The Best New Voice in Sports & Pop Culture

The Ringer is a successful digital content media company based in LA, California. Launched in June 2016, it is the new digital venture of famed sports journalist, Bill Simmons. After officially parting ways with ESPN in September 2015, Bill teamed up with HBO to build a new sports and pop culture platform catered to the once rising audience of Grantland,

Grantland was the brain child of Bill Simmons while he was working for ESPN, the mega sports journalism company. He served as Editor-in-Chief at Grantland for 5 years and led a team of great young writers that touched the pulse of sports and pop culture. This isn’t surprising, as Bill Simmons is known to be just as much of a movie and show biz buff as he is a crazy hometown Boston sports fan.

However, despite the sites obvious early success, ESPN showed little commitment to growing Grantland’s brand and online presence. In those last few years, Bill became publicly vocal about his disdain regarding ESPN’s approach. Little did he know, it was a test run for what was to come next.

The Ringer delivers online content to a core audience in the 18-45 age range and caters to a wide ranging audience. From sports fans to tv / movie entertainment junkies. They even pivoted their strategy this summer (2016) by creating content surrounding the US election race, which Bill has mentioned was something they didn’t originally plan for but rode the wave as their readers thirst for more was obvious.

Bill Simmons worked closely with Evan Williams (Twitter co-founder) to help build a modern website using Evan’s new creation Medium, an online publishing platform. One of the interesting things about The Ringers site is the way that they continuously change their main headings at the top of the page. Personally, I feel that this is a subtle yet effective tactic to help refresh the feel of the site every couple of months as new trends pop up, new sports leagues begin and new TV / movies are released.

For example, their main menu headings (and news stories) during the summer were categorized as; MLB, TV, TECH, ELECTION. However, their current main menu headings (and news stories) are categorized as; NBA, NFL, ROGUE ONE, TV, TECH, PODCASTS.

One of their primary engagement campaigns before launching the site in June, 2016 was a 10 week period of email newsletters. I was an avid reader of Grantland, so naturally I signed up for the newsletter and became intrigued with the concept of the new site. During the 10 week lead up to the launch, they continued to build their Twitter and Facebook following. As of today they have 276K and 78K followers respectively.

As mentioned earlier, they are a relatively new company but, they seem to have harnessed the power of live video from day one. They continue to experiment with Periscope (Twitters live video streaming app) and Facebook Live (facebook’s live video streaming app). For example, in May 2016, just a month before their official site launch, they did their first experiment with Periscope by huddling some of their team together in their retro fit office in downtown LA, to follow and discuss via live video, the NBA Lottery Draft (professional basketball teams do a lottery to determine who gets to pick first overall). This seemed to be a test run for what was to come, as a core team at The Ringer, aka ‘Keepin it 1600’ podcast team, eventually used Periscope to discuss their thoughts on the US presidential race throughout the summer and fall.

Speaking of podcasts, during Bill Simmons stint with ESPN, he had a very successful podcast called The BS Report. Just as Grantland seemed to be a stepping stone for The Ringer, Bill’s success with The BS Report helped pave the way for a brand new and very ambitious venture into the world of podcasting. At the same time of The Ringer website launch, Bill began building the Ringer Podcast Network. According to the latest US podcast rankings on http://www.itunescharts.net/us/charts/podcasts/2016/12/16, Keepin’ it 1600 is their most popular podcast (this could be a product of timing, as the US election recently finished), followed by the Bill Simmons podcast. However, they seem to have a channel that complements each of their main blogging categories (e.g. sports, TV, politics etc.).

Another part of their social media engagement strategy seems to be their (fun) use of gifs and short videos on their Twitter feed. In addition to a great team of young writers, they have access to great visual designers who help create a unique brand of entertainment. This too is not surprising, as Bill Simmons also played a key role in the production of a widely successful documentary series for ESPN called 30 for 30. His influence is on display yet again, as his love for original and entertaining video content is obvious in their early branding strategy.

Overall, I feel that The Ringer has done a great job at harnessing the power of social media as well as new technology like live video streaming. They seem to have found a way to seamlessly integrate them into their overall online engagement strategy. Looking ahead, Bill Simmons should not have the same issues as he did with ESPN. They are backed by HBO who are encouraging them to push the envelope and innovate in the new digital media sphere.

I look forward to continue reading and listening to their unique blend of sports and pop culture content. Heck, if we’re lucky, Bill Simmons will get back into producing short documentaries.

I’m crossing my fingers.

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Privacy is (almost) dead

Some of us can still remember the days before the internet. Privacy was mostly about not giving out your phone number and making sure you kept your front door locked (half kidding).

Now, almost every part of our lives is online. We communicate with friends and family using messaging apps, we keep our professional contacts online through linkedin, we share our personal lives through facebook, twitter and instagram. And don’t get me started with email. Talk about a dumpster fire. Thank god we have Google to help us make sense of all that junk that comes our way.

And as much as we don’t want to accept it, ALL of this is tracked. All of it.

We see glimpses of this when we are searching for products or services online. After some searching, we notice an ad from a site we just visited. This is called ad retargeting which is “…online advertising that is targeted to consumers based on their previous internet actions.” ¹

Then you hear about big tech companies like Yahoo that reportedly “secretly monitored emails on behalf of the US government“.

These days, you can’t talk about online privacy and not talk about Eric Snowden. The documentary Citizen Four by acclaimed director Laura Poitras is a must see when it comes to online privacy. It provides a great look into the extent  of the US National Security Agency (NSA) spying scandal. If you have not seen it, I highly recommend you do.


Speaking of the NSA, they can’t seem to stay out of the news these days. I recently came across an article written by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) titled “Into The Abyss: The NSA’S Global Internet Surveillance“that explains in even more detail how vast the NSA surveillance reach is. The majority of the article is an engaging and easy to understand infographic that provides the main details of what the NSA has been up to with regards to email.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the internet has Great potential but, I feel that we are reaching a tipping point of something big in the next few years related to online privacy. Perhaps this uneasy feeling has something do with a certain someone trying to Make America Great Again?

Trump seems to be just the tyrant that Snowden expressed fear about in Citizen Four. Watch the video clip (around 35 seconds mark) in the tweet below from actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who happened to play Eric Snowden in the docu-drama Snowden (he played him very well by the way).

Sorry for the debby downer post but I just think things are gonna get worse before they get better.


Jokes aside, what do you think about online privacy? Cause for alarm, or should we just chill out?


¹ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Behavioral_retargeting

 

Protests in the Age of Social Media

Twitter Revolution is distinguished from other forms of activism because of the means by which the cyber activists communicate and aggregate through Twitter. It is an example of how social media facilitates communication among people globally in political revolutions.” ¹

Before social media, protests were mostly covered by big news corporations through TV and newspapers. How they were covered depended on where you lived and the angle the network or newspaper chose to tell the story. With the emergence of social media, individuals can cover just as much if not more of a big event than regular news corporations. Social media harnesses the power of connections and hashtags to help people track and follow big world events.

Iran

We got our first real look at how powerful social media can be in 2009 during the protests against the Iranian presidential election results. The protests were titled the Iranian Green Movement². Thousands of protesters took to the streets to voice their displeasure of the election results and claimed that votes were manipulated and the election results were rigged. It is said that Iranian authorities blocked websites, cell phone transmissions and text messaging². Protesters looked for alternative ways of communicating and relied on Twitter and Facebook to not just communicate but share their experiences with the world.

Tunisia

Shortly after the Iranian Green Movement in Iran, demonstrations erupted in Tunisia as people took to the streets to voice their displeasure with longtime president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. It is said that the demonstrations were precipitated by high unemployment, food inflation, corruption, a lack of political freedoms like freedom of speech and poor living conditions³.

It didn’t end there as Egypt also experienced a revolution where social media sites like twitter and facebook were again used to communicate and broadcast their displeasure with their government.

#NotMyPresident

The first real protests against election results to happen in the West and to be covered in the age of social media happened this year. Although short lived, thousands of people took to the streets all across America to voice their displeasure of Trump being elected the next President of the USA. His win created a shockwave across the nation and the hashtag #NotMyPresident was quickly created and used to capture people’s experiences at protests as well as to follow news on the hot topic.

#StandingRock #NoDAPL

Most people are likely aware of the ongoing protests in Standing Rock where thousands of people are protesting against the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline. Native Americans have a reservation in the area and are protesting the construction of the pipeline out of (understandable) fear that the pipeline will cause damage to the land surrounding their reservation and could eventually have an oil spill into the nearby rivers. This would have catastrophic environmental consequences and impact their very livelihood.  The hashtags #StandingRock #NoDAPL have been used to help cover the story through social media. More interestingly, until only recently, no major news organizations had been covering the protests on the ground in North Dakota. Personally, I was mostly learning about the latest updates by following Unicorn Riot @UR_Ninja on twitter. They are a commercial-free, viewer supported, independent media & live video streaming company. They are proving to be a great alternative to the major media outlets like CNN and Fox News.

What other notable protests do you recall being covered through social media?


¹ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twitter_Revolution

² https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/2009_Iranian_presidential_election_protests

³ https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tunisian_Revolution

Everything online is #FAKE

Well, maybe not EVERYTHING but, it sure does appear like we have a problem with …

#FakeNews

Is it just me, or are you a bit worried about how prominent of a role the reported Fake News played in the most recent American presidential election? These days, most people get their news (world and local) from their preferred social media platform. It isn’t that posting fake articles for more clicks was a new strategy for (shady) businesses or political parties, it’s how damn prominent the actual problem is and that its finally being exposed. Unfortunately, we are now seeing what the real world consequences are for letting this problem fester online (i.e. a billionaire business man with tonnes of conflict of interest implications being elected the next president of the most powerful country in the world).

Social media companies are not just tech companies. They are major media companies. It is important for the big players like Facebook and Google to acknowledge this and work diligently to fix the fake news problem, as best they can. They need to find a balance between advertising profits and informing the masses of what is real. I understand the latter is subjective but there must be a way to filter these fake news articles from showing up so often, if at all.

#FakePeople

One of the problems with social media is that you can say just about anything you want, with no real-world consequences. It can be done through a fake online persona. This is tied closely to #FakeNews but people creating fake personas online feels a bit more real or personal.

It is one thing to read a headline of a blatantly fake news article and laugh it off but, it is another thing to have internet trolls with fake accounts spreading false (negative) news about you personally, or about your company.

#Solution

I am certainly not in a position to provide a solution to these problems but, if something doesn’t change soon, people will start to look to other places for credible news sources. This could force big platforms like Facebook to take action quicker on their advertising policies than they would like. It would be very sad if we let this get to a point where it becomes difficult to discern what is real and what is fake. Perhaps the eventual solution will be a whole new breed of social media that hasn’t even been invented yet.

Or maybe we just need to accept the fact that we are now, really living in The Age of Post Truth Politics that the New York Times spoke about in August, 2016.

#LetUsPray

The Dawn of Transhumanism

Humans have always been interested in learning about their surroundings, to try and find ways to improve life on earth. Through the genius of the human imagination, we have created tools and technologies that have allowed us to create smarter and smarter machines. 

Mankind has been on a long journey to create a world where machines think, feel and communicate like humans. Today, our species is approaching a critical junction in human evolution.

The relationship between humans and technology is growing exponentially and we will continue to merge with these technologies and devices faster and faster as we move forward into the future.

But how do we teach super-intelligent machines to have the same core values as humans such as love, non-violence, peace, right conduct, and truth? What happens if we can’t? Let’s take a closer look on how we lay the ground work for a super-intelligent machine.

The Brain

If we want to build the perfect human, it needs a brain, right? The technological way of doing this is through Artificial Intelligence (AI). IBM Watson is arguably the smartest AI in the world. They coin it as “…cognitive technology that can think like a human“. It is being built (trained) to understand, reason, learn and interact just like a human. IBM is not alone in the race to build the most advanced AI. Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Amazon are only a handful of known tech giants that are researching and testing AI. And of course there’s Apple. They just hired a new director for their AI research department.

The Mind

With any discussion about AI and transhumanism, one must talk about the work of Ray Kurzweil. He is “…an American author, computer scientist, inventor and futurist.”¹

He introduced the term singularity into main stream society. The singularity is described as “…the hypothesis that the invention of artificial super-intelligence will abruptly trigger runaway technological growth, resulting in unfathomable changes to human civilization.”²

His most recent work, How to Create a Mind, takes you through the process of “…reverse-engineering the brain to understand precisely how it works, then applying that knowledge to create vastly intelligent machines.”³

He is currently the Chief Futurist of Google.

The Body

Having an advanced AI that helps you get around and search information online is one thing but, integrating it with a physical machine that is capable of processing this wealth of information is another. This where robotics comes in. One of the leading companies in this field is X. They are a “…an American semi-secret research-and-development facility founded by Google in January 2010.”

They have some crazy advanced robots, like SpotMini.

And then there is the more human like robot Atlas, the Next Generation.

 

I’m scared

I don’t know about you but if you look just 20 years into the future when Google X robots have evolved exponentially, coupled with a more advanced IBM Watson, we could have a very dangerous machine. Vice Motherboard produced a great short documentary The Dawn of Killer Robots, which explores the possibilities of such dangerous machines (unfortunately, this looks like the future of warfare).

I’m not scared

On the other hand, there are great initiatives to ensure that advanced AI is used responsibly and ethically. Take for example the non-profit AI research company OpenAI (led by Elon Musk). Their mission is to “…build safe AI, and ensure AI’s benefits are as widely and evenly distributed as possible.”

It is imperative that we have ethical people leading us into an unknown era of advanced technological capabilities.

Speaking of ethics, there is some great technical research being done to help us better understand how to approach the construction of a super-intelligent machine. For example, you have the Machine Intelligence Research Institute (MIRI) who are doing “…foundational mathematical research to ensure smarter-than-human artificial intelligence has a positive impact.”

In 2014, MIRI released a very thought provoking research paper entitled Agent Foundations for Aligning Machine Intelligence with Human Interests: A Technical Research Agenda. This document “…discusses six research areas where they think foundational research today could make it easier in the future to develop super-intelligent systems that are reliably aligned with human interests.”

The Future

Whether we like it or not, we are heading towards a world in which technology will be so far advanced that we cannot even fathom their implications today. Think of what society was like before the internet was born. In 1985 we couldn’t even imagine what it would be like to go onto a computer and have access to a wealth of information and to interact with people all across the world using tools like social media. Now we have self-driving cars and drones being sold in Walmarts. We have advanced AIs in our pockets.

As technology continues to grow exponentially, new ‘unfathomable’ inventions will be born and force us to evolve and deepen our relationship with technology. Just like the internet deepened our relationship with the computer.

What do you think a super-intelligent machine will look and behave like? To help us, look no further than the science fiction. It has always given us a glimpse of what future technologies will be like. A recent example of this is the film  Ex Machina.


What do you think a super-intelligent machine will look and behave like?


¹ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ray_Kurzweil
² https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technological_singularity
³ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/X_(company)

Music + Film = Magic

I love music. I love film. Thankfully, they are a match made in heaven. I have been studying and creating (mostly experimental) films for the past 10 years. Unsurprisingly, the majority of my films have been narratives and accompanied by a prominent soundtrack. There are literally thousands of examples where music and film match almost perfectly.

Below are some of my favorite scenes. What are some of yours? 

Trainspotting (1996)

This is the film that got me into films. The film that made me want to make films. There are many parts of this film I like; great direction by Danny Boyle, amazing cinematography by Brian Tufano, awesome cast etc., but the one thing that has always stuck with me is the opening scene. Check it out …

The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

One of the first feature films from the great director Wes Anderson. He has since gone on to have a fantastic career and his style has been mimicked and studied by inspiring filmmakers worldwide. What I love most about this scene is the buildup just prior to us seeing the first on screen meeting between these two actors. It is culminated as soon as she walks off the bus and the picture goes slow motion and the classic song “These Days” by Nico begins. The camera switches to close ups and you can almost ‘feel’ the history between the two characters.

Last Days (2005)

This film isn’t for everyone. It is loosely based on the last days of Kurt Cobain, so the pace is relatively slow and somber. What I like most about this particular scene is the very long tracking back camera technique. The clangy and dark music being played by the actor Michael Pitt compliments the long and slow tracking back well. It gives you the feeling that you are slowly moving away from someone in crisis and it pains you to leave.

“Fleeting” teaser trailer (2016)

Ok this is a bit of self promotion but heck why not! This is a teaser trailer for my new short film which will premiere in Ottawa winter 2017. The final film will use both narration and music to help tell its story but as you know by now, I love a good music track to go along with beautiful images and that is what I aimed to do with the teaser.

Please note the video is best watched in 1080 HD

So, what memorable scenes can you think of where music plays a big role in setting the mood? I would love to hear from you and see this Music + Film list get bigger!