5 Surprising Things You Didn’t Expect in 2021…

I write my Friday Forecasts about as consistently as I do anything (not very) and publish them even less so. But this week a Thursday dollop aimlessness coincided with an ebb in introversion and a few provocative headlines. The resulting stew pushed my prophetic tendencies past escape velocity and into public orbit. So now I get to dare you to go on record yourself and shout me down if you think these are a swing and a miss. Am I wrong? Am I even serious? Tell me why and raise my hopes (or not). Change my mind in the comments. Or better yet, pen a prediction or two of your own! I work at keeping my worldview flexible if not totally rubberized so here is a rare chance for you to change a life!

(This post is brought to you by Green Day, who popped up in my playlist while I wrote. I’m calling it…)

Wake Me Up When September Ends (…in 2021). Forecasting New Normals.

(this is where Wayne and Garth do their hand-wavy thing to take you back in time (from the future)):

It was back in August 2020 that headlines began including phrases like, “First cases of COVID-19 reinfection verified…” and CDC statements that, “Coronavirus antibodies could give ‘short-term immunity…’” began arising. Such headlines soon coincided with rapidly accumulating clinical studies finding that COVID-19 immunity had a short half-life (3-6 mos.), along with CDC assurances that their recommendations (unlike so much other 20th– and 21st-century science) were only ever driven by data, never politics….

A year later, in September 2021, here is our landscape:

Prediction 1: VaaS (Vaccines as a Service) A New, Big-Pharma, Direct-to-Consumer Business Model.

More people are getting flu shots, because multiple studies have shown the flu vaccine has been shown to reduce COVID infection severity). By late 2021, about 60% of the population routinely gets an annual flu shot (up from 45% in 2019). Many who don’t (yet) trust the COVID-19 vaccine, which first became available in December 2020 and was widely available from multiple venders by February or March 2021, have now begun to at least get a flu shot. A large section of the population continues to disbelieve in the safety or efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine, in many cases because they trust random strangers on the internet for medical advice more than they do their primary care physician.

The COVID-19 vaccines, now offered by in least four variants, have one thing in common: They require semi-annual boosters to maintain immunity. As it turns out, the billions invested by the big Pharmaceutical companies have resulted in a vaccine against this stubbornly ever-present virus that unfortunately requires a semi-annual booster …meaning two shots a year for the foreseeable future. You first get your primary vaccination, which is administered anywhere you can get a flu shot; then you get semi-annual boosters, which can be self-administered at home. The boosters are available via subscription service and are mailed directly from the manufacturer, which saves you 30% versus getting them from a pharmacy or doctor’s office (and the subscription includes free delivery!).

40% of the population still distrusts the COVID-19 vaccine (because, you know, Facebook and misinformation, etc). This guarantees there will continue to be endless COVID infections (and deaths) throughout the world, ensuring ongoing, perennial sales for the Pharmaceutical companies selling their vaccines. Weirdly, legislators seem uninterested in changing this situation.

Prediction 2: The Growth of Poducation (The Decentralization of Primary Schooling).

The ongoing, low-grade (but still occasionally media-hyped) threat of COVID-19 has resulted in Federal and state mandates that public and private schools require students to be vaccinated prior to (and throughout!) the school year. Only a few mid-western states have refused compliance. This has driven an unending chain of (thus-far unsuccessful) lawsuits and protests from those who’ve decided the vaccine is more dangerous than the disease (despite an absence of more than one or two reported instances of the vaccine causing a problem). The new laws have spawned an explosion in home-schooling, with most of that now being done in small “pods” of students where families or small community groups have organized to share the educational load.

An unfortunately-named (but astoundingly successful!) “Port-a-Poddies.com” Montana-based startup has become the first post-COVID educational unicorn (with a $2.5B valuation as of 3rd quarter, 2021) by becoming the “Uber of Homeschooling.” It decentralizes education by matching pods of students with qualified (mostly young, or vaccinated) instructors willing to work in a maskless environment, thus freeing parents who either don’t approve of public schooling, want more personal instruction for their children, or don’t want to vaccinate their kids, to embrace their anti-vaxxer beliefs and still get their kids an education.

Bonus prediction: The Supreme Court has agreed to rule on legislation requiring Federal, State, and local governments to redirect the public funds allocated per child for schooling (~$12,100 per enrolled child, on average across the country) to whomever is actually educating the child. If not overturned, this threatens to take billions of dollars from local school districts and give it directly to the child’s parents (or pod).

Opponents mockingly call this legislation “The Porta-a-Poddie Relief Act.” Forecasts are that a predominantly conservative Supreme Court will rule in favor of the Act, something that is driving incredible valuation leaps in Porta-a-Poddies.com stock. Unknown is whether a favorable ruling by the Supreme Court will result in families who are “poducating” their children receiving a merely a tax credit or direct monthly government checks. Either way, adversaries of The Act (from administrators to the teacher’s union) have claimed that having “the funds follow the child” will be catastrophic to the public-school system, given the mass migration away from public schooling. Schools have already begun cutting deeply into their administration and other non-teacher payroll expenses.

Prediction 3: Fleeing the Petri Dish – an Urbanite Diaspora.

Even the availability of COVID-19 vaccines has failed to slow the migration of people away from the high-density urban environments that have become recurring COVID hotspots. The events of 2020 and 2021 have reversed the multi-decade trend of population movement from rural to urban areas. Neither tax incentives nor threatened penalties have slowed the business and worker exodus from many major downtown areas. Residential and commercial property values in and around major cities continues to plummet, with office and residential inventories at record high levels on the west and east coasts.

Led by tech and finance companies, and other knowledge workers whose employers realized early in 2020 that they no longer needed expensive office space for many employees, the depopulation of mobile demographics from cities has created a cascade of economic implosions. Downtown environments that remained veritable ghost towns even after COVID lockdowns eased in 2020 crushed the last life of those few service businesses that survived Spring and Summer of 2020. The Fall and Winter COVID surges put a final nail into many of those coffins. Then lay-offs from shrinking or closing 2nd-tier “support” businesses and service industries fueled the second major diaspora. City governments facing huge budget deficits “furloughing” even union-protected public sector workers (most of whom seem to recognize that their jobs aren’t coming back anytime soon, if ever) created what is forecast to be a third migration wave away from urban areas.

Huge forces (and lots of money) are being thrown at the problem as people struggle to resurrect dying city centers, but whether that will work, how that will happen, and whom they will attract back remains to be seen. Not surprisingly, crime is up across the board in those cities as police presence decreases. If there are bright sides, it’s that suburbs and even rural areas are benefitting from an unexpected economic and population surges (although that’s not without its own problems). Also, commute time is WAY down (for those few that still commute).

Prediction 4: Domestic Tourism is WAY up!

The closure of many foreign countries’ borders (including Mexico and Canada) to anyone from the US who cannot demonstrate proof of COVID vaccination has collapsed some sectors of the tourism industry while creating several entirely new domestic tourism segments. Cooperatives branding themselves as “Playcation” networks are establishing themselves in remote areas around the country and offering a wide (and wild!) range of “geo-focused” experiences. Taking advantage of cheap land throughout rural America (a la Walt Disney, circa 1965), numerous domestic and international mega-conglomerates (and several of the billionaires who own large tracts of Montana!) continue to roll-out rapidly constructed facsimiles of international destinations that in many ways are surprisingly authentic (especially if you’ve never been there!). As one example, the recently opened “PARIS!” theme park is widely renowned to be incredible, complete with snooty Parisian waiters in overly crowded restaurants who refuse to admit they speak English (signed COVID liability release waiver required). The views of the (augmented reality) “Arc de Triomphe” and “Eiffel Tower” are reputed to be extraordinary. Other Playcation hotspots include activity-focused attractions designed to excite (or exhaust) you (or your kids) for 1-3 day stays. And you can always rest up on the train to the next experience, because…

Many of these Playcation resorts are or will soon be joined by the rapidly growing network of “Casino Trains” that are driving a resurrection in the American railroad and, more importantly for vacationers, allow gambling while traversing interstate rail (due to an obscure 19th century railroad law). These casino trains take vacationers from one Playcation resort to the next in incredible, connected, comfort, allowing families to hit any number of Playcation hotspots that they want without having to fly or drive (which is important, because flying on the two airlines that still allow unvaccinated customers is expensive!).

It won’t surprise you that these Playcation destinations are drawing the service industry workers who’ve left the cities for the greener pastures (literally!) of rural America. Many find that they’re enjoying a heightened standard of living, even though many are now living in what is essentially…

Prediction 5: The Re-emergence of the “Company Town.”

Company owned towns are rapidly becoming (more of) a thing, again. Created first by Google and Apple, but now springing up everywhere, especially around Playcation hotspots (and constructed by the Playcation conglomerate), “Company towns” like those once common in coal-mining country back in the late 1800’s are back en vogue. The first (modern) company towns were created by large tech companies who found out quickly that while working from home created productivity opportunities while cutting expenses, many employees actually *missed* the socialization with their co-workers (and found they didn’t necessarily have a lot in common with their new suburban or rural neighbors). Enter the Company Town – a fully contained urban eco-system (often even with a small commuter airport) dropped into a rural, wooded, otherwise remote area, or in some cases, large abandoned shopping malls purchased for pennies on the dollar and renovated to offer luxury condos and complete town squares, night clubs, and other amenities! Company employees living in such “towns” (often gated off from any surrounding, non-company population) gain access to affordable housing (rent paid to their employer, of course), gourmet grocery stores (groceries paid for simply via payroll deduction!), convenient full-service banking (at the First Bank of Google, for example in one Google town), and various, constantly refreshing entertainment options (cover-charge, alcohol, and other expenses conveniently deducted from your salary!). Many of these company towns are functioning models of the long-awaited cashless society. (Rumor has it that the ONLY way one will be able to pay for ANYTHING in the first Apple company town (currently under rapid construction) is via Apple Pay. No cash, Visa, MasterCard, or American Express accepted!)

That’s probably enough for now, don’t you think? For the one or two of you still reading: I hope you enjoyed my Friday Forecast for the work week ending  8/28/20. This has been another of the episodic cases of bloggarrhea that I call missives (because calling bundles of predictions hittives sounds presumptuous). Hope you had fun.

It’ll be interesting to see what the future holds dumps on us!

The Sun and The Wind …and Ideological Conflict

The events in Charlottesville, VA, over the weekend beginning August 11th, which included the death of one woman and the injury of dozens of others were tragic. My heart goes out to the family, the friends, and the community to which the slain woman, Heather Heyer, belonged, and to all those injured when a homicidal white supremacist drove his car into a crowd.

My hope is that James Fields, allegedly the man behind the wheel, will be found guilty and sentenced to death — a sentence that gets carried out in Virginia faster than any other state.

I no longer live in Charlottesville, though I did once. As a result, I’ve a great many contributors to my social news feeds from that wonderful city. All are saddened; most are broadcasting anger.

As a beginning Stoic, I ask: What do we want to accomplish? How best will we get there?

Many of those affected by that weekend’s events are clamoring for censure, some for the removal of freedoms that underlie our society. As an American, I understand their hurt, their rage, but believe that it’s not just the wrong answer, but a counter-productive one. It won’t solve the problem, it would exacerbate it and cause greater ones. (Full disclosure, I believe that to be true for most “solutions” that seek to apply the power of The State to force constraint, control, or the limit of freedoms, upon The People.)

Ramez Naam, a born Egyptian who rose to prominence in the US as a Partner and Director of Program Management at Microsoft, an award-winning author, a patent-holding entrepreneur, futurist, and technologist, posted this on his blog today:

Don’t let the terrorists win.

We said that a lot after 9/11, and have for the last 16 years. As air travel became absurdly cumbersome, as civil liberties were eroded, as people were arbitrarily blacklisted or detained without room for appeal – we said the terrorists were winning, causing us to undermine the underpinnings of our own society, to crack down on the freedoms that are central to the principles of the United States.

Now, I see friends calling for cracking down on freedom of speech, for restricting the First Amendment, taking away its protections from speech they (and I) consider loathsome. I even see friends advocating for physical violence against people because of their speech.

That, my friends, is letting the terrorists win.

I loathe the ideology of white supremacy. But to let fear or anger at it undermine our notions of civil liberties or civil society… that would be letting the terrorists win.

We’re bigger than that. We’re stronger than that. Don’t let the terrorists win.

In all the footage I’ve seen of those rally’s, without exception, “counter-protesters” are broadcasting hate, vitriol, and disgust at assemblies of white supremacists and neo-nazi’s, who are themselves there to trumpet their irrational hatreds and disgust toward anything “other.”

It’s an emotional, understandable reaction for even rational, tolerant humans, as deeply wired into us as our core values. Emotional responses often come from deeper places, stemming from shared heritage, cultural identity, or our own experiences with justice or lack thereof.

But nowhere among the thinking, the tolerant, does there seem to have been consideration of the question: What do we want to accomplish?

Because, sure as shit, answering hatred with hatred has never worked worth a damn. We know that! In fact, we as a civilization know pretty fucking well at this point that anger, loathing, denials — even the threat of (or actual!) violence — has never done a damn thing to knock a fundamentalist movement from its ideological perch.

When you apply force that will not be sufficient to break a belief, you only strengthen it. Knowing that, why would we choose to strengthen the voices of racists for them? You don’t kill ideologies by denouncing them any more than you do by making martyrs.

Denunciation didn’t work against the original Nazi’s. It doesn’t work with Islamic fundamentalists like Isis. And it won’t work with any other form of dogmatic, institutionalized, hatred like that paraded by supremacists. The most it can do is drive such movements underground where they fester like a cancer until achieving metastasis. Then there’s really hell to pay.

Answering hatred and intolerance with hatred and intolerance is like deciding it’s smart to put out a fire with gasoline. When you see someone doing that, you have to ask, “What exactly are you expecting to accomplish?”

Martin Luther King knew that. He knew that “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Mahatma Gandhi knew that. He knew “You must be the change you wish to see in the world. The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” Most importantly, he knew that “Anger is the enemy of non-violence and pride is a monster that swallows it up.”

Hell, even Aesop, the storyteller and slave in ancient Greece back around 600 BCE taught that lesson in his fable, “The Wind and the Sun.”

The Wind and the Sun were disputing which was the stronger. Suddenly they saw a traveller coming down the road, and the Sun said: “I see a way to decide our dispute. Whichever of us can cause that traveller to take off his cloak shall be regarded as the stronger. You begin.” So the Sun retired behind a cloud, and the Wind began to blow as hard as it could upon the traveller. But the harder he blew the more closely did the traveller wrap his cloak round him, till at last the Wind had to give up in despair. Then the Sun came out and shone in all his glory upon the traveller, who soon found it too hot to walk with his cloak on and took it off.”


These great men knew that meeting hatred with hatred was counter-productive. And in that knowing, they accomplished the seeming impossible. Why have we forgotten that?

As citizens in a complex society, filled with partial information and misinformation, we should know that often the intuitive, emotional response is the wrong one, the least productive one. And the more complex or deep-rooted the problem, the more counter-intuitive the solution will often be.

It’s one of the reasons why societies ruled by demagogues or tyrants inevitably collapse.

What do we want to accomplish? How best will we get there?

Well, we know for damn sure that you cannot bully people away from an ideology. You cannot soften a mob’s will by flipping it the bird, shouting epithets, or throwing stones. So if you’re not willing to employ lethal force to “change” someone’s mind, the only rational response is to embrace an approach that will work over time. Be cool. Be measured. Be smart. Because peoples’ minds change slowly, when they change at all.

When a little kid throws a tantrum, the fastest way to suck the energy out of it is to deprive it of an audience. That’s why timeout is so effective.

At the same time, when you want to kill a fire, you don’t spray water at it’s top. You take away its source of fuel. You wet what hasn’t yet burned.

When your war is one of ideology, the only way to win is over time.

  1. You undermine its recruitment. You make the beliefs so ridiculous that the cult’s target recruited demographic does not want to be associated with it. In short, you starve the movement of fuel.
  2. You educate whom you can. You remain human, and caring. You contribute to the society you believe in. You stop fanning emotional fires by attempting to put them out with facts — they don’t work. You look through those trumpeting irrationality and vitriol. You give no voice to those who would tyrannize or terrorize others. And you bide while waiting for intolerance to die. In the meantime, give racism, hatred, NO audience. Zero. Zilch. Nada.

Because mobs and fundamentalists are like two-year-olds. And you don’t raise a two-year-old into an adult by mirroring their own tactics back at them. That’s no more likely to accomplish anything meaningful than, well, showing up at a bigots’ rally about hatred with a bucketload of your own.

Much more effective, especially against adults, are leadership by example; gentle, consistent, persuasion; and pity. King knew it; Gandhi knew it; Marcus Aurelius knew it; and even the lowly Aesop knew it, more than 2500 years ago.

What would happen, I wonder, if counter-culture rallies proclaiming the embrace of ignorance, the spreading of barbarism or self-serving revisionism, went completely ignored? If nobody showed up? If nobody gave a damn that a bunch of crackpots chose to demonstrate their conviction that the world was flat, or (as in this current case) that others should be blamed for ones’ problems simply due to the color of their skin; their willingness to work smart or hard; or for their choice of beliefs?

What would happen if such rallies were completely ignored or, better, that those who witnessed such displays in passing, going about their peaceful, productive day, simply shook their heads, half-smiled with visible, sad pity, then went about their business?

What if no news broadcasters showed up to amplify delusional voices? Because people declaring sad, ludicrous beliefs are NOT NEWS?

If you cannot, will not, or should not, use force — especially deadly force — to change minds, you must use persuasion. You must find and use the leverages that are inherent in our being a social species to shape amoral or aberrant behaviors over time. You find the vulnerabilities, then apply pressure when and where it will be productive.

Many people like to embrace anger as their first response. It’s as natural as flight-or-fight in response to a perceived threat. But no one rational, no one who’s educated, no one who’s studied history’s errors and would avoid repeating them, jumps to anger as an answer when the questions they should be asking aren’t how do I feel right now, but:
What do we want to accomplish? And,
How best will we get there?

Obstacles are opportunities.

What happened in Charlottesville was tragic. And this is going to happen again, and again, there and elsewhere, if we as a society continue to take our responses from ideologues that are like carpenters whose only hammer is anger.

Home is where the heart …gets healthy again!

For me, it’s always great to get back home from a trip. We had a wonderful time …but of course, like people often do,  while touring Italy I allowed the excuses of “vacationing” and “environment” for a solid week of lazy exercise and detrimental dietary choices.

Unsurprisingly, Italian food, commonly served in 3- or 4-course meals, always with wine (and desert!)(at least on the group tour we took, where many of the meals were pre-ordered for us) created an easy +5lbs in 9 days. Because, “Hey, everyone else is ordering that way!” It’s ridiculous how easy it is for me to fall back into nom nom nomming foods that reinvigorate those American-bred, fattening, aging, sugar and wheat addictions! It’d be easy to shift blame to those childhood “clean your plate!” instructions, but let’s face it: If I claim sentience I also have to accept responsibility for the food I shovel into my pasta hole!

So I always feel that one of the best parts about coming home from a trip is resuming the healthy lifestyle that is too often the first casualty of world travel. That feeling made this recent post by Rohan Rajiv, whose blog I follow, resonate this morning (@4am, because of course my I’m still recovering from a week on European time!):

Your environment versus your willpower

You can find his post at: https://alearningaday.com/2017/07/18/your-environment-versus-your-willpower/.

Now I’m looking forward to a short run and a mindful breakfast!

Thunderstorms and Golden Doodles

We get awesome thunderstorms in the Midwest. I love them.

2017-06-13 13.34.52
Karly H., aged twelve’ish.

My dog? Not so much. As you can see here, during any stormy rumblings, she will only be found down in the basement, in my writing cave, hunkered under my desk.

Today, while Debbie and I were sitting at the table eating taco salads for lunch, looking over a backyard being inundated with needed rain (about thirty minutes before the adjacent picture was taken), Karly and I had the following exchange:

[Scene: Two humans are seated at a dinner table. Their faithful canine companion is curled beside the man’s chair, snoozing (and perhaps snoring) as only twelve-year-old dogs can do within 8 seconds of laying down, anywhere, anytime. Lightning flashes.]

Man: “Oooh, that’ll be a good one.”

[Thunder rocks the house. The dog sproings from sound sleep to stiff-legged alarm. She pivots toward the stairs leading down into the basement.]

Man: “Karly, it’s just a little Spring storm. Stay and watch with us.”

[The dog pauses, perhaps recognizing the word “stay” in her master’s speech. A command? Really? Now? Is he freakin’ kidding? She looks over her shoulder. “Hooman,” her eyes say with deep sincerity, “fifteen thousand years ago, when our kind first began living with your kind, there were two kinds of dogs. There were my kind — those smart enough to know full well that storms were dangerous and the only wise thing to do when the sky growls is *always* seek shelter below ground, where dens are supposed to be dug (for good reason!) — and there were the other kind of dog, those who left risk determinations in the hands of their supposedly smarter hoomans…

“As far as I’m concerned, there’s only one kind of dog left.

“Now, are you coming, or not?”]

[The dog exits, stage left.]


This weird new snake oil can extend your life!

Edit: This article was updated on Jan 25th, 2017, after an exploratory conference call with the Ambrosia, LLC, Founder. -KH

So, do you wanna live forever?

When I began writing my number one non-selling book, “Surrogate Threats,” I was motivated by the idea that advancements in medical science had put us near the cusp of consumer-accessible life extension. Even back in 2015, a growing number of very smart people were predicting near immortality within ten years. My contemplation of that possibility spawned the creation of a fictional antagonist named Ryk Marius who, obsessed with the desire to become immortal and unwilling to be constrained by regulatory brakes or cumbersome morality, developed a plausible plan for life extension using today’s (and, okay, a little bit of tomorrow’s) medical technology. As an entrepreneur, I had such great fun hashing out my antagonist’s business model and innovating through his logistics challenges, I ultimately put his company, Marius Technologies, online at Rejuvi.me.

I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to spending part of 2015 caught up in recurring fantasies about extracting the (mostly) legal aspects of Marius Technologies to create and fund an actual bio-tech venture. If I’d known then what I know now, I might just have done it!

The Tantalizing Business of Life Extension

My sticking points in 2015, other than a chickenshit reticence toward funding legally gray, outlandish, futurist ventures, were (1) that I didn’t think I’d be able collect quite enough funding to get my life-extension venture off the ground; and (2) that I’d have to move out of the country to get around the United States’ oppressive regulatory environment when it came to building businesses out of experimental bio-tech. Put another way, I’d pretty much have to become a full blown Bond villain to develop this world-changing therapy into a profitable business. So I was stymied.

What made it more frustrating was that I was pretty sure someone could actually pull my plan off, if those meddling kids (and, you know, the rest of the world) would just leave them (and me, and my imaginary investors) alone to do it!

I needed a way to advance the vision that the rest of the world wouldn’t consider insane, ethically dangerous, and/or shudderingly creepy. Aye, therein lay the rub!

I was stuck.

Then, a week ago, I was stunned to learn I could have worked within the current US regulatory system to offer experimental age rejuvenation services while collecting substantial revenues — even if the process ultimately didn’t work! After all, while Winston Churchill once said,

“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm,”

Kevin Higgins adds, “…and, even better, with no loss of your own money!”

There WAS a way!


why-yes-i-doThe inciting element in this week’s narrative was a blog post on the site Singularity Hub by Peter Diamandis titled, “Stem Cells Are Poised to Change Health and Medicine Forever.”

Buried about three-quarters of the way into that article, in a section about the four main areas of stem cell therapies to watch, was a section on parabiosis. (For those not into linking away while reading, parabiosis was the term originally coined in the 1860’s (!) for linking the circulatory systems of two creatures, one young and one aged. The resulting blood sharing was found to literally, significantly, reverse the age of virtually all bodily tissues in the older creature. More recently, parabiosis is a term used to describe a process where blood (or plasma) from young donors is provided to elder recipients. The most energetic studies of parabiosis potential today in the US are being done at Stanford, where the treatments are being explored for their potential to stop (or reverse!) the progression of Alzheimer’s. Similar studies are being pursued at many other universities and research clinics elsewhere in the world.)

It’s really not science fiction that hordes of our most advanced researchers are beginning to view aging as a disease that can be cured.

It may turn out that Ponce de Leon’s long-sought “Fountain of Youth” was circulating through the arteries of the Utes* around him all the time!

This is the part where your inner mad scientist says, “Well, wait. If learned and aggressive clinical research doctors are securing valuable (and always scarce) funding to explore whether parabiosis rejuvenates aging, Alzheimer’s-riddled brains …and a full century of parabiotic experimentation with animals has created reams of peer-reviewed findings documenting the reversal of cellular age in virtually all bodily tissues …then maybe parabiosis has a strong chance of becoming at least one part of a multi-faceted strategy to cure people of aging!”

And your inner entrepreneur says, “Holy crap — that’s one of the Holy Grails of bio-tech!” (the other, of course, is to resolve once and for all whether a European Swallow might carry a coconut)(sorry, that was obligatory after a Holy Grail reference, but I digress)crazy-enough-to-work

Meet Dr. Jesse Karmazin, MD, Founder of Ambrosia, LLC, and your Conductor on this Entrepreneurial Train to Sci-Fi Town. Because what Dr. Karmazin has figured out, which I missed back in 2015, is (1) how to offer old (and perhaps wealthy, or desperate, or both) people access to the blood of youths via transfusions of plasma (a modern day, lower-risk take on actual parabiosis), while (2) operating under FDA regulations in the US, AND (3) get the applicants to pay the cost of the clinical trial! Genius!

Karmazin realized that as part of the Federal Drug Administration Amendments Act of 2007 (one of many regulatory evolutions that opened up and increased transparency around clinical trials), establishing a clinical trial has become much more accessible (read: cheaper). He also pieced together two additional key allowances that made Ambrosia’s study viable: (1) (some) patient-funded clinical trials now fall under less scrutiny than they used to, and (2) the FDA doesn’t require approval for processes that are well-established, standard treatments. As you might expect, common blood transfusions (and, especially, even less-risky plasma transfusions) fall under this category!

One valuable type is genius is the ability to solve Gordian Knots of bureaucratic red tape with Alexander-like clarity.

Having found a way through the regulatory maze that I thought would require going offshore, Karmazin next had to develop a capitalization scheme — never an easy prospect when your core enabling technology (blood or plasma transfusions) isn’t protectable via patent. Because without developing a barrier to competition, finding Angel Investors, let alone Venture Capital, is a low-probability moon shot!

Still, the financial prospects were persuasive: 600 participants at $8000 USD per enrollee …comes to a cool $4.8MM in potential revenue for this study! …if you can find that many applicants.

Advancing science while making money? That’s enough to make the Pet Shop Boys sit up and take notice!

And the costs? Here’s my personal speculative back of the napkin work: The wholesale prices for getting blood tested and bio-markers reported can be found for less than a couple hundred dollars (depending on the various markers being evaluated and the accuracy desired). [Update: this may cost significantly more, given the vast number of biomarkers being tracked in this study.] You’ll need that done at least twice. And the cost of an actual unit blood plasma? Only about $61, on average. (Maybe one might pay a little more for the special order, primo stuff — like the plasma of Utes). [Update: this article’s initial calculations were based on erroneous information found online. Dr. Karmazin’s study is for an initial infusion of seven (7) units of Ute plasma, not the ~3 units originally reported.] Add in some consumables here and there and that creates estimated testing and plasma variable costs of about $1000 for each study enrollee. But, then it gets harder; you have to have a place for the participants to go for initial testing and qualifications, to receive the transfusions, and for subsequent blood draws and foll0w-up. That requires staff and office space. And, as every entrepreneur knows, fixed costs can be a bitch for a small venture (it’s why we so often start them in a garage).

[Update: At about an hour per unit of infused plasma, the seven (7) hours of clinic “seat time,” which is spread over a two-day period, will have to be factored into the variable costs.]

Enter young Dr. Karmazin’s savvy choice of business partner, Dr. Craig Wright, a longtime luminary in the field, a board-certified physician with over 30 years experience in seeing patients and working in the biopharmaceutical industry, an innovator (he holds over 15 patents), and a man with one additional important contribution: He’s already come out of retirement to open and operate an infusion clinic in Monterey, CA! With one brilliant partnership, that smashes our fixed costs flat and flattens out many of the other logistical hurdles — opening and managing clinical office space, tapping into an existent business for insurance and regulatory compliance, hiring technicians, etc. And it’s a win for Dr. Wright — his clinic is (presumably) already operating in the black; this is yet another source of (high-margin) revenue that doesn’t increase his existing fixed costs.

Work your way through the creation of a clinical trial and register it on the FDA’s clinicaltrials.gov web site, pay the requisite fee, and Voila! You’re in business!

[Update: And there’s an additional business model strength. The shortness of the clinical trial (one month) introduces opportunities for participants to come back for multiple transfusions, enabling this clinical trial to perform financially more like a therapy. That’s beautiful. As an entrepreneur, being able to sell deeper into your market, tapping satisfied customers, is usually a more profitable course than having to acquire new customers for additional revenues (assuming your therapy works).]

So, who wants a chance to feel (and perhaps actually become) younger? As a bonus, you may help advance the science of longevity, of anti-aging.

Step right up. You pays yer money and you takes yer chances.


* “Utes” – Youths

Sliding windows of opportunity

Author , who wrote “Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products” published an article an Internet eon ago (roughly 10 days), titled, “What to Do When Someone ‘Steals’ Your Amazing Idea.” I came across it in my newsfeed from Observer.com.

Now that, thought I, as a self-identified (paranoid) entrepreneur and occasionally penitent bad sharer, looks like something I should read. Because while a mere idea is the 1% inspiration to the 99% perspiration required to breathe life into a new venture, that flash  of what often feels like original genius is the inciting element that starts every entrepreneurial snowball rolling down Mount Disruption. That lightning-like “Eureka!” moment strikes rarely and without warning, so it’s natural to adopt a Gollum-like protectionism over your conceptual Precious, less some sneaksy Bilbo-analog snatch away your visions of changing the world.

The hard truth, of course, as Nir writes, is that that attitude is the “Sign of a Novice.” He explains,

“People tend to believe ideas are rare things, gems to be collected and hoarded. But in fact the nature of creative work, be it corporate innovation, academic research, or artistic endeavor, tells us quite the opposite—that if a useful insight pops into your head, it’s most likely in other people’s minds as well.”

Well, that stings. I’m a serial entrepreneur and I still want to behave that way when I get speared by inspiration out of the blue.

Nir continues,

“It’s called the ‘multiple discovery theory,’ which, contrary to the ‘heroic theory of invention,’ posits that discoveries are most often made by multiple people, not by lone ‘geniuses.’ History is littered with examples: the formulation of calculus, the discovery of vitamin A, the development of the telephone, the light bulb, the jet engine, the atom bomb.

‘When the time is ripe for certain things,’ the mathematician Farkas Bolyai said, ‘these things appear in different places in the manner of violets coming to light in early spring.'”

Of course, most people who think they’ve stumbled onto some novel idea discover truly original insights are as rare as Astatine shortly after rushing off to uspto.gov (or Google) to execute a quickie patent search.

Mr. Eyal and Mr. Bolyai are inarguably correct. One’s idea is almost certainly not unique or novel to the world. But that doesn’t suggest that dismissing such shower thoughts, or approaching their development with slow deliberation, is the sane course of action. On the contrary, embracing the slavering enthusiasm that such ideas fire is what separates entrepreneurs from those preferring the path most trodden. The thing to recognize about such ideas is that they fuel the furnace that creates the steam it takes to start an entrepreneurial locomotive up Disruption Mountain.

But here’s the thing I would add to Nir’s article: That those flashes of inspiration are almost always shared by others does not mean they are not scarce. Nor does it imply that birthing an idea simultaneously with (or after!) some other inventor(s) dilutes one’s chances of fanning that baby into the kind of conflagration that burns yesterday’s paradigms down.

It’s an adage that while many people get ideas; few do anything with them. But that’s not entirely true and it’s a worldview that can be dangerous for the erstwhile entrepreneur. There are a lot more people that, once shown the path, can figure out the execution than there are those who can see the path to begin with.

Each of those ‘Amazing ideas’ (assuming you’re not delusional) may represent what I think of as a sliding window of opportunity. Once opened, they’re only going to remain that way for a short period before someone else will slam it shut. The risk that makes inventors averse to sharing should not stem from fear of theft. The greater danger is that sharing an idea beyond a select few known and trusted fellow visionaries wastes time that could be spent in research, refinement, and development. In the early stages of business conception, after commitment to the unicorn-like Golden Idea, sharing and the doubt that can introduce from people who don’t have time or interest in your vision can slow one enough that they never get out of the starting blocks.

Sometimes, that instinct to guard one’s embryonic inspiration with at least some level of discretion is the best way to convert innovative adrenaline into the most precious of all entrepreneurial elements: The will to begin the work of building a product. That protecting your Precious reduces the chance of theft and exploitation by a pent-up competitor is merely a bonus.


We Are Always Broadcasting (And It Affects Our Grades)

I’m privileged to be the parent of a great teen who’s normally a strong student and capable of pulling A’s when she applies herself. She is a sweet kid, good natured, motivated, and not prone to vitriol. But she is subject to our public school system and though her school ranks in the top 5% nationally and in the top 3% in our state, like all schools it sports its share of teachers who have, shall we say, seemingly lost their zeal for teaching.

Last semester she made the following comments about one of her classes:

I hate my Honors English teacher. Everyone else does, too.
Everyone’s trying to get out of her class (unsuccessfully).
She’s worthless. She’s lazy. All she does is…[insert criticism]. She never…[etc]…
When I ask my teacher a question, she’s so snotty to me.
If I have a question about something, I don’t feel like I can even ask because she’s just going to yell at me.
It’s not fair. My English teacher hates me.

I’m close to my child. I commiserated. We don’t often use the word “hate” in our house so clearly emotions were high. But we’ve all been there. We’ve all been frustrated by school experiences forced on us. And as students, we all blamed the teacher.

A teacher who engages you, whose teaching style you like, makes school more fun. It can make learning effortless. Or at least less tedious. Good teacher/student connections make earning A’s easier.

The converse is also true.

I was saddened by my teen’s statements. English is smack dab in my teen’s wheelhouse. She is an avid reader, well spoken, and a strong creative writer. Earning A’s in English is inarguably within her capability. Actively disliking an English course was a first.

She did poorly in that semester. Capable of getting straight A’s, she barely escaped getting a C in that class. Such GPA hits, unchecked, can become a problem for a student with their heart set on getting into the selective Big Ten University drawing many of her friends and classmates.

In commiserating with my child, being a good listener and leaving it at that, I failed my teen as a parent, as a mentor. I took the bonding opportunity but missed the opening for a teaching point.

I failed to point out that every one of my teen’s observations above were linked.

The great thing about failures is that they can be springboards to learning. Now she’s helping me with my failure and I’m helping her with hers (Yes, in this family, a low B is a failure to manage your future). So we wrote this together, hoping our experience and takeaways help others.

Here are the learning points for teens, by a teen (and her parent).

1) What you broadcast gets reflected.

Humans are social creatures. People in close proximity pick up on others’ vibes. We can tell when someone near us is bothered, sad, or angry. We can often sense honesty or its absence. We can sense respect. We can also sense disrespect or disregard. This is all because (most) humans are, by nature, empathetic.

Teens get this. They sense when someone likes or doesn’t like them, even among strangers and often without any words being spoken. The reason why might remain a puzzle, but the feeling comes through. We’re social. We’re tribal. Like pack animals of a sort. So we’re always broadcasting cues, always receiving them from others. That’s especially true when you’re a teenager in a socially dense environment, like school.

Teenagers are often only beginning to develop the experience, the skill (and for many the inclination) to conceal how they’re feeling. Their feelings and attitudes show in their faces, in their body language, in their eye contact, or lack thereof. It’s broadcast in their attentiveness, or lack thereof.

People choose how they will feel. They adopt an opinion. Then they broadcast. Everything.

That means others can read you, even if they don’t let on. You’re social. So are they. But adults have had the experience of long practice. So if you as a teen think you feel it when someone at school either likes you or not, imagine how well that sense works for someone who’s had longer than you to develop that skill at reading others, at sensing what they’re feeling.

That’s the case with teachers more than almost any other kind of adult.

Adults who spend lots of time with teens can become almost like mind readers, even if they don’t show it. They’ve seen it all. Reading students’ attitudes comes from experience. And even though a teacher may be adept at hiding what they pick up from students’ broadcasts, they’re human. It affects them.

They also have the experience to get that sense from every individual sitting in their class. Just because a student is one of thirty doesn’t mean they’re invisible, that the teacher is oblivious to their broadcasting.

Because they’re human, they are prone to reflect those broadcasts.

When we sense someone doesn’t like us or respect us, we’re likely to reflect that antipathy. It takes conscious effort not to. Teachers aren’t immune to that inclination.

Teen thought experiment: If your roles were reversed, how would you respond when someone came up to you with a question after broadcasting they thought you were worthless, that time listening to you was wasted, that you sucked at your profession? Think about that. Many people don’t, then go through life clueless about how and why others respond to them the way they do.

A smart guy named Rajiv Rohan wrote: “The moment we look at ourselves in the mirror and say – ‘I am responsible for my life experience’ – is the moment we grow up.”

We each bear responsibility for the way others respond to us. That is a tough truth.

So when the student approaches a disdained teacher, begrudged because they teach a course the student doesn’t value or for employing a teaching style the student abhors, there should be no wonder when the teacher responds with similar attitude before words are even spoken. It’s no coincidence the teacher acts like they know that student’s thoughts.

2) The attitudes you adopt, embrace, and broadcast affect your grades.

The teacher/student connection, good or bad, is a two-way street. The teacher has an obligation to impart knowledge. The student has an obligation to arrive prepared to absorb it.

But no teacher has an obligation to behave or teach their course exactly the way every student wants. That would be impossible. But every teacher will teach so that those who are willing to earn an A can do so. The proof is that some students invariably do.

The students who decide that knowledge isn’t being conveyed the way they want, expect, or demand, are making a conscious choice. It hurts only them. Students who adopt disdain for a teacher, regardless of whether that might be deserved, throw a barrier in front of their own learning. They make getting that A grade harder, perhaps impossible. That is not only because people tend to tune out things they don’t like or want to hear, but because most classes have subjective components incorporated in the final grade. So a teacher’s personal evaluation of the student comes into play when their grade is assigned.

When the student and teacher work to respect each other, when the student is attentive, engaged, and has made the effort to be interested (sometimes in spite of the teacher’s behavior), that better grade occurs naturally.

Humans are inclined to evaluate more favorably those who pay attention to what they’re saying.

Whether that seems fair does not matter. That’s how humans are. It’s true in school. It will be true when one begins a career. And it will be true for the way you evaluate the performance of those who work for you if you ever become a boss. Respect is the currency that buys productive relationships.

Colleges know this. No college admissions officer, reviewing applications, will know nor care that someone had a hard teacher, perhaps one they didn’t like, in tenth grade. Every student gets such teachers. Students with straight A’s don’t get those grades because they got lucky with easy classes and awesome teachers all the way through high school. And they don’t have them just because they’re smart.

That 3.8 or 4.0 GPA means purely that a student was observant enough to understand their one job as a student was to figure out what the teacher wanted. Then they manufactured the requisite interest, put in the required effort, and delivered it.

It bears repeating: They figured out what the teacher wanted and delivered it. That’s all one has to do.

3) A grade, a cumulative GPA, means either the student did their job or they didn’t. Nothing more.

Students with 4.0+ GPA’s earn them because they put in the work. They made the effort to invest in their own future — even when they didn’t like a course or a teacher. That’s why that GPA is a primary determinant for acceptance at many colleges. And why it’s considered important to many companies when evaluating entry-level job applicants. Not because it indicates intelligence — it doesn’t. But because it means a candidate chose to figure out what was asked, did the work, and overcame adversity instead of accepting excuses.

Conversely, lower GPA’s signal students who decided to let attitude and judgments get in the way of their own learning so often it became a pattern of behavior.

For young teens uncertain what career to pursue, applying oneself to all subjects (like ‘em or not!) is challenging. It’s hard. That’s precisely why evidence of success is valued by colleges and companies. And if you don’t know the direction your life will take — and almost no one does as a teen — you cannot yet say what you don’t need to know. So performing strongly in all subjects is the only way to keep your options open.

The good news is that people can hit reset on poor past choices.

4) Tomorrow is a new day.

Students can hit reset on their approach to classes. They can reset their regard for a teacher. It’s hard, even harder if the best way to do that is sit down with that teacher or, through actions, prove that they’ve managed that reset. But it’s doable. Best of all, it’s in their own interest.

Think ahead. Choose not to become that person who might one day realize at long last where their happiness lies, what their dream is, what they want to do with their life, only to realize they let past choices close off their options. Figure out how to respect your teachers. Try to understand their perspectives, even if you don’t know how to like them. Learning how to put yourself in someone else’s shoes is a valuable life skill. But it’s worthwhile.

Your future self will thank you for it. With due respect.

Fixing Inequality At The Source — Primary Education

It was like living in a science fiction novel. For the first seven years, grade school bored me. I had no interest and it showed in my grades. The teachers sucked, and school was nothing more than a barrier between me and the technology (read: gaming) that really engaged me in any free time I had. Then everything changed. It was in social studies, during a semester about history, of all places. Boring, right? Well, yeah, it had been. Up until this moment.

One second I was sitting at my desk, horsing around with my buddy Tom, waiting for Mr. Higgles to walk in and begin our American History class, a thought which, once upon a time, could have put my jaw in danger from a ginormous yawn of reflexive boredom. But today we could barely retrain ourselves; we’d been hearing about today’s material from students in the classes ahead of us for literally two years and had been waiting for this section on the American revolution to begin since Fall.

Finally, Mr. Higgles appeared and the students’ focused attention spread like a wave of rapt silence as the first ones noticed him at the front of the class. A mischievous smile ghosted his lips and crinkled his eyes–Higgles loved teaching this stuff and we couldn’t help getting swept along with his enthusiasm–and he waved his hand.

Oh, holy crap. The classroom disappeared, our seats disappeared, our clothes changed, and Mr. Higgles changed!

Suddenly we were colonial soldiers, sitting on stumps, on logs, in the chill and snow-covered environs of eastern Pennsylvania, looking beyond George Washington, across the Delaware River into New Jersey, where we would march tonight to surprise the brutal, occupying forces of the Hessian General Johann Rall. We weren’t going to liberate our friends and relatives from beneath the Hessian boots this night, but we sure were going to surprise the crap out of them!

Mr. Higgles as George Washington. He was awesome!

The next two hours were branded on my memory. I played a part in the American Revolution. I kicked some Hessian butt. And I got to follow, and watch, George freakin’ Washington! The action periods as we moved through colonial America got us engaged in History like never before. But even the lecture periods had us attentive; not only did we need to get this valuable information, we had to keep an eye out for enemy spies seeking to discover our secrets!

I learned to love learning.

I’ll never forget that class and that experience…just one of the multitude that made learning come alive for me (and Tom!) in 7th grade and following years!

I spent some time musing about the possibilities for creating virtual reality classrooms a couple months ago–a couple months before Zuckerberg’s announcement of (what I believe to be) Facebook’s brilliant acquisition of Oculus VR. Here’s the skeleton:

The most important factor within a school’s control determining the quality of a student’s education is the quality of the teacher. A great teacher and an interactive environment create otherwise unparalleled student engagement and learning.

Teachers matter most. Great teachers are rare in most students’ lives. Often critical life skills remain undeveloped because students get stuck with poor teachers in their STEM (and other) classes.

Under Industrial Age Schooling paradigms and in an era of continually shrinking discretionary (education) budgets, most grade-school teachers in any given school system aren’t top-percentile educators. Nor are they incented to be. So great teachers are rare and the best ones will often find themselves venues where their abilities are better recognized and rewarded. Unfortunately, those venues aren’t accessible to the majority of grade school students.

But it doesn’t have to be that way any more.

What if every student whose family had the desire could be taught every class by the absolute best, brightest, most imaginative and most engaging teachers? How different would our children’s lives–and educations–be? What benefits might our world derive from developing that latent potential in our next generations by giving them the stronger education that creates a foundation for innovation, productivity, and happiness?

Ultimately, while I still love the idea, I don’t think this is an opportunity for a small, under-capitalized group of people. And it would be an uphill struggle against powerful institutional forces like teachers unions and others who’d fight tooth and nail for the maintenance of a crappy status quo, prioritizing their own interests over the students’.

But in the near future, a well-capitalized group comprised of people from online education community and the massively multiplayer online game industry (to handle the shared-experience networking infrastructure) will come together, perhaps backed by Bill Gates’ (or Zuckerberg’s) level of resources, and they’ll be able to overcome the financial and political forces currently dominating educational systems and in favor of systemic stagnation.

More musing:

The Environment

  • Last year, developers built software that provided an immersive (and some would say mind blowing) VR experience that worked within the previous developer-version of the Oculus Rift, though the resolution was only 720p and motion blurring and latencies caused wearer discomfort after a short time.
  • At CES this year, a new version of the Oculus Rift featured a new capability for 1080P projection, and reduced motion blurring, providing a foundation for more comfortable, longer, VR immersion.
  • Sony continues to enhance their virtual headset (HMZ-T3Q) to both improve the experience and evolve it toward supporting VR/game-play experiences), and has teased that the PS4 will support VR play.
  • The largest university in the world is University of Phoenix, a private, online, for-profit university. Unfortunately, the dated execution of the curriculum results in low graduation rates. There is no similarly sized and profitable private K-12 institution.
  • Parents in the US and many countries are decreasingly satisfied with the quality and relevance of their children’s public grade-school education, but lack the money or ability to home school or send their children to a private school.
  • Education in developing countries is recognized as one of the single most important requirements for long-term growth and global competition.

The Forecast

  • Reduced manufacturing costs of 4K displays, ever-increasing processing and accelerometer and head-tracking technology, and miniaturization will produce comfortable, extended-wear VR headsets within 2-3 years.
  • The hardware for participating in a VR experience, currently limited to inexpensive PCs will soon be available in the most popular consoles. Along with growing Internet penetration, even in remote parts of the world, we are trending toward ubiquitous accessibility to the hardware and connectivity required for (at least simple) VR interactions in massively scalable environments.
  • Haptic gloves and body suits will deepen the immersion of VR experiences (though they aren’t required for simple VR immersion, such as classroom instruction).
  • Support for and integration of these peripherals in games will drive mainstream adoption and accessible pricing, further penetrating the market with the accessories needed to participate in online VR education venues.

The Assets

  • A proven Multi-player Game Platform, capable of serving the environment and teacher tools that would allow teachers to broadcast classes to students, and configure the classroom environment to improve student immersion, improving engagement and learning.
  • A team experienced in building 3D environments, with licensable client technologies that could make creation of relatively simple 3D environments, like a virtual classroom, rapid and cost-effective.
  • A team well-versed in the demands of, and moderation of, online virtual communities (and meeting / instructional spaces).

The vision

  • First, create a destination portal where anyone could craft, rehearse, schedule, market, sell, and then present mind-blowing virtual education, or entertainment, then allow them to record, publish (and sell) those classes or diversions, instructional presentations, or even full courses, with revenues generated from student/participant sales, or ad revenue (imagine being a marketing department being able to market your product in VR to a captive audience before, or during breaks in, or after, a class!
  • Craft virtual classrooms, and provide teacher and student tools, enabling individuals, schools, or private institutions, around the world to place students (or participants) into the most effective (and inexpensive!) learning environments available.
  • Create the multi-participant tools sets that allows students to interact with teachers (or a teacher’s assistant) in a way that provides the benefit of a small classroom environment (from the student’s perceptions) to even massively scaled, auditorium (and larger!)-sized classes.
  • Partner with (or acquire) an accredited online K-12 school, or license their curriculum.
  • Extend the opportunity for the best teachers in the world to teach via VR, in a crafted environment that feels to the student like an optimum-class-size experience, regardless of the number of people in actual attendance, with the same degree of direct interaction with some of the best teachers in the world.
  • Create a model where teachers could be deployed who specialized in teaching their specific expertise, their passion–because enthusiasm for the subject matter is communicable. Even making discrete blocks of subject matter available to public schools would enhance the quality of education for most classes, allowing “guest” teachers to teach specific hours, days, or weeks of any given course.
  • Enable students to attend school by sitting in either real-time live-cast virtual classrooms, or by logging into a previously recorded/scripted class if live attendance isn’t possible.
  • Create the availability for students receive the most imaginative effective education available in the world, from the world’s best teachers, either from home, or from gathering centers/auditoriums


  • Gaming will both drive penetration and ubiquity, as it has so often done throughout the history of consumer PC performance.

Johnny gets up too early in the morning–guaranteeing sub-optimal learning for the first two hours–and catches a bus into his public school. There, amidst often crowded, occasionally hostile conditions, Johnny is herded through a lock-step educational process that has changed little from the early industrial era whose needs it was originally emplaced to serve. In his classes, he’s often lectured to by senior, tenured teachers who, obviously to the kids, cares little about whether or not the students are engaged or interested, hasn’t been incented or interested in updating their course for years, and doesn’t think it’s important to tie the course’s relevance into the system of tools that grade school education should be providing to students.

As we head into 2014, experts are predicting that we’re about two years away from high-resolution, astoundingly immersive, virtual reality. This winter, companes like HBO are demonstrating experiences like taking a virtual elevator up the 700′ ice wall famouslly depicted in the hit adaptation of the “Song of Ice and Fire” books in the series titled “Game of Thrones.” Despite the use of the last-generation Oculus Rfit VR headset, which sports only 720p resolution (versus the current version’s 1080p), the combination of an immersive visual experience with good sound effects is blowing people away. People “ascending” the cliff face, standing within a simple cage with the VR headset on, are literally having their fear of heights kick in as they’re taken up the 700′ cliff, then lowered again (fast enough to incite a degree of fear at coming down too hard!).

All that’s needed to craft a fully immersive experience is the visual immersion in a reasonable resolution 3D environment and a great sound system–and we’re there now. Adding in haptic peripherals like gloves or a body suit, or gyroscopically stabilized implements, and subtle control of temperature and artificial breeze, perhaps with 6-axis, omnidirectional treadmills, will enhance this experience, but aren’t as important to immersion as the caliber of the actors (or CGI MOBs). After all, we as humans can become immersed in an envrionment sitting in a chair watching a 2D presentation if it’s done right.

Marrying a VR environment with an underlying mulitplayer architecture capable of managing the interactions of a moderate-sized group of people opens the door to unparalleled educational opportunities a la VR classrooms.

Imagine if children living in inner cities, in the country, or in a completely different nation where infrastructure and education aren’t as developed as in the economically stronger 1st and 2nd world countries, had access to the absolute BEST teachers iin the world. Imagine how much better their education would be if the not only were taught by the best teachers in the world, but were taught in an environment wherre the teacher had the control over the environment to fully immerse their students into the environment, and where classroom and instructor topologies supported–encouraged!–student groupings by learning pace, for every subject.

Imagine how different the world might be within a generation.

Sales In The Digital Age: The Exotic Disconnect

Respect For The Customer QuoteThe following saga contrasts the experiences between two corner-case consumers of exotic sports cars. Despite their “first-world problem” nature, the embedded customer experience anecdotes hold lessons for any executive, entrepreneur, brand manager, department head, or visionary aspiring to be one of those things.

Customer ownership experiences reflect a manufacturer’s corporate culture and degree of respect for the customer. Resourced intelligently, even customer problems become sales and loyalty drivers, more than making up for inevitable engineering or production quality assurance failures. Short-shrift the post-purchase customer experience and wronged customers in this digital age are motivated and empowered to create terrible brand drag. Disappointed customers degrade expensive marketing ROI. Just a few pissed off customers can wreak havoc on an entire brand, driving away future sales.

Wouldn’t you think luxury brands that cater to an exclusive customer pool would manage problems well in this connected age? It doesn’t have to be expensive, so it’d be the height of folly not to. Right?

Crazily, many luxury brands still fail epically at managing problems in even the simple ways that can mean so much to dismayed customers. I refer to this kind of failure as an Exotic Disconnect because it’s so prevalent in boutique, luxury companies like those producing exotic cars. The exotic disconnect is what happens when a company goes to great lengths and huge expense to engineer and position its products or services–its brand–as distinct, as coveted, as exclusive, but has placed all emphasis on engineering and marketing while failing basic management of the post-purchase customer relationship. It’s painful to behold, even if you’re not the dismayed consumer victimized by such a failing. Ferrari used to be famous for their Exotic Disconnect. Their brand defines high-performance exotica among those whose impressions are based on marketing more than reality, but Ferrari has labored for decades under the sales-harming perception of apathy, if not disdain, toward owners.

Before venturing irreversibly down the entrepreneurial path, I spent significant corporate time doing customer, product, technical, and community support for large corporations. My term in corporate purgatory spawned conviction that responsive, anticipatory customer relations drives sales. Handling failures adroitly turns them into customer acquisition multipliers. I carried that religion into my entrepreneurial ventures and count that caring execution as a success factor.

But great CRM grows from a culture and processes integrated throughout a company’s execution channels. But focusing on it is rarely sexy because it requires people to contemplate failures in areas for which they’re responsible. Very few executives chomp at the bit to champion corporate anticipation of their professional face plants. It’s not so much pride goeth before the fall as pride causing the fall. So few companies list managing the post-purchase experience as a core competence. As a result, CRM efforts are rarely assigned superstar talent, commensurate authority, or the resources allocated to more conventional slices of revenue development initiatives. But organizational success increases when all members feel invited to anticipate failures and contribute to building the processes that convert production problems into customer loyalty and evangelism.

So when I’m subject to product failures that get poorly handled by companies that under invested in my post-purchase experience, it chaps my ass. It means the company has been lazy–because doing this well doesn’t have to be expensive. Conversely, when a company excels, I’m motivated to evangelize and repeat purchases. I damn sure take care of companies that take care of me. If a company earns my loyalty, that investment will return in their sales. I am not alone in this.

Porsche, and more specifically my local Porsche dealer’s service center, does this really well. Alas, my poster child for Exotic Disconnect failures in this blog post is McLaren, whose policies and dealer service center have repeatedly screwed this pooch six ways from Sunday.

As a car guy, I’ve embraced a life-long love affair with performance cars. I buy the most performant cars I can get my wife to approve, and then I drive them. By that I mean at every excuse, including tracking the shit out of them every chance I get. Unlike those who buy exotic sports cars primarily as garage ornaments so they can practice their wax-on/wax-off, kung-fu skills between occasional (and ginger!) Sunday drives, I stress my cars (safely and with all recommended maintenance, of course). As far as I’m concerned, if a company markets a car as bred for the track, that’s where the owner should be expected to spend at least some of their time. My friend the McLaren owner feels the same way. So we both track sports cars when life allows.

His car cost more than twice what mine did. Both have needed warranty repairs. Neither one of us is dismayed by this; shit happens, and complex systems are subject to failure. My car, the Porsche 997 GT3 pictured as the header image on this blog, has suffered component failures that could arguably be attributed directly to my repeated stressing the car’s systems in both autocross and HPDE events at various race courses. My friend’s McLaren problems have all been the kind of component failures that sometimes plague high-end boutique manufacturer’s hand-built cars and are often expected and accepted by those consumers as long as they’re professionally handled. None of the problems he’s had have anything to do with the way his vehicle is driven.

Enter the Exotic Disconnect. Contrast our experiences.

I have my Porsche service tech do periodic tech inspections of my GT3 before driving it 150mph in HPDE’s. He has discovered cracks in my car’s rotors that exceed the recommended spec (7mm) on two occasions.  His (and Porsche’s) attitude is: It’s a car that’s designed as a track car. The customer shouldn’t be penalized for using it for the designed purpose (I’ve heard that approximately 70% of GT3 owners track their cars). A warranty shouldn’t only apply to babied or garaged cars. From my position as a consumer, Porsche’s corporate culture says: We build performance cars that will stand up to performance driving. At the same time, they recognize that complex systems will have the occasional inevitable failure. So they’ve established processes that minimize customer inconvenience–solid communications, professional and personal service, and a free loaner car while yours is in the shop. The dealer’s service center reflects the manufacturer’s culture. They both recognize they’re links in a critical chain and handling the occasional failure is an investment in the brand and future sales, not just an expense to be minimized at any cost.

And now this blog post’s poster child: My friend bought a McLaren because his research indicated that McLaren owners tended to be more satisfied with their cars than Ferrari owners, and the McLaren MP4-12C was developing a reputation as both unbelievably capable on the track but also comfortable and reliable for daily use. Ferrari’s Exotic Disconnect cost them a sale. However, when the time came for my friend to send his McLaren in for its first annual service and a couple niggling warranty repairs, it took 3 weeks and multiple calls to get the dealership to pick up the car (the transport service is paid by the customer, which he knew going in, but the lack of follow through by the service center was frustrating). Strike one. Eventually the car was picked up. Then, nothing, not a peep from the service center. Ten days later he calls, and the car hasn’t been serviced yet. Another week goes by without communication from the service center. He calls and they’re “just about to get to it.” Strike two. Long story short, as the car approached its third week in what has begun to feel like a service black hole, my friend finally has to give the service center an ultimatum because he’s scheduled to drive the car in a parade and HAS to pick it up. The morning he begins the trip to the dealership, 340 miles away, it’s still not ready! Though the car was (just about) ready by the time he got there, it’d been a six week ordeal just to complete basic service and a couple of warranty repairs that weren’t dependent on parts availability.

Fast forward to last week. He’s driving his McLaren back from the barber shop. The 12C is still under warranty with less than 5000 miles on McLaren Left Rear Turn Signal Loosethe odometer. He pulls into his garage and gets out to find the left-rear turn signal light has fallen out of the fender and is hanging by the electrical wire. The car wasn’t hit or otherwise damaged; a light-assembly retaining tab had simply broken and it was obvious that light assembly would need to be replaced–something he could easily do himself upon receiving the part. No biggee, shit happens. So he emailed a description of the problem and a picture to the dealership’s McLaren service manager. The picture clearly showed the problem, and that there’d been no impact damage to the light assembly or surrounding fender. The piece just broke and fell out. He got no answer to his email. Several days later he calls and is directed to another service manager, who asks that the email be resent to him. My friend does so immediately. …a day later that service manager calls him back to say, “We will have to check with McLaren to see if that will be covered under warranty.”

McLaren service then added insult to injury when they called the next day to admit McLaren would cover the issue under warranty but they wanted the defective light (which still worked and was usable if held in with tape) sent to them before they would send out the replacement light. When my friend complained that would render the car inoperable for the 2+ weeks it would probably take for the part order and exchange, he was grudgingly told they could cross ship the items, but they would need his credit card so they would be able to charge him the cost of a new light if he didn’t follow through by sending the defective light back (remember, he’d sent a picture of it clearly showing it was broken and hanging out of the car).

As I heard this, I found myself thinking, “Are you freaking KIDDING me?” How does a company clever enough to build a world-class super car with such advanced engineering bumble such basic customer relations opportunities? They’re striving to sell vehicles to a market segment that is willing to buy cars that cost literally TEN TIMES the price the average consumer will pay, and McLaren can’t be bothered to streamline post-purchase problem handling with an eye toward making their customers feel valued?

When pleased, this McLaren owner is an evangelist. I mean, sometimes you can’t shut him up! And he typically buys an exotic super car every couple years and is happy to let others drive it to check it out. Like many in that community, he browses and occasionally participates in forums where people of like interests congregate and share anecdotes. All it takes for companies to harness his enthusiasm and benefit from his extensive network and communications with other super car buyers is to respect him as a customer. He’s not a prima donna; he merely expects a prestige company to reasonably manage their service links. There are well-understood process and market examples for establishing processes that flag failures in service scheduling, work quality, and streamlining expectation-exceeding responses to issues any technician should be able to evaluate as reasonably likely to fall under warranty and be empowered to handle. Do those things and that company will benefit from customer evangelism.

Why in hell would a company NOT care about having their customers voluntarily, enthusiastically, sell that company’s products for them? How dense do you have to be as an executive or dealership owner to forsake that kind of revenue multiplier?

Does my friend still love his McLaren? Yep. But he’s also pissed that his ownership satisfaction, which is a BIG part of owning a prestige, exotic car, has been degraded. In this case, McLaren, the McLaren dealer, and the McLaren service center chain had an enthusiastic customer that would have been a source of significant future revenues and referral sales. Instead, they motivated him to broadcast his dismay in conversation and online, potentially driving potential customers toward another brand.

Leverage your customers

My friend has heard from others that their service centers take better care of them, but my friend is stuck with the dealership closest to him. Consistency is part of complete brand management; it’s the individual’s experiences that drive their opinion of the brand.

My friend won’t buy another McLaren no matter how many cool videos journalists post in articles or to Youtube. Nor would I after talking to him. On the other hand, I’ll buy another Porsche and after talking to me, my friend probably will now, too. His future Porsche won’t be as exotic, as head-turning as his McLaren was, but he’ll expect to be happier with the ownership experience. He’ll feel respected and appreciated by Porsche. That’s important when you’re spending hard earned money.

Someone at McLaren should fall onto their sword for saddling their company with that kind of uncompetitive thoughtlessness.

A Tough Week For Rough Men

“People Sleep Peacefully in Their Beds at Night Only Because Rough Men Stand Ready to Do Violence on Their Behalf.”

Whether you’re a member of the camp that holds that misquoted Orwellian sentiment as a simple reality, or more likely to group with the rest of Kipling’s  “Humanitarians,” most people could agree that this is a tense time to be a Ukrainian, and no doubt an even scarier time to be a soldier in the Zbroyni Syly Ukrayiny, (ZSU), (phonetic spelling) or Armed Forces of the Ukraine.

As an Infantryman who was once part of an Army that spent a decade facing the Russian (then, Soviet) Bear across the Fulda Gap, training for the dreaded day when some idiot let slip a luftballon, I feel and fear for our Ukrainian brothers in arms. With overwhelming force to their front, and a government behind them that neither invested heavily in military spending nor adopted any reality-based, asymmetric resistance doctrine, nor secured themselves with the NATO membership or other alliances that could have served to deter invaders, those Ukrainian soldiers are facing a grim future–especially if ordered to present some kind of fatally symbolic, conventional defense.

Eight years after Russia pulled brazen geo-political trickery to foment then support “separatist action” in Georgia and two years after they were given a by from the current administration’s Leader, who’s on record as proclaiming the Russians “no longer a geopolitical threat,” those dang Russkis are at it again…and using virtually the exact same playbook as in 2008, this time to grab the strategically important Crimea.

And they’ll probably get away with it. It will be immoral, and it will cause local chaos, and it could very well become much more expensive to the Russians than Putin is forecasting, especially if our State Department shows (and carries through with) uncharacteristic punitive resolve in support of our Ukrainian “friends.”

But a little bit of PR bolstered by the fourth and fifth estates’ highlighting the most sympathetic face of Ukrainian politics, Yulia Tymoshenko does not a strong deterrent make.

Ultimately, regardless of pre-election positioning, our current ruling administration is a pragmatic one. In Washington these days, pragmatism is a euphemism for “in the interests of the economy, Wall Street, and other influences Obama’s base doesn’t really follow very closely because they’re happier believing he doesn’t, either.” And when it comes to events in the Ukraine, a small horde of uppity Cossacks trampling an isolated peninsula is just not going to matter much to the Money Men.

On March 3rd, 2014, the sages at Credit Suisse issued this telling statement: “Russia is only 2.9% of global GDP, with the Ukrainian economy accounting for a further 0.4% of global GDP. Russian imports from the US and Euro area are $11bn and €87bn, respectively (or 0.7% and 4.6% of total exports, accounting for less than 0.1% and 0.9% of GDP). So in itself, it is hard to see the Ukrainian crisis having a significant impact on global growth.” The report added that in spite of those pesky Russians (okay, those are my words), “Our US earnings model points to 8.5% EPS growth for the S&P 500 this year (slightly below consensus at 9.1%), and we continue to believe that US margins will not peak until 2016.” (“Macro and market implications of the Ukrainian crisis,” Credit Suisse, 3 Mar 2014).

In other words, “Hey Western World Leaders, don’t sweat it, don’t fret it, we’re still tracking so don’t rock the boat!” There’s certainly calm, rational thought to support this.

But it doesn’t stop us from feeling sorry for Ukrainian Soldat Kovalenko, who may wake tomorrow or Wednesday morning looking down the imposing 125mm bore of a Russian T-90.

In the Infantry, we’d articulate our empathy for Soldat Kovalenko’s plight with the phrase, “Там, але для благодаті Божої, перейдіть І.” Sometimes it stinks to be a geoplitical pawn. All you can do is lean forward in your foxhole, pop some Ranger candy, keep your weapon clean and your bayonet sharp, and mutter “Hooah” with steely eyed determination. Boys, it’s gonna be The Suck this Spring and unless the markets really get concerned, you’re probably on your own.