Autism as a competitive advantage

My son has always been an entrepreneur.

I remember from a very young age, probably 4 or 5, AJ running back from the park, little blue pencil box in hand. His little treasure chest was full of things he would collect and trade but this day was definitely outside the box. He was excited to tell me that he had an offer for a completely different service, “hey kid, i’ll give you a dollar if you let me wipe the crap off your face.”

Not sure if the encouragement to eat more donuts was needed or if he just discovered the missing tier of services where people actually paid you to wipe your own face! You could see he was turned on by the entire new business model he discovered.

His blue box morphed into bags of lemons the next season as he played “lemon arbitrage” between neglected trees and soccer mom wallets.

As he grew older, he hawked juice and danish to rush hour yuppies that caught his gaze as they waited for the community gate to slowly open. Pinned down for 5 long seconds, breakfast habits slowly changed.

When AJ turned 12 he heard a Scout Master was moving and calling it quits for fund raising. He swooped in and bought 50 giant American Flags all mounted on poles at, I-don’t-want-to-move-these prices. I helped him design a flyer and next thing you know. “$60 per year, 6 major flag holidays, we put up your flag and take it down for you. Show your neighbors you are a patriot.”

It helped that in the photo the kid holding a flag much bigger than themselves held it up like he just stormed the hill of Iwo Jima.

He quickly had $3,000 per year coming in and a Father that had to serve as the delivery truck. Time to be alone with him, it was fun.

High School came just as the Governor of Arizona decided to scare those that were enterprising enough to cross the border but not creative enough to do it legally. Door hangers, yard workers, pool guys…seemed to disappear. 

AJ stepped in and started a window cleaning business to fill the void. Now at 19 years old, he is very busy. The look of his Yelp page and the 4.5 stars, he seems to have plenty of work. He now employs college students who need some extra cash and plenty of upscale restaurants to keep them busy.

Check out “Streak Patrol” on Yelp. Only Penny R. gave him a 1 Star but looking at her reviews for other venues, 1 Star seems to be her favorite weapon to get even with the world. 

AJ sent me a video today about a man that started a car wash to give his son purpose. His son has Autism. It was a beautiful reminder that we all have talents to share even if our weaknesses seem so obvious. 

AJ is now inspired to find someone with autism to help him clean windows. I am so proud of my son having the courage to help others find purpose and meaning in this life when life seems so meaningless at times. I hope this video inspires you as well.

Tales of good versus evil

Lord of the Rings

Lord of the Rings

Great story telling through print or pictures have three basic ingredients in common.

(1) Who are the heroes and villains.

(2) What conflicts do they have.

(3) How are those conflicts resolved. 

If you think about your favorite books and movies, the formula really has not changed from the time of the Romans or Greeks. They are all stories of good versus evil.

As a skinny writer born in a land that was populated with citizens that fled their oppressive government of England, J.R.R. Tolkien became the father of ultra fantasy adventure stories. He was born in Orange State, a sovereign speck of geography unmoored adrift in a continent of kingdoms that would eventually fold into what we know today as South Africa. Orange State was an island of political castaways that fled England and it’s suppressive ways, but in the end Tolkien would volunteer for the war in 1914 to fight for the oppressor. To him, Germany appeared to be the bigger bully and his feelings of nationalism would pull him back to permanently locate in England after the war. 

People joke, “I am worth more dead than alive” and once someone passed through the veil you should “never argue with a dead man.” With Tolkien, that saying is true on both counts. J.R.R. Tolkien really became famous after he was dead. His estate is worth 500 million dollars today. 

The ultra fantasy world he created based on middle earth tales of hobbits, wizards, dragons and unimaginable characters went on to become a timeless classic and ultimately a movie franchise that set records. The underlying narrative was a struggle over a ring. A ring that represented power, the ultimate tug of war between good and evil. 

"The most improper job of any man... is bossing other men. Not one in a million is fit for it, and least of all those who seek the opportunity.” -J.R.R. Tolkien

From the Lord of the Rings we learn that the power of a ring is very difficult to give up. Bilbo Baggins was the first character to process the ring and being a man of virtue, found himself conflicted possessing it. It preserved his life, swelled his ego but in the end he found himself feeling “tired and thin” as if he were, “butter being spread over too much toast.” 

The marvelous power that ring gave him was almost too much to handle and he found he was being corrupted himself. Once someone has the ring, it is very difficult to voluntarily give it away.

In the Roman empire Cincinnatus was one that took the ring, did the work, then gave it back. When Rome was caught with their entire army pinned down in 458 B.C. a single horseman rode to Rome and warned the Senate to prepare for Rome to fall. The Senate sought out the only man they knew who could withstand the power of the ring and not take advantage of their weakness. They found Cincinnatus plowing his fields. The Senate gave him 6 months with total authority over the empire to put the Roman house back in order. The next morning, Cincinnatus went to the Roman forum and appointed his second in command, Lucius Tarquitius, who was considered one of the finest soldiers in Rome. Cincinnatus then issued an order that every man of military age should report to the Field of Mars, and prepare for battle.

Once the army assembled, Cincinnatus took them to rescue their pinned down comrades at the Battle of Mons Algidus. Cincinnatus led the infantry in person, while Tarquitius led the cavalry. The enemy were surprised by the double attack and were soon at the mercy of Cincinnatus.

Sixteen days after finding him at the plow, he gave the ring back to the senate. No time for a hero parade, with Rome back in order, he retired once again to his farm.

General Washington was compared to Cincinnatus frequently with his detachment from power and thirst for justice.

This year at the Oscars, the best documentary went to Citizenfour. The film tracked the first crazy days of Edward Snowden and the disclosure of the NSA’s secret programs. Citizenfour was one alias Snowden used to hide his identity as he aired the NSA’s dirty laundry. 

The very first alias Snowden ever used was “Cincinnatus”.

The polls have not closed on the Edward Snowden ballot of “hero or villain.” The world may never quite decide which vote to cast. Spilling the beans on the NSA who had fallen under the spell of the ring and were willing to do anything to keep it or Snowden may have grabbed an opportunity to seize the ring himself.

In the end, maybe an Oscar will be the closest Snowden will ever come to being a true Cincinnatus and he will die a lonely traitor in a cold dacha on the Crimea.

I suspect like most things in life, the truth is somewhere in the middle.

How OK Go wins music piracy game

Photo: OK Go

Photo: OK Go

If you ask people, young or old, “who is OK Go?” 9 times out of 10 they can not recall who they are. The people who can will most likely say, “they made that cool video on treadmills.”

If you remember seeing a music video created around 8 treadmills that had pitch perfect choreography, that was OK Go. The video won the 2007 Grammy Award for Best Music Video. The band has a particular genius with quirky, elaborate, inexpensive videos that evoke a nerdy, optimism that renders frowning while watching impossible. 

In 2010 Ok Go announced they had left EMI and Capital to form their own label. It all started with their fans complaining they could not embed and share the videos on their sites, blogs, Facebook…

Their record label wanted to control how their videos were watched and where they could be watched. Big labels run big music factories, when someone tries to make videos in a music factory, retooling the line takes time.

I don’t think that labels are inherently evil and full of old-dumb-white guys that “just don’t get it.” Big labels just become muscle bound by their own daily repetition. The idea that the young eat the old in nature is really not correct. The fast eat the slow, and Ok Go was very fast at realizing a new business model could out run the slow music label model. Big labels and their insomniac moments are filled with pirates stealing their gold because their business models run old music factories.

If you want to sleep well at night and not worry about piracy, you need to modernize the music factory and make piracy a non issue. 

Step one (Get paid in advance)

-Have brands pay you in advance to use your content to push their brands.

Step two (Use free content)

-Use your free content that was paid by a brand to push your fans into live shows. 

Where your music is being downloaded, where are the royalties, that is all gravy under the OK Go model. Ok Go has collaborated with Range Rover, Yahoo, Cisco, Jose Cuervo, State Farm Insurance, Chevrolet, Samsung, Google Chrome. They may never win a Grammy for song writing, but they most definitely deserve a CLIO for their advertising chops and their sense to realize this one very simple idea.

If you are worried as an artist about piracy, build a business model that makes piracy irrelevant. 

Check out one of their latest videos. They used 2,000 Japanese school girls, a drone and a single shot take. Single take shots are fantastic for music videos because you concentrate on the performance, not camera tricks. If you are wondering how did they get the drone to track so well, they used a GPS markers on the artists to keep the frame of the drone in fixed parameters.

The video builds and builds, wait until you see what happens at 3:45 mark when it pans way out. 

By the way, Honda picked up the tab for the video production and I am sure a 20% tip in the form of a content marketing fee. Honda's goal, they wanted to show their scooter to millions of people. So far, 18 million people have enjoyed it without Honda interrupting your basketball game with a crappy commercial. The best ad spend Honda ever made.

For big brands you can pay a lot to annoy or pay a little to entertain. The content marketing shift is underway.

The eyes don't lie

Photo: Dimitri Vervitsiotis/Getty

Photo: Dimitri Vervitsiotis/Getty

Imagine running through an airport at full speed, D-backs cap on, Ray-Bans and a fake beard and within 1 in a 2.25 trillion certainty, they can know who you are. That is not Tom Cruise under the cap in some futuristic film, that's you, that’s me and it is totally possible today.

A company called EyeLock has developed the technology to make your eye the ultimate password. At the Detroit auto show it gave us a peek at a practical application of eliminating your ignition switch in your car. You can start your car with your eyes.

How many repetitive things do we do that we would love to automate?

While a fingerprint read has a one in 10,000 chance of resulting in a false positive, according to EyeLock, with an iris it's more like one in 1.5 million. Verify with two eyes (pirates and the Governor from the Walking Dead see users manual), and the chance of error goes down to one in 2.25 trillion.

I saw Nicki Minaj bragging about they used her actual fingerprint for her album cover of Pink Print. I would think letting the world in on your fingerprint is really not a great idea. Not that I am taking this biometric verification thing too far, but we don’t know what we don’t know at this point. 

The human eye has such astonishing abilities that even Darwin commented in the Origin of Species, that the idea of something so perfect, “believing it could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree.”

As you are reading this story, move your head around while focusing on one word. That ability to track a spot in space making micro adjustments has alluded technologists to replicate that motion so perfect with hardware and software. The human retina has never been duplicated. Imagine 4.2 million times a year our hairy auto wipers clean, irrigate and lubricate these perfect Steadicam’s.

Yes, the nose and ears perform complicated tasks as well, but they need to adapt over time. Our eyes are the same size at birth, adulthood and death. The eyes almost mock their sensory neighbors being born a perfect size 6 and never gaining weight while the nose blows out their wedding dress and the ears grow to look like a sport coat that is three sizes too big at a retirement party.

To put it into perspective, the neuron mapping of the human eye is so complex, it can not be done by a computer. That’s right, with our existing computers, they estimated it would take 15 years to map all the neurons in one human retina.

The story that caught my eye was One researcher Claire O’Connell was inspired by Angry Birds on how to come up with a solution. Her idea, “could we crowd-source humans to track neurons and their connectors on a cellular level.”  If they could turn the task into a game, hundreds of thousands of hours have been burned on less nobel ways to level up.

The game as a whole has been a huge success. Researchers upload their 3D segments and the gamers are able to solve neuron connector issues in a day that would have taken them weeks. As players trace an entire neuron, plus its connections, the universe of the retina can be mapped. Already, Eyewire has identified the areas responsible for motion detection. “The more we discover about the eye, the more amazing it becomes.”

As you go through your day, think about how many repetitive tasks you complete that your eyes could eliminate for you and you will see the size of the biometric automation market to come.


Why the Ford laptop is weird but the Google car is not.

Onion News

Onion News

When you hear about Google and Apple entering the automobile business why does it not seem strange to us? It almost seems like the obvious thing to do. Let’s turn it around, imagine how strange it would sound if you read the press release, “Ford to reveal the first Mustang laptop at CES.”

Tech companies realize autos are a computer with wheels that we use a lot of brain power to operate. If we can free that brain power up for more productive, useful and enjoyable tasks, that is a market worth going after. 

If you like business documentaries, a must see is Revenge of the Electric Car.  When it comes to true David and Goliath stories, you seldom hear about them in business because Hollywood knows that people get tired of Goliath once again crushing the dreams of some poor souls who punched above their weight. Imagine promoting the film “Goliath Wins Again” the movie poster goes on to sell this over-dog story, “watch as this massive meathead with the IQ of a manatee leap from the boardroom and destroy the dreams of this clever little engine that can’t because they are so inadequately prepared for this battle. Come watch this underdog swing for a fence he will never reach.” 

We want Hollywood reality, not real reality. In life, David seldom wins. At the AMC theatre, he seldom loses. 

In the movie, a scene opens where Elon Musk realizes it is game over. He has blown through his Paypal money and his dreams of building an electric car that will disrupt the monopolies Detroit, Tokyo and Stuttgart will not happen.

He has 30 million left and no more pockets to pick but his own. In startup terms, 30 million is a massive war chest, in auto terms, that amount does not even make it to the sock drawer. To give some perspective, when GM was on the ropes in 2008, they told Wall Street they needed 11 to 14 billion a month to meet operating expenses and they had sent 6.9 billion through the wood chipper in the past 90 days. When you have 3 billion as the wiggle room number on your operating expenses, you realize how massive the car business is. That is only one company we are talking about. 

30 million would cover GM’s expenses for less than 2 hours. When you look for David and Goliath stories, this is a classic. The scene with Elon as he goes through the spreadsheet and realizes he is literally down to the final stone, his last throw, that scene is awesome.

The news this week that Apple is working on an automobile is much less dramatic. When you are Goliath, trying a new sword or shield might get noticed but it does not really change Goliath. The auto industry is really similar to the computer industry in that the companies that dominate are the best at assembling other vendor’s parts into something they can market better than the other assemblers of other vendor’s parts.

Would I trust my driverless car trip to Google or GM?

Would I have a better smart phone from GM or Apple?

Just like Walmart and Target grew by eating Kmart and JCPenney customers, I see Google and Apple growing by eating the auto customers. I think it will be a major shift, not a fad. The auto market is massive. It will be Goliath meets Goliath.

On a lighter note. The Onion news put together some features you get with your Apple car. I am waiting for the video with a Jony Ive look-alike running through this list in his expensive dark grey t-shirt, shot in a windowless room.

Use your best Chingford London accent as you read this list:

  • Windshield features four times as many pixels as reality.
  • Full vertical integration with Apple Gasoline
  • Driver prompted to sign into iCloud before each gear shift
  • Compatible with most major roads
  • Recommends new driving speeds based on user’s past favorites 
  • Windshield cracks easily, though car typically still works fine afterward
  • Sticker price of $85,000 drops to $199 with two-year Verizon contract
  • Wheels turn into rainbow pinwheels whenever car stalls
  • Lightweight but powerful enough to careen across six lanes of traffic and through guardrails of overpass
  • Comes with a couple of cool Apple stickers

And of course it has a cup holder.