Batman’s Garage In Real Life

The Australian architecture/design firm Molecule took great inspiration from Batman’s garage in “The Dark Knight” trilogy of movies to create a similar underground car park for one of their clients. Their portfolio post about the project lists it as the Wayne Residence, which is just an irony of epic proportions.

Last year, the architectural design group finished up work on the Wayne Residence, an insane home fit for a superhero, and among its lavish features is a garage seemingly ripped from the screen. You can even drive your Tumbler in through a secretive entryway hidden beneath the tennis court.

That’s right, these folks open the garage door by pushing a button and having some hydraulics lift up their tennis court, at which time they drive down below grade to their Batcave Garage.

Fine, you win.

Molecule-Case-Study-House-For-a-Superhero-Ramp-01

Source: Cool Material

Pixar Animation Standard

In case anyone is questioning Pixar’s position as the undisputed leader in digital animation, they have gone ahead and released for free another digital animation application, this one called the Universal Scene Description tool. It is basically a method for pulling together different assets from different animation applications in a seamless manner.

What makes this interesting to me is that back in July during a trip to Boston, I went to see the amazing “The Science Behind Pixar” exhibit at Boston’s Museum of Science. It was a very hands on demonstration of how Pixar develops it’s amazing digital animation movies. What was exceedingly clear from the exhibit was the painstakingly detailed production process that Pixar applies to each and every one of it’s movies – from the tiniest short to the most epic long form movie. The rigor and attention to detail that was demonstrated in the exhibit was stunning – I can only imagine how it works within the overall Pixar operation – but what was more impressive was the way they made the exhibit so easy to understand and consume, whether you were 14 or 41 years old. They easily demonstrated all the steps that Pixar goes through to produce their movies – from Modeling, Creating Realistic Surfaces, Animation, Simulation, Lighting and Rendering the Imagery. To say that they have the animation production process down to a science is a gross understatement.

By releasing this as ‘open source’, they are doing their best to bring some standardization and rigor to the industry they work in, a subtle dig on the fact that there are so many apps, processes and standards that don’t fit into how they produce their products.

So many folks in the media and around the world talk about Steve Jobs’ influence on the technology industry from his time at Apple (which I am not at all questioning), but after seeing the Pixar exhibit at the Museum of Science, and watching the multitude of movies that Pixar has produced, you can’t help but wonder if what he created at Pixar has been more transformative in the movie and entertainment industry.

Source: Pixar is making another in-house animation tool free for anyone to use | The Verge

Folks Are Cutting The Cord

People are fed up and they are not going to take it anymore! At least, this appears to be holding true for their relationship with cable TV companies.

In the first half of 2015, year-over-year growth in MVPD subscribers — “multichannel video programming distributor,” or, in plain English, a cable company like Time Warner Cable or Comcast — went negative. Over the past five years, the percent of households with cable subscriptions has been falling. But with year-over-year subscribers still seeing growth, however modest, cable companies were still able to look past what some had seen as a coming cord-cutting apocalypse. It doesn’t get worse than this.

The consistency of the decline in cable subscriptions is pretty amazing if you look at this chart. And as the article illustrates, it is a trend that does not appear to be subsiding anytime soon. The ability for today’s customers to more effectively control how, when, and where they consume their media is nothing short of a tidal shift in customer behavior.

As a focus group of one, the only time I really watch TV programming ‘live’ is for sports or very unique programming events. All the TV shows, series, and ‘pre-produced’ content I watch derives from my DVR, Netflix, HBOGo, movies in my movie library, and other channels on my Apple TV set top box. More times that not, I’m watching those programs on my iPad. And what is even more telling: my children almost never watch TV on the TV – they watch their content via their iPads.

I’ve debated back and forth with some friends who have cut the cord, or are seriously considering cutting the cord, about how they are evaluating the ‘savings’ from making such a move. The thing is that the ‘kabletowns‘ of the world know that their ‘hammer’ is the broadband internet pipe feeding into your house. Folks like Comcast and Time Warner are now offering “Internet Plus” type packages for $60-90/mo that include high speed internet as the primary value with some local TV stations and HBO as add ons, a price point that is significantly lower than the $160-200 folks pay now for bundled services. Yet when you start to add on Netflix ($10/mo), Amazon Prime ($99/yr) and any other type of monthly media services that may be important to you, the total cost starts to creep up to the same price as what Comcast was originally charging for the full Cable/Internet/Phone packages. And I’m not even including your monthly Mobile Phone bill or the cost of devices.

At the end of the day, it really comes down to a lifestyle and personal preference decision. If you are a person who values the idea of surfing around different TV channels to ‘discover’ a program or movie you have not seen, then there is value in the ‘traditional’ cable package. If you are a person like me who doesn’t watch much ‘live’ TV and is just as comfortable finding a TV series via apps like Netflix and HBOGo, then the idea of moving away from subscribing to cable TV as we know it is not that big of a deal. For companies like Comcast, Time Warner, Cox Communications and media organizations like ESPN, these ‘cord cutting’ market shifts should be a big wake up call.

Chart Source: Cable TV subscribers plunging – Business Insider

Hello Deli Says Goodbye

Here is a really nice video from Rolling Stone profiling Hello Deli’s Ruppert Gee, the regular foil of David Letterman over the years that Dave has been at the Ed Sullivan Theater. Ruppert has been part of some epic bits and it is noted in the video that Ruppert has appeared on the Letterman show over 200 times.

Different Social Circles

The difference in income trajectory of the two most well known social networks is pretty stunning.  After a few rocky initial quarters as a public company, Facebook has taken off from a revenue perspective.  While on the other end, Twitter is digging a bigger hole for itself and is trending the wrong way.

During this year’s first quarter, which Twitter reported today, the company lost $162 million despite bringing in $436 million in revenue. Since its IPO in late 2013, it has lost a cumulative $1.25 billion over six quarters.

Source: Twitter has lost more than $1 billion since it went public – Quartz

A Hack To Keep Your Desktop Fresh

File this one under the “uber-geek” tag (You know you have that tag somewhere out there).

I’m one who likes to have a variety of different desktop backgrounds rotating on my Mac ‘desktop’ for no other reason than I like to keep things fresh on my computer. If you need any evidence of this, feel free to check out the library of Desktop Backgrounds I’ve created and posted here on my site. We all know that the ones provided by computer manufacturers are far from esthetically pleasing, save Apple. Add to this the fact that in today’s ultra-mobile, on-the-go lifestyle where we use multiple ‘client’ machines – work computer (maybe a PC), home computer (probably a Mac), laptop, etc. – it’s always nice to do a few things to make these machines feel like they are yours. However, trying to download or acquire desktop images for each computer could get time consuming and never know when you’ll see an awesome image that would look perfect as your desktop wallpaper/background. Having a single folder to just drop new images into and have it serve up to all of your computers would be a nice way to solve this. So for the past several years I’ve been using a simple little ‘hack’ that I concocted to solve for this need that only your inner Cliff Claven would claim to need.

To start, you’ll need two things:

  1. A Dropbox account
  2. A folder in said Dropbox account full of desktop backgrounds. Feel free to download a few from my site or head on over to Simple Desktops to find some really awesome minimalist ones (the kind that I like).

First thing you need to do is create a folder in the Dropbox account called “Desktop Backgrounds” (or whatever you want to call it). Then, fill it up with a variety of desktop background images to your liking. Once you have done this, you then need to install Dropbox on each of your computers to ensure that this same Dropbox folder with the desktop images is available on each computer. If you are already a Dropbox user, then this step may already be done.

Next, you need to enable your computers to pull the images from this folder and display them as your Desktop backgrounds. On all of your computers, go through the following exercise:

  1. On a Mac, go to Settings > Desktop & Screen Saver > Desktop (I forget what the equivalent is for Windows but I think it’s Display or Themes).
  2. Click the “+” button at the bottom left, navigate to the Dropbox folder “Desktop Backgrounds” you just created, and have this folder be the source of your Desktop backgrounds (see image below).
  3. Then, select “Change Picture”, pick a time interval, and if you so desire, select “Random Order”.
  4. Wash, rinse, repeat on all of your computers and you now have the same backgrounds rotating on all of your computers.

pref_desktop

The extra bonus is that with this set up, all you have to do is drop new images into this one Dropbox folder and the new image(s) will automagically get included in the rotation on all of your computers.

And that’s it. Now you’ll have a nice rotation of different backgrounds on your computer desktop to keep things fresh and different as you take on the day ahead of you.

Art of the Steal

After 25 years, authorities are no closer to solving the mystery of who stole $500 Mil worth of artwork from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, and where said artwork is.

Back in 1990, on the evening of St. Patrick’s Day (I don’t think enough credit is given to the robbers for this brilliant tactical move. I mean, next to Christmas, is there a better time to stage a massive art heist in the heavily Irish Boston area than on the evening of St. Patty’s Day? I didn’t think so.) a couple of robbers posed as Police men and talked their way into the Gardner Museum, where they then duct taped the guards and stole a lot of very expensive artwork. The thing that has baffled authorities and art historians for years though, is that the robbers left far more valuable artwork in the museum:

They handcuffed [the guard] and another watchman in the basement, duct-taped their wrists and faces and, for 81 minutes, brazenly and clumsily cut two Rembrandts from their frames, smashed glass cases holding other works, and made off with a valuable yet oddball haul.

It included the Rembrandts, Vermeer’s “Concert,” Manet’s “Chez Tortoni,” Degas sketches, a bronze-plated eagle, and a Shang dynasty vase secured to a table by a bulky metal device that by itself probably took 10 minutes to pull apart. Left behind were prizes like a Titian, some Sargents, Raphaels and Whistlers, and, inches from the Degas works, a Pietà sketch by Michelangelo

Many theories and scenarios have been investigated, including one theory that James “Whitey” Bulger was behind the heist. However, as the years have gone by and potential suspects have died off, it could be many years before these lost masterpieces are ever found.

Paying It Forward

I’ve always enjoyed helping people out – almost to a fault. There are times when you help out a friend knowing that they will get you back sometime down the line.

There is the ever present ‘don’t burn bridges’ mantra that is even more relevant in today’s uber-networked world (an ideal that is probably impossible to uphold with 100% success, but that is another analysis altogether). In many ways, I’m in this sort of a situation these days as I look for ‘the next big thing’ in my career and so dependant on my network of friends, colleagues and family to help me get through this situation. And then there are the times when you help someone out and then question what the hell you are doing or have the whole thing backfire on you (we’ve all been there). In all of these scenarios, you do what you can to help someone out and rationalize that we’re all just doing our best to succeed and live our lives.

So when a couple of weeks ago, I received a blind email from a student at Syracuse University (my alma mater) – I could not help but lend a hand, and boy, did the result make me feel great! You see, on my SU Alumni profile, it says I worked at American Express (which I did from 2004 – 2010). The student was doing some research because he had applied to American Express’ undergraduate internship program. He was digging into the SU Alumni Database hoping to see if any SU alums work – or had worked – at American Express. Maybe he could get some tips, pointers, and advice about how best to approach the upcoming interviews. So when he found my name, he shot me an email, completely blindly and with admittedly low expectations. (Sidenote: This isn’t the first time this has happened to me. Several years ago, another SU student reached out to me for the exact same reason. That time, I spoke to the student a few times and to this day, we’re still in touch (mostly through email and text).

I responded to him within a day, we scheduled some time and ended up having a nice conversation. He had a series of questions to ask, I provided him as much background as I could and I also had some fun hearing about how the Syracuse campus was holding up this winter. It was nice. A week or so later, I got another email from him, saying he made it to the next round – an in person interview! – and he wanted to set up another call for some coaching because the first one was so helpful! So we connected again and I helped him prep for the live interview. And then, over the weekend, I got the best email of the bunch – the student informed me that he won the role and got accepted into the internship program! How awesome is that!?!

I’m not sure if I will ever meet this student face to face – it would be fun to do so one day. I’d like to think that in some small way, I helped him kick off a productive career. Time will tell. But above all else, what I hope is that one day, about 20 years from now, when some Syracuse undergrad who is just starting out on his or her adventure emails him, asking for advice and help, he’ll do the same thing and help get that future kid get prepared.

Superb Owl

Not much to say other than just an incredible game and an amazing play by Malcolm Butler at the goal line in the final seconds. Everything leading up to that play was bringing back bad memories of the last two Super Bowls that the Patriots had played in and lost. The late score by the Pats to take the lead, the other team driving, the Pats having them down to a 3rd down, a circus catch (!!!). Russell Wilson and Eli Manning have very similar ‘pull horseshoes out of their butt’ tendencies to win big games and appeared to be going to a bad place we have seen before. I was just praying something would break for the Patriots and thankfully, the Seattle coaching staff over thought the situation and made an epic-ly bad decision.

I happened to see this photo below of Richard Sherman and Tom Brady seconds after the game concluded. Not sure who took it but it’s an amazing shot.

NFL: Super Bowl XLIX-New England Patriots vs Seattle Seahawks

Inventing Scotch Tape

As we conclude another holiday season, one of the unsung heros of the gift giving process is the lowly roll of tape. This magical invention that we probably all take for granted actually came to be via a skunk works project from a rookie engineer at 3M named Richard Drew.

After being hired on at 3M, he was given the ultra exciting task of testing out different types of sandpaper and the various grains that could be used on the sandpaper. Yes, exciting work. Eventually he was sent out to local auto shops to see how the sandpaper products were being used and observed that the auto body workers were running into some very frustrating situations. You see, back then, two tone paint jobs on cars were very popular back then however the method of applying the paint on them was archaic and in turn, drove the auto body workers crazy!

For auto workers, [two tone paint jobs were] a total pain in the ass: To achieve this effect, they had to mask off parts of the car with butcher paper, newspapers, homemade glue, and heavy-duty surgical adhesive tape. When the tape was removed, it would often take with it chips of the freshly-coated paint. A vicious cycle would ensue of taping, painting, re-taping, and re-painting.

When Drew walked into the shop that day, he was greeted with the “choicest profanity” he’d ever heard: strong adhesive tape had, once again, botched the auto workers’ paint job. Instead of seizing the opportunity to sell the disgruntled workers sandpaper to remove paint, Drew had a completely unrelated revelation: what if he could design a superior, less aggressive tape — a tape that didn’t ruin paint jobs?

Drew took his knowledge of how 3M applied sand grains to paper to in turn figure out how to apply non-stick adhesive to paper so it did not leave any residue on the surface. Once he figured it out, he created the machinery to produce it by purchasing supplies in increments of $99 so not to get flagged by his leaders since he was only allotted $100 budget for supplies.

Not only did Drew create Scotch (aka Masking) tape, but he then went on to create clear Scotch tape. Today, those products still represent about 20% of 3M’s revenue.

Road To Nowhere

Back in the 1980’s, there was a big push to switch the US to the metric system (an initiative I vaguely remember). Way down in southern Arizona, the politicos back then took the initiative to switch over Highway 19 south of Tuscon to the metric system in anticipation of the country’s full conversion. Yes, we’re all still waiting for the country to switch over and 30+ years on, this stretch of highway is the only road in the US that is measured with the metric system.

That made sense in 1980, when I-19’s signs first went up and when U.S. was near the peak of its flirtation with the metric system. Five years earlier, President Ford had signed the Metric Conversion Act, declaring the metric system “the preferred system of weights and measures for United States trade and commerce” and establishing United States Metric Board to guide the conversion. Schoolchildren dutifully learned their kilograms and centimeters.

But the Metric Conversion Act was only voluntary, and there was far too much inertia to change every single label in the country voluntarily. Reagan disbanded the Metric Board in 1982. Instead of leading the charge into brave new metric system, Arizona’s highway is a reminder of a failed experiment.

Ironically, Arizona is now trying to switch the road back to miles however it is stuck in political red tape. Ah, progress!

via Factually Gizmodo

Densely Populated

An interesting infographic that shows how big a city would be need to be to house the world’s population, if that city was as densely populated as NYC, San Francisco, Paris, etc. According to the infographic, Paris is a more densely populated city than NYC, which kind of surprised me.

On a more practical note, managing the logistics of transportation and traffic for 6.9 billion people in one city is probably a challenge that would explode a few minds.

via Swiss Miss

Start It Up

If you are a podcast listener, here is one to add to your listening queue.

At one point in the not too distant past, Alex Blumburg was a producer at NPR and was intimately involved in argueably the two best programs on the NPR show list – This American Life and Planet Money (Six years on, the TAL podcast that Blumberg and Ira Glass produced – “The Giant Pool of Money” – about the 2008 financial crisis still resonates with me).

Blumburg recently left NPR to venture into the great blue yonder of starting a business – only he’s producing a podcast series that is documenting his successes, failures, and challenges along the way as he tries to build his company and business.

So if you are in a start up, thinking about starting up a business, or just need some new programming to listen to on your commute to and from your cubicle job, take a listen to the Start Up podcast. The RSS feed of the podcast is here and you can just copy and paste the URL into any Podcast player (I’m a big fan of Marco Arment’s Overcast in the iTunes Store)

Start Up.