Sunday, November 20, 2016

Dr. Strange: Review

I saw the movie "Dr. Strange" in full 3D glory. Here's what I thought of it:

1. Benedict Cumberbatch should not speak in an American accent in any movie. Sorry, but he's a quintessential Brit and doesn't wear an American accent well. Fine effort, though, but no cigar.

2. Benedict Cumberbatch is a brilliant actor. Despite the accent issue, he is a convincing Dr. Strange. He has perfect comic timing and pulls off the character with flair.

3. The movie is dizzying to the point that at some parts of the story I couldn't tell if my uncomfortable cinema chair was firmly planted in the ground or not. There were scenes that turned the world upside down and inside out. It was quite reminiscent of Leonardo DiCaprio's "Inception".

4. The story was formulaic, but fun. It was what audiences have come to expect from a "genesis" story of a comic book hero. I could have predicted the ending half way through the film, but I was so overwhelmed by the relentless special effects, I didn't have time.

5. The special effects were relentless. The actors likely spent a large portion of their time in front of a green screen, rather than on a real set. The CGI department worked overtime - after all, the movie was about magic.

6. The comic elements of the film were timed to perfection. In the midst of the turmoil, impossible fight scenes and special effects, the jokes were funny, welcome, and well delivered. Yes, even the requisite jokes about Dr. Strange's name were chuckle-worthy.

Summary: see the film, but only eat afterwards, if you can.

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Thursday, November 17, 2016

Naming Things

One of the most difficult aspects of the creative process is naming the thing.

What you call your creation can have a deep impact on how people perceive it and how (or if) they use it.

For example, this morning I saw a concrete truck with the brand name "Putzmeister" emblazoned on its side. Turns out that Putzmeister is a large US company. I might have gone for a different name, though.

More telling is the story of "poop juice", an ancient treatment for digestive issues (otherwise known as Fecal Transplant). The patient drinks a mixture of water and a healthy donor's poop. Apparently, it works. Doctors call it "yellow soup". Rolls off the tongue better than "poop juice", eh?

Today, when attention spans are shorter than ever, it's vital to develop catchy titles that draw readers in. My informal (and decidedly unempirical research) clearly shows that titles  with a number in them are favored by click-baiters - evidence that it works: "5 top reasons to drink soup" or "The 23 most influential people of 2016".

But there is one time when naming your creation is a far more critical undertaking than any other time. A newborn comes into this world clean and fresh and new. Don't give the child a name they will be embarrassed to use. For example, if your family name is Smith, give the kid an interesting first name. You don't want "Bob Smith" to check in to a motel in 30 years time with his wife and the reception clerk winks at him "yeah, right..."

So, my advice: be creative, be careful, and don't drink yellow soup.

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Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Black Market Candy Pushers

According to Time4Learning, in 2012 there were approximately 1.77 million kids in America who are home-schooled. That's 3.54 million American parents who believe they are smart enough, dedicated enough, organized enough, and patient enough to teach their kids everything they need to know to get into college or do whatever comes next.

In a regular school the math teacher specializes in teaching math and the history teacher specializes in teaching history. As a parent who has committed to home-schooling your kids, you have to be an expert teacher for every subject through all age groups. There are resources out there to help you, but you need serious skills to pull it off.

But there are some serious flaws in the traditional schooling system. Home-schooling, by definition, is a non-traditional learning environment, and by contrast, regular schools create rules that stymie non-traditional education. The following example seems to be universal and cross-generational. It was true when I was in primary (elementary) school in Australia and is true half-way across the world in Israel, where my kids go to school. And this is it: students are forbidden to sell anything to other students at school.

When I was about 10 years old in the early 1980s, there was a "maze craze". I capitalized on the fad and spent my lunchtimes drawing complicated mazes which I would then sell in the schoolyard for 50c a piece. I was raking it in for a time until I was eventually caught and punished. My maze days were over.

One of my kids (I won't say which one!) is running a black-market candy operation out of his backpack. He worked out that if he buys certain types of candy in bulk from a particular store, he can then sell them to the kids at school for a tidy profit. He's found the perfect balance between what the stock costs him and the price his customers are willing to pay and still feel they are getting a good deal. Eventually, he'll get caught and his illegal candy pushing business will be shut down. I'll probably be called in to the school and have to sit there while the teacher berates my child for disobeying the rules. I'll have no choice but to nod my head solemnly and then, when it's all over, take my kid out for ice-cream.

I know I should be teaching him to obey the rules, but, for starters, he's generally a good kid. What he is, unfortunately, is an intelligent, thinking, entrepreneur. While it does have some merit, the no-selling rule wastes a golden opportunity to teach the kids something that no classroom could ever give them.

If it was up to me, I would permit student-run businesses under the following conditions (because this teaches about "government regulation!"):

  1. All student businesses must be registered with the school. To register, the student must write a business plan, including:
    • A description of the business
    • Who they are selling to (target market)
    • Who are their suppliers
    • Who is the competition
    • What is their competitive advantage or unique selling proposition
  2. The school has the right to refuse registration based on any number of criteria (safety issues, etc. but not based on competition - the kids will have to work that one out themselves)
  3. All student businesses must submit a basic financial statement (income/expenses) once every two weeks to the teacher in charge of running this program.
  4. Student businesses can only perform business transactions during designated times (say, recess and lunchtime)
  5. All business disputes will be adjudicated by the supervising teacher.
  6. Any student business that doesn't comply with the rules will be shut down.
  7. There will be sever penalties for illegal student businesses.
I'm sure that you can think of other rules that might be appropriate to put in place, but you get the idea.

Maybe there are flaws in this plan, too, but imagine how much kids will learn about markets, pricing, competition, bookkeeping, planning, marketing and creative thinking. Try teaching that in a classroom.

So the next time you visit the school yard, remember to bring your wallet - no credit, cash only.

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Wednesday, November 2, 2016

VR, AR...MR?

Oculus Rift VR headset
Virtual Reality (VR) is an amazing technology. Strap on a headset that gives you 360 degrees of "surround vision" and you are instantly immersed in a virtual world. The real world is blocked out, enabling you to feel like you are somewhere else.

Haptic feedback, audio, and even touch sensors make you feel as if you have left reality for this new virtual experience: Mars, the Mariana Trench, or wherever your fancy takes you.
Microsoft's VR HoloLens

Augmented Reality (AR) combines virtual elements with the real world. For example, Pokemon Go players see the characters on their phone screens (via the camera), as if the characters are actually there.

Don a headset, such as Microsoft's HoloLens and you can see and interact with digital representations overlayed on your own reality. You can shoot aliens as they storm down your hallway, or you can see that 3D model you've designed in CAD software in front of your eyes in all dimensions. You can even throw virtual basketballs to other HoloLens users across the globe, as if you were in the same room.

If VR brings you into new environments and if AR overlays virtual elements on your real environment, what is MR?

Mixed Reality (MR) is a step beyond VR and AR. The brainchild of Magic Leap's Rony Abovitz, MR uses a technology that makes virtual objects come to life. Imagine a virtual assistant that stands in front of you as if actually there, converses with you, takes instructions, and reports back to you when the task is done.

MR enables you to link to any gadget or device (real or virtual). MR is always aware of your surroundings, who's in the room, and where things are located so that virtual objects are always in a logical space. For example, your virtual assistant won't walk through a real person standing beside you.

All of this computing power must come together with some serious headgear, right? Not so. The entire MR experience will be able to fit in a pair of glasses. And because it projects directly onto your retina, you experience MR through your eyes, not a screen. This is in stark contrast to VR and AR.

From Business Insider
No wonder Magic Leap, the world's most secretive start-up, has raised billions in funding from all the top-tier VCs (and Google et al.) As soon as they experienced MR, they knew the technology would be a game changer.

Rony Abovitz claims that MR will revolutionize the way we interact with the world and our environment. Computer displays - and screens of all sorts - will be a thing of the past. Your phone, TV, PC, tablet, smart-watch, e-reader, mp3 player, and fitness tracker will all be virtual gear that you conjure up when you need to. No more physical gadgets? Goodbye to the gazillion dollar tech device industry.

If Magic Leap's Mixed Reality technology delivers what they say it will, it's all over for every Virtual and Augmented Reality technology company out there today.

For an in-depth look at MR, see this Forbes article by David M. Ewalt.

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