Google Hits a Home Run with Roberto Clemente Google Doodle

The Google Doodle for October 12, 2018, honors the legacy of Roberto Clemente. Many remember him as a Hall of Fame Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder. But his lasting legacy is his passion for doing good. If you were alive on New Year’s Eve 1972, you didn’t need to be a baseball fan to be moved by the news of his death in a plane crash as he was flying to Nicaragua to help earthquake victims there. Fortunately, Google has kept his memory alive for the digital generation in the best way possible, a Google Doodle.

My Roberto Clemente Story

When I was 12, a friend of my dad’s invited me to spend a week with his family in Puerto Rico. So my mom dropped me off at O’Hare Airport one spring morning, and I flew down to San Juan by myself with in-flight music (mostly tunes culled from the Eagles Greatest Hits) to keep me company.

For a week, I lived in the San Juan area and got a feel for how residents lived as opposed to how tourists experienced the area. Every night, I fell asleep to the sound of kids playing basketball deep into the evening, and during the day, I wandered around the crowded neighborhood watching people live their days. Roberto Clemente’s presence was everywhere. He had been dead for four years at this point, but he was very much alive in Puerto Rico. Not a day went by without someone bringing up his name, perhaps when kids were playing catch in a park, or old men were drinking coffee in a cafe.

What I remember most: he was talked about, but his likeness was not branded on clothing, as if he were more like a god than a rock star. And no one discussed his achievements on the field. Instead, he was remembered for his compassion — the same compassion that inspired him to help earthquake victims in Nicaragua on New Year’s Eve of 1972.

Well played, Google.

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How Walmart Is Shaping the Future of Virtual Reality

To understand the future of virtual reality (VR), take a close look at Walmart. On September 20, Walmart announced it will ship 17,000 Oculus Go VR headsets to all its North American stores to give more than 1 million employees access to virtual reality training.

The news marks an expansion of a training program in which Walmart has used VR headsets at its U.S. Academies to help new employees learn what it’s like to work in a Walmart store, including how to handle surging Black Friday crowds. Walmart has worked with training company STRIVR to develop the curriculum using STRIVR’s VR training platform and will continue to do so.

Andy Trainor, Walmart’s senior director of Walmart U.S. Academies, said, “The great thing about VR is its ability to make learning experiential. When you watch a module through the headset, your brain feels like you actually experienced a situation. We’ve also seen that VR training boosts confidence and retention while improving test scores 10 to 15 percent – even those associates who simply watched others experience the training saw the same retention boosts.”

Walmart’s use of VR meets four essential requirements for VR to take hold, namely:

1) An Addressable Market

Corporate training is a priority. According to separate research from Deloitte and Gallup, 84 percent of executives and 87 percent of millennials believe that learning and development is important. In 2017, corporations spent an estimated $360 billion on employee training around the world. On average, companies spent $1,075 per learner in 2017, with manufacturers spending $1,217 per learner, followed by services organizations ($1,157), according to the 2017 Training Industry Report. Employees received 47.6 hours of training per year, nearly 4 hours more than in 2016. It behooves corporations to maximize the efficiency of that spend.

2) A Compelling Reason to Use VR

Corporate training also leaves a lot to be desired. According to the Deloitte 2016 Global Human Capital Trends Report, only 37 percent of executives believe learning and development is effective; and 40 percent of employees believe they are not trained to do Continue reading

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How HBO and Netflix Differ

HBO no longer stands alone. After consistently racking up more Emmy awards than any other network year after year, HBO found itself tied with Netflix for most wins for the 2018 Emmy Awards. And going into the ceremony, Netflix gained more nominations than HBO, with 112 for Netflix, 108 for HBO. Of course, Netflix is not the only rival to HBO’s dominance of television – Amazon and Hulu belong in the same class albeit as challengers, and traditional network television, while fading, is still alive, if not completely well. But the conversation about the future of television begins with HBO and Netflix. As HBO and Netflix shape the entertainment landscape, they reveal four crucial differences that help explain how they ascended to their elite levels:

  • HBO is a media company. Netflix is a technology powerhouse.
  • HBO changed how TV is made. Netflix changed how we view TV.
  • HBO creates game changers. Netflix makes crowd pleasers.
  • HBO is run by a captain of industry. Netflix is run by a digital celebrity.

For all the money that Netflix invests into content creation, it has never delivered anything like The SopranosDeadwood, or Game of Thrones – entertainment landmarks whose influence, like that of the Beatles, will be discussed many years from now. But perhaps Netflix doesn’t need to. The Emmy Awards continue to reward HBO for its blockbusters. But Netflix is now demonstrating that you can be a crowd pleaser and gain critical acclaim – not bad for a company that started producing content only six years ago. So far, there is one clear winner of the HBO/Netflix rivalry: the audience.

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Easy Rider

When I attended Southern Methodist University in 1981, I was an outsider. I did everything wrong. I wore a beard, long hair, and earrings. I studied a lot and wore dirty jeans. You just didn’t do these things at a preppy school in Dallas in 1981. So I hung out a lot alone.

During one night of solitude, I walked nearly two miles to the Highland Park Theater on Mockingbird Lane to watch Easy Rider. I’d never seen it before. The parking lot was teeming with bikers from all over Dallas dressed in denim and leather. Although I was not one of them, I felt more comfortable here. Together we watched Captain America and Billy drive their choppers across America. I don’t know the bikers felt about them, but I identified with the outsiders onscreen and the price they paid for not belonging. I identified the most with the quiet, introspective Captain America and his inner conflicts.

After the movie, well after midnight, I returned to campus, which required walking past wealthy homes on Mockingbird Lane. I didn’t very far before a police car pulled up to me, and a cop go out. I knew what was going on. He knew I didn’t belong, and he wanted to make sure I wasn’t a threat. He asked for my ID, and I produced a student card. He looked at me incredulously, as if to say, “What the hell are you doing here?” I was wondering the same thing. He drove off and left me alone in the dark.

Decades later, I still watch this movie about once a year. I’m sure I will when Easy Rider turns 50 in 2019. Although everything has changed for me since 1981, I still see myself in Captain America even though I don’t always know why. I don’t know the first thing about motorbikes. I stay away from drugs. I’m not into sleeping outside on the hard ground. But I understand the outsider.

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Deeper Magic

This summer, I forged a deeper spiritual connection with the Bristol Renaissance Faire, where I act on the weekends. The Faire, located just north of the Illinois/Wisconsin, recreates the city of Bristol in 1574. As I have discussed on my blog, Bristol is a place of strong magic, like Middle-earth, possessing a powerful spiritual force. Throughout the summer I commented on Facebook about Bristol’s spiritual pull even though I don’t expect everyone to understand what I’m talking about. Here are some of those posts culled from my Facebook page. I hope the words inspire you to find your own place of magic.

Diving into the Abyss (July 31, 2018)

Portrait credit: John Karpinksy

It’s one thing to get comfortable being uncomfortable, but quite another to dive into a terrifying abyss. On Sunday, performing as my Sir Nicolas Wright, I jumped up on a small stoop in the crowded Sun Garden of the Bristol Renaissance Faire with absolutely no game plan. I did so to force myself to get better at onstage improv. (I am far more comfortable with improv on the street in small groups.) I felt several eyes staring at me with “What is this guy doing?” looks. With the help of castmate and friend Kendal Monaghan, I just started riffing by reading people in the audience and reacting to their reactions. We ended up putting one patron on a mock trial for the crime of dragging a dead whale down the streets of Bristol. There is strong magic in Bristol that makes us do crazy, fun, and challenging things that reverberate in our souls, but the magic dust floats through the air for only nine weekends. We need to make each one count.  Continue reading

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Apple Flexes Its Healthcare Muscle

At Apple’s September 12 Special Event, the company continued to show off its growing healthcare superpowers with the release of the Apple Watch Series 4. The latest iteration of the Apple Watch, available September 21, unleashes new features designed to help people manage wellness. Those features include:

  • Creation of an ECG similar to a single-lead electrocardiogram. Using a new ECG app, watch owners can take an ECG reading from their wrists and receive heart rhythm classifications. The Apple Watch can classify if the heart is beating in a normal pattern or whether there are signs of Atrial Fibrillation (AFib). In addition, the data is stored in Apple’s Health app in a PDF that can be shared with physicians. In Apple’s words, “It’s a momentous achievement for a wearable device that can provide critical real-time data for doctors and peace of mind for you.”
  • The ability to detect when a person falls and report a falling incident to a designated emergency contact. Analyzing wrist trajectory and impact acceleration, the Apple Watch sends the user an alert after a fall, which can be dismissed or used to initiate a call to emergency services. If the Apple Watch senses immobility for 60 seconds after the notification, it will automatically call emergency services and send a message along with location to emergency contacts.
  • More fitness features. The Apple Watch already gamifies healthcare by rewarding users with special badges for completing fitness tasks such as walking. Now the Apple Watch allows users to challenge other Apple Watch wearers to complete fitness tasks. In addition, the device provides other features such as prompting owners to start workouts and accurately tracking active calories burned for activities such as hiking and yoga.

With the Apple Watch Series 4, Apple extends its reach into healthcare, following a strategy that the company has been pursuing for years.

The Data Backbone for Patient Care Continue reading

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Paul McCartney’s September Surprise

Great artists surprise you.

At this point in his life, Sir Paul McCartney has everything: fame, fortune, and enduring love from devoted fans at a global scale. He has created history. And yet, on “I Don’t Know,” the lead single of his new album, Egypt Station, he sings:

I got crows at my window, dogs at my door
I don’t think I can take any more
What am I doing wrong? I don’t know

Later in the song,  he continues:

Well, I see trouble at every turn
I’ve got so many lessons to learn
What am I doing wrong? I don’t know
Now what’s the matter with me?
Am I right? Am I wrong?

And this somber self-examination is first song on the album — Macca’s handshake to his listeners. With “I Don’t Know,” he reminds us of the Beatle who wrote the reflective “Yesterday.” On “Yesterday,” he sounded like a wounded youth. On “I Don’t Know,” he sounds like an older man, with his voice warbling and rasping a bit to suit the lyrics.

Paul McCartney’s ability to show emotional vulnerability has always been one of his strengths, whether confessing his fears and uncertainties in “Maybe I’m Amazed” or reflecting on a long dark night of the soul in “How Kind of You.” On his 18thalbum, Sir Paul is not celebrating his distinguished legacy with a victory lap. He’s still looking for ways to connect emotionally with a sea of strangers who may never know him.

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Drake’s “Scorpion” Defines Success in the Streaming Era — for Better or Worse

The glory years for the record album are over, but the record album isn’t dead yet. In the age of streaming, it actually might benefit artists to release long albums consisting of multiple tracks, as the success of Drake’s Scorpion demonstrates.

Drake released Scorpion on streaming services on June 29, and a compact disc released followed July 13. The CD is inconsequential. The real barometer of Scorpion’s success consists of streams. Within two weeks, Scorpion sold more than one million copies based on streams (per Billboard, 1,500 on-demand streams equals one LP).

Incredibly, all 25 of the album’s tracks hit the Billboard Hot 100 charts. As Rolling Stone explained, the long-form format of Scorpion– clocking in at one hour and 30 minutes – was crucial to the album’s success:

Drake’s supremacy on the Hot 100 was made easier by the popularity of music streaming. Because streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music charge a buffet-style monthly fee to listen to music rather than a per-song price à la iTunes downloads, long albums benefit artists by giving them more chances to rack up listens. Drake also partnered with Spotify for an all-out “takeover” of the platform in the days after his album dropped, which forced tens of millions of users to encounter his album. (They weren’t required to actually stream it – but the all-you-can-listen model of streaming services made it appealing and cost-free to do so, and the real estate on their homepage contributed to the average listener’s awareness Scorpion.)

Drake is not the only artist to capitalize on the vagaries of streaming. As Rolling Stone reported earlier this year, Migos released an album, Culture II, that clocked in at a whopping one hour and 46 minutes. Culture II debuted at Number One on the Billboard album chart. Culture II was eventually certified Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for combined sales, streaming and track-sales equivalent of a million units.

Because an album’s sales via streaming are measured by 1,500 cumulative streams, it behooves an artist to release a longer album with more tracks to stream, which can lead to Gold and Platinum status. These accomplishments still matter as a barometer of an artist’s marketability to corporate sponsors.

But releasing lengthy albums to encourage streams comes at a cost. Listeners have short attention spans in the streaming era. Reportedly, one quarter of all songs on Spotify are skipped within the first five seconds. The typical listener skips a song once every four minutes, and there is nearly a 50 percent chance that a song will be skipped before it ends. In addition, according to Midia, “58% of subscribers report listening to individual albums and tracks just a few times while 60% are doing this more than they used to because they are discovering so much new music.” Continue reading

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How Netflix Is Changing Your Behavior

Being a Netflix investor (which I am) is not for the faint of heart. Within the space of a few days recently, Netflix stock reached an all-time high, then fell off a cliff after Netflix reported disappointing quarterly earnings, only to rebound in stunning fashion the following day, before dipping the day after. The wildly gyrating stock price certainly makes for dramatic headlines. But the real legacy of the company is not its market capitalization but its ability to change human behavior.

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings is a market maker. Market makers do more than make money. They shape behaviors of people and companies. Netflix is undeniably shaping how people live going back to its founding in 1997. Along with Amazon, Netflix ushered in the era of on-demand living. If Amazon made it possible for people to buy things on their own terms, Netflix did the same for entertainment. Arguably Netflix and Amazon laid the groundwork for Uber’s disruption of the transportation industry through on-demand ride sharing. Together these companies ushered in an economy based on on-demand living.

A Cultural Phenomenon

The idea of giving viewers a digital catalog of movies to stream not only knocked Blockbuster out of business but made Netflix a cultural phenomenon as viewers embraced a new way of experiencing entertainment on demand. In 2009, Twitter users began using the phrase “Netflix and Chill” to describe the increasingly popular practice of simply hanging out with Netflix like a friend. Soon, “Netflix and Chill” became a euphemism for people hooking up to have sex, which is how we commonly think of the phrase today. The phrase “Netflix and Chill” became an internet meme and topic of much analysis and controversy. Netflix was shaping how we communicate as Google has done (“I’ll Google the movie time”). Continue reading

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With IGTV, Instagram Targets the Mobile Generation

The cool kids don’t hang out on Facebook anymore. So Facebook wants the cool kids to hang out on Instagram.

When Facebook bought Instagram in 2012, Instagram had less than 100 million users. Now the app counts one billion users, most of whom are millennials and digital natives, the demographic Facebook covets. Instagram continues to grow by making it easy and fun for users to tell visual stories, the language of the digital generation. Sometimes, Instagram copies Snapchat features as it did with the creation of Instagram Stories. Now Instagram is taking a page from YouTube’s playbook by offering longer-form video through the recently launched IGTV feature. Instead of having video limited to 30 seconds in length, users can create videos that are as long as 10 minutes (or an hour for larger, verified accounts). And Instagram is adding an important twist: the content is optimized for mobile.

A Mobile-First Experience

If you’re already creating Instagram main-feed videos and Instagram Stories, IGTV should be a snap to use. You simply hold your mobile phone vertically and record a video. Then you tap on the IGTV icon on your Instagram account and follow the prompts to upload and label the video. Note that when you record your video, you don’t hold the phone in horizonal fashion as you are probably accustomed to doing. That’s because IGTV is designed specifically for the way we naturally hold our phones and view content via the vertical format. IGTV videos look naturally rendered, taking up the entire screen rather than being bracketed by ugly, thick black borders that typically appear if you hold your phone vertically and create a video (which looks hopelessly uncool).

Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom said that the mobile format will set IGTV apart. “We’ve reimagined what video is on mobile,” he said in a livestreamed announcement. In a blog post, Instagram pointed out that by 2021, mobile video will account for 78 percent of total mobile data traffic – so a mobile-first video uploading and sharing experience is long overdue. Continue reading

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