid of his greatest temptation to give in.

I remember thinking that was pretty stupid.

Not the desire for purity of course. That was admirable.

But, I remember wondering whether getting rid of the temptation altogether was the same thing as overcoming it?

For, I can chain you to a wall in order to prevent you from making foolish decisions.

But, is that the end-game?

Do we rid the temptation or learn to overcome the flesh altogether?

July 19, 2012

What Makes Us “Us”: A Guest Post

Today's guest post is by frequent contributor, Dianna Zisman. We share nearly identical interests, philosophies and senses of humor, so I requested she attempt to find the source of the commonality. To try and find what it is that makes us "us", so we can find more of us, and go build a city together. The following is her thoughtful, humorous and insightful reply.

(guest post by Dianna Zisman)

In our day, video games featured an 8-bit plumber dodging fire-breathing plants while throwing turtle shells at  brown blobs. My voice is in the background of half my cassettes because I had to tape songs I loved off the radio...using more than one cassette player. Long phone calls meant chaining yourself to a wall and meandering around the kitchen for 20 minutes. The allure of 5th Grade computer lab was losing half of your possessions in an ill-conceived attempt to ford the river in Oregon Trail. Our GPS was Rand McNally.

Now? My iPod now has four times the hard drive space of my first computer. My Kindle has over 150 books. I probably sent more e-mail in the last month than handwritten letters in my entire life. I’m no longer startled when my GPS talks back to me (recalculate this, lady). And I’ve taken lessons on how to play the guitar, juggle, and perform surgery (at the same time!) from people I’ve never met, half the world away, on YouTube.

Anyone born between, say, 1977 and 1987 has the unique pleasure of knowing two completely different worlds (pre- and post-computer age) and appreciating bothUnlike those whippersnappers born in the early-to-mid 90s, we can send 20 texts a minute and work a rotary phone. And tell you why Tetris > Halo. At the same time, we don’t look at a ringing cell phone and ask “how do you stop this jukebox from playin’?!?” [actual quote from a friend’s grandma]. We get the most out of social networking because we’re young enough not to scoff at its perceived triviality, yet old enough to understand the best way to use it in combination with other media.

This shapes us beyond the tech, too. A lot of us avoid being stuck in the old v. new paradigm because we say “forget old, forget new...what’s the RIGHT way?” Hence the increasing popularity of a certain political philosophy with us young’uns. Obviously, not everyone in our generation shares the same mentality, but when we open the conversation with “what doesn’t work in our society, why, and what’s the best way to fix
it, grasshoppah?” we attract a lot of like-minded people.

Oh, and just as important: we share an appreciation for Arrested Development. In fact...yeah, forget everything I said above. It’s all about Arrested Development.

July 18, 2012

If Your School Has a Penn State Story

Remember when the Catholic church child abuse stories started to break, and we started thinking these were just random outliers. "Not my church." We had no idea how widespread this behavior and cover-up were.

So, why do we think Penn State is the end of the story here, or even the worst part of it?

Just because it's so inconceivably horrific?

Right now, sports talk radio is full of people debating how hard to come down on Penn State - whether or not to strip away the school's NCAA designation entirely - and the need to send a clear message to other schools.

But, what message does that actually send to schools who are currently sitting on their own cover-up? Who, like Penn State, thought there might be a better way to handle it. To stop the problem without the catastrophic PR consequences.

Now, you're telling me coming forward might mean the certain destruction of the entire University, and potential jail time for me as an accessory?

While coming clean on my own might be better than getting caught, I think I just have to cross my fingers and hope I can get away with the secret forever.

If our goal is for whistle blowers to find the courage to speak out against power, we need to be certain we don't incentivize staying silent.

July 17, 2012

How to Enjoy a Nice Tall Glass of Meth After Dinner

Boy. What a tough day. Time to go home, lay down on the couch, and unwind with a nice tall glass of meth.

Don't get me wrong. I have nothing against drinking, aside from the liver damage and the family destruction.

I just wonder if there's something about the romantic nature and utilitarian ease of a glass of red wine that makes it is a more socially acceptable form of drug use. Similar to why painkillers are such a growing addiction. It's just a pill. Like my multivitamin.

Now, if imbibing a glass of red wine forced you to rubber cuff your arm heroin-junkie style - there's no way that's taking off.

July 13, 2012

If Amazon Completely Replaces Local Retail

If Amazon completely replaces local retail...which is looking more and more likely...what will our streets start to look like?

What if we begin to not only have a bunch of empty warehouse big-box stores (ex-Kmarts, Best Buys and Circuit City's), but a bunch of smaller empty buildings, too?

Because, in this seemingly inevitable future of instant online-to-real-life gratification, what does a town really need to have nearby?

Restaurants and fresh food grocers (aside from the non-perishables that can now be delivered same-day), and basic service locations, e.g. gas station, hair salon, dentist?

All other retail gone?

It's crazy to think about what a town will look in 10 years. And to think about what we're going to do with all those buildings...

July 12, 2012

Waiting Room Economics: Why a Doctor’s Time is More Valuable Than Yours

Your doctor's time is likely more valuable than your own.

In fact, their skills as a specialist likely outweigh the value of any of their patients.

Therefore, having to wait at your doctor's office makes sense.

You tell the patient to come at 9, but you don't plan on seeing them until 9:15. This gives them an acceptable cushion in case they're late, without making them too angry, and ensures the doctor's time is always being maximized.

What I don't understand is a perpetual hour-long wait. I don't understand the economics there, and yet I experience this all the time. And now, with a recent mass addition of healthcare participants to the game, things might get crazy-town.

Solve either problem.

July 10, 2012

Your House. In Bangalore. The Circumstance of Comparison.

If you had your exact same house. Exact same possessions. But positioned squarely in Bangalore - overlooking the slums, would this constant perspective forever remove any notion of feeling sorry for yourself?

Perhaps it's not our circumstance that determines our joy?

July 3, 2012

Give Sympathy. Not Advice.

For better or for worse, Facebook now gives us exclusive access into the highs and lows of our friends and acquaintances.

And I have noticed a peculiar pattern of comments which inevitably arises every time someone makes their small or large tragedy public.

We try and cheer them up.

A cat dies. A bad medical diagnosis. A job loss. We desperately try to fix the situation with a petty turn of phrase.

"Think of all the good times you had with Mittens!"

"Everything's going to turn out ok! I just know it!"

"When one door closes, another one opens!"

Why can't we just let people mourn? Why can't we, just for a moment, allow people to sit in the reality of their suck? Why can't we join them?

When your friends go public with their grief, they aren't looking for your advice. They're looking for your empathy.

So don't try and fix the situation. Because you can't.

Simply say, "I am so terribly sorry."