Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Future of News Follow-up - Associated Press' New Strategy

If you read my previous post on the future and sustainability of news, one of the things I focused on as potentially being more sustainable were longer form analysis and opinion.

Particularly as companies like Narrative Science and others automate information gathering and basic content creation, reporters will have to focus on adding-more value to whatever they're writing.

Well, the Associated Press recently put out a memo to its staffers talking about it's 'New Distinctiveness' (Link to Article)

It's essentially a memo outlining how the Associated Press will battle for relevancy, and it hits on a lot of themes I was talking about. Below is an excerpt (emphasis mine)

Let's start with something that’s obvious but worth laying out plainly: That "next cycle" we speak of so often in The Associated Press is now. Not 12 hours from the first breaking news, not even six hours, but one, maybe two hours from it -- and maybe even faster than that.

This is hardly something that we’re just waking up to. But it is accelerating by the week. As we look around the media landscape in recent months, over and over we’re seeing the same thing. AP wins when news breaks, but after an hour or two we're often replaced by a piece of content from someone else who has executed something more thoughtful or more innovative. Often it's someone who has taken what we do (sometimes our reporting itself) and pushed it to the next level of content: journalism that's more analytical, maybe a fresh and immediate entry point, a move away from text, a multimedia mashup or a different story form that speaks more directly to users.

Sound familiar?

Some of their specific examples of new strategies are very much along the same lines as to what I was saying:

Thematic Thinking. We're going to be much more aggressive in identifying themes off the news -- angles the world is thinking about -- and digging deeper. Unique and compelling entry points to stories are key here, and those can’t be done on breaking-news autopilot. Many of these new approaches will be infused into the main story on a news event across platforms; that’s as important as creating new stories to stand alone.

Journalism With Voice. We're going to be pushing hard on journalism with voice, with context, with more interpretation. This does not mean that we’re sacrificing any of our deep commitment to unbiased, fair journalism. It does not mean that we're venturing into opinion, either. It does mean that we need to be looking for ways to be more distinctive and stand out in the field -- something our customers need and want. The why and the how of the news are as crucial as the who, what, when and where.

Going Deeper? Breaking-news autopilot? More interpretation?

Agreed. Interesting to see how they'll manage that.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Future of News

I read a great blog post on the future of news today from Kris Hammond, the CTO of Narrative Science. His thoughts echoed a lot of things I’ve been thinking about and while he said a lot of it better than I can, it made me think that is was long past due for getting some of those thoughts down on digital paper.

Hammond’s main ideas are focused on the future of news, and what I’ve generally been terming ‘information ubiquity’ to anyone who’ll listen.

When I say ubiquity, I’m referring to the idea that information is becoming as readily available as the air we breathe. Technology is allowing us to advance to such a point where facts are increasingly available on a near-instantaneous basis from all kinds of resources. Any basic piece of information, say the capital of Minnesota, is no more than a couple keystrokes, clicks, or words (thanks Siri) away.

One of the points Hammond makes, is that this progression, through successive advancements in technology, will continue to build our repository of facts/data.

“…language understanding and data extraction systems are improving to a point at which much of the information that is currently human readable yet impenetrable to computers will be itself transformed into data; data that can be used as the driver for the generation of new narratives. This means that textual descriptions of events, government meetings, corporate announcements, plus the ongoing stream of social media will be transformed into not just machine readable, but machine understandable representations of what is happening in the world.”

In short, computers will “understand” more and more about the way we communicate, such to turn things into hard data. Think of articles we read, conversations we have, presentations we deliver, these things will start to be just as interpretable to a computer as any other binary code. That fact base I mentioned, capitals of Minnesota and such, will continue to get much bigger.

It’s not only going to get bigger, but more immediately accessible and transparent. Partially aided by the same technology we use today (e.g., manual searching), but also by new technologies Hammond alludes to when he describes ‘the generation of new narratives’

All of this is very exciting…unless you’re in the news business…in which case this may be terrifying.

I say that because facts and basic information are the core tenets of standard objective journalism coverage. In undergrad as a reporter for the Daily Collegian, the routine was pretty simple, go to an event, open your eyes, and write down what happens. Maybe talk to a couple other folks there. Summarize the key points. It’s a role focused on rote gathering and processing of information (Note: this is why I didn’t like reporting and enjoyed being a columnist much much more)

But that rote gathering and processing is what can be drastically reduced in a world where many of those events can now be interpreted systematically by advanced software. It’s already happening in some areas where the content processing can already be automated (basic sports game reports built off of box scores, corporate earnings release previews built off financial data). It’s not hard to imagine these types of reports creating standard, objective summaries for all kinds of events.

But there are a few reasons why I think journalists don’t have to get quite so upset. Although I do think such developments will force a complete realignment in the way we think about journalism, the industry will not go away completely. There are some items, which I expand on below, that I think will become all the more critical for anyone who aspires to a career in journalism or any writing with higher professional standards and paychecks than this blog.

Curation will still matter

Facts are becoming more easily gatherable, storable, and reportable. There’s no way to slow that down. However, with newer and easier ways to gather and report on facts, that’s not just going to create a couple new articles a week, it’s going to create an avalanche of information (if you don’t think things are bad now, just wait!).

Local papers which might run a couple high school baseball recaps might now have the ability to auto-generate five pages of stories including all the local high school games, little league games, and 3-year old T-ball games (In which the lead might be: “The Dolphins defeated the Pirates by a score of 5-4. Jacob Marshall scored the tying run when his ground ball to second base was interrupted by a butterfly that distracted the entire Pirates infield. Juice boxes and orange slices were had by all.”)

So if such articles become easily creatable, you’ll suddenly be faced with more and more of them competing for your attention. Someone’s going to have to help you out, unless you want to quit your job to drink from the media fire hose full-time (a move I’ve often contemplated)

There is absolutely a role for someone to help decide which articles are the most critical for your attention. Taking it back a step, there’s also a critical role for someone to decide which of these easily gathered facts are worthy of an article to even fight for your attention. In my view, that’s a role that could potentially be filled by a human filter.

With that said, there are technology solutions which can also get the job done. The first counter-argument to this type of role would be that we’ll source all our information from our social media channels (e.g., friends on Twitter, Facebook shares). Companies like Flipboard are already trying to build experiences that allow users to get the media they want before they specifically ask for it. So certainly there will be competing forces trying to deliver the information you need/want, but I feel as though there will continue to be a need for curators who aggregate the fire hose and bottle it for you.

Long form and analysis will still matter

Some information is becoming relatively standardized, and more pieces traditionally within the purview of the journalist will continue to shift. Speeches from a public figure, which today are covered by reporters, may one day be recapped automatically (I look forward to someday when a presidential candidate creates a series of system errors in the natural language interpretation software through either making up words or stringing together illogical phrases)

But while these pieces of data become more collectible, it’s hard to imagine a software program creating the traditional longer stories. Feature stories which come from finding sources, interviewing them, and asking the right questions. Investigative journalism, which should be greatly enhanced with increased data availability, should obviously still have a home. That’s not to say data mining technology or advanced narrative creation can’t be created to do it, but for the time being, I don’t think computers are ready for prime time. If anything, programs to create basic content should free up more resources which can allow for deeper investigations, and more effort around hunting for really impactful news.

Unless there’s a Woodwardbot and Bernsteintron in some technology company’s lab right now.

Having an opinion will still matter (as long as you can entertain)

The last way to keep a position in journalism is the most obvious, and the one that stretches further away from what journalism is at its core. It’s really just about being an entertaining writer and offering something no one else can.

One of the clear trends over the last few years in traditional print media (at least that which I’m reading), is a progression towards more opinion and personalized writing styles. This happens beyond print, as any viewer of ESPN can tell you. Writers, at least those that develop consistent followings, are those which cultivate their own personal style and in many cases, more opinion-based takes on their field.

If you look at regional sports coverage, I’ve noticed a huge shift in the reporters’ tone and styling as they’ve moved to do more blogging and tweeting. The game recap, that is, telling me exactly what happened, has become pretty irrelevant to me, but I do look to these trusted sources for their opinion on what happened. I also like interacting with them via Twitter, live chats, etc.

That builds my relationship with them as a fan, and I’ll continue to seek them out for what they have to say.

Of course, one could argue this has some seriously negative ramifications for sports writing as a whole. In particular, an encouragement towards attention-grabbing statements, inflammatory rhetoric, and basically the Stephen A. Smithing of the content. To which I’d say, I think that ship has already sailed.


While the advancement of technology has brought an end to many occupations, the buggy whip maker, the elevator operator, and others, recent development should not suggest that reporters will make a similar path to extinction.

True, the type of work may change, and the profile of those who belong in the field may shift as technology becomes a greater tool in the media arsenal. But just because technology will soon allow for the codification of many forms of information you once could only understand by being there, there will still be plenty of original thoughts to have, and words to write.

Of course if that’s not true, you can always start a blog. I guarantee your mom will read it.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Does a bear sh*t in the woods? An ape sure does!

Last week my wife and I took a short trip out to Southern California for a few days. In part, to celebrate my 30th birthday, and in part, because we had free Starwood resort nights to use thanks to my time in Arkansas at the Aloft Rogers.

Although we'd been to Southern California twice in the past 6-8 weeks for two weddings, we ended up scheduling a third trip for the free resort nights. That might seem odd, but here was our thought process.

Step 1: We have free resort nights, what are the nicest hotels we can go to?

Step 2: Now, which of all those locations have the cheapest air fare?

Step 3: Thanks to Virgin America, flights from Chicago to LAX are much cheaper than Phoenix, Colorado, basically everywhere.

Step 4: Confirm free resort nights at the St. Regis Monarch Beach California.

So we were going going, back back, to Cali Cali. No qualms from me, I was happy to stay at a nice resort with what would hopefully be some nice weather.

I'd say we definitely got pretty good weather, and managed to squeeze in a ton of stuff into a short trip.

First things first, we hit a local hole in the wall for lunch

OK, so you may have heard of In-N-Out burger, but my wife had never been there. And even though I was still looking to cross other fast food outlets off my hit list (I'll get you someday Jack in the Box!), we found a spot not too far from our hotel.

A major highlight of our trip was heading down to San Diego, which we had never been to and was only ~1.5 hours from our hotel. We didn't have a ton of time there, and there were no baseball games (as I was hoping the stadium would implode on Tony Larussa, Pujols and the rest of those St. Louis tea partiers)

So we went to the zoo instead, and it was far and away the best zoo I've ever been to. Maybe it was the fact that I haven't been to a real zoo since my poor mom used to take all four of us kids to the Philadelphia zoo and probably question some of her life choices. But the San Diego Zoo was a ton of fun.

We got to see tons of animals, some of which I didn't know existed and most of which I've never even eaten.

There were lots of good exhibits, although I do think they dedicated a lot of space to birds. Maybe it's just me, but I feel like birds at a zoo are kind of a waste. Rationale:

- They're small
- They don't do much
- They need large completely fenced in cages because they'll almost definitely try to fly away

I think when zoo builders are planning out their exhibits, they must be like:

Zoo Builder 1: "OK, this will be great, we'll have the gorilla enclosure here, and then 300 feet down will be the giraffes"

Zoo Builder 2: "What do we put in between?"

Zoo Builder 1: "F*ck, who cares? Throw another bird cage in there"

No one gets excited for birds (exceptions made for penguins, flamingos, and perhaps emus, obviously).

Anyway, despite the overload of small children, the zoo was full of wonder and mystery. Exhibit A, this sign:

I kind of wanted to see that happen, but I didn't bring a poncho.

Of course, that's not to say we didn't see some serious raw stuff.

We saw a rhino try to get his mate to get down in the biblical sense. At least I'm hoping it was a mate, but maybe it was just a casual friend from work or another rhino he met on craigslist. Regardless, this one rhino wanted to get into it like a Seaside Heights guido after a couple red bull and vodkas. It was pretty hilarious, especially watching him get shot down by the girl rhino who was more interested in sleeping (see, they're just like us!)

After that, other animals found it pretty hard to top the rhino. The poor zebra across the way, he was depressed, I'm assuming from having to look at that monster all day and feel inadequate.

But the rhino, with his massive wang, was no match for the show stopper of the day. The last animal we checked out, and as it turned out, the one with the most hilarious show. I'm talking about the gorilla cage. We wandered past as the zoo was closing, and saw the biggest one, the alpha male I'm assuming. He was just hanging around, likely killing time until the zoo closed and he could head back in and catch up on his DVR'd episodes of 2 Broke Girls.

But I think he saw us and wanted to give us something to remember. Either that or he has recently been to a Jamba Juice

What a fun trip we had.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Found my Friends, Even the Adulturous Ones

I upgraded to the new iPhone operating system last week, after a lengthy wait when the whole world tried to do it at the same time.

The new iOS has some pretty cool new additions, most of which should add some incremental value to my phone, but largely not earth-shattering.

However, one of the newest Apps for the phone might be earth-shattering for my life if I can play my cards right.

Maybe, just maybe, I can start to persuade my wife to get an iPhone, thanks to the new Find My Friends app.

If you don't know anything about Find My Friends, it's the app that let's you geo-locate your friends who also have iPhones, and place their approximate location on a map.

A great advancement in technology for the obsessives, suspicious, and introverted among us.

The app essentially eliminates the need to actually talk to people to find out where they are, and completely destroys the boundaries between friends that Facebook didn't already obliterate.

Want to hang out with a friend but they're ditching your calls? Find Your Friend on the iPhone and just show up to what will assuredly be an awkward encounter.

This app creates a new threshold in friend-dom, or the friend hierarchy, or levels of friendship. Because you'll really have to be friends with someone to give them your geo-location data. Want to be Facebook or LinkedIn connections with someone? No big deal, you're not obligated to share any personal details with them.

But if my understanding of Find My Friends is correct, if that person's your friend, you're giving them the ability to...

a) Drop by a bar where you're hanging out

b) Know exactly when they can drop by your apartment because you'll be there

c) Know exactly when they can drop by your apartment because you WON'T be there, and they can steal all your stuff

Requesting a Find My Friends friendship with someone would be the true test of how much you want that person in your life, because there doesn't seem to be any in-between. Either they know where your phone is at all times, or they can never find you. Doesn't leave a lot of room for pseudo-friends and acquaintances.

With that said, I'm really hoping for some interesting mash-ups with other technology services.

With TripAdvisor - Find My Fellow Travelers

With Craigslist - Find My Casual Encounters

With the State Sex Offender Registry - Find My Child Predators

I'm also looking forward to more stores about people using Find My Friends for unforeseen purposes. We've already had the first cheating spouse caught, so I'm looking forward to the first robbed apartment while they were out story, the first guilt established by geo-location at the scene of the crime story, and the first stalker found me now I'm suing Apple story. Remember to read your user agreements.

But anyway, with all that said, I'm kind of excited for Find My Friends. Because, while I can't think of a lot of people who would really care where I am, I know with 100% certainty that my wife cares a lot.

And since she knows I don't go anywhere without my phone, she would definitely be interested in using that app (and not in a 'I need to check on my loser husband way, more of a 'Which state is my husband in now and can we confirm his plane didn't go down in a massive fireball' kind of way).

Find My Friends offers that opportunity, and maybe that could convert her.

Then maybe she'd have her own phone and would stop playing games on mine!

Friday, October 7, 2011

First Use of Square

I had my first experience with Square last night.

No, not the shape, I think it's safe to say I've been comfortable with squares ever since they passed me through nursery school. It's also not a new trendy bar where all the glasses/chairs/menu items are squares and there's a whole irony thing about being in a cool place named 'Square' (note to self: file that under foolproof business ideas for later)

I was referring to the mobile payment system designed and built around processing credit card payments via smartphone.

I was making the weekly run from O'Hare to downtown Chicago, and had already recovered from the absurd cab line and stop and go traffic this city has to offer. As we arrived at my destination, I went on full auto pilot for the payment, starting to push the buttons for credit card on the little terminal in the backseat.

I've gotten used to ignoring most cab drivers when I reach for the credit card, because 90% of the time they're trying to explain why their machine is broken or why they'd prefer to take me to a cash machine or some other elaborate reasoning not to use plastic.

Because of that, I didn't notice initially when the cab driver started waving his iPhone at me.

It took me a second to realize what the heck he was up to. But then I noticed the little white dongle (I believe that's an official term), plugged into the phone.

It was a Square card swiper, and although I had read all about them, I had never actually gotten to use one before.

It was surprisingly simple. I ran my card through the little dongle, and then (the one weird part), signed my name on the phone with my finger. That would probably be a little weird for most people, but I was helped by the fact that my signature is a mess anyway. Using one finger instead of all five and a pen wasn't that much of a quality drop-off.

It was pretty seamless, and then I got to decide whether I wanted my receipt as a text or via email. Either way, I wondered if this guy was going to end up with a record of my phone number/email address somewhere. I also wondered what the heck I would do with a text message receipt. Not sure how I'd send that in to the people in our expense department, so I opted for the email.

As long as our expense department doesn't look at the receipt and assumed I'm making it up, I'll officially be on board with this Square thing. Especially if it means more cab drivers will start asking me to swipe a credit card instead of pretending it's not an option

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

New TSA Security PreCheck Program Sounds Amazing

Oh cruel fate, you dealt me a crushing blow.

For months I was atwitter with anticipation. The TSA had dribbled out precious little information on their new expedited security program, but I had a golden ticket!

I had gotten the email to opt-in, apparently due to the fact that constant flights from Chicago to Bentonville Arkansas and back indicate a lack of major security risks.

But the solicitation didn't explain what the expedited security process would be, only that it would be in a couple airports and certain American Airlines frequent fliers would be eligible.

As previously noted in this space, DFW was one of the airports on the list for the pilot program. As also previously noted, I was going to be traveling through DFW this past weekend.

You have no idea how excited I was at the potential chance to use expedited security. A true testament to the uber-travel nerd I've become in two years of management consulting.

But yet, I mentioned a crushing blow and something about fate. Indeed.

You see my wife and I got to DFW, where I secretly hoped for a rolled-out red carpet and free champagne for expedited security folk (or if nothing else, at least a shoes-on security line).

Instead, no fanfare, no big band, and nothing special.

I hoped something magical would happen as I checked-in at the kiosk. In place of a boarding pass, a Willy Wonka style golden ticket perhaps? Or some kind of expert-traveler hall monitor-esque sash? What about a crapload of rainbows?

Nothing beyond the dull echo of roller bags wheeling around.

'What gives?' I thought, where the heck was all this pilot program stuff???

As I learned today, the TSA PreCheck program is wonderful in nearly every way I could've imagined.

They just didn't start it until the day after I flew out of DFW.

But while it's too late for me to take advantage on my trip, it doesn't mean the program is without merit! Far from it, as I learned from catching up on the travel news!

I watched the news report with envy as I read off the new conditions for the privileged.

No need to remove:

Light Outerwear
3-1-1 Compliant Bag
Laptop from Carry-on

Holy macaroni! The sign in the video was so pretty I could cry.

No taking off shoes, or belts, or jackets, or removing laptop computers, or liquid bags. NONE OF IT!

It's like the travel gods heard all of the prayers coming from weary consultants, auditors, salesmen, and rationally intelligent people everywhere!

I don't care what information I'd have to give the TSA. I'd give them dibs on my first born for this kind of thing! I'll pay anything, absolutely anything, to have that everywhere.

I just booked tickets to my brother's graduation in May.

The airport...ATL, another member of the pilot program.

I'm counting down the days.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Update on New Quicker TSA Screening Program

A few weeks ago I wrote about a mysterious email invitation I got from American Airlines to invite me to opt-in to a new airport security pilot program.

The email was vague, but promised the potential for reduced time in security lines at Dallas Fort Worth and Miami airports.

Because I'm flying through DFW in a few weeks, I eagerly accepted.

Today I read an article that provided a little more detail on the program (if unfortunately, no details on what exactly it will involve)

Under the so-called "known traveler" program, some 6,000 to 8,000 frequent flyers at select airports will be directed daily toward dedicated lines that will zip them through security faster than you can get your shoes, coat and watch off and into the bins.

Only a chosen few of frequent flyers from AMR Corp.'s (AMR) American Airlines and Delta Air Lines Inc. (DAL) and members of the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol's trusted traveler program are being invited to join the TSA program--for free right now. The pilot program, which is open exclusively to U.S. citizens, will operate only at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International, Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County, Miami International and Dallas-Fort Worth International airports.

Seems pretty small for now, but the article also mentions they might roll out to more airlines and airports if it works.

Of course, there's the inevitable downside to this program.

Not the fact that you'd need to sacrifice lots of personal information. We're all on Facebook. That ship has sailed.

But the fact that if they try this out and it works, they'll start charging for it.

Also from the article.

TSA's website states that the known-travelers program is a work in progress and evolving as lessons are learned. And while it's free in its test stages, there's little doubt a fee ranging from $100 to $150 for processing to another $100 to $150 in annual or periodic fees will be tied to a full-fledged program. Pistole did not offer costs but noted that the program would include a fee.


But honestly, if airlines can get me to pay for a checked bag, or get me to pay for early boarding (I'm looking at you Southwest), then you can be real sure I'll be first in line for a faster security program, even if it's a couple hundred bucks.

Plus, I bet I'll be able to expense that.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Moving to Costa Rica for Online Poker?

I used to play a fair amount of online poker. This was a while ago, around 2004-2005 or so, so 6-7 years ago (wow, I am old). But it was the golden age of online poker, as ESPN's new camera actually made televised poker interesting, and the availability of internet poker allowed so many of us to indulge our Rounders fantasies of rolling up a stake and heading to the World Series.

The game exploded, which was great for anyone who actually did a little homework or could do a little probability math in their head. Tons of people flocked to all different kinds of sites, although I remember Party Poker seemed the largest at the time. I think they even advertised on TV (Note: Indeed they did. I forgot about their 'oooooooh Party Poker!' jingle)

And I liked playing, for a while. But the game is a fickle mistress, and I eventually had to end our relationship. If for nothing else, my desk was taking a beating from all the punches I threw after particularly bad beats. It's not that I wasn't a decent player (38-40% ITM across my SNG's, which if I remember correctly is a pretty good clip [For those unfamiliar, ITM refers to my in-the-money percentage, or the number of tournaments where you take home prize money. SNGs refer to Sit-N-Go's, a tournament that starts immediately once enough players join. I really only played one table sit n go's, which would take 10 players and pay out the top three])

I stopped playing because, while I liked the game, I didn't see what I was really getting out of it. I never played for serious financial stakes (risk-averse, sue me), so the potential rewards were never that big. And even if it as great to outplay someone (or even to get lucky), a win only leaves you with smug self-satisfaction as you sit alone at your computer. What does that really get you at the end of the day? (Answer: Not a girlfriend)

So I cashed out, and was content to play only when I'm at a casino.

However, I do still pay attention to developments in the online poker world, particularly the legal problems it's been facing.

The U.S. government really doesn't like online poker. Leaving out their rationale (which I think is absurd, short-sighted, and hypocritical), they don't want U.S. customers playing poker online.

Recently, the feds shut down the biggest poker sites around the country in what industry players refer to as 'Black Friday'.

Bad news. Particularly for people who gave up other potential careers to 'play online full-time'.

While I typically don't like to generalize, the full-time online player has been profiled enough times in enough articles that I could tell you exactly how any of them will be described in any article that talks about the situation.

Rules for profiling an online poker player in popular media

1: They have to be young, in their 20's usually

2: They have to have abandoned a traditional career path. This is almost always college, but sometimes could also include a job of some kind

3: You have to talk about how they'll play multiple tables at the same time

4: You have to talk about how their parents don't really 'get it'

5: You have to talk about how much money they've made (which will be some ungodly high number, I'm guessing which is self-reported by someone who certainly doesn't want to tell you if they aren't making money)

All poker profiles will have those items, pretty much without exception.

But that wasn't what got me thinking about poker. It was this article in BusinessWeek, an article detailing how poker players are relocating to other countries where they can continue to play online.

What I'm trying to figure out, is if some of the U.S. legal action will have an impact on pro poker players ability to earn the same amount as they did previously.

The article focuses on a couple guys who are now in Costa Rica to play poker. Now, they obviously did this because they want to keep making money the 'easy' way (if by 'easy' you think sitting in front of dual computer monitors for long shifts without leaving the house sounds 'easy').

But isn't it going to be harder to do that now?

When the U.S. basically shut down major online poker sites, they effectively raised the costs of playing online poker for all American players. If you really wanted to play, you'd have to find another site, move your money around, and have questions as to whether the new site would actually be trustworthy. This wouldn't really stop the professionals, who you can assume will usually find a way to play. But the additional transition costs, combined with a new federal government boogeyman hovering over your poker budget, would be enough to scare the amateur, no?

And aren't amateur players how the professionals make most of their money?

So if all of a sudden these guys and girls leave, does the quality of competition improve? And do expected winnings decline as a result? If the online poker community is mostly international, maybe it's not an issue, but I've always assumed it's been primarily American.

I certainly would've thought about that before I moved to Costa Rica. But then, some of us have other employment options.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

An All Simpsons TV Channel

From the LA Times, an idea who's time has long since come.

Ready for a channel devoted to nothing but "The Simpsons?"

Don't laugh, it is one idea News Corp. Chief Operating Officer Chase Carey threw out when speaking Tuesday at the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Media Communications & Entertainment Conference in Beverly Hills...

...Carey said there have been a "number of meetings" to determine how to capitalize on its library of episodes of "The Simpsons" and he mentioned a digital channel featuring nothing but Homer and the gang as being a possibility. Carey said it is incumbent on the company to take advantage of a show that is "unique in television with a volume too that is unprecedented."

Let me be the first to say I would welcome our new animated TV overlords.

Anyone who's seen the 24 hour Seinfeld marathon understands the wonder and promise of a sole show television station. I remember the Seinfeld marathon well. Anytime you flipped around the TV, there Jerry was! It was a glorious time to be alive. And as I watched it, I was pretty sure that I would always watch it, anytime, even if it ran 365 days a year.

We're rapidly progressing to a world where one screen of entertainment isn't enough. I didn't get this way until 2009 when I started using my laptop while watching TV, but advances in smartphones and tablet computers should pretty much ensure that within 5 years we're all using two screens at a minimum when we're in the living room.

In such a setup, I place a premium on what I'd call, 'ambient content'. Stuff that I don't have to pay 100% attention to, because I have another screen that simply can't be ignored (e.g., Words With Friends). This is very different from what I'd think of as 'appointment viewing,' which are shows that you're so into you have to specifically set everything down and watch them (few and far between).

But as far as background content goes, sports is a pretty great ambient TV solution. It's always on, and rarely requires your full attention (which is why it's so popular at gyms). Of course, once you're married it becomes less a solution and more of a test to see how long before your wife explodes.

News programming also works, think anything with a talking head and a ticker. That's always my default when I'm on the treadmill and I can't find any sports.

And then, there's also comfortable programming, stuff that doesn't require a ton of thought or direct involvement. It's here where I'd put shows that have been on forever, with an established set of characters and plotlines.

I can watch any episode of Seinfeld and tell you the entire thing after about 2 seconds. Now, that may be really sad as an example of humanity, but my familiarity and comfort with it means that I would always be willing to have it on. The same thing could be said for a Simpsons channel.

Now, a 24-7 channel with nothing but the Simpsons would be fantastic, although I'm wondering exactly what the revenue possibilities are. The Simpsons must generate close to a bazillion dollars in syndication right now (looking for some answers online only gave me an estimate of $1 billion, and that was from 2003). It would be hard to see a model where Fox launches some kind of standard TV channel that would clearly undercut the syndicated value. From the article, I infer the execs are talking about incremental revenue streams.

Could they offer on-demand access to any/all episodes? Or unlimited access to some Hulu-like channel? Or hell, just put the episodes on Hulu itself?

They absolutely could, although I don't know if it would work quite as well.

You see, putting your content into the on-demand sphere forces a pretty big change in the user discovery/experience. When it's simply on TV, I'll stumble across it on my cable guide. But now in an on-demand world, all of a sudden I have to actively seek out the show. And what's worse, but in a completely on-demand environment, I'd have to choose from hundreds of episodes! The paralysis of expanded choice would set in, and I'm sure I'd probably never click through to an episode (incidentally, the same reason why it's so hard to watch a non-continuous plotline show on DVD. If I want to watch the Wire or West Wing [or another show that doesn't start with W], I can start at the beginning, set it and forget it. Not so with a show like the Simpsons or Seinfeld)

Such an on-demand solution from Fox would be interesting (and who knows, maybe this isn't what they're thinking about at all), but I feel as though it would be much harder to attract viewers. When you put it on-demand, you force me as a consumer to go out and find it. But honestly? I'm trying to watch TV...I didn't turn it on to do any work.

Monday, September 12, 2011

DirecTV NFL Sunday Ticket

It seems like DirecTV has gotten really aggressive this year with pitching themselves, and in particular, NFL Sunday Ticket.

NFL Sunday Ticket, in case you don't know, is the only way to ensure you can see principally all the NFL games each week. Historically, it's been a godsend to nomads like me, people who have emigrated from their hometowns to settle in the savage and unforgiving wilderness (in my case, Chicago).

Of course, it's always been pretty expensive. And it also required you to get TV service through satellite, which isn't even an option for most of us in apartments.

But DirecTV has been willing to pay the NFL a fortune to be the exclusive provider, and since the NFL is in the interest of making money, DirecTV gets a monopoly on providing comprehensive coverage.

But lately, I've noticed a harder pitch from the satellite company.

Exhibit A: Recent offers of Free NFL Sunday Ticket for subscribers (caveat in that it requires a two year agreement and is only for new subscribers, so you can see why it's worth it for them)

Exhibit B: NFL Sunday Ticket To Go - An idea which seems to be an unlikely offer from a TV service provider...Streaming over mobile devices and even things like a PS3. The price is pretty outrageous (over $300 if I remember correctly), but one of the first breakthroughs for those of us waiting to get the NFL through something other than a traditional TV channel (finally following the NHL and MLB and basically every other sport out there)

Exhibit C: An email offer I got today offering me 12,500 American Airlines bonus miles if I got DirecTV. They must really know me well to come after me with streaming access AND airline miles!

Now it's possible they've done this type of stuff every year, but I really can't recall these types of promotions for what's really the company's only unique product offering.

Two questions come to mind. Well, one question and one comment.

How is the wider availability of NFL Red Zone impacting DirecTV's NFL Sunday Ticket package?

My dad got the Red Zone channel at least a couple seasons ago, and last year, with an Eagles Thursday night matchup on the docket, I forked over the extra $8 a month for the sports package to get it and the NFL network.

And to me, the Red Zone channel has all but destroyed any inkling I'd ever have of getting Sunday Ticket.

The Red Zone channel just shows football, continuously, as long as there's a game on. Cutting from one game to another, it's like football nirvana (except for those who need the occasional bathroom or 'my wife's trying to talk to me' break)

So it's better than DirecTV, and at ~$8 a month, it's a lot cheaper than $300+.

The only argument is that you can't watch an entire game of your favorite team, but since I'm an Eagles fan, I get most of them on national broadcasts anyway. So until they start going 6-10 every year, I'm pretty OK with the access I've got.

So, since I'm a football fan, and Red Zone has completely won me over, is that why we're seeing such aggressive promotion tactics? It's also worth noting that DirecTV seems to have rolled out a ton of additional features and wrinkles (like a player stat tracker for fantasy purposes, or access to coaches' pre-game shows), obviously including their streaming access as well.

Could it be they're starting to feel the heat from some (albeit slightly indirect) competition?

While I think it's pretty safe to say yes, I also noticed this article.

It's the first NFL Sunday of the season, and DirecTV's $350 Sunday Ticket To-Go doesn't work.

We bought the $350 service — which lets users watch every NFL game on their computer or mobile device — over the weekend, and were hoping to use it for a kick-ass live blog complete with scores, commentary, and highlights.

But instead, we can't even sign into To-Go because the "Start Watching" button on the website is disabled.

A ton of users are having this problem, and DirecTV is getting killed for it on this forum.


If you're going to launch a new product, and it's going to be a major focal point of your ad campaign, and it's going to be purchased primarily by tech-savvy early adopters...you have to make sure the freaking thing works!

Obviously, that's obvious. And I'm sure someone has been fired, disciplined, or buried in the desert for it. But that type of thing just pushes me further away from considering the technology.

And that's kind of a shame. Because I had seriously been considering buying a PS3, and getting our own Wi-fi network, just to pay DirecTV over $300 for NFL Sunday Ticket.

But I'm happy with Red Zone, and while my wife isn't happy with football in general, she'll at least be glad to hear I won't be able to watch it on my phone.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Top 50 Documentaries List

I'm a big fan of documentaries, so when I saw an article with a new list of '50 Documentaries to See Before You Die,' I was intrigued. How many of them have I seen, and how many of them would I have to run out and rent before a wayward asteroid obliterates us?

I included the list below, and was disappointed at the relatively small number I'd seen.

Link to Show

50. Spellbound (2002)
49. Truth or Dare (1991)
48. The Kid Stays in the Picture (2002)
47. One Day in September (1999)
46. Little Dieter Needs to Fly (1998)
45. The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years (1988)
44. Burma VJ (2008)
43. When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts (2006)
42. Catfish (2010)
41. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007)
40. When We Were Kings (1996)
39. Biggie & Tupac (2002)
38. March of the Penguins (2005)
37. Inside Job (2010)
36. Taxi to the Dark Side (2007)
35. Paragraph 175 (2000)
34. Brother’s Keeper (1992)
33. Tongues Untied (1989)
32. Dogtown and Z-Boys (2001)
31. Jesus Camp (2006)
30. Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004)
29. Man on Wire (2008)
28. Gasland (2010)
27. Tarnation (2003)
26. Murderball (2005)
25. Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005)
24. Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (1996)
23. The Eyes of Tammy Faye (2000)
22. Shut Up & Sing (2006)
21. Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)
20. Capturing the Friedmans (2003)
19. Touching the Void (2003)
18. Food, Inc. (2008)
17. Street Fight (2005)
16. Bus 174 (2002)
15. Crumb (1994)
14. Dark Days (2000)
13. The Fog of War (2003)
12. Bowling for Columbine (2002)
11. Paris Is Burning (1991)
10. Grizzly Man (2005)
9. Trouble the Water (2008)
8. An Inconvenient Truth (2006)
7. The Celluloid Closet (1995)
6. The War Room (1993)
5. Supersize Me (2004)
4. Waltz With Bashir (2008)
3. Roger & Me (1989)
2. The Thin Blue Line (1988)
1. Hoop Dreams (1994)

Now I'd only seen ~10 of these, which is kind of sad I guess. There are a couple on here that I've been dying to see, like Street Fight, but I haven't been able to. (We might have to add the newly released 'Senna' to the list, which I want to see but can't persuade my wife that a film on a dead Brazilian formula one driver would be good). But in looking at the list, I noticed a couple things that got me thinking about it and documentaries in general.

1 - Why is Best Worst Movie not on here? I mean, sure, a documentary on the lasting cultural impact of Troll 2 might not have the same emotional heft as climate change, the plight of the modern worker, or some of the other topics covered in the listed documentaries, but still.

2 - Did they not make documentary films in the 1980's? Or the 1970's? Just about everything on this list comes from the last ten years. Does that imply that people have only recently started making good documentaries? Or is the implication that anyone who's a serious doc fan has already seen all the older stuff and thus doesn't need to go out and rent them before the reaper comes?

Let's assume it's the first one and not the second, that raises another interesting question. As technology and the ability to film/edit/produce higher quality video has become more accessible, has that led to advancement in the documentary field? More simply, is it easier to make a high-quality documentary now? Probably. You might even be able to do the whole thing on a smartphone by now.

But I also wonder if, as an audience, people are developing more of a taste for stuff that's, 'real'. Since the late 90's, which is when I believe Survivor came out and started the genre (even if MTV's Real World would've been earlier), lots of major network programming has swung towards reality shows.

I would argue that's a result of the lower production costs, but people also watch it, and both major networks and cable channels have fed the beast.

The umbrella of television's reality universe has several distinct sub-genre's...

1: Game Shows - Survivor (is that even still on?), Amazing Race, Wipeout (funniest ACL tears you'll see anywhere)

2: Slow Motion Train Wrecks (i.e., shows that allow you to feel better about yourself because everything on it is such a cluster-F of 'Who could actually be like that?' moments) - I'm assuming this would include MTV's Teen Mom, that I Didn't Know I Was Pregnant show, Hoarders, and basically everything on Bravo

3: Class Tourism - Shows that are the closest to documentaries, in that they seem more apt to put you into a world you don't know much about, and that remains the focus more so than the actual people involved. I'd put all the job porn shows in here, Ice Road Truckers and their ilk.

Now all of those aren't really documentaries, but they share a lot of similarities. There both ostensibly non-fiction (although reality shows have writers, which I can't figure out). They also have very similar camera usage, cutaways to interviews, and the occasional 'Oh Crap What Just Happened' moment.

And as people watch more of that stuff on TV, from my perspective, it stands to reason that they'd become more interested in films made in a similar style.

As usual, I have absolutely no facts or research to back this up, but if there has been a recent renaissance in documentary film-making, maybe all that TV is a part of the reason why

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

New Amazon Delivery System Could Lead to...More Buffalo Chicken Wraps!

I stumbled across a report today about a new project Amazon is working on, one that has pretty cool implications for my life and the lives of other yuppies everywhere.

No, it's not their new tablet (although that also sounds pretty cool)

New Delivery Lockers

As the report explains, a Seattle 7-11 store has a bank of lockers in the back. The lockers will serve as a drop-off point for Amazon purchases, and allows the customer to select a drop off location, receive a bar code via smartphone, and use it to pick up the package.

It's unclear whether they based their design for the system off a complete analysis of my life, but it seems highly likely at this point.

What this would mean is the end of package receiving as we know it for tons of city dwellers everywhere. For those of us who live in high-rise apartments, it means we finally might have somewhere else to pick up a package beyond the cramped building receiving room run by the dry cleaner downstairs (which would allow them to focus on ripping you off for your dry cleaning instead of manhandling your packages).

That's been one of my biggest hesitations around ordering from Amazon for certain items, the fact that it comes to my dry cleaner downstairs. A dry cleaner who closes at 6 (i.e., before people with jobs get home), and isn't open on Sundays. This would free up a good 20 minutes of my Saturday morning when I ask the dry cleaning lady for our packages and then she stumbles around trying to find where they might be.

The idea that I can just walk a block over to my 7-11 and pick up the packages on my own terms. Xanadu!

Of course, the idea is not without its questions.

Is there going to be a time limit for picking up your packages? I'm a self-entitled elitist liberal, which means I order a lot of books but I want them on my terms!

Also a concern, is whether a bunch of package lockers that hold Amazon goods would attract people who would love to crack me over the head and take the contents of my locker. To them, it could be anything and could be super expensive (even if it's just a used copy of Tina Fey's Bossypants.

And couldn't people use this service for evil? I don't know Amazon's shipping policy or security all that well, but I feel like that merits looking into, just to ensure I don't go over to the 7-11 and pick up my books right next to some enriched uranium.

Lastly, and this might just be me, but building Amazon lockers in 7-11 stores would dramatically increase my exposure to 7-11. Normally not a bad thing, but I have a habit of buying their Buffalo Chicken Wraps for meals when I don't want to make anything or walk across the street to Jimmy John's. And for whatever reason, buying them drives my wife absolutely crazy (not that she has to eat them, just that I'm willing to). It gets her unusually upset.

Maybe if I buy her gifts from Amazon, she'll be OK with it

Friday, September 2, 2011

Football Auction

God, another dollar. And then another. Then a few more. It was so much, was it worth it? My wallet was emptying faster and faster. But I couldn't just stand there.

I needed a freaking running back!

My fantasy football league switched to an auction style format last year. After trying it, I've become convinced it is absolutely the only way to go. Now that most of the readers have realized this is about fantasy football, I'm sure most have already X'ed out their browser (particularly the wife), but I still care a lot about it (much to her dismay). But doing an auction draft is just so much fun, maybe it requires a bit of an explanation.

In fantasy football, you build a team of NFL players who, based on their play each week, earn you points. Things like touchdowns are really good and earn a bunch of points. Other things like fumbles are bad, they can lose you points. Each week you face off against a different opponent from your league, one-on-one, and try to set the best lineup to get more points than your opponent (which can make for good trash talking).

The draft is how you build your roster, and in an auction format, you're awarded a certain budget to start with, and as each player gets nominated by someone in the league, you have the freedom to bid however much you'd like to have them on your team. It opens up a whole new world for fantasy football players who are used to randomly ordered drafts, where you just take turns selecting, in that you are now free to pursue all kinds of strategies and aren't limited by your draft slot.

Want to build around a franchise quarterback? Or two stud wide receivers? Or maybe a great kicker? (Hint: Don't try that last one) But that's the idea, that you have so much more flexibility in what you can do and how you can build your team. (As an aside, our league also adds some more complexity by adding 'keepers', players you can keep on your team from last year's roster for a certain raise over the price you paid last year. Again, it opens more strategic options)

Only one thing annoyed me about last year's draft, and all fantasy football drafts, was that I couldn't remember exactly how I approached it. I know how I felt about some players, and why I tried to acquire others, but the memory was a little hazy and probably falls victim to revisionist history (e.g., of course I didn't pick that guy who ended up sucking, I knew he would be terrible) Well, I don't want that this time. So I thought it would be helpful to quickly blog up some notes on how the draft went. Not for you guys, who almost assuredly won't care, but for me. If nothing else, it'll keep me honest and I can't pretend like I knew Felix Jones was going to rush for 2000 yards.

Below I've listed out the draft picks in the order they were selected, complete with the price someone ended up paying for them. I've also included my recollections, and also bolded the players which I took.

A couple of notes. You'll notice some major players aren't listed here (Tom Brady for example). That's because of those keepers that I mentioned. In my case, I kept Michael Vick ($5), Mike Wallace ($23), and Mike Williams ($5), so I already had a quarterback and two wide receivers. Also, our league is slightly different from most in that we are what's called a PPR league. PPR refers to point-per-reception, which means that each catch by a running back or receiver is worth a fantasy point, whereas in many leagues they are worth nothing. Just mentioning because it skews the pricing on some of those players (those with lots of catches are more valuable obviously).

What I mean by all this is, don't call me totally crazy.

Pick Player Cost

1 Rashard Mendenhall (Pit - RB) $38 - The first person up for auction is an interesting case, as no relative prices have been set. There's a school of thought that you should definitely try to buy a big name guy if available early in the draft, because bidders might be skittish about paying a lot. That may be what happened here for Mendenhall, who's not typically thought of as a top 5 guy but had a good year last year. I don't like him because a) he's a Steeler, b) he had a ton of carries last year and may have a greater likelihood of getting hurt, and c) I don't think he gets a lot of receptions (which is a big theme for me). So I passed entirely.

2 Adrian Peterson (Min - RB) $52 - AP is a well known fantasy stud. He's been very consistent, always rushing for a ton of yards. But again, not a big receiving threat, so I didn't really want to jump this early. The guy I really wanted was Ray Rice, who hadn't been put up yet. Rice always catches a lot of passes, and will also rush for a bunch of yards on a decent team. Let's cut to the chase, I had a Rice crush.

3 Chris Johnson (Ten - RB) $47 - Big play threat, but was holding out this year (and then agreed to a contract after we were done). Again, I know he's a great RB, but I wanted more of a pass catching threat.

4 Drew Brees (NO - QB) $32 - Now a player I was finally happy to see. While I coveted Rice, I also wanted everyone else to spend as much as possible to leave me in a position to outbid others for him. To me, the key to that was nominating players at positions I already had. Brees was a textbook case of that, given I already had Vick. I was thrilled to see him out there with other people bidding on him.

5 Calvin Johnson (Det - WR) $39 - Another non-running back at a position I already had two players! This was actually my nomination, and I threw him out because I knew we didn't have a lot of available WRs in our league. I was thrilled to see the bidding get to $39, thinking that Rice would be the next RB available and I would be in a good position to grab him (long story short, I had one of the highest budgets because of my cheap keepers)

6 Maurice Jones-Drew (Jac - RB) $32 - A bit of a surprise to see him nominated, as he's lower on the rankings. He's a guy I desperately wanted last year and wasn't able to get (hint: he catches a lot of passes). But there are concerns about his health, and the Jaguars aren't particularly good, so I didn't really want to grab him, and again, I was waiting on Rice.

7 Jason Witten (Dal - TE) $19 - A great tight end, but man, I wasn't sure I wanted to spend a lot of money on a tight end when I could get one really cheaply much later in the draft. But damn, I think he's going to have a pretty good year. He's also a Cowboy though, and owning him in previous years was never fun to see him against the Eagles.

8 Ray Rice (Bal - RB) $71 - The guy I was waiting and saving for, and I couldn't bring myself to get him. That's not a misprint. He went for over $70, and by the way, our standard budget is $200. The bidding got really crazy, and while I gained infamy in our league for paying around that much for him last year, I couldn't bring myself to do it again. He had been the centerpiece of my strategy, but apparently he got around. I still think he'll have a great year, just sadly, not for me.

9 Nate Kaeding (SD - K) $2 - Yeah, a kicker. Actually not a bad strategy to nominate one and try and buy them for a dollar. If someone else bids, they spend more of their budget and you'll just get another one. But you have to endure the complaints from the other guys for nominating one. So I usually pass.

10 Antonio Gates (SD - TE) $36 - Again, a stud TE, but wow. Too rich for my blood.

11 Michael Turner (Atl - RB) $41 - I don't know what it is about him, but I've always hated this guy for my fantasy team. Never wanted to ever get close, and wasn't about to start.

12 Shonn Greene (NYJ - RB) $27 - $27 may be a pretty good deal for this guy, but I wanted a pass catcher and I was sick of waiting

13 Steven Jackson (StL - RB) $38 - Finally, my first purchase. My strategy going in had been to spend a bunch on two stud running backs, because I was pretty set on QB and WR. Then of course, I waited for Rice and wasn't able to get him. So I quickly needed to get myself some talent at running back. I wanted a pass catching running back, and Steven Jackson does that. Plus, everyone's expecting big things from the Rams this year, and I guess I'm no different. For the same price as Mendenhall, a guy I don't like as much, I was able to get a guy who I'm now trusting to carry me. Hope I don't regret not buying Rice.

14 Peyton Manning (Ind - QB) $19 - Another QB, good news for me. Of course, this doesn't begin to describe the panic that set in when I bid on Manning and the auction clock got to two seconds before someone else bid. I was trying to push the price up, and almost got cracked with an expensive backup QB (although, it wouldn't have been the worst thing for me with a guaranteed injury victim like Vick).

15 Matt Forte (Chi - RB) $44 - My second acquisition. Another ride on the Matt Forte Pain Train. I just can't help it, he's too tempting a pass catcher to let go. I ended up in a bidding war with another guy over him, I'm guessing he thought along the same lines as I did. But as someone who had Forte last year, I should've been able to convince him that it's not worth it. The guy has so much potential, but last year the combination of his terrible offensive line and Chester Taylor (scourge of 3rd down carries), got me perpetually upset at every Bears game (could've been worse, I could've been a Bears fan). But, I can't resist, even if it cost me more than Steven Jackson. He could catch 60-80 passes this year. Once I got into the game, things stabilized a little bit. In a reflection of that, my notes will now be a little more concise.

16 DeSean Jackson (Phi - WR) $26 - Love him as a player, would hate to own him in fantasy. The guy weighs less than I do.

17 Frank Gore (SF - RB) $37 - Miffed to see the next running back go for less than Matt Forte, but what could I say, free markets.

18 Miles Austin (Dal - WR) $31 - Another big time WR I was happy to see go for more than $30. Again, don't like those Cowboys

19 Wes Welker (NE - WR) $29 - I bid a fair amount of Wes Welker, who I used to love as a Miami Dolphin, then hated once he joined the showboating Patriots train of jackwagons. But he's really really good in our type of league. I tried to get him, but as the price rose, I really thought about some of the other wideouts still available and concluded I could manage without Wes. Probably for the best, I'd hate to have to root for Tom Brady.

20 Green Bay (GB - DEF) $5 - Defenses for more than a dollar? Questionable.

21 Pittsburgh (Pit - DEF) $5

22 DeAngelo Williams (Car - RB) $15 - A low-rent running back option, a guy who splits time and has gotten hurt. No thanks.

23 Brandon Marshall (Mia - WR) $21 - I had Marshall a couple years ago. At the time he could've carried my team for weeks as a time with a ton of catches and big plays. I tried to get in for him, but the fact that he's a little crazy made me think twice.

24 Matt Ryan (Atl - QB) $13 - Overrated, perpetually.

25 Felix Jones (Dal - RB) $23 - Cowboy. Sorry.

26 Mark Ingram (NO - RB) $14 - As someone who tried out Reggie Bush, and looked at Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles, I can't in good conscious support a New Orleans running back. I feel like Sean Payton just lives to screw over fantasy players across the country.

27 Greg Jennings (GB - WR) $35 - I actually had Jennings last year, and he was fantastic. My price to keep him this year would've actually been $34. I tried to buy him back for less, but I don't think he's going to repeat his performance given that Jermichael Finley is back and healthy. Again, a pass.

28 Ryan Grant (GB - RB) $14 - Was injured pretty bad, pass.

29 Neil Rackers (Hou - K) $2

30 Jermichael Finley (GB - TE) $24 - I think he might have a fantastic year, but I decided money would be better spent elsewhere. Man, I really hope my TE selections pay off.

31 Kenny Britt (Ten - WR) $13 - This guy got arrested three times this off-season. We run a clean ball club here...well, except for Vick obviously

32 Matt Schaub (Hou - QB) $13 - This is one of my bigger regrets of the draft. I thought Schaub would be a great pick as a back-up, and someone I could spend a little more on. I was bidding him up, and just didn't keep going. I kind of wish I had.

33 Jahvid Best (Det - RB) $23 - Maybe another one of my regrets. I think Best has sick talent, and he catches a ton of passes. I was tempted a lot (obviously, enough to buy the guy). But this guy wakes up on the wrong side of the bed and gets dinged up. He stays healthy, this might be my best pick of the year. He doesn't? It's 23 flushed away.

34 Mario Manningham (NYG - WR) $22 - I think he'll have a great year. Wanted him pretty badly, but at the time I thought there were still a couple other guys I could grab for less. In hindsight, I think he'll have a better year than the guys I ended up with.

35 Mike Tolbert (SD - RB) $13 36 Ryan Mathews (SD - RB) $13 - Two San Diego running backs, both splitting time, which I really hate a lot. I have enough frustration in my life with this stuff.

37 Julio Jones (Atl - WR) $12 - Didn't want to trust a rookie WR.

38 Knowshon Moreno (Den - RB) $14 - Moderate risk, potentially high reward. I had him last year off waivers and still like him a lot. You guessed it, he catches passes. My hesitation with him was twofold, one was Tim Tebow, who I didn't think would throw to him a lot. Two was his injury history. But Tebow, despite his direct line to Jesus, isn't starting for the Broncos. Kyle Orton is, and Orton will throw him the ball. Not a bad chance for my fourth running back in my view.

39 Anquan Boldin (Bal - WR) $15

40 Vernon Davis (SF - TE) $18

41 Marques Colston (NO - WR) $12

42 Philadelphia (Phi - DEF) $5 - They should get a bunch more sacks this year, but again, not $5 for a defense

43 Jeremy Maclin (Phi - WR) $18 - Maclin was a flat out great fantasy player last year (and a great real player, and from all reports, a great person). Had a lymphoma scare in the off-season and lost 15 pounds. I don't know about you, but to me that always screams BUY. I didn't buy him for the first couple weeks, but if he can regain form by mid-season, that'll help me out for the playoffs.

44 Eli Manning (NYG - QB) $8 - Another good backup option, I thought long and hard about him but didn't think he was as good as Schaub. I also saw Stafford, Bradford, and Freeman available, and while I need a decent backup QB, I thought one of those guys could be fine.

45 Tim Hightower (Was - RB) $22 - One of my favorite sleeper picks. I really wanted to be able to buy him, I just had four running backs already.

46 BenJarvus Green-Ellis (NE - RB) $12

47 Stevie Johnson (Buf - WR) $17 - Someone has to be good on Buffalo right? And Ryan Fitzpatrick as a QB is underrated. Now we're really going to get brief...even though this is the area of the draft where you make real winners (Because anyone you get here, you'll be able to keep easily for next year).

48 C.J. Spiller (Buf - RB) $5

49 Joseph Addai (Ind - RB) $10 - I drafted this guy in the first round maybe 4 years ago, and like him a lot this year, but it's funny how quickly you plummet as a RB in the NFL

50 Owen Daniels (Hou - TE) $10

51 Sidney Rice (Sea - WR) $6 - Tavaris Jackson? Ha!

52 Santonio Holmes (NYJ - WR) $22 - He was the last big WR I would've targeted, but thought Maclin and Johnson were better than him by himself

53 Chris Cooley (Was - TE) $3 - I was the guy who bid $2. But I don't love the Washington QB situation

54 Beanie Wells (Ari - RB) $13 - No way.

55 Chad Ochocinco (NE - WR) $9 - My wife's favorite player, but that wasn't enough for me.

56 Santana Moss (Was - WR) $16

57 New York (NYJ - DEF) $6

58 Kellen Winslow (TB - TE) $6

59 Mason Crosby (GB - K) $2

60 Stephen Gostkowski (NE - K) $3

61 Danny Amendola (StL - WR) $5 - The world loves a white wide receiver! I should've bought this guy. For $5, man, that was dumb. I was just worried about other new WRs taking his catches

62 Reggie Bush (Mia - RB) $8

63 Chicago (Chi - DEF) $1

64 Plaxico Burress (NYJ - WR) $8

65 Cedric Benson (Cin - RB) $10

66 Michael Bush (Oak - RB) $6

67 Baltimore (Bal - DEF) $2

68 Mike Thomas (Jac - WR) $5

69 Sam Bradford (StL - QB) $7 - The start of my backup backup QB list. I would've liked to get him, but I think I was saving money for a TE. Not sure exactly why. Bradford should have a good year.

70 Jimmy Graham (NO - TE) $3

71 Marshawn Lynch (Sea - RB) $11

72 Matthew Stafford (Det - QB) $9 - The second of the three QBs. I was in the bidding but dropped when I remembered that he pretty much always gets hurt. I decided to throw my lot in with Josh Freeman (this may be a dumb choice)

73 Sebastian Janikowski (Oak - K) $1

74 New York (NYG - DEF) $3

75 Matt Bryant (Atl - K) $1

76 Fred Jackson (Buf - RB) $5

77 New Orleans (NO - DEF) $1

78 Joe Flacco (Bal - QB) $4

79 Josh Brown (StL - K) $1

80 Rob Bironas (Ten - K) $1

81 San Diego (SD - DEF) $1

82 Brandon Jacobs (NYG - RB) $8

83 Jay Cutler (Chi - QB) $4 - Wow, why didn't I buy Jay Cutler? $4, that was pretty cheap. I think I remember him getting the benefit of lots of dropped interceptions, so maybe that's what was going on.

84 Mark Sanchez (NYJ - QB) $1

85 Detroit (Det - DEF) $1

86 Ben Tate (Hou - RB) $4 - Oh, if Arian Foster gets hurt, this will be a really smart pick. I bid on the guy, but wanted to make sure I could still afford Josh Freeman.

87 Jonathan Stewart (Car - RB) $5

88 Braylon Edwards (SF - WR) $3

89 Davone Bess (Mia - WR) $5

90 Mike Sims-Walker (StL - WR) $4

91 Lance Moore (NO - WR) $3

92 James Starks (GB - RB) $1

93 Malcom Floyd (SD - WR) $1

94 Tony Gonzalez (Atl - TE) $3 - I almost bought Tony G, and was debating bidding an extra dollar, but couldn't rationalize the fact that his projections are so much worse than other top guys

95 Zach Miller (Sea - TE) $3 - So I spent the same amount on a guy who'll be catching his passes from Tavaris Jackson? But this guy simply owned when he was with the Raiders a couple years ago, and got hurt a bunch last year. A bounce back would be big from him.

96 Kevin Kolb (Ari - QB) $3

97 Daniel Thomas (Mia - RB) $12

98 Thomas Jones (KC - RB) $3

99 Josh Freeman (TB - QB) $10 - Here's where I blew the rest of my cash. At this point I was basically backed into a corner. I needed a decent second QB, and while he won't have as good a year as he had last year (more INTs, definitely), he was the last guy before Donovan McNabb that I'd take.

100 Nate Burleson (Det - WR) $2

101 A.J. Green (Cin - WR) $6

102 Lee Evans (Bal - WR) $3

103 Marcedes Lewis (Jac - TE) $3

104 Darren Sproles (NO - RB) $4

105 Alex Henery (Phi - K) $3

106 Pierre Garcon (Ind - WR) $3

107 Steve Smith (Car - WR) $2

108 Kyle Orton (Den - QB) $2

109 Pierre Thomas (NO - RB) $7

110 Antonio Brown (Pit - WR) $5 - Saw him in a pre-season game and he tore it up, so what the heck. He's also good Mike Wallace insurance.

111 Atlanta (Atl - DEF) $9

112 Ronnie Brown (Phi - RB) $1

113 Garrett Hartley (NO - K) $1

114 Jordy Nelson (GB - WR) $3 - I had nominated this guy, and had really kind of wanted him, but I didn't have enough money to outbid the last guy with a lot more cash than me. The same thing happened with Crabtree a couple picks down

115 Matt Cassel (KC - QB) $1

116 Jacoby Ford (Oak - WR) $1

117 Michael Crabtree (SF - WR) $3 - Bid $2, wasn't enough.

118 Jacob Tamme (Ind - TE) $1

119 Emmanuel Sanders (Pit - WR) $1

120 Brandon Pettigrew (Det - TE) $2 So I spent it here, I couldn't figure out what other wideouts to nominate, so I figured even though I normally hate having two TEs, if the Lions do turn into the 1999 Rams, he'll be a good guy to have.

121 Montario Hardesty (Cle - RB) $1

122 LaDainian Tomlinson (NYJ - RB) $1 - Wow, not too long ago a consensus #1 overall pick. Yikes.

123 Robert Meachem (NO - WR) $1

So that was it in a nutshell. I think my team should be pretty good, but I have a lot of health concerns. Vick, Best, Miller, Maclin. That's probably a lot of risk, but I do have faith that if healthy, it should be a decent year.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

New Security Program from American Airlines

I got a couple of suspicious emails recently. Most of the time my suspicious emails are ridiculously poorly worded spam-shots trying to sell me Viagra (we're sadly long past the time of emails from descendents of African royalty hoping to get access to their rightful fortunes, that was a simpler time), but the emails I got were completely different.

These were from American Airlines, and while that didn't make them suspicious, what did was the vague terms with which they presented their offer. An excerpt:

Due to your status in the AAdvantage® program, you may be eligible to participate in a screening pilot program being tested by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) this fall. The goal of this pilot program is to evaluate expedited screening processes for selected American Airlines travelers through designated security checkpoints at the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) and the Miami International Airport (MIA).

Some important things to note about participating in the screening pilot program:
- You must be a United States citizen
- There is no charge
- Your eligibility and participation will not necessarily ensure an expedited screening for every flight
- When you opt-in, you give American Airlines permission to share your AAdvantage status and passenger reservation information with the TSA's Secure Flight system
- At time of opt-in, although not required, you will also have the option to share information about your enrollment in U.S. Customs and Border Protection Trusted Traveler Programs such as Global Entry, NEXUS and SENTRI

Now, there aren't too many things that annoy me more than the current TSA security procedures. I realize it's the comedy equivalent of the squirting boutonniere, so I won't get into too much detail, but the elaborate-ness of the kabuki dance to pretend like it's making us all safer is exactly what makes it annoying.

The belts, and the shoes, and the separate bins for laptops, and the random checks for explosives, and taking the liquid bag out of your carry-on (secret tip: No one in the TSA cares if you leave it in the bag. I haven't taken mine out in years)

It's all a nice idea, until you realize that trying to prevent creative terrorists by implementing measures for things they've already done doesn't stop them from implementing NEW things. But I'm done with caring about the actual effectiveness of airport security, at this point, I really only care about my time and convenience. So American Airlines, consider me intrigued at the prospect of an expedited security process.

I was intrigued enough that I opted into the program, and hope to get the chance to see it when I fly American to Dallas Fort Worth in about a month. Now, unfortunately, the letter was sparse in detail. Expedited means it could be faster, but it doesn't say anything about it being less awkward, invasive, or uncomfortable. Maybe it's a set of probes, just a really fast moving set of probes. We'll have to wait and see about that. But honestly, the freaking backscatter machines already create naked pictures of me every week, so really, how much worse could it be?

Monday, August 22, 2011

What's in a Name

I'm sure back around the turn of the century, Mildred was a pretty cool name. It's not now (apologies to all the great-grandma's out there), but it happens over time, some names grow in popularity, and others decline.

If you were a pair of hipster parents in 1912, living on the edge with things like bathing suits that exposed your ankles, then if you had a little hipster daughter, you very well might have named her Mildred (It was the 6th most popular girls name that year, which today would be the equivalent of Emily). But that we look at Mildred as a stereotypical 'old' name, and that it once was hugely popular, makes you wonder about own own contemporary naming conventions.

In 100 years, it might be the case that the only Aiden you know is the old guy who always hangs out in the allergists office, or Emma is the kindly old librarian, or the only Sophia is the weird scary lady with a couple dozen cats who buys nothing but cat food to the point where you just kind of assume she's also eating the cat food, but you don't want to ask her about it because it seems impolite to imply that she likes Fancy Feast, but you're really pretty sure she's eating it herself. OK I'll admit that was a little far-fetched.

We all know there won't be libraries in 100 years.

But that's what happens to all these names, they ebb and flow. Except for names that fall victim to what we could call 'external shocks of uncoolness' You could also call it the Adolf factor. Most names probably come and go naturally, unless it happens to be the name of one of society's arch supervillains. It's weird, and probably a little unfortunate, that events completely out of your control could besmirch your name to the point that your mere introduction instantly reminds people of tragedy. And of course, it's not limited to mass murderers.

For anyone named Katrina, it stinks that when meeting for the first time, lots of people will immediately think back to flood waters, Superdome refugees, and the first time they ever got an inkling Kanye West was completely insane, but that's now the way it is. And the popularity of the name reflects that.

Below is the SSA ranking of the name Katrina for U.S. baby girls by year, starting in 2004 (year pre-Hurricane Katrina). A name ranked #1 would be most popular, a name ranked #12,301 would be something like Zorak or GoldenPalace.com

2004: 281
2005: 246
2006: 379
2007: 598
2008: 716
2009: 813
2010: 867

Pretty strong trend there. Although it's interesting that the biggest dip wasn't immediately after the hurricane in 2006 and 2007. Maybe a ton of expecting mothers had already ordered monogrammed bedsheets???

From this, it seems pretty clear. If you want to ruin someone's name, you have two options:

1 - You can help raise a murderous dictator who shares that name (somewhat impractical and probably morally questionable),

2 - Pay off the people who name hurricanes (which for some reason are the only disasters important enough to get their own names, which would tick me off if I were an earthquake, volcano, or gang of rabid attack squirrels) I feel like #2 is relatively reasonable.

The people who name the storms, they can be gotten to right? They're just meteorologists. If I were an eccentric billionaire (ok, if I were a billionaire), I might buy the naming rights to Hurricanes in perpetuity. If you can buy the rights to put a name on a stadium, I see no reason why you shouldn't be able to buy naming rights to a weather system. Plus, the government is in enough financial trouble as it is, so why should they turn down any revenue opportunity???

Then you have your very own Sword of Damocles. No one would mess with you if you could make their name synonymous with death and destruction (unless they were going for that sort of thing, in which case you should name a double rainbow after them) I'd probably just end up naming them after companies with terrible customer service. Although after the twelfth Hurricane Comcast, I'd probably have to think of some new ones.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Stupid WSJ Editorial

I was reading the Wall Street Journal editorials this morning, and thought an article was particularly interesting. That's not unusual, the WSJ op-ed page is always, if nothing else, an interesting read. It usually reads like something you'd expect from some secret Fox News/GOP cabal, echoing the talking points of Republican leadership and falling over itself trying to be as "pro-business" as possible. So, let's not pretend like I'm a completely unbiased reader. But, with that said, I like to think I give almost all the articles a chance to persuade me (except for Karl Rove's, I mean, really?) But this morning there was an article from Stephen Moore that struck me as particularly callous and ridiculous. The particular passage I found distasteful came in the first section, where Moore disputes the 'nonsensical' notion that unemployment benefits will lead to more consumption and therefore, indirectly, more jobs (emphasis mine). Mr. Carney explained that unemployment insurance "is one of the most direct ways to infuse money into the economy because people who are unemployed and obviously aren't earning a paycheck are going to spend the money that they get . . . and that creates growth and income for businesses that then lead them to making decisions about jobs—more hiring." That's a perfect Keynesian answer, and also perfectly nonsensical. What the White House is telling us is that the more unemployed people we can pay for not working, the more people will work. Only someone with a Ph.D. in economics from an elite university would believe this. I have two teenage sons. One worked all summer and the other sat on his duff. To stimulate the economy, the White House wants to take more money from the son who works and give it to the one who doesn't work. I can say with 100% certainty as a parent that in the Moore household this will lead to less work. Now, I understand if you want to argue on the idea that increasing unemployment benefits doesn't immediately boost consumption (but I'm pretty sure you'll be wrong), and I also get the point that you might not agree with the idea that additional consumption spurred by those benefits will result in more hiring (though again, I would disagree), but to use your own teenage kids as demonstrative of why unemployment benefits are ridiculous seems a tad absurd. I agree with Mr. Moore that his upper-middle class teenager would take free money and continue not to work. My guess is he'll continue to get fed and have a place to live and play Xbox long after that free ride ended. But to compare the plight of the unemployed to a kid on summer vacation and say, 'See! People who get free money will just sit around and live like Kings among men!'. Well, as I said, seems a bit callous. It also doesn't seem like it would be true.
The chart below is from a study which evaluates the time people spend looking for jobs relative to the duration of their unemployment benefits. If Moore is correct, people would spend no time looking for work until benefits run out (because it's free money!). But that doesn't seem to be the case, except maybe for Moore's punk kid.

Monday, August 15, 2011

My Experience with a Virgin

Probably an inappropriate headline, but how else could I attract attention to a blog post about a trip I took on an airplane?  This may be my best click-bait since I was back at Penn State's The Daily Collegian and specifically took a page 7 story and linked it on our home page because the headline read 'Local Man Attempts Sex With Horse' . (One of the most read articles that year BTW)

More recently, and in no way connected with man-horse intercourse, I got the chance to fly Virgin America for the first time. (And when I say got the chance, I mean paid for a plane ticket and went to the airport)

Virgin America is another company started up by Sir Richard Branson, who pretty much established the caricature of an over-the-top billionaire (unless you count Standard Oil's Rockefeller dropping silver dollars from a blimp, which may have only existed in a Simpsons episode, but that's how I get my history)

Virgin, in a nice change of pace, is an actual low-cost airline.  I think a ticket for me to go out to LAX from Chicago was $200-$250, which seemed extremely reasonable and a welcome reprieve from Southwest (They may act all happy and sweet and chirp about not charging you baggage fees, but their ticket rates stink just like everybody elses).  It's also worth noting that American and United feeds from ORD to LAX have since dropped dramatically.  Yay mircoecon class principles at work.

Anyway, beyond the cheaper fare, I was also excited to try out Virgin's new planes, complete with a bunch of bells and whistles that most airlines don't have yet.

It may seem weird to get excited over a new plane, but considering I'm flying at least twice a week, it doesn't seem so strange right?  Exacerbated by the fact that I've been flying to and from Arkansas on a regional plane that may have been re-purposed since its first tour in Vietnam.  I'm going from mysterious shrapnel to leather seats and personal entertainment units, wouldn't you be excited???

We had a mid-morning flight out of Chicago (FYI, that's consultant's mid-morning flight, which means 8:45), and a short 4 or 5 hours later, we touched down in Los Angeles.  Details below:

 - First ever plane I've been on to have mood lighting.  I've never seen purple light on a plane, but the Virgin cabins seemed awash in it.  Like a trendy club, but filled with families and other travelers.

 - Personal Entertainment Units: Major points to Virgin on this, the centerpiece of their offering (at least to someone like me).  A small touchscreen panel just over the tray table lets you control a wide array of entertainment options.  If a touchscreen gets too much work, there's also a little tethered remote that's stored in the armrest.  Definitely slick.

 - Bonus Personal Entertainment Unit Fact: You can actually use them to watch TV as soon as you sit down on the plane.  Such a relief for those of us who hate talking to neighbors (or spouses).  I've always maintained that the longest distance on any airplane flight is between 0 and 10,000 feet when they release passengers to their electronic devices.  The only way I can cope is by bringing along a WSJ from the hotel (or if forced, USA Today) and hoping it gets me all the way up.  But on Virgin, I can just plug in and start watching TV, just like I could at home! (but no bonus points for enabling me to change into sweatpants, maybe someday Sir Richard)

 - Alternative Entertainment Options: The previous sections imply that TV is what you can use the in-flight unit for.  However, there are several other entertainment choices available.

On-Demand movies, which looked like a good set of selections, until the price tag of $8 was factored in.  I don't remember exactly what movies they were, only that I wouldn't pay $8 for them, and I'm a guy who paid $12 to see Thor

On-Demand TV episodes, which extended from premium content (e.g., Curb episodes for a fee), to less than premium content (e.g., all the NCIS LA episodes you can watch!)

On-Demand Music, which is in my view the most underrated thing they have going.  Virgin has a stable of radio stations to choose from, none of which were that exciting.  However, they also let you build your own playlist from a whole bunch of options.  I had to do work on the flight, and was able to put together a nice set of background music that wouldn't distract me too much.  The interface isn't the smoothest to use, but it was great for someone like me, a veteran of the Napster era who still has a hard time paying for music (but won't steal it either)

 - Cool Food Ordering System: You also control ordering of food or drink through the magical little screen.  I had to order a snack box just to test it out.  The credit card swiper didn't seem to be working that well, or I paid $246 for some Famous Amos cookies and a cup of Mott's applesauce (so maybe the kid's food looked better than the adult's, what of it?)  It was also nice to be able to order beverages whenever you want and get pretty prompt service (although I doubt they'd be as chipper if I tested out ordering three dozen Frescas)

- Also Cool, But Slightly Creepy, Social Functions: You might think the personal screen would turn everyone into a completely anti-social weirdo (for those who weren't already).  Perhaps in an attempt to avert such consequences, Virgin has added a chat function into the entertainment center.  What does that mean exactly?  It means you can touch a few buttons, pick another seat on the airplane (or other seats if you're into the group thing), and send them a chat invite.  Cool idea in theory, but I see definite potential for a high creepiness quotient.  In hindsight, I should've messaged the entire plane like it was an AOL chat room.  A/S/L?...29/M/7C.  I did message my wife, who was right next to me.  I think she thought I was being creepy.

- Lastly, I have to commend Virgin on its crack squad of flight attendants.  Above all else, they are cool and collected in the face of a crisis.  And I say that with no trace of sarcasm whatsoever.  Absolutely none.

OK, so they were the opposite of that, but let me explain the story.

We're cruising comfortably somewhere over flyover country, when out of nowhere one of the flight attendants flies by us in a full sprint to the front of the plane.  She grabs the other attendant and quietly talks in a panicky looking manner.  After a few seconds, she bolts back as fast as possible to the back of the plane.  I looked over to my wife, who was watching the Kardashians on E!, so she was completely oblivious.  Just when I start to tell her what happened, the attendant flies by again, like the Usain Bolt of flight attendants, and then almost like this was some kind of elaborate cricket match, reverses course and goes back, again at top speed.

On the list of things that might freak the heck out of the passengers, this wasn't number one, but it's not too far off from deploying the oxygen masks.

Finally, on her third lap of the plane, one of the passengers volunteered that he was a doctor and was there someone hurt.

At that point I think she realized no one knew what was going on, and she explained that the toilet in the bathroom was flooding.

Ah.  Definitely a huge emergency for row 26, but definitely NOT an emergency for row 7.  Certainly not something that warranted a huge sprint-inducing freakout.  It didn't exactly give me the most confidence that in the event of a water landing this lady would be able to help us as opposed to passing out right in the middle of the emergency exit and sending us all to Davy Jones' Locker.

So that was a bit weird, but I got to watch Law & Order, so in my book, it's still a good trade-off.  I'll fly Virgin anytime.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Go HBO Go, Go! An App Review for HBO Go

Broadcasting and Cable ran a good summary article yesterday covering what apps are out there in the market to help all of us watch television.  The ability to watch television via our mobile phones is a big deal, because we have such little exposure to television everywhere else in our lives.

I'm usually pretty diligent about trying to get access to TV on my phone, mainly because of all the travel and the fact that I'm usually separated from my DVR

Before anyone suggests it, yes, I know about Slingbox.  But to quickly explain why that won't work...we don't have internet access in our apartment because our building has free wi-fi, however, that free wi-fi isn't fast enough or has the right configuration to enable video streaming through it.  It's why my poor Roku box sits unused next to the DVR (Although I highly recommend the Roku for anyone who actually does have their own internet connection, it's pretty sweet)

But the goal remains to get as much TV onto my phone as humanly possible, and there are a number of apps out there that B&C explain in detail.  Like for instance, did you have any idea that America's Funniest Home Videos was even still making new episodes???  They apparently have their own app!  Crotch shots for everybody!  Although in the article the creator of AFHV tries to take credit for the development of social media, which seems a bit much.

I also didn't know that ESPN has its own app that lets you watch one of four different ESPN on your phone.  Finally a cure for the broken screens on hotel treadmills.  But unfortunately, the Watch ESPN is only a mirage for those of us linked to the wrong cable companies (which is to say, the vast majority of cable companies).  You basically have to have Time Warner or Verizon for TV, and although I'm sure they'll get to more networks, the fact that Kabletown Comcast owns NBC and ESPN is under the ABC/Disney umbrella should pretty much ensure I'll never get it on my phone until I get a new cable provider.  Sigh.

However, I did just download the HBO Go app, and it's everything I could've dreamed of.

Access to what looks like every HBO show, any season, any episode, with pretty darn good quality even over standard data connections.

I watched the first episode of this season's Curb Your Enthusiasm on an elliptical machine, I queued up a couple of Season One Flight of the Conchords episodes from Arkansas, and they have the complete Wire series in case I really want to dive back into the depressing story of a decaying Baltimore.

Now, like ESPN, you have to belong to one of their chosen cable partners (which is a much longer list than ESPN's).  You also have to subscribe to HBO (which I recently won back in our household's biannual threat of cable cancellation to improve our deal)

But, I can imagine a world off in the future where you can pay to subscribe to HBO's app without needing a connection through a designated cable partner.  Payment straight to the content creator doesn't seem all that unrealistic when you think about how the app ecosystem has evolved (someday our TV interfaces could very well look like our phones, with apps as channels, it's one of the things I like about the Roku).  

What's stopping HBO from doing that today with their app and charging anyone who doesn't currently subscribe?  Probably a few things:
  1. Proof of concept - They need to test it out and ensure people will actually watch HBO on their phones apart from nomadic loners
  2. Erosion of physical media sales - Maybe a small factor, hard to say if they're still selling lots of DVD Box Sets.  Those margins would be pretty huge, but if you've been in a Best Buy recently (my first question would be, why?) take a stroll through the physical media section.  Ghost town.  Besides, the mobile app doesn't allow you to watch on a computer/TV, so it isn't exactly a substitute for the DVD experience.
  3. Erosion of paying subscribers - I'm not sure how scared I'd be about this...see above.  This app isn't a substitute (yet) for TV, and most of the stuff I've seen makes it sound like there aren't tons of people excited about cable cord cutting besides me.
  4. Ticking off cable partners - It certainly would make a few people in the Cable industry throw up a little bit, as it would basically cut them out of the loop from taking on another $10 to cable bills.  But as I think about it, what recourse would those guys even have?  I don't think that stripping their channel is a practical solution, but what you might be able to do is take any of your channels and rip them off of Time Warner (HBO's owner).  Comcast has a bunch of channels people would miss (Bravo, MSNBC, Oxygen, and for like four people out there, Versus).  But off the top of my head, I can't think of another company with such an integrated presence that could present a retaliatory threat.
So I don't think there are a ton of roadblocks, although I feel like I need to think more about retribution.  The whole thing is also also based on the assumption that HBO can keep cranking out shows people will pay a premium to see (even if they all seem to run for like five episodes every two years).  If HBO wasn't confident in its ability to consistently crank out the good stuff, then it would be a non-starter to even consider it.

But just download the app and look at the lineup.  It's a freaking gold mine in there.