Allergic to the Sun

When I was young, I thought I was allergic to the sun. In the morning, I would leave the house and feel the warmth of the sun on my face and then sneeze. It seemed to happen every day or whenever I came out of the shade and into the sun.

A sneeze is usually triggered by an irritation in the nose, which is sensed by the trigeminal nerve, a cranial nerve responsible for facial sensation and motor control. This nerve is in close proximity to the optic nerve, which senses, for example, a sudden flood of light entering the retina. As the optic nerve fires to signal the brain to constrict the pupils, the theory goes, some of the electrical signal is sensed by the trigeminal nerve and mistaken by the brain as an irritant in the nose. Hence, a sneeze. – Looking at the Sun Can Trigger a Sneeze. (Scientific American)

So now I know differently. I only learned of the term “photic sneeze” a few years ago and that’s one mystery solved. According to Wikipedia is affects anywhere from 18 to 25% of the population, so I wonder how many people actually have heard of this.


Working with GigaOm Research

Just a quick update to announce that I’ve joined the GigaOm Research team as an analyst. I’ll be working the same tech beat as always: pay-TV, Internet video/OTT, and related industries like social TV, second screen and content delivery. Basically anything to do with TV and video.

My page on GigaOm Research is here, where you can set-up an inquiry or briefing with me. And you can see the first report I did for them called “Opportunities for the Second Screen“. (Yes, you have to be a member to read this and any other report on GigaOm Research.



Video from #140You Conference

In June 2013, I spoke at the #140You conference which was focusing on health and wellness. I was very excited because when I first heard about this conference I was going through a medically supervised weight loss plan and had lost almost 90 pounds.

Similarly, Jeff Pulver, the founder and organizer of the #140You conference was also going through a similar transformational journey. I wanted to tell people how it is possible to lose weight, especially with medical supervision.

My presentation is now available for viewing below.

iTunes Radio vs. Pandora

Apple released iTunes Radio over a week ago and I’ve been testing it out. Perhaps that’s why I’ve been using it more often than Pandora. I’m a rock-solid Pandora user, although I don’t have a subscription. Online radio subscriptions are the first things to go in my household budget, along with other kinds of entertainment and media.

But I’ve reached for iTunes Radio on my iPad more often recently. Perhaps it’s because it’s new, but the other reason is because I’m finding a greater variety of music. Playing some of the pre-set stations, it appears that iTunes Radio has a much deeper catalog. Is that because Apple is do dominant with music and has good relations with labels? I’m not sure, but when I listened to the 80s Station, or example, I heard songs that I haven’t heard in years.

I’ve noticed some glitches with iTunes Radio, however. Sometimes it plays a song I just heard 10 minutes ago. In fact, it seems to replay the same two or three songs in a row. It also played a song even though I had just said never to play again. What’s up with that? It also just crashed my iPad completely to a hard reboot screen. It was kind of shocking because I hardly ever see that happen to my iPad. I hope these issues get fixed soon, because it’s happened on a few different stations.

Most impressive is that iTunes Radio actually makes iTunes more interesting and modern. I use an iPad, and I just hate how iTunes looks and acts. I was hoping iOS 7 would give us a completely redesigned iTunes, but that was too good to be true, I guess. iTunes Radio is a good start, but the rest of iTunes is hopelessly terrible.

Increasing Availability of Mental Care With Milestones NYC

I am happy to announce that I am currently volunteering for a new non-profit called Milestones NYC, which is seeking to help patients get the mental health care that they need. I am working as their director of development to help the organization seek funding as well as with their marketing, social media and outreach.

MilestonesNYCnewlogoSo what is Milestones NYC? Basically it is trying to help unemployed and the uninsured in New York get access to mental health services. Qualified people can come to the website, fill out a form and be matched with a counselor, social worker, coach, therapist or psychologist who donates their time. Essentially, providers are donating their time and providing mental health services free of charge in their own offices.

Currently, we are in need of recruiting more providers who want to join the Milestones NYC community. There are many New Yorkers that need mental health care but can’t afford it. We want to help them get the care they need. If you are a counselor, coach or other mental health professional, please go the provider recruitment page and sign up or read more about the organization.

Although the organization is currently only in NYC, we’d love to expand this into more cities and even nationally at some point. But we’re just starting out so bear with us as we are quickly ramping up our funding and recruitment efforts in the next few months. I firmly believe that expanding access to mental care is very important because of the stigma around mental health and the many obstacles that people face in trying to get the proper care.

Why Would Netflix Make SpoilerFoiler?

This week Netflix unveiled SpoilerFoiler, a web-based service that allows viewers to avoid reading Breaking Bad tweets on their Twitter feed. I tried it by logging into the website, and allowing it to access via Twitter and then well, it did nothing. The app, literally does nothing. You have to go the website, so it can filter your tweets. You can’t use or an app on your smartphone. Seriously, why would Netflix even make an app like this?

I spoke to Rachelle Dragani at E-Commerce Times, and I’m quoted in the story. But apps like SpoilerFoiler are just not necessary, especially by a huge public company like Netflix. It’s like they are just doing this for publicity since it appeared before Sunday’s Breaking Bad season finale. Do they really think people are going to remember to go to the SpoilerFoiler website for all their tweeting? Exactly how many users is Netflix targeting?

Viewers who don’t want to be spoiled, a) avoid following people on Twitter that can spoil their shows b) have no idea what the references or spoilers even mean or c) can just stop reading especially if they come upon something tagged with “spoiler alert”.
I’ve never watched one episode of Breaking Bad, so I’m trying to avoid spoilers. You’d think I’d be a great target customer, but it’s just foolishness. In my case, I’ve read a few references to the show and I know a few of the character’s names but that’s it. I don’t know anything specific about the show. Also, I try to avoid reading anything in print or online because I know I will start watching the series pretty soon. It doesn’t take that much effort.One more thing, stopping spoilers has been done very recently by a 17 year old girl. Jennie Lamere created an app that can stop tweets from all your favorite shows. So is the Netflix app really necessary? Nope. Especially one that’s just targeted to Breaking Bad.

Netflix, you’re better than this.

Why Are Many Tech Conferences So Boring?

Last week I attended the Future of Television conference in NYC from Digital Media Wire. I had a lot of high hopes for the conference but came home afterwards with just a feeling of disappointment. I attend a lot of conferences, especially about Internet video and TV so maybe I’m just getting jaded. But I just expected more about the “future”.

I was full of high expectations–there were some interesting sessions and speakers and I am intensely interested in the future of TV so I couldn’t miss this conference. It was a beautiful, and bright Monday morning in lower Manhattan and as I walked in the event people were hopeful and eager to talk and connect.

But it was clear early on that the crowd wasn’t really engaged. They were mostly paying  attention to their laptops, smartphones and tablets rather than what was happening on stage. This happens all the time, you say, right? True, but I bet if there was something interesting happening up on stage everyone in the room would immediately put their phones down and pay attention. (Then immediately grab their devices and tweet what they heard, of course!)  The audience would be much more engaged. They would ask more questions.

Overall, the main problem with a lot of tech conferences today are that they are just so boring. Unfortunately, they are also necessary mostly because that’s where people go to meet face to face. Companies that I want to speak to are attending. And the best kinds of interactions today and networking opportunities are still face to face. Weird, eh? But most sessions are just filled with boring. Moderators let speakers and panelists drone on and on. Everyone is afraid to give an opinion because (gasp!) someone else might disagree! People might get called out on Twitter and then who knows. Apparently giving out your opinion in a public forum can be very dangerous in 2013.

Many of the panels I attended had people agreeing with everything that was said before or trying not to disagree with anyone else. I want to hear opinions and facts. I want disagreements. I want people to strongly state their case or talk about the future of TV, or say something that is mildly interesting. Moderators plod along with their questions and don’t interrupt speakers. They don’t challenge or follow-up. They don’t put things into context. It doesn’t flow very well, from one topic to another. I wanted hard questions. I wanted more.

At the Social TV panel, I realized quickly that there was nothing new going on. No new ideas or insights. No new technologies. Just a bunch of panelists droning on. The moderator did his best to spice things up, by having topics flash on the overhead screen, but even that couldn’t liven up the panel. Things just droned on. “Well that’s 45 minutes of my life that I won’t get back,” said someone I sat next to in the audience. Someone else at the table simply nodded and smiled.

My Teachable Moment

The best moment of the conference happened at the afternoon session called “Television Marketing Leadership Roundtable” but I think no one else caught it because it happened off stage. The panel consisted of two people, Linda Schupack, Exective VP of Marketing at AMC Networks and Don Buckley, Executive VP of Program Marketing & Digital Services at Showtime, along with moderator David Berkowitz from MRY. The panel went along quite nicely and politely but I can’t quite remember anything they actually said. And I was very curious because AMC and Showtime have some really great TV shows and I was interested in learning a bit about marketing hit TV shows like The Walking Dead, Mad Men, Breaking Bad (for AMC) and Homeland, Dexter (for Showtime).

But there were no hard hitting questions. Here’s what I wanted to know:

  • How do you market your TV shows across platforms? What are best practices? What doesn’t work?
  • Consumers aren’t really interested in TV networks, so how can they remain relevant to consumers?
  • How can you best develop new properties, especially in the face of shows like Dexter and Breaking Bad which are ending their runs in the next week? (To be fair, Don did talk about how Ray Donovan was promoted alongside Dexter.)
  • As on-demand viewing increases, how can networks adapt their marketing strategies to capture younger viewers who aren’t watching live?
  • How can you best take advantage of existing properties to create new experiences or spin-offs, like for The Walking Dead or Breaking Bad?

And the one question I got up to ask: “AMC announced that the last season of Mad Men would be broken up into two half-seasons, even though production was going ahead as one season with no breaks. It seems like just a marketing strategy so can you explain why you’re taking this approach?”

Linda said that they were giving the audience time to grow and catch on to the series, and that there would also be a longer finale for Mad Men. To me, that didn’t seem like the right way to go, at least for dedicated fans and viewers.

“Is AMC just doing this to prolong the season,” I asked in follow-up from my seat in the audience. No, not really was her response.  I think Linda had had enough of me by this point. Fortunately the session was almost over. But I wanted to get one more follow-up.

So I waited and caught Linda one more time after the session was done. “I hope you understand why I was asking this. You know Netflix does the complete opposite, they create shows and release them all at once, while AMC seems to just be doing this to expand the season.”

“Well we have a different model than Netflix,” Linda said as she was leaving. I thanked her and sat down.

Why Are Conferences So Boring? Why Don’t TV Networks Adapt?

But then I had a revelation. Of course Netflix and AMC are different. They do have different models. AMC is trying to get the highest ratings they can get for their shows. Their first priority are advertisers. Netflix, on the other hand, only is worrying about viewers. About consumers. They don’t have to worry about advertisers or ratings. They have to worry about consumers cancelling their service. This, more than anything, really showed me how different online TV is from traditional TV.

And it also highlights the state of boring conferences today. I think conferences are worried more about not offending speakers and sponsors than about informing attendees. Who is more important to them and why? What would a new kind of conference that’s focused on learning and the needs of attendees look like? Netflix understands their audience and are changing distribution in order to appeal to them. Traditional networks are doing everything they can to cater to advertisers and keep their ratings high, at the expense of viewers.

I hope that both traditional TV networks can embrace this new paradigm and make viewers number one. And I hope conferences can do the same for their attendees.


Death and Fatness

It’s inevitable, right? Being fat and dying. Look at James Gandolfini (The Fatness of James Gandolfini: Inspiring, Iconic, and Probably Fatal). How many fat people do you know that are over 60? Over 50? Okay, how many celebrities? There’s one I can think of, John Goodman. He is 61 and he has thwarted all the celebrity death pools for years by staying alive. Is he an anomaly? Is he overweight and healthy? Can one be overweight and healthy?

People look at celebrities because they’re famous (obviously) but also because they feel they know them personally. They were raised watching them on TV or in movies. So it’s easy to look at a select few overweight men who have died over the years, through one way or another, drugs, or heart attacks, or strokes, or anything else. But I guess John Goodman is a great example of someone who is beating the odds.

My weight loss journey is in part inspired by my desire to live a long and healthy life. I feel better now that I’ve lost 90 pounds. I feel healthier. I am more active. I don’t have high blood pressure anymore. I don’t have a fatty liver. I have less pain. My feet aren’t achy. My back doesn’t hurt as much as when I weighed over 300 pounds. I can climb the subway stairs without being winded.

I want to lose even more weight. Become even more healthier. But it’s a struggle. I lost my weight using a medically supervised very low calorie diet. I ate about 1000 calories a day, and got all my vitamins and protein from a variety of soups, shakes and puddings. It was reducing eating to its most minimal ideal. Not worrying about taste or flavor or anything else and just getting the right amount of nutrients every day. And for me it worked. I know it sounds extreme, but I sincerely believe that anyone can do this. If I could do it, anyone can–I’m not extraordinary at all.

So now I’m back in the real world. I’m eating real food. I’m eating carbohydrates again, after 6 months of no carbs. It’s a bit intoxicating. It’s easy to fall back into old patterns. It’s easy to be a terrible eater. It’s easy to overeat. It takes so much more work to be a healthy eater. But it’s worth doing. It’s taking care of myself. It’s feeling that I’m worth it. That I can do it.

I think a big part of being overweight is the mental side. It’s not often discussed. Many people have eating disorders, like binge eating or bulimia. For me, eating is a coping mechanism. I eat to comfort myself. I eat to zone out. I eat to get away from my everyday problems. So I think proper mental healthcare can really help people to lose weight. I’ll talk more about this side in future posts.

U.S. Veterans and Suicide

I’m a bit late with this, but I still think it’s important enough to talk about. Veterans from the U.S. military are suffering from PTSD, depression and other mental disorders at alarming rates. The Department of Veterans Affairs said that 22 veterans kill themselves every day.

Every single day. 22 veterans kill themselves. They served the country, came back, and killed themselves. Many don’t get the mental health care they need. Many veterans get delayed treatment, or don’t get the right treatment. It’s a harrowing statistic.

Perhaps the best way to really understand the problems affecting veterans is to read the following story published on Gawker (and a few other media outlets) a few weeks ago. A veteran wrote about his struggles with PTSD and navigating the VA to get mental health care, and ultimately killed himself. Just another veteran, another suicide, another statistic.

Is it any wonder then that the latest figures show 22 veterans killing themselves each day? That is more veterans than children killed at Sandy Hook, every single day. Where are the huge policy initiatives? Why isn’t the president standing with those families at the state of the union? Perhaps because we were not killed by a single lunatic, but rather by his own system of dehumanization, neglect, and indifference.

via “I Am Sorry That It Has Come to This”: A Soldier’s Last Words.

Read about it from his own words. Read about his struggle. And understand that this happens 22 times a day and nothing concrete is being done to remedy this.

The Hoarder and Murderer

I am fascinated by crime, especially when presented and written well. I’m a hug fan of TV shows like Cops, Unsolved Mysteries, Dateline, The First 48 and 48 Hours. I used to like true crime books, but I don’t read many anymore. Mostly I enjoy crime fiction from authors like Elmore Leonard and Michael Connelly.

Newspapers and some blogs also can do decent crime stories. The one I read in the NY Times this week was pretty interesting. It involves a hoarder, a missing wife, a small town, private investigators and grieving family and friends.

They had been married for about 30 years when, four days before Christmas in 1985, Mr. Nichols reported his 55-year-old wife missing. He told the police that they had eaten at a local restaurant with another couple the night before, and had come home after an argument. The next morning, he said, he returned from buying dog food to find her gone. There was a note typed on a computer, saying she was depressed after their son’s death.

via In Cluttered Home, a Dark Secret 3 Decades Old –

It’s terrible to think that there are people in this world that have committed murder and have gotten away with it. They have killed someone and no one knows. They hold this incredible secret. Maybe they kill once and never do it again. But there a lot of them out there. Many murders go unsolved, anywhere from 4o% to 50% of all murders are unsolved. Families never get justice. Murderers live next to you. People go missing, most likely murdered. No justice is served.

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