June 10, 2019

Hollywood is quietly using AI to help decide which movies to make

Los Angeles-based startup Cinelytic licenses historical data about movie performances over time and cross-references it with information about films’ themes and key talent, using machine learning to tease out hidden patterns in the data. Its software then lets clients swap out parts such as lead actors to see how the movie would perform across different territories.

Why the industry is overdue for the AI treatment

Cinelytic’s key talent comes from outside Hollywood. Co-founder and CEO Tobias Queisser comes from the world of finance, where machine learning has been embraced for its utility in high-speed trading to calculating credit risk. Further, Cinelytic co-founder and CTO Dev Sen used to build risk assessment models for NASA, another industry where risk assessment is especially critical.

However, Queisser says that the business side of the film industry is 20 years behind (still relying on Excel and Word) the production side that uses all kinds of high tech to make movie magic.

We’ve been here before

Cinelytics isn’t the first company to attempt to harness AI to predict and improve box office returns:

  • ScriptBook: Belgian company founded in 2015, promised to use algorithms to predict a movie’s success by just analyzing the script.
  • Epagogix: Similarly, UK-based company founded in 2003, uses data from an archive of films to make box office estimates and recommend script changes.
  • Vault: Israeli startup founded the same year promised it could predict which demographics would watch a film by track metrics such as online reception to trailers.
  • 20th Century Fox: Uses a system called Merlin to analyze shots from trailers for content and duration (among other things) and see what other movies people will watch based on preferences.
  • Pilot: Centers its machine-learning process around audience analytics to make box office predictions.

Why this might be good and bad for film

Good: AI saves people the effort of doing some of the things they hate the most, such as sifting through scripts the way a manager would be sifting through a mountain of resumes. This effectively separates the wheat from the chaff.

Bad: For aspiring writers seeking to enter the big leagues, even talented ones, their work might never see the light of day much less a set of human eyes if their story, original as it may be, isn’t attractive to the algorithm evaluating them.

Good: If the prediction models become accurate enough, studios big and small can breathe easier and be more confident with their investments in films, ensuring higher returns on investments and confidence from shareholders, meaning they stay in business longer.

Bad: If an AI-assisted selection process becomes widespread, we’ll see a drop in the diversity of big-budget films being produced as studios seek to cater to the whims of as many demographics as possible, potentially complicating or watering down movies.

Good: Because box office numbers among other end metrics reflect audience choices, AI recommendations from cold hard data could override human prejudices that prevent certain stories from being told or certain people from being involved in a production.

Bad: If followed too closely, those recommendations might mean a studio will get an actor with the biggest box office market draw they can pay for without regard to whether or not the actor fits the story.

At the end of the day

Big studios have to regularly produce films to keep the money coming in year-round by pushing the right audience buttons at the right time of year from summer blockbusters to holiday movies. Movies that are released to coincide with certain attendance patterns (like say, a horror movie in time for Halloween) are usually designed to be enticing and entertaining if forgettable and for these, there are plenty of ways AI can help set big studios up for the best possible numbers they can.

These films types are formulaic enough that allow for this kind of “drag-and-drop” production. An example of this would be family-friendly comedies with a “big dude with a big heart” that have appeared regularly throughout the past twenty-plus years: Arnold Schwarzenegger (Jingle All the Way), Vin Diesel (The Pacifier), The Rock (The Game Plan and The Tooth Fairy) and most recently, John Cena (Playing with Fire).

That said, it remains to be seen if studios will ever let AI override decisions from accomplished writers, producers, and directors whose track record and reputation give them the authority to choose a given actor or other artist to work with. Further, AI can only make predictions based on what has already been made and not how tastes and popularity will shift in the future—the result of many factors outside of a strictly cinema-centric data set. That’s something that requires insight and instinct, something that humans are still valued for.

May 17, 2019

Adobe Tells Users They Can Get Sued for Using Old Versions of Photoshop


In a move that shocked—or didn’t shock—Adobe users, the company announced that customers could face legal consequences for using old discontinued versions of Photoshop, warning them that they were “no longer licensed to use them.”

This week, Adobe began sending some users of its Lightroom Classic, Photoshop, Premiere, Animate, and Media Director programs letters warning that they weren’t legally allowed to use software they had previously purchased.

“We have recently discontinued certain older versions of Creative Cloud applications and and a result, under the terms of our agreement, you are no longer licensed to use them,” Adobe said in the email. “Please be aware that should you continue to use the discontinued version(s), you may be at risk of potential claims of infringement by third parties.”

How we got here

In 2013, Adobe moved away from its original business model, whereby users could purchase hard copies—and continue to use them regardless of later versions being released. The new subscription-based service Adobe Creative Cloud resulted in notably higher revenues due to the constant stream of monthly fees from users. Naturally, requiring users to regularly sign in online to confirm their paid subscription also curtailed the use of pirated or cracked versions of Adobe’s software that became widespread with the previous business model.

Everyone’s gone insane with subscriptions

Adobe’s transition to subscriptions isn’t necessarily new nor unusual. From video games and mobile apps to delivery-based health food plans and even clothing, business models based on subscriptions are extremely common now to ensure the companies providing them have regular cash flow. But the issue with software and other tech is that they are by their nature modifiable via wireless updates, meaning that features can be added, disabled or removed simply by going online. Worse, some companies can make these modifications mandatory and in Adobe’s case, make accepting the modifications mandatory to continue using the software or service.

And as you might have guessed, we’re also complicit in continuing this behavior because the stipulation that the company is free to do so is buried but clearly written in those End User License Agreements we unashamedly skip through and agree to. This gives companies—pardon the pun—free license to modify products that we don’t own in any concrete way and this most recent move extends to products people thought they owned in perpetuity.

What’s to be done?

Seeing as Adobe’s software serves as the industry standards for many creative fields (Premiere for video, Photoshop and Illustrator for graphic design and InDesign for publishing among others), it’s hard to peel away from that software we might have trained on, are used to or the rest of our collaborators are using. For established creatives, that’s a business expense that can certainly pay for itself (assuming you earn over $60 USD a month on projects), but it’s a big upfront cost for artists that are starting out or looking to go digital.

The solution for them? Draw a line in the sand and stick to open source or free programs that are actively maintained and have a community. There’s no Photoshop equivalent industry standard for creative writing work (as much as Microsoft Office wishes) because people care more about the end result more than the software it was produced on. If you have talent or willingness to create good work, even if it means a few more steps to do with free software what some of Adobe CC’s cutting edge technologies could do better and quicker, the portfolio will speak for itself.

For those tired of getting nickel-and-dimed? You might need to take stock of and start Marie Kondo-ing your monthly and yearly subscriptions and decide whether you could put those savings towards more permanent solutions you own (such as making your own NAS in place of regularly paying for cloud storage).

May 3, 2019

How Slack and the open office layout ruined productivity


Advanced workplace communication technologies and a return to humanistic office design were meant to make companies more innovative, making us both happy and productive. They did neither. Where did we go wrong and how do we come away from it?

Productivity Software

Software like Slack, Workplaces and Teams were meant to facilitate communication and get us away from the dreaded overflowing email inbox, but they also brought something just as bad in their wake:

  • The low barrier to entry of communication software means that people share information more frequently and with a significantly decreased quality of content.
  • Work communication becomes its own sort of social media, complete with its distracting allure as a time sink.
  • Rise in performative messaging and information sharing from remote workers to show that they were in fact working at their desks

Open Offices

The open layout of offices where workers are seated within eyeshot of each other or visible behind glass partitions allowed companies to both save on their leases by reducing square footage allotted per employee and give the impression that they were forward thinking and innovative. But this lack of barriers produced some unfavorable results as well:

  • There is no separation from other peoples’ in-person interactions, meaning you’re in earshot of all conversations but even when you have earbuds in, you also aren’t completely focused when things are constantly catching your eyes.
  • 65% of creative people need quiet or absolute silence to do their best work, an environment open offices can’t provide, especially if workers are required to be in office at all times.
  • At many companies, there was an increase in anxiety for women who not only felt personally more pressured by “being on display” all the time, they actually found male coworkers evaluating other female colleagues on their attractiveness, some of many factors that prompted women to seek “hiding spots” where they could find privacy.

How It All Adds Up

When the time lost to distractions in both digital and physical spaces adds up, that subtracts time from normal working hours, which prompts people to multitask hoping to recover that lost time.
The issue is that the length of distractions can increase with the given co-worker(s) and amount of distractions can scale with the size of a given team or department.
This far outweighs a single worker’s capacity to work faster and multitask, which is not actually a thing—it’s the inefficient switching between tasks.

Regardless of the nature of the job (9-5 versus flexible work hours), this almost always results in work being done far beyond regular work hours. While this is certainly fine for the occasional sprint, over time it means an eroded barrier between work and life. And the least productive our best hours of the day are, when we are at our peak focus and energy, the even worse our work is in our off hours.

How We Can Learn From This

Where the individual box-shaped cubicles of the 20th centrury were derided as isolating and alienating us from our coworkers to make mindless drones of us, open offices have made machines of us in different ways: as constantly online, aware, engaged and performing. That said, both styles of work have inherent advantages that can be leveraged to make our time in an office as rewarding as it is productive so we can all go home on time.

  • People are not gears, but we absolutely have them. We need to be able to switch from being inaccessibly focused on our tasks to produce the best work in a given period of time while also being open and attentive to interactions with other people. But we can’t do both at once and we can’t remain in one gear indefinitely. If the space can’t be physically structured to allow us to switch gears, the daily or weekly schedule must.
  • While the romantic notion of the grind and the hustle has simply changed vocabulary and style, in its very concept it means to work harder, but not necessarily smarter. Systems and metrics for KPIs can be oppressive if improperly or unfairly implemented, but these unsexy methods have their place in keeping us focused on what’s important as much as what’s urgent so that have work “diet” that is healthily balanced without too much junk (making office memes, anyone?)
  • For leaders and managers, recognize that provided there are specific measurable goals and deadlines agreed on in advance to measure everyone against, the quieter seemingly distant workers might not necessarily be less committed or involved in a project and the more vocal and active communicators might not necessarily be the most productive either.
April 16, 2019

AI is improving, not taking journalists' jobs

While the fear of AI replacing human jobs in certain sectors might be warranted, those in the journalism field can breathe a sigh of relief and even rejoice, according to journalists from the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, WIRED, Dogtown Media and Graphika.

Earlier in March, five journalists from those publications met with and spoke to over 1,000 students across the Missouri School of Journalism, the Trulaske College of Business, the College of Engineering and the College of Arts and Science on March 18-19 as part of the Reynolds Journalism Institute’s Innovation Series.

The overall message was that AI is bringing positive change to the news field such as through customized content, improved user relationships, moderating comment sections, and creating more efficient workflows.

Some key takeaways

  • Artificial intelligence is a tool to allow journalists to better understand readers. “Can we make a story more personally relevant to a user, to the reader, watcher or listener? If we can do that, that’s what makes people establish trust. Not just that the information is believable, but the information is believable AND it matters to ME.” (Jeremy Gilbert, Director of Strategic Initiatives, Washington Post)
  • We must recognize what AI is and is not capable of in order to make it work for us. It is certainly an imperfect tool, but has allowed Conde Naste publications to make more strategic spending decisions with advertising thanks to data that provides a better understanding of its users. (Jahna Berry, Head of Content Operations, WIRED)
  • AI offers a means for journalists to re-imagine and better leverage their skill sets. The issue that has always existed for journalists that “there’s always been more data than (journalists) can sift through, You just have to know how to ask the right questions (of) the data, the records, to get (to the) relevant story.” (Nick Monaco, Disinformation Analyst, Graphicka)
  • Journalists need to know who writes the algorithms behind AI, understand their intentions and ultimately hold them accountable. (Steve Rosenbush, Enterprise Technology Editor, The Wallstreet Journal)
  • AI is useful to journalists in allowing them to work smarter, faster and more efficiently. This will then free up more time for journalists and other knowledge workers to think creatively on problem solving and apply themselves to what they do best. (March Fischer, CEO and Co-founder, Dogtown Media)

We’ve been here before

In an episode of MAEKAN It Up, we discussed the potential impact of AI on the creative industries and the workers in them. As with journalism, the importance of human intuition will remain a key factor that prevents the complete replacement of human creative jobs, but it will at least replace a number of human tasks—hopefully the least desirable ones.

Regardless of the job nature, there will always be tasks that are important but time-consuming and that require significantly less creative thinking. And it’s these tasks that we would be happy to allow AI to “have” so that it frees us up to do other things that utilize more of our skill set. Or even better, it can do several rough but usable first passes or concepts that we can then tweak or re-iterate from.

Overall, like Monaco and Fischer above, we remain confident that for now, AI has a welcome role to play by doing our tasks, but they won’t be taking our entire jobs.

April 6, 2019

What happens to StockX & GOAT if Nike embraces counterfeit technology?

Nike RFID StockX GOAT Authentication

StockX and GOAT are the two leading sneaker reselling platforms focused on providing a simple and secure selling process. Beyond matching buyers and sellers, sneaker platforms have taken on the responsibility of authenticating sneakers. But what if sneaker brands implement measures to authenticate sneakers straight from the factory floor? adidas and Nike are both looking into RFIDs to prevent counterfeiting.

What are RFIDs?

RFIDs (Radio-frequency identification) have been a point of discussion around supply chain management for the last 20 years. It’s been cost-prohibitive to implement at scale but as pricing decreases it’s a viable option. RFIDs work through electromagnetic fields and allow readers to capture electronically-stored data associated with tags. The image above is an example of a new RFID tag from Nike that aims to verify authenticity and reduce counterfeiting.

How would this work with sneakers?

  • Shoes would come attached with an RFID tag that contains a unique ID
  • Tags would be traceable and the unique ID would be virtually impossible to spoof
  • In addition, its believed that copying  RFID tags would be cost prohibitive
  • Here’s a presentation from 2014 that shows a potential application, as you can see the process isn’t exactly new

Should marketplaces be worried?

Marketplaces like GOAT and StockX have  heavily invested in authentication systems and processes. Naturally, for buyers and sellers, this comes at a cost to GOAT and StockX; the burden of proof is neither on the seller nor on the buyer. For GOAT users, the seller fee ranges from 9.5% + seller fee compred to StockX users where fees are 14.5% base + 3% payment processing. Naturally, these costs are often passed onto consumers. Marketplaces like  GOAT and StockX may be thinking ahead, but what they bring is more than just authentication. These platforms enable convenience and scale while reducing fragmentation. There’s still a lack of foresight into the speed of authentication and whether the investments from GOAT into machine-learning have paid off. But unless a cheaper, more convenient marketplace arises that guarantees authenticity across multiple brands, GOAT and StockX still have control.

Does it even matter?

Going to these highly-trafficked platforms provides you a quick overview of availability. But another point of interest, these platforms aren’t solely reliant on the hype. There’s a need and interest to match buyers and sellers of more generic long-tail offerings. And having said that, these offerings are comparitively of less interest for bootleggers.

If RFIDs go mainstream, can new opportunities arise?

Could we see the emergence of marketplaces that have fewer fees? Imagine a marketplace that features modern, tagged shoes. There may still need a middleman to accept payments and release shoes, but the authentication process would be removed. Likewise, can brands create their own secondary-market channels? Would Nike allow a marketplace section on SNKRS or would they prefer to not have that liability?

Let’s recap all the questions looming

  • Will RFID copying truly be cost-prohibitive?
  • Will this be a function only available for new, unworn, tagged sneakers (or will people wear it like the New Era hologram sticker)?
  • Does the role of the middleman change (less authentication, more escrow)
  • Or will peer-to-peer opportunities reemerge (like the good ol’ days)?


April 3, 2019

Apple News+ will probably be the final nail in the coffin for news publishing

Apple News Plus + will change publishing

Apple News+ might end up being the final nail in the coffin for global news publishing. Unveiled a few days ago, the new USD 9.99 subscription service will aggregate your favorite news sites and magazines all on your Apple devices. Much like iTunes and Spotify revolutionized the music industry, so too will the new news system. What might be a short term win for readers may spell the demise of a flurry of publishers.

Apple wants your money, bar none

Apple’s business model always relied on using software to generate subsequent hardware sales. For example, iTunes exists to sell you iPods and iPhones (and those AirPods you flex hard with). However, the company has experienced challenges recently. Between lukewarm product launches, abysmal sales and increasing competition, Tim Cook now needs to diversify more aggressively. The latest Keynote exemplifies this change: Apple wants to be a part of everything you do. Beyond News+, payments are next via this new card system that extends (directly or not) credit lines to existing customers. Services help generate recurring and steady cash flows from loyal customers, that way the Cupertino behemoth can rest easy/easier if sales don’t go as planned. As such, News+ becomes an extension of this vision, and that might be the problem.

War of the worlds

Why is this such a big deal? If you’ve ever heard of aggregation theory, you’ll quickly understand why this is such a game changer. Imagine buying a single subscription for the best content around instead of one source out of many. Rather than pick your favorite one and forgoing others, you can now get everything for a fraction of the total price. In theory, that’s neat for consumers who get more bang for their buck. It’s also great for Apple who now owns the relationship with consumers, rather than publishers themselves. Publishers get a share of revenue they perhaps never had access to after giving away a hefty 50% cut in exchange for eyeballs. Except it doesn’t work that way, because systems like News+ work roughly the same as Google and Facebook. At the click of a button, the aggregator can change how the algorithm works, sending creators in a pivot frenzy. You might even remember that famous “pivot to video” saga which ultimately sunk firms like Mic.

Publishing’s death bed

Publishers should be terrified. If media wasn’t hard enough already, top-firms will either need to get onboard with Apple or keep fighting on their own. Many sites already have paywalls to ensure sustainability, but News+’s competition changes everything. Media firms are seeing dwindling ad revenues as it continues to be eaten up by the same places. Everything becomes a catch 22: publishers either sign up for Apple News+, relinquish their customer relationship and half of their revenues but become accessible on a powerful platform or continue alone, risking extinction in the process. Just as most people either pay for HBO or Netflix, so will users with news. One might prefer the News+’s large catalog just a single NYT membership. That makes total sense from a consumer standpoint, but this tradeoff becomes the ultimate demise of publishing. In addition, it creates the wrong kinds of incentives, just as is the case with Facebook’s algorithm: potential fake news, clickbait and low hanging fruits. If publishers die off one by one, there will be very little journalistic sources left, eroding an already diminished pillar of free speech.

Change is partially self-inflicted

In scouring TechCrunch’s comment section, many readers point to the fact that the firm uses copious amounts of cookies and tracking software to generate display ads. People hate bad advertising as it creates terrible web experiences. That’s also why people download ad-blockers to get rid of the nuisance altogether. Users should be upset: cookies are a form of invasion of privacy, one way or another. You wouldn’t want someone following you around in real life: why would it be ok to do so online instead? Media firms have know this for years, and yet did absolutely nothing about it. That’s why Apple News+ is a welcome relief to many: a beautifully crafted experience offering the best content from the best sources, ad-free and for a nominal fee. The writing was on the wall a long time ago and News+’s arrival may just accelerate the process.

4th quarter solutions

MAEKAN recognizes that ads pollute and hamper an experience, something we truly care about when delivering excellent stories. So what are potential solutions to the problem? We don’t have a silver bullet, but we think users ought to be able to chose which ads they are fed, rather than get the creepy feeling that something they talked about randomly pops up halfway through their scroll. Turns out firms already listen to you, so why not instead take control instead? Some suggestions we came up with:

  • What if you could fill in a quick, weekly survey in exchange for an ad-free experience?
  • The friction point is minimal but the payout is high.
  • Users still help “pay” the platforms, but do so willingly and knowingly.
  • On top of that, direct feedback gives advertisers much more accurate data to work with and improve upon.
  • Technical challenges aside, this can be a happy medium which respects the integrity of both parties involved. Regardless, it might already be too late anyways, but it won’t cost anything to try.

Lessons from China

Compared to the West, China discovered the web mobile first. This means that most firms never had the real estate necessary to run display ads, to begin with, and that’s important. Chinese netizens are more than happy to pay for separate services online rather than aggregate everything in a single place. While you still have super apps, most Chinese people are comfortable paying for content digitally via e-wallets. That’s why podcasting is so big there, but its not the sole industry reaping the benefits of micropayments either. Since display ads were never a thing, content creators were always bound to make money in different ways. No one wants intrusive popups on their phones either. Perhaps there is still time for firms to transform internally using services like Apple Pay and regain financial control in different ways.

Final thoughts

Ultimately, Apple’s move is neither surprising nor good for publishers. From large platforms to the smallest, aggregation will likely reduce the size of the pie and put many more businesses on the street. However, it could be a harbinger for better things to come: this new change will hasten inevitable transformations. We just hope that the next iteration will benefit all parties involved and become a fertile ground for better content and conversations.

April 2, 2019

Tech and fashion are very different types of branded products. This is how their relationship could work.

Technology and fashion both serve different purposes within the branding spectrum. Technology is about reinforcing network effects and putting it into the hands of many. Conversely, high fashion creates demand through limited amounts of exclusive products. We’ve yet to see a full-fledged tech product that can be truly seen as a fashion product.

The Apple Watch was supposed to change the wearable landscape

When the Apple Watch launched some five years ago, it aimed to establish a new tech-fashion dynamic. Its partnership with Hermes was meant to be a flagship but failed to deliver. But since then, it’s clear that the intended impact of Apple in fashion is mediocre at best. Various designers have entered the space, but their impact has been minimal with a cosmetic change here and there. Watches have typically benefited from some sort of tech partnership. They include the aforementioned Apple Watch, Samsung’s Gear S with Diesel Black Gold, Intel and Opening Ceremony’s MICA smartbangle, and Tag Heuer’s own smart watches. As a category, wearables are an important part of various portfolios, Apple included.

But it can be argued that anything with a fashion angle is often seen more of a performance-additive product than a pure fashion product.

Performance negates brand and fashion

There’s a reason why certain products are unable to establish themselves as one of the other. Performance can often play a negating role in aesthetics. That is, if a product is a balance of performance and aesthetics, the larger role of performance allows for one to overlook the aesthetics. Tech has often benefited from this very relationship. We’ve come to grips with innovative performance in itself is an aesthetic, however outlandish it may be. It’s why an Acronym jacket looks the way it does or an F1 car is so far flung from the average road-going car.

In short, the more performance offered by a product, the greater opportunity that we overlook its aesthetics. And without aesthetics? It removes itself from the realm of fashion all together.

Technology and fashion aren’t in alignment

MAEKAN favorite Scott Galloway, L2 founder and professor of marketing at the New York University’s Stern School of Business, had this powerful quote: “Technology is essentially about creating utility and spreading it over billions of people. Fashion is about creating a moment, a trend, a romance and spreading it across a small amount of influential people.”

Some would argue that the iPhone has long been considered a fashion product. To an extent, yes. But in the face of emerging competitors with better technology, UX, and overall experience, Apple is especially vulnerable in regions like Asia. Once a marker of status and performance, there are other options.

Furthermore, the one notion that ties it all back together is a particularly strong insight from Eugene Wei:

This season, the color of the moment might be saffron. Why? Because someone cooler than me said so. Tech tends to prioritize growth at all costs given the non-rival, zero marginal cost qualities of digital information. In a world of abundance, that makes sense. However, technology still has much to learn from industries like fashion about how to proactively manage scarcity, which is important when goods are rivalrous. Since many types of status are relative, it is, by definition, rivalrous. There is some equivalent of crop rotation theory which applies to social networks, but it’s not part of the standard tech playbook yet.

Technology’s philosophy is about mass adoption, it’s challenging to do so under the guise of a tech wearable. If the (Insert_Brand_Here) x Apple Watch is limited to 500 pieces but maintains the same functionality, a regular in-line Apple watch is a perfectly fine substitute.

The background and intent of a designer matters

While tech hardware and fashion can both be uniquely beautiful, they serve different functions. In a recent interview with facewear company O2O2, founder Dan Bowden mentioned the challenges of tech-centric designers:

We had the opportunity to work with industrial and technology designers. But they don’t really understand the human form and they don’t work with the human body as much. If this platform is going to have a human design element, we’ve got to work with people who understand this and that’s fashion. It will be core to what we’re doing. If you look at the human body, the most prominent and valuable part is the face. If we went out and started to do this overly tech sort of thing, we’d run into problems quickly. We must work with people who genuinely understand that.

How can fashion and tech work together?

The first step would be to redefine the best of both worlds. Fashion’s unique offering is that it can immediately encapsulate movements and trends in a much shorter time frame. Designing a garment takes significantly less time than bringing a new piece of hardware to live. Technology, on the other hand, is about bettering our lives through convenience and performance. There are many emerging examples of this relationship including the Commuter x Jacquard by Google, and Jimmy Choo’s heated hiking boot. Neither fall into the same category of say an Apple watch, but they utilize fashion as a vector for messaging and ideas. As is the case with many successful collaborations, tech-infused fashion needs to meet in the middle for it to truly make moves.

Closing thoughts

Would you buy a Nokia 3310 today for more than it was worth when it first came out? Probably not, but you might pay a hefty premium on a pair of Fragment 1s instead. There’s a good reason for this: tech has a purpose and fashion has another. As things mature, tech ultimately diminishes whilst some desirable fashion goods increase in value. As fashionable objects become rare, they tend to increase in value, none more so than pristine items. Fashionable items also have set purposes. I don’t expect bags to be completely different in purpose in 200 years, but I expect communications to be improved. Tech ultimately is finite and quickly obsolete whilst fashion retains a different purpose altogether. Perhaps the best way to merge both is instead to use base models with interchangeable parts: this will preserve aesthetics whilst keeping with the times with the latest hardware.

April 1, 2019

Lambda's innovative school model requires tuition payment only after students land a job

Lambda has received a significant amount of interest lately for its innovative methods in funding and tuition. Unlike traditional schools, students pay for tuition only after they’ve landed a job that pays them more than USD 50,000 a year.


In this video by Joshua Fluke, the YouTuber visits Patrick Thompson (who he works with) in California and learns about his journey and the struggles he faced leading up to landing a job as a junior developer making $121,000 a year without a degree. Patrick is a single father currently living in a 500-square-foot apartment with his mother, dog and two children. He recently graduated from Lambda School, an online immersive Computer Science academy that trains students to become software engineers with no up-front tuition costs. Students can pay a percentage of their income after finding employment and only if they make more than $50,000 a year.

March 28, 2019

Video games are tackling mental health and compassion

Dimly lit Playstation Controller

The video game industry is responding to the increasing discussion on mental health with games designed with therapy in mind as much as entertainment and art.

In the adventure game Sea of Solitude, the main protagonist—a young woman named Kay—fights to overcome loneliness as she navigates a world fraught with monsters. The young Celtic warrior of Hellblade: Senua‘s Sacrifice deals with psychosis and 2018’s 2D platforming adventure Celeste explores themes of depression and anxiety.

But as an industry, the response isn’t limited to games and their developers. Take This was founded in 2013 following the suicide of video games journalist Matt Hughes, and is a nonprofit that provides support to the game development community and advises on best practices on how to handle the treatment of mental health in gaming and gamer contexts.

The big and small dogs

For now, the great bulk of games addressing themes of mental health have come from smaller independent developers, presumably because of both the willingness to tackle those themes, but to also address the needs of the market—even if that market might not overtly say so. Orpheus Self Care Entertainment is a start-up that explicitly addresses improving mental health through its games by publishing virtual reality games in which players practice mindfulness and meditation.

But while independent studios have more license to take risks and cover comparatively “unusual” subjects, the aforementioned Sea of Solitude is being released by EA Originals, a collection of independent games published by the larger and more notorious EA. While the parent company has been fighting hard to win back some of its lost repute from cash-grabbing tactics in its Madden, FIFA, and Star Wars Battlefront series (such as through its low-key release of the hit free-to-play shooter Apex Legends), Sea of Solitude could represent a new step towards including games with strong mental health themes in the strategies of big game companies.

As the once hushed discussion about mental health becomes normal conversation, that conversation will inevitably make its way into consumer demands, which will translate into new products—as the dearth of say, mindfulness apps on the market would show. And as more gamers, casual and hardcore alike, start to speak out about the need to address those topics, the industry can respond to the demands of its audience.

The changing role of games as art form

As we’ve seen before, video games and their creators will continue and, perhaps you could say, will always struggle to break the medium away from its association with pure escapism, entertainment and baser human instincts like aggression. We wrote before how even Rockstar Games’ AAA title Red Dead Redemption 2 became an unwitting battleground for divisive American politics as it continued to be lauded for its beautiful and rich story world (granted, which is still violent).

But like any art form that can carry a message, be it literature, cinema and photography, video games can be designed with higher purposes in mind for their audiences. Games like This War of Mine: The Little Ones was a survival game, but one that forced the gamer to confront the realities of being in a war-torn country and the ethical decisions they are fortunate to never have to make in real life. Jenova Chen, who created the critically and commercially successful adventure title Journey and who describes himself as a “digital monk,” is hoping to design new games that teach peace, compassion and personal transformation.

The future of mindful gaming

Whatever future goals developers have in mind, they are certainly welcome as the landscape of all media continues to incorporate demands for human stories. Where the interactive nature of games—where a player can act on the game—has always been the most alluring and unfortunately most emphasized half of the interaction, we believe there’s room for a segment of games whose explicit goal is to influence rather than just entertain us.

Just like we have everything from teen fiction (that adults read) to classics for literature, and mindless flicks to mind-changing documentaries for cinema, we are overdue for a similar recognition for video games.

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