Red Truck Recycling

October 1, 2009

Crashing recycling bins and faint mumbling could be heard from outside my living room window. Typically this would be expected on garbage day. However it was the late evening, hardly a time for government work, let alone in a place like LA.

I approached my window to look outside. A red pickup truck with large plywood panels jury-rigged  to the side walls of the flatbed. A clever and inexpensive makeshift panel truck with easy access to the back. A two man team was collecting all the bins on the street.

The slim pickings of cans and bottles are usually reserved for the Angelo vagabond bicyclist, an unofficially act of philanthropy by the yuppies too busy to collect the deposits. I turned off my lights and they hurried up their collection with hushed yells. My camera phone could only capture a few underexposed pointillist photos of the event.

Maybe it’s just me, but that’s not such a bad business model.

Affective Interfaces and Emotional Machines

September 16, 2009

A interesting new startup, Affective Interfaces, gave a presentation today at the TechCrunch50 conference. They’re not exactly the slickest of salesmen but what they’re pitching has enormous potential. Basically, they’ve created a piece of software that can read emotion on a human face. I’d imagine it’s not the most nuanced algorithm yet, but it seems to be a good start.

Advertising and market testing appear to be their primary focus, and with good reason. Market research is a huge business, but the technology that drives it is still pretty basic. Focus groups and surveys seems to be the standard. It’s the “take a look and tell me what you think” approach. However, surveys require a level of self-consciousness on the part of the person being tested. People can be embarrassed by their responses and lie with ease.

The last big technological jump in market research came from aggregating the demographics of customer loyalty cards. You probably have a few in your wallet or on your keychain right now. Who can deny those savings?!

But why would a company give you a discount unless you were giving them something of value in return? That would be bad business. In reality you’re giving them something of immense value: information. Rather than asking you what you think you would buy, loyalty programs watch what you actually bought. Walmart knows how much you hurricane survivors love pop-tarts.

Along the same lines, this software takes that more immediate and unconscious reaction, the one you can’t lie about, and applies it to the media we’re experiencing at the time. (i.e. Do BMW ads make middle-age males the most happy when the see the car or the logo?)

Charting the emotional response to advertisements is a good first step towards understanding the cognitive link between the media we consume and our emotions, but in terms of creating effective ads there’s still the pesky little problem of delivery. Ask yourself, how many television ads have you watched in the past week? How many do you think you saw five years ago, ten years ago? We’ve gotten awfully good at avoiding advertising, even has it has become increasingly prevalent.

Taking this a step beyond advertising, think about what this software means towards entertainment. Whatever you’re watching could potentially react to how you’re feeling at the moment. Bored with a show? The TV will anticipate you want to change the channel. Storyline uninteresting? A game might change on the fly to create more excitement.

Film test screenings would know moment by moment where a film was working, where it lagged, where it made you laugh or cry. This is a hugely important tool to studios trying to understand how much money to pump into reshoots and marketing. However, often they’re terribly inaccurate.

Even more interesting will be linking this type of technology to evolutionary algorithms, but that deserves its own post. Needless to say, finding a way to not only monitor but engage with our emotions in an immediate way could create some of the most effective media yet to be experienced, and also the most seductively terrifying.


late at night

September 13, 2009

It’s funny how the simplist ideas can be the strongest. When people get hung up on having a perfect result, nuanced in all the important ways, the results are uniformly borning. mistakes matter, why fight them?

candy is a simple idea. there’s a lot of variation but it all comes down to one ingredient. sugar. it’s a chemical that we all experience at the sense level, and usually in the same way, as a pleasure.

sugar also has an after taste. an absence, a sickness that can only be relieved with just a little more.

as the experienced surroundings have become less physical and more virtual, these simple pleasures are found in the every day. the flick of a light switch, the latching of a door. life is better because of them, and would be less sweet without them.


“I learned a lot at that chicken factory”

December 2, 2008

The frustration of working in Hollywood is it’s essentially a story factory. The goal is for our product to be easy to produce, consume, and reproduce. It’s a guessing game of giving the audience something novel without being too novel. Edgy without being threatening.

Thinking about all this brings up a memory that’s always stood out in my mind. It was commencement weekend at Wesleyan. Janine and I were walking behind Olin Library, taking in all that we’d be leaving. As we passed one of the many wandering families, themselves an considerably alien concept on a University campus, an old man chimed up to those around him,

“I learned a lot at that chicken factory”

It carried both the anxieties and accomplishments of someone who grew up before the college generation– noble, small, and unnoted. It also made me realize any situation offers the opportunity for examination, no matter how small or mistakenly mundane.

Every one of us is in a chicken factory or something like it. The difficulty of existing is looking beyond the burden to the wisdom hidden in the gears.


Beginning at an end.

October 17, 2008

This is yet another attempt to start a blog. I’ve tried many times in the past, and eventually just give up. It’s not an issue of commitment or motivation–more like the unabiding fear of being judged. I’m not the type of person to crave attention, and would dread being at the center of it. I just want to create interesting things that hopefully other people find value in.

My previous blog creation attempts have always centered around the idea of building a brand to hide myself behind. Brands are attractive. They’re clean, understandable, and most importantly, consistent. As a whole, human beings are just a mess. Seems like the perfect way to deal with it.

But maintaining that brand is too much pressure for one individual. Always having to second guess every word, every phrase, every meaning. If the point of one of these things is self expression then I need to stop worrying about brand impression. Why so concerned with branding and perception?

My generation wasn’t raised on television or the big Hollywood blockbuster, though both industries would claim it to be the case. We were raised on advertising, and it’s part of everything we consume. TV and movies are rarely about just the story, but rather the lifestyle being sold and the tie in products to accomplish it. That’s all a brand is, a shorthand for a particular lifestyle.

Rather than create a brand here, I’m just going to be honest. We’ll see if that’s in my nature or a defiance of it.