Tuesday, November 11, 2014

ROUGH DRAFT: Cold War Coffee

Oh Keurig, how do I hate thee.

I remember when coffee machines didn't need "back" buttons. Mr Coffee only had 3 buttons. One to turn your coffee machine on, the other two for programming the clock that blinked.

IIn a recent earnings call Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR) announced their plans to add a protective technology to their popular Keurig brewing machines that would render non GMCR coffee pods incompatible with the machines. This is a response to the expiration of the K-cup patent in 2012 and the resulting proliferation of "generic" K-cups. Some are calling this action a sort of java DRM, a reference to the Digital Rights Management code that makes it impossible to copy or burn iTunes songs more than 7 times or so, for instance. Ostensibly, DRM makes it so that you don't fully own the music you buy, by limiting what you can do with it. GMCR is attempting to do this sort of thing to a non-digital commodity - coffee. While to some this seems anti-competitive and even sinister, tantamount to only allowing George Forman brand burgers to be grilled in a George Forman Grill, it is also the natural extension of the marriage of coffee and technology. A cursory look at American food history and it is obvious that this is not rare occurrence but rather just one of many instances in which we have traded quality and common sense for novelty and convenience.

My parents were each raised as Baby Boomers in post-war patriarchal households who valued all the things that people were told to value in the 50s:  household cleaning products, canned vegetables, TV dinners, cellophane, suburban living, pensions and electric sweepers.  The household I grew up in was a product of this thinking with a few minor wrinkles.

There was one week where my mother tried to convert us all to a macrobiotic diet, but for the most part we ate meals that followed the meat / starch / frozen vegetable formula. Sometimes this meat was home cooked, and sometimes it was Swanson frozen fried chicken or Van deKamp fish sticks. Sometimes we had fresh vegetables but more often we had frozen vegetables with a healthy coating of butter or cheese. Our best meals were always Italian food, more spaghetti and meatballs style than Mario Batali, but with an authenticity that was missing from the more American fare. To drink we had Nestle Quik (I like Strawberry) and always powdered Iced Tea, for when the cupboards were barren. My dad kept some canned beer in the fridge and my mom had the occasional Bartles and Jaymes wine cooler. I remember this because at seven years old I mistakenly drank one and then missed the rest of the party.

As Americans it was our patriotic duty to explore new-fangled food technologies like microwavable french fries and -even worse- microwavable milkshakes. We had Crystal Pepsi and then later Pepsi Kona - a delightfully weird coffee-flavored Pepsi that seems to been unique to the Philadelphia area. We tried all the new things. Paul Newman makes salad dressing - let's try it! Marie Callendars makes "healthy" frozen dinners, but wait so does Healthy Choice. Jiffy Pop gave way to air pop which then gave way to microwave popcorn. We had a VCR and ET on tape. As for coffee, we had a Mr. Coffee drip coffee maker that my Dad would dump large scoops of Folgers into. We had instant coffee crystals on hand, Coffee-mate in the cupboard, and some Sanka for the decafs. America!

Like most people, I didn't develop a taste for coffee until I was a teenager living in the suburbs who needed the caffeine to stay up late nights writing papers for high school or a cheap excuse to overstay our welcome at the Big L diner on Saturday nights. I knew coffee. It came from Wawa in a paper cup or from Denny's and diners in the form of bottomless ceramic mugs. When it was good it came from coffeehouses where folk singers would glare at me for talking during music sets and not tipping them. I didn't realize at the time that these were human beings trying to earn a living any more than I realized that coffee was something that was grown by people in far off places and sold as berries and roasted and ground and brewed and served. It was just coffee and I would take it where I could get it.

Years later, in the post-Starbucks, post-FoodTV, designer cupcake, craft beer and food-truck era, regular people talk about coffee in terms of roasts and origins and order it in vague Italian sizes with faux-Italian syrups. There's even coffee for people who hate coffee. Everything from chocolate to bread to bacon is artisinal now and worth talking about and standing in line for. Quietly a revolution has taken place and despite the deluge of technological innovations, it seems most people want technology everywhere but in their food. Gone are the microwave milkshakes, the instant breakfast, the astronaut ice cream. They've been replaced with artisin cheese boards and honeycrisp apples.  They want to see factory farms and agrichemical companies like Monsanto destroyed and replaced with free range, grass-fed, antibiotic free, organic everything and Whole Foods and farmers markets. They want their pizza dough hand tossed and kneaded to order. They want to know if the ketchup is house-made and whether the tomatoes are local heirlooms or at worst San Marzano. And yet it is against this backdrop that we have seen the emergence of a truly peculiar technology that has disrupted the way Americans consume their favorite beverage. While everything else is going low tech and local, it seems our coffee is going high tech and self-serving, literally.

Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR), a coffee producer more famous for its Keurig gadgetry than for the quality of its product has risen from obscurity to quietly become America's #1 ground coffee provider - accounting for over 25% of the market in 2013. On June 16, 2006, the day Green Mountain purchased Keurig, GMCR had a market cap of $22 million. Now, nearly 8 years later, after year-over-year geometric growth, GMCR has a market cap of nearly $16 Billion - with a capital B. And it's all thanks to those now ubiquitous little K-cups.

I remember the first time I saw one of those K-cup machines. I was without a doubt intrigued, and even wowed at the concept. Instant, single serve coffee, that's freshly brewed. You pop the cup into the machine, you hit a button and you set in motion some magic process. The machine hums and groans and then finally begins to gurgle. A thin stream of coffee drips into your cup and presto - hot coffee ready to drink. The only problem was that the coffee wasn't that hot and not very good.

At my last corporate job we had Keurig machines at every break station. Hundreds of employees could enjoy their own single serve coffee whenever they wanted. I soon learned that three of the dark roast pods set to the espresso setting would generate something like a cup of coffee. In the main kitchen on the top floor where the executive team was stationed, there was still one of those big pots of coffee that was brewed by a human being every morning, and again in the afternoon. Sometimes I would take the stairs up there just to get a good cup of coffee brewed in a large batch, like Dad used to make.

Most people seem to like these machines. According to GMCR, nearly 15 million US households have a Keurig machine. And I admit there is some appeal to the instant gratification of popping in a K-cup and getting a cup of joe in less than a minute. But is that really the appeal? Is it the convenience or is it something else? A part of me thinks it's the magic of the process - press a button and a wait for the grumble and the gurgle and then -Voila!- coffee appears before your eyes. But if you have any idea how coffee is brewed, which it seems more and more people do not, you realize that there's not much magic to it. All coffee is brewed by combining ground coffee with hot water and then filtering away the beans in one way or another. The Keurig machine - and I'm no scientist - electrically heats water to near boiling (not near enough) and runs it through a punctured cup. What you are drinking is a small amount of coffee produced by running a small amount of hot water through a small amount of stale coffee grounds. Not really magic.

Another consideration is that the Keurig machine's appeal lies in the selfishness it delivers.  It produces a product inferior to nearly any other coffee brewing method - including instant coffee - but it is solitary product that belongs solely to ME! I can choose from a myriad of different coffee pods and brew myself a selfish little cup of bad coffee that I don't have to share with anyone. No effort on my part at all. Just select the pod, press the button, and wait in front of the machine like an idiot until the coffee comes out.

Humans trying

We are humans. There are many of us. It's a big thing what we do. Animals we are. Born in the trees. We have learned to take this earth and convert it to light and electrons. We make machines and build buildings. We talk with each other through the air and through metal wires buried deep beneath the sea.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

ROUGH DRAFT: Nelson Mandela, Jesus and Walter White walk into a bar

The stories we tell ourselves are more powerful than we ever like to admit.

With the recent death of Nelson Mandela, news media has been celebrating the man, myth and legend of one of the world's greatest and mos heroic leaders. I do not pretend to be very knowledgeable about Mandela. I've never read anything about him other than a few news stories, I know very little about the history of South Africa, or how Apartheid even came to be. I only know what I've been told about him. And so I think my view of Mandela is probably similar to that of most Americans my age.

As a child growing up in the US in the 1980s I certainly remember the fall of Apartheid, the release of Mandela, and his subsequent presidency. In my mind's eye it all occurred some time around the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Challenger shuttle disaster, and Mike Tyson. As a school boy we were told that Mandela was a political prisoner and he was released because he was an enemy of Apartheid and now Apartheid was no longer seen as morally right. It made perfect sense to a child. What was once legal was now illegal, so what was once illegal was now legal. And of course Mandela will be president of South Africa. Afterall that's what happens when political prisoners are released -- they become president. I don't think I ever really thought about how unbelievable that story really was.

In his death we see the global celebration of Mandela's life. He is a hero, a freedom fighter. A man who devoted his life to his fight for social justice. Today all world leaders are coming together to remember  an honor a man who helped change the world.

Seeing this my mind wanders to an encounter I had this summer with a racist guy in a pool in Naples, Florida. He told me, "They don't tell you guys this, but Nelson Mandela is a terrorist." I looked at him incredulously. He clarified "The ANC was a terrorist organization and he was their leader." This same "fact" has surfaced in the conversation around his death, but mostly in a shameful way. Journalists wonder how Mandela could remain on the US terrorist watch list until 2008. Newt Gingrich apologizes for it. Most people assume it must have been an error. Of course, it wasn't an error. The US viewed Mandela as a terrorist because he fought violently against Apartheid and his white oppressors. Was jailed for it, and was "friendly with Moscow". None of these things play into the story of Mandela. He was a hero. He suffered in jail for nearly 30 years. He forgave his jailers and emerged victorious. It could all have turned out much differently for him. The story could have ended a long time ago with the execution or assassination of a terrorist, an enemy combatant. Mandela could easily have been killed in jail. Or died in combat. Or been murdered by his enemies in the name of the Cold War, Minority Rule, or keeping the peace. There would have been no salvation for a man who will go into the annals of history as one of its greatest leaders.

Our desire to see our heroes as pure

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Surf Envy

I've been jealous of surfers for a long time. It may have started late one night when I caught Endless Summer on TV sometime in the 90s. These guys just followed the summer and waves around the world. it looked like the most peaceful and rewarding life anyone could live. Then I think I saw Point Break and started fantasizing about having bonfire brawls on the beach.

Growing up in Philly I never really saw any proper surfers. Certainly you can't surf on the Delaware River. I would go to the Jersey shore for a week during some summers. I loved going to the surf shop to buy my poseur surfer gear. Maybe an Ocean Pacific long sleeve t-shirt and a Ron Jon Surf Shop sticker for my marble notebook. You know, so I could rep surfing, while taking notes in Bio AP. 

I used to see people with surf boards at the Jersey shore. I guess they were surfers, but it didn't really seem like there were ever any waves to surf. I lived in Southern California for 6 months a while back. I saw some real surfers there. Now I live in South Florida, and well there are some real surfers in Martin County where I go to the beach. And I watch them surf when the waves are up. It looks so easy. I want to do it.

I am a big believer that anyone can do anything with enough time and practice. I know I can learn to surf. But I lack so many of the requisite skills to even get started.

I am a terrible swimmer. I have terrible balance. No upper body strength. I have zero experience with board sports. Never skateboarded, snowboarded, wakeboarded, nothing. I have rollerbladed. 

So that might explain why I am so jealous of surfers. What they do, seems almost impossible to me. But it looks so easy.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Elon Musk's Hyperloop pipe dream is anything but...

On Monday, Elon Musk, the indomitable Silicon Valley entrepreneur, unveiled his plans for a Hyperloop transportation system. The idea is to build an elevated tube from LA to SF that will transport pods full of people and cars and cargo between the 2 cities at 800 mph. Simpsons geeks everywhere, from Ogdenville to North Haverbrook, erupted in a derisive chorus of "Monorail", but the solar-powered trip will take 30 minutes and cost $20 and that's no joke. It will be cheaper, faster, safer and more environmentally friendly than any existing mode of transportation. What's not to like?

To no one's surprise, Musk's plan garnered criticism, cynicism, and outright hatred from those who shroud themselves in pragmatism and an immutable love for incremental change. USA Today says "it won't work". TIME went way out on a limb and came up with "4 reasons why it could tank". Even usually friendly voices like The Atlantic's Alexis Madrigal wrote in his column that he"worr[ies] that more fully baked transportation projects might be put on hold" and that the Hyperloop "could serve as a poison dart for California's high-speed rail (CA HSR), and then nothing comes of it".  It's nice that Alexis is worried, but nobody's asking him to do anything. I wonder if he worries about the proposed high speed railway? What if budgets run over, residents protest, and politics create roadblocks. What if we are all telling our grandchildren stories about a magical rail that could have been while we fill our cars with $30/gal. gasoline? When we first started sending people to space, did anyone worry that it would distract our engineers from building faster prop planes, more practical rockets? I'm sure they did.

Even if the status quo project is successful, Musk claims the $70 billion CA HSR will be one of the most expensive and slowest bullet trains in the world, and it would only save about 90 minutes off the trip. Is that type of incremental savings worth the money and the political capital needed to pull it off? If we're going to go through all the trouble and expense, why not really push the boundaries of transportation? The Hyperloop's $6 billion budget estimate might be pie in the sky, but even if it costs 10-20 times more than estimates, it will be about as expensive as the CA HSR + overruns, but will be a quantum leap forward in public transportation ... the beginning of a new future for humanity. Wouldn't that be worth the risk?

The Hyperloop truly is the stuff of science fiction, but from the desk of Elon Musk, the man who brought us PayPal, SpaceX, Tesla and Solar City, it is more than just a pipe dream (pardon the pun), it is a genuine attempt at pushing humankind forward by great leaps and bounds. There is a sense of urgency coming from Musk. The Hyperloop is now part of what's seemingly become his life's purpose - to push mankind toward becoming what Soviet Astronomer Nikolai Kardashev called a Type II civilization - a Type I civilization uses all available resources on its home planet, Type II harnesses all the energy of its star, and Type III of its galaxy.* Thinking in terms of the Kardashev scale makes one realize that even with all the glory of our iPhones and Lasik eye surgeries, we still have a lot of growing up to do as a civilization. It seems Musk is one of only a handful of humans who realize how much work we really have in front of us.

While most of the world is waiting for the next Steve Jobs (some say it's Jack Dorsey) to create the next iCandi, in Musk there is a man who is every bit as visionary but who is working on a huge problem others seem to be missing. There is no doubt that Jobs was an entrepreneur of unparalleled accomplishment in democratizing computing and revolutionizing communications, but just maybe he did such a good job on communications and computing that  it might be time to set our sites on another problem. 

The Valley is replete with world class geniuses who spend all their intellectual might innovating new ways for people to interact with screens and connect and share information with each other, and there is no shortage of VCs willing to spur them on. But I can't help but to wonder whether this app economy is really advancing our civilization. If everything new and exciting happens inside a screened box, then aren't we pouring all our eggs into one basket in every which way. Software is nice, but reality is where we actually live our lives.

In some ways it seems that Elon Musk is the lone prospector on the transportation frontier. He set up camp in an old prospecting town called San Jose and he's discovered that the mountains are full of gold, so much so that he can't manage it all by himself, and he's screaming from the mountaintops for others to join him, but they don't heed the call. For now they're all too busy playing Candy Crush Saga to notice. All they have to do is look at their own commutes and they'll realize the need for innovation in the transportation space is very real.

We put a man on the moon in 1969, but your car and mine aren't much different from the one Neil Armstrong drove to Cape Canaveral that July. Each one of us has the power of a million Apollo 11 computers in our pockets, but if we're lucky our cars get only twice the mpg's as Neil's 67 Corvette, a car that wouldn't know an mpg if it bit it in the tailpipe. Think about that, from a baseline of not even trying, we've improved fuel economy by 2-3x over the span of 50 years. Isn't it time to do better? With carbon choking the atmosphere, millions of cars choking our expressways, and angry travelers choking TSA agents, it might be time for our greatest minds to put aside their iPhone apps and start working with Musk on the problem of transportation.

Musk has stated that he started SpaceX because a future where we're exploring space is just more inspiring than one where we're not. He started Tesla because "we still haven't solved transportation" and he started SolarCity to build the infrastructure to cleanly fuel his electric cars. Isn't a future where cars are clean and long distance travel is safe, cheap and supersonic something worth being excited about? The Hyperloop is a logical next step in Musk's transportation vision, but to hear him talk about it, it's as if he wished he didn't have to take this project on at all. In some ways, it might be that our lack of imagination has foisted this burden upon Musk, and he just can't brush it aside. It's too important.

For obvious reasons Musk is loathe to start another company. Already CEO of two companies and chairman of a third, he's a bit tapped out. He probably has his hands full launching satellites and building coast to coast electric charging stations for his Teslas. But he pulled all-nighters to put together his Hyperloop plan. He didn't need to do that. I'm sure he wouldn't have done anything about the Hyperloop if not for his intense disappointment in the proposed CA High Speed Rail. We are thinking too small for him, but also too small for ourselves. Musk hopes we will heed his call to action, and start thinking huge, but if he knows anything, it's that we're still going to need his help.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Hitchens and the Forbidden Fruit

I found myself watching a bunch of Christopher Hitchens YouTube clips last night and I became very sad about his death. This happens to me from time to time, where I become sad about an already dead person’s death from watching YouTube: Bill Hicks, Steve Jobs, John Lennon, MLK, JFK …. Not only was Hitch unparalleled in his intellectual fortitude,  and his ability to call upon seemingly endless historical examples with incredible detail, he was also singularly eloquent with a velveteen voice like that  actor I always try to think of … Alan Rickman. Hitch’s voice is just as soothing, but powered by a transcendent intellect. Aside from the great loss of this singular voice, I was sad for another reason.
I kept thinking about how lonely and terrified he must have been in his death. I know everyone who dies of a terminal illness must have to deal with some tremendous fear along the way ( I actually don’t know this, I assume), but most people can find some solace in their faith or beliefs when staring down the uncertainty of death. For most there is some kind of succor in the faith or hope that this is not the end and that perhaps there is something else, or even something better. But for Hitch he didn’t have that.
In Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael there is a very interesting explanation of the biblical story of the “fruit of the knowledge of good and evil". Having been raised Catholic I never understood this story. I never understood why God would punish his people for wanting to know the difference between good and evil, or its nature, or whatever else that fruit was supposed to tell us. Nor did I understand how people were supposed to know right from wrong if we didn’t know the difference between good and evil. I just could never understand that story or what it was supposed to explain.
Ishmael explains the story of the “fruit of knowledge of good and evil" not as a story that explains original sin or the need to be forgiven or the reason for Jesus’ crucifixion or anything like that, the story is actually about the sins of civilization.
The fruit story was a story that came from the oral history of nomadic tribes. When the nomads saw “civilized" people farming in the fertile crescent and working so hard for their food, they had to create this fable to explain why any people would settle and work rather than wander and reap the fruits of the land. Why weren’t they just living off the land?  The nomadic people reasoned that civilized people must have angered God by eating a forbidden fruit. As the story goes, God cast out these people from “paradise", which was the reality of a free wandering existence, and banished them to a life of toil and misery.
The knowledge of good and evil, is one of the most ironic stories Judeo-
Christians tell themselves. They tell it to themselves as a “woe is me" tale, that absolves the of their innate folly and flaws. It’s as if to say “yeah, we’re born imperfect, but we can’t help it. It just goes back a long time, and God still hasn’t forgiven us. But then 2000 years ago he sent us his son, and then he forgave us after we crucified him." Makes perfect sense. In practice the sin of the knowledge of good and evil makes much more sense. It is a sin that is carried out by every government, every religious and world leader, every priest, rabbi or sheik, every bible thumping baptist, and Koran toting Muslim. The sin they all commit is the hubris that tells them they know what God wants, which religion is correct, what will happen after death, who are sinners, who are the saints, and which people should live or die, which animals to eat, which to enslave, which streams should be damned, which islands should be built, and which forests should be denuded. Those who walk around believing they have the power to decide these things, are carrying out the sins of those who ate of the tree of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. The sin is NOT that people now have this knowledge, the sin is that many people believe they do.
Powerhouse intellectuals like Christopher Hitchens, Albert Einstein, Steven Hawking, Carl Sagan and others, are smart enough to know how very little they know. And that level of intelligence yields the same results every time, like Galileo before them, they are heathens. Men who believe in their intellect to such an extant that they no longer believe in God or religion or anything of the sort. The reason is not that they think they are so smart that they know there IS a god, it’s that they know so much about the nature of existence that they realize how silly it is to think that men 1500 - 5000 years ago had a clear enough picture of existence to actually understand it. Garden of Eden makes sense to some, Big Bang makes sense to others, but the real truth is that the Universe is so much bigger than we can see, measure, imagine, so much older than our brains are equipped to understand, and so so empty, even though it encompasses everything.
The rest of us, compared to the great thinkers of humanity are quite literally bumbling idiots. What a lonely life that must be for or intellectual giants. They know so much and know how very little the rest of us really understand. What a challenge it must be to try to explain things to us. 
Have you ever tried to explain anything to a very inexperienced and intellectually dull person. They tend to think that everything is easy to understand, easy to accomplish, and that everything that’s slightly complicated comes with instructions. Well as we all know, the big money is paid to people who know that they don’t know the answers. Anybody can read from a script, punch numbers into a calculator, or search Google, but it takes real geniuses to invent written language, calculators and Internet search algorithms. 
There is a difference between great people and the rest of us. It’s perhaps only a marginal increase in intelligence but it makes them think and act much differently. Which brings me back to Hitch. 
When Hitch was dying he did not have the luxury of telling himself comforting stories about God, heaven, seeing long lost relatives, or being reunited with his boyhood dog. He had to go into the light alone with nothing to shield him from the vast emptiness of space. Who knows what happens to us when we die. I hope Hitch is wrong, and that it’s not emptiness, but I know for a fact that it’s not pearly gates and harps and living on clouds. Maybe it’s just a dream that lasts 1/8th of second but feels like an eternity. After all time is an illusion. When it comes to the end, does it actually stop.?

Dove: blaming graphic designers for everything

Dove created a Photoshop action, which was basically a virus to make graphic designers feel guilty about Photoshopping models. In many ways, the Dove natural beauty campaign sends a much needed message to the world that it's time to stop the proliferation of unrealistic and literally unreal beauty standards.
However in this day and age it's hard not to view everything through a cynical lens. Dove's parent company, Unilever also owns Axe body spray which definitely Photoshops models, and basically promises that Maxim Hotties will fall from the sky like gumdrops whenever a bald chested boy sprays himself with cheap cologne. Look further and you'll realize that Unilever is no stranger to sending mixed messages, they also own Hellmans Mayonaisse and Slimfast. However to be fair they also own complimentary brands - Magnum Condoms and Vaseline. True story.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Chocolate Eggs in the Night

"I was over in Australia during Easter. It was interesting to note they celebrate Easter the same way we do; commemorating the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ by telling our children a giant bunny rabbit left chocolate eggs in the night." --- Bill Hicks

Monday, July 1, 2013

SKETCH: Plutocracy

INT. Plutonian Oval Office

President KHYPER is standing doing some sort of meditation/yoga/tai chi poses. WARREN BUFFET enters.

President Khyper.

Khyper lets out a strange wail.

Your robot let me in. He said you'd be expecting me.

(composing self)  Yes of course. You must be Mr. Warren Buffet.

I am.

I apologize for the rude reception Mr. Buffet. I haven't seen anyone if 50 years, and then boom, all of a sudden. A person.

I tend to sneak up on people now that I travel by wormhole.

Wormhole? That must be expensive.

It is a business expense...

Oh, so you are here on business?

I am always on business. They say don't mix business with pleasure. Luckily I have no pleasure, only business.

On Pluto, I have no pleasure or business ... or anything.

That's what makes Pluto such a nice place to be. I've only been here for 2 minutes and I love it already. Makes me feel young again.

You do look younger than I thought you'd be, Much younger ... skinnier ... and more Jewish.

Wormholes do funny things to a man's complexion. I'd look in the mirror myself, but I had my reflection removed for my 115th Birthday.

You're 115?

I know. I'm getting up there in years. I'm sad to say that no matter how many fetal spinal fluid injections I receive, I cannot escape the jaws of mortality ... and that is why I am moving from Nebraska to Sector 11 Dog Balls, Pluto.

I don't get it, why would you want to move to Dog Balls, Pluto?

Because of your long years. I don't have much time left, but on Pluto if I live just one more year, that's another 250 Earth Years. Also I like Dog Balls ... it's got a nice ring to it.

Mr. Buffet, this is very exciting. You can live here with me and we will be best friends.

I am sorry Mr. Khyper, but Enemies are the only friends I have.

So we will live together as Best Enemies then.

Well we could do that, but I'd have to shoot you for trespassing.


You see I bought this Planet and I intend on retiring here, alone. And you are now trespassing.

I am not …. You can't buy a planet!

But you can buy a planetoid.

A planetoid?

Yep, planetoid, that's the bullshit term I made up for this planet, so I could buy it.

But I was chosen by JFK himself to be his man on Pluto! While Neil Armstrong was playing hopscotch on the moon, I was headed toward Pluto, aboard a top secret spaceship, Destined for Anonymity!

I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news Mr. Khyper, but JFK was killed by Frank Sinatra. Neil Armstrong is a hero, and you obviously don't know what "anonymity" means.

But I can't leave Pluto. Where would I go? What would I do? I have made Pluto everything that it is .... even though it is nothing.

Khyper is distraught, Buffet consoles him.

Relax. I have big plans for you. You will return to Earth through my wormhole, and take over for George Lopez in the midnight slot on TBS! Following Conan Obrien.

I don't know what any of those things are.

Khyper begins to walk away

(bribing) I could turn you into a star?

(he turns back)
A star like Elvis or a star like the Sun?

Whichever you'd like.

I always wanted to be a white dwarf?

Like Peter Dinklage?

No, like The Pup from Canis Major?

Consider it done.

Oh thank you Mr. Buffet. You are my best enemy.

So it's settled then. Now step on out back, and I'll show you my wormhole.

Buffet pushes Khyper offstage. KHYPER screams. BUFFET laughs maniacally.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Quick Movie Reviews

Here's some mini-reviews of movies I've seen recently. Rated on the 5 smiley face (☻☻☻☻☻) system. I fall asleep easily while watching movies so I will tell you how much sleep I got during the course of the movie and you can interpret that however you'd like.

Life of Pi 3D - ☻☻☻ 
Visually spectacular. Epic journey. At times it was a bit sentimental. Definitely illustrated the difficulties of being stranded at sea with a tiger. One of those movies that I wasn't raving about when I left the theater, but that stayed with me over the next few days. I think I might read the book, which I also hear is 3D.
Sleep Factor: zzz - 3 or 4, 30 second power naps sprinkled throughout.

Looper - ☻☻☻
If you can get past Joseph Gordon Levitt's weird face, Emily Blunt as a blond, and Bruce Willis in yet another time travel movie, this one is pretty good. I have a soft spot in my heart for time travel movies, but I don't really dig telekinesis. So this one was a little lukewarm for me. Also, not a great time to watch movies where toddlers are killed.
Sleep Factor: z - didn't get much sleep if any during this one. so I was either well rested or it was very edge of your seat engaging.

Ted - ☻☻☻
This teddy bear reminded me of a lot of friends that I've had in the past. You know, the type that will twist your arm just a little to blow off work and smoke pot with your teddy bear. Overall it was hilarious. I'm really sick of Mark Whalburgh  Wahlburg  Marky Mark, but not sick of Mila Kunis at all. So it balances out. Throw into the mix a hard-partying teddy bear that sounds like Peter Griffin, and you're pretty much ok with the 20 minutes you spent downloading this this legally from legal sources.
Sleep Factor: z maybe dozed off for a second but recovered easily. I think I even staid up late watching this one.

Moonrise Kingdom - ☻
I haven't been super into Wes Anderson since Rushmore, but I see all his movies anyway. Wes Anderson is like the Kevin Smith of the 2000s, except Wes's Jay and Silent Bob are a downtempo Bill Murray and mandatory Jason Schwartzman. I really loved Rushmore, but I think that was his Sixth Sense. Basically he figured out some kind of cool thing and how to capture it and then made an endless string of movies trying to recapture that, with diminishing degrees of success. At this point, when I watch a Wes Anderson movie, I can't figure out if it's a movie, or an Etsy storefront that sells artfully crafted Bill Murray dioramas.
Sleep Factor: zzzzzzzzzzzzzz I fell asleep 20 minutes into it and Slept the entire time. One of the best 2 hour naps I've ever had. I kept waking up from dreams where I thought I was Fantastic Mr. Fox.

Sleepwalk with Me - ☻☻
I was pretty disappointed in this one. I am a fan of Mike Birbiglia and stand up comedy in general. I also really like This American Life and Ira Glass, who produced this movie. There were a few good laughs in this one, mostly from Birbiglia's stand up sets, however in the end this movie left me feeling pretty non-plussed. One problem was that Mike Birbiglia's character name was Matt Panapiglia, which I guess was supposed to be a joke, or at least the set up for a joke (people kept calling him Panda Piglia), but it was just distracting and kind of annoying, especially since we all know from his stories that this is pretty much an autobiographical film. Secondly, he's a real self-centered miserable sack of shit (as many comedians are) and his girlfriend in the movie Lauren Ambrose (Claire from Six Feet Under) is way too good for him but he treats her like shit and cheats on her, and generally ignores her. Also he's such a coward that even though he wants to break up with her he ends up proposing to her, and lets her go on planning a wedding that he has no intention going through with. If you've ever planned a wedding you know this is tantamount to somebody forcing you to clean their toilet with your bare hands and then throwing the toilet away once it's spotless. In general it's just hard to root for Birbig's character in this, which makes it a shitty movie experience since he's the protagonist.
Sleep Factor: zz I don't remember falling asleep in this one, but if I had it would have been better.

Defiance - ☻☻☻☻
This movie is pretty bad ass. I watched it because this dude I work with was telling me that his grandparents were part of the resistance camp in Belarus that this movie is based on. The courage and resolve that the Bielski Otriad showed is a true triumph of the human spirit. Daniel Craig's character said it best when he said "Let our survival be our revenge."  Next, let me send a big FU out to all the Nazis in the world. Dead ones, living ones, bigots, tyrants, and all the rest. Go Kill yourself, the world will be better for it.  Every time I watch a holocaust movie I cannot believe that people can be that disgusting and cowardly. If anyone ever tells you to do something that you know is wrong, immoral, or inhumane, don't do it even if they threaten your life. Better to die with your integrity than to be party to an atrocity. And don't think that this is something that happened over 60 years ago. It is still occurring. Look at Darfur, Rwanda, Yugoslavia in the 90s, etc.  Do not let down your watch, tyranny is all around us.
Sleep Factor: None you can't sleep when people are starving in the woods.

Liberal Arts - ☻☻
This is one of those movies that was definitely written by someone who just graduated college or something. It is full to the brim of cliches that only someone with no life experience could dream up. It's about a dude who is 35 who works in admissions at some college in NYC, presumably NYU. Get this, he's from Ohio originally, as is almost everyone in every movie that lives in New York or LA. Ohio is a place people are from I suppose. I live there now. Feel free to write a screenplay about me moving to the big city. This guy is an admissions officer because the person who wrote the movie has never done anything but go to school, and doesn't know what people do if they aren't in school or working at school. The only person in the movie that has nothing to do with school works in a bookstore which is presumably where 100% of the population works if they aren't in school. No Starbucks was shown in the movie, but there is a cafe.The 35 year old dude goes back to his college for the retirement of one of his favorite professors. Then he meets a 19 year old sophomore who is into improv and Twilight. He also befriends a random dude on shrooms and a depressed kid who likes David Foster Wallace. At one point he ends up sleeping with Alison Janney which is the most imaginative part of the movie, since I never would've guessed that people would sleep with Alison Janney. SPOILER: In the end he ends up with the chick who works at the bookstore.
Sleep Factor: zzzz i got at least a good 20 minutes of z's during this one. Best 20 minutes of the movie.

The Giant Mechanical Man - ☻☻☻
This is just your run of the mill romantic comedy, but it's really good. Jenna Fisher, Chris Messina, and Topher Grace star. I think I liked it because it romanticized directionless wandering through life. Chris Messina is with some chick that no longer digs his robot on stilts street busking routine, and Jenna Fisher is just depressed or something because she's adopted. They both end up taking shitty jobs at the zoo and falling in love. I really like it. What? Screw you. It was cute.
Sleep factor: zzzz Some intermittent z's here and there, but when I woke up I rewinded to see what i missed.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Fire Andy Reid? For Who? For What? 

As Published on CrossingBroad.com
Listen to the radio in Philadelphia for a minute these days and you’ll hear it over and over again: Fire Reid! Skim an article online you’ll see it repeated ad nauseum in the comments section: Fire Reid! Ask any guy in line at Wawa what he’d like to see the Eagles do in the offseason and he’ll tell you loud and clear: Fire Reid! It’s the battle cry du jour in the City of Brotherly Love. This is often the case at this time of year, after the Eagles season has ended with an all too familiar thud.
After 12 years of coming up too short, Eagles fans seem to have had their fill of Andy Reid’s stewardship. In some ways that’s fair. Andy never seems to improve his weaknesses. But in other ways it’s almost childish entitlement, after all, this year was supposed to be a rebuilding year, a year where the Eagles jettisoned all the veterans and handed the ball over to all their young talent.  But then from out of nowhere Mike Vick, the supposed back-up QB, showed up with a Superman cape and dumpster full of fireworks, makinh us all believe again. And all of a sudden a 10-6 record, a division championship, and a playoff berth became a big disappointment in a year where none of that was even expected in the first place. And so the fans cry out once again, Fire Reid.  But for who? For what?
If you ask Andy Reid’s detractors who they would rather see piloting the Eagles, many would summon the name of Bill Cowher, the former head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and by popular opinion one of the greatest football coaches still alive today. Cowher has been one of the most coveted coaches on the market since he retired from the Steelers in 2007, and many Eagles fans see him as a guy who can finally deliver a championship to this “close but no cigar” franchise.
Cowher earned this reputation by winning exactly one Super Bowl, in his 14th year as the head coach of the Steelers. Before that he, like Andy, was the overrated coach that could never win the big one. He, like Andy, was on the losing side of four Conference Championships and one Super Bowl. But eventually he did win a Super Bowl and transformed himself from the guy the Steelers just wouldn’t give up on, to one of the greatest living NFL coaches. One Super Bowl, it’s all that separates the idiots from the geniuses in the NFL.
Thanks to that Lombardi Trophy, Bill Cowher is widely considered a great football coach, a winner. A man who understands how to win the big one. A brilliant defensive mind who knows the importance of a power running game. A real genius. By contrast, Andy Reid, who has never held that trophy as a head coach, is to his detractors, an idiot who will never win the big game. After 12 years as head coach, they say he is too stubborn, that he doesn’t run the ball enough. That he can’t make in-game adjustments. He can’t manage the clock or challenge calls appropriately. He’s too nice. Too fat. Too Mormon.  But Bill Cowher also went 12+ years without winning a Super Bowl, surely they must’ve said the same type of things about him in Pittsburgh. A quick search reveals that yes, they did.
Here’s a little excerpt from the comments on a blog post from January of 2005, just after the Steelers lost another conference Championship game, 12 months before Cowher would win his only Super Bowl.

“4 Championship losses at home and in all of them but one they were favored and in 2 of the ones that he lost they were favored by double digit points. Also, him deciding to kick that field goal in last year’s game made him look like a retard. He is not an x’s and o’s coach he is a system guy, when he faces a defense that can stop the run he is not smart enough to handle it…”

Here, Cowher is criticized for not being able to adjust to a defense “that can stop the run”. In other words, Cowher runs too much. Reid, as the old song goes, passes too much. They are 2 sides to the same coin. The commenter goes on:

“As long as the man is our head coach he will never win anything major. [...] they need a Bill Parcells or someone who has a track record of winning. Bill Cowher great in the regular season a drooling retard in the playoffs …”

Sound familiar? What would’ve happened if the Steelers fired Cowher that year and hired Parcells? Would they have won the Super Bowl? Ask yourself that when you demand Reid’s head. What would a guy like Cowher be able to do with this Eagles team? You might say, “Cowher is a better coach than Reid”. The numbers tell a different story. Let’s take a look at their careers side by side, through 12 Seasons.

Through 12 Seasons    Reid       Cowher
10+ win seasons
Division Titles
Losing Seasons
Conference Championship
Super Bowl Record
Regular Season Record
Playoff Record

The symmetry of this chart is uncanny. Through 12 seasons, each coach enjoyed several Division titles, conference championship games, and winning seasons. Their overall records are separated by only three wins. They each even have one tie for crying out loud. Each coach came frustratingly close to the Super Bowl a number of times, and each lost their lone Super Bowl opportunity to a budding dynasty (Eagles to the 03 Patriots, Steelers to the 95 Cowboys) with their quarterback throwing 3 interceptions (McNabb, ODonnell) in that game.
Through 12 years, the two coaches are in a dead heat, but only through 12 years. Add in Cowher’s next 3 seasons, and he wins a Super Bowl, adds five more playoff victories to his resume, and retires as a genius destined for Canton. As for Andy Reid, we’ll have to wait and see.
Perhaps a similar fate awaits Andy. Perhaps his next 3 years with the Eagles will be magical. Maybe he can break through and win that Lombardi Trophy and cement his spot in the Pantheon, next to the Great Bills, (Bellichek, Cowher, and Parcells). Perhaps not.
The fact is that we will definitely get to find out. The only people who truly want Andy Reid fired are a large portion of the fan base, and a few radio hosts that have an axe to grind, or a show to fill. We all know that Jeffrey Lurie has no intention of firing Andy. After all, he has two more years on his deal, which will bring him to his 14th year. Maybe Lurie has been following this Cowher parallel all along. Maybe if he doesn’t win it in one of the next two seasons, the Eagles will finally have to turn the page and move on.  But until then, don’t waste your breath trying to fire Andy. He’s here to stay. For now.
I used to make analogies between McNabb and Steve Young, but then later I learned that he was really Drew Bledsoe. So it remains to be seen, is Andy really Bill Cowher …  just without a running game, a defense, and a Super Bowl Ring, or is he merely Jeff Fisher. Only time will tell.