Faster than light

What if you could wake up one morning, get on a ship, and travel to Alpha Centauri within a matter of minutes? That’s the concept behind Alcubierre Drive. Named for physicist Miguel Alcubierre, Alcubierre Drive is an increasingly real concept for traveling faster than light. It’s the real life concept for Star Trek’s Warp Drive.

Ok, let’s clear some things up before we get in too deep. Ordinary objects cannot travel faster than light. Instead, we can exploit a loophole in Einstein’s relativity and simply move space around the craft instead of the craft itself. Relativity states that any object with mass simply cannot travel faster or as fast as light. The object would be torn to pieces long before it hit the “cosmic speed limit.” Though, that’s not the case when space is what’s moving. That’s how Alcubierre drive gets around this rule. There isn't enough strain put on the object to do any damage, because the object itself isn't moving very fast. The best part, scientists are actually working on this.

“We started thinking about it, and we think this is a very natural extension of Einstein’s equations,” said James Hill, an applied mathematician at the University of Adelaide, Australia. Hill is one of the researchers currently working on faster than light travel concepts, and co-authored a paper on the feasibility of such technologies(1).

The problem is, none of the current or past iterations of Einstein’s equations can predict what would happen to an object moving at the speed of light. These equations break down into what are called mathematical singularities(1). In mathematics, a singularity is a point in which a mathematical object is not defined(2). For example, the function:

On a real line, a singularity exists at x=0, where it subsequently “explodes” to ±∞(2). This is just one of several examples of how a mathematical singularity forms. The point at which the singularity exists is not defined, and becomes degenerate. Basically, when an object becomes degenerate, it changes its nature and class to translate into a simpler class. In terms of a circle, as the radius approaches 0, the point (x) becomes a degenerate. A circle is a degenerate class of an ellipse, where the eccentricity has approached 0.In the terms of faster than light travel, the singularity effectively divides the universe into two: one world where everything moves faster than light, and another where everything moves slower(1).

As Hill told LiveScience, “The actual business of going through the speed of light is not defined… The theory we've come up with is simply for velocities greater than the speed of light.”

The world of the mathematical singularity is still largely unknown. “In effect, the singularity divides the universe into two: a world where everything moves slower than the speed of light, and a world where everything moves faster. The laws of physics in these two realms could turn out to be quite different”(1).

“It’s very suggestive that the whole game is different once you go faster than light,” Hill said.

Crossing the light barrier is still unknown territory, but that will not stop new innovations from paving the way to interstellar travel. A little over 100 years ago, powered flight didn't exist. It’s only a matter of time.

Sources:

(1)http://www.space.com/17951-einstein-relativity-faster-than-light-travel.html

(2)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mathematical_singularity

(3)http://www.nasa.gov/centers/glenn/technology/warp/warpstat_prt.htm

Next Story — Love
Currently Reading - Love

Love

Love is goosebumps. Love is “that which exceeds totality.” Our innate urge to seek out and reciprocate the feeling, thoughts, and emotions associated with love is what drives us towards catharsis. It truly does exceed totality. Love is to be more than full. Love is to be full to the point of spilling over. Thoughts and feelings of compassion and empathy allow for us to connect with each other. Love almost creates a duality in the self. Love drives us to connect.

In love we are no longer the self, rather a self consisting of the joint thoughts and emotions of two beings. It is through the dialogue of love that our thoughts are interwoven into a single fabric that transcends the self. Love is what we want to stretch on forever. Love seems to be so fundamental to the human experience, yet it is an emotion which seems to be out of reach, ever so slightly. We all grow old and die. Love is the tool we use to rebuild ourselves in an attempt to transcend the limits of our own mortality.

“Love is the answer to the problem of human existence, but it does not solve the problem of human existence.” — Jason Silva

Next Story — Terrorizing Ourselves?
Currently Reading - Terrorizing Ourselves?

Terrorizing Ourselves?

I was in Terminal 1 at JFK, and scared at how easily we terrorized ourselves

Imagine receiving a text like this:


The Experience

I was traveling to Malmö, Sweden to give a talk at a conference on “Building an Empathetic Company” by way of Norwegian Air via Copenhagen. It was a red-eye flight scheduled to leave at 9:55 PM.

Since it was the first time I had flown Norwegian and I couldn’t check-in online, I left for the airport with plenty of time. At 7:30 PM on a Sunday night, Terminal 1 was busy but not hectic. Norwegian had a long line and a shorter one for passengers with no bags to check. I had a duffel, so I went to the short line, got my ticket, and made it through Security quickly.

I stopped at a restaurant in-between Gate 4 and Gate 6, had dinner, and read. When 9:15 came around, I paid my bill and walked to Gate 7 to board my flight. The crowd loitered, waiting for instructions, until the gate agents announced the flight would be delayed an hour. So I walked around looking for a seat that didn’t feel claustrophobic.

I’m telling you this, because where I ended up sitting made a difference.

I chose a seat to the far left of the terminal in the last aisle of Gate 8 where there was nothing but open space and a food stand. I figured I should do something productive, and started to write out goals for the upcoming week to share with my team. I was immersed thinking about the week ahead when a piercing alarm filled the terminal.


Lights above the terminal gates started blinking a long pronounced floodlight warning, and lights on the ceiling darted in a hurried blue and white whir. I realized the alarms had been going off as I typed and that they had gotten louder, or it wasn’t until others around me began to notice and react, that their message reached me.

People started to scream.

“What is happening?” I asked myself.

I watched as people darted through the terminal towards me. I put my carry-on on my back and grabbed my duffel with my free hand. Phone in the other, I tried to open the camera app as I backed up against the window a few seats away.

The screaming became deeper, and echoed through the terminal.

I remembered thinking, “Men are screaming too” as I managed to swipe to video, bent down behind a row of seats and began to film.

I did this for exactly 16 seconds, before I realized something was wrong. Very wrong.

Still from the video I shot. You can see the full one on Twitter @MsSapone

The video shows dozens running for the emergency exits. What it does not capture is the scale of what happened next.

I think so few videos were shared from that night, because people were too afraid to even think about filming


As I dropped my phone, a stream of people came at breakneck speed through the terminal.

There was another wave of piercing screams and the echo of people running.

It was a stampede of people. It was like the terminal had been lifted vertically and people were falling like checkers on a Connect Four board, slamming into a pile at the exits.

I let my duffel fall and surveyed the room. I could cross 100 feet to a door where people were crowding, or another 200 feet to either corner of the terminal where dozens more were pushing their way out.

It registered that the last two exits at the end of the terminal were better. They had bigger doors.


Another wave of screams filled the terminal. I dropped to my stomach and slid underneath the aisle of seats. To my right, many people were doing the same. To my left, I watched as a woman hid behind a waste bin. She was bigger than the square recycle/trash canister, and as she banged herself into it, it skid and reverberated.

It was the same reaction a caged animal has when a trap slams down. It wants to get out. Every cell in its body moves at an incredible speed to fulfill this desire. It cannot feel pain as it hits against metal.

I looked down at my own hands. My right hand gripped my phone and my left was shaking. “Was I afraid?” I asked myself.


Interrupting this thought a sound filled the terminal.

“POWH. POWH. POWH. POWH. POWH.”

Gunshots.

Or was it clapping for Usain Bolt’s gold-medal victory?

Or was it the sound of line separators that direct traffic at Security, falling in cacophonous succession (all the way back before the gates began)?

Or maybe the sound of joints exploding off a door?

None of these media-suggested alternatives occurred to me.

It was gunfire. To me. To many others.


My brain searched furiously for an explanation. “Where is Security? Where the F#&*! is everyone?” Lying flat on the ground under the seats, I locked eyes with a Filipino man and his young daughter. His eyes were bulging and he uttered one statement on repeat.

“Oh God. Oh God. Oh God,” as he pulled his screaming daughter beneath him.

I looked at his daughter and whispered, “Shhhh… It’s Ok…Shhhh.”

A cacophonous scream erupted in the terminal moments after the shots fired. I looked with others out onto the empty aisle of the Terminal.

We were waiting for the person that had fired to emerge, a group of people even. To make demands, or maybe no demands at all. Maybe just make a point.


People have asked me what it felt like. I think this is the first time I understood what the word “terror” means to so many people who have really experienced it.

Yes it was scary, but that’s not good enough. Imagine being in the desert and a wild animal is chasing you, hell-bent on ripping every limb off. It’s that, and the realization that this animal is not acting on basic predatory instincts. This animal is a human, and it wants to hurt you.

It’s a deeper level of fear because your mind can not comprehend it. It is in complete disbelief. A state of terror.

Your mind goes to 9/11, Orlando, Columbine, what your Military buddy must have felt in Afghanistan. In the moment, you reference these other events.


No security came. No announcement. Just chaos. I had no doubt at the time that in that moment, my life was in my own hands.


Quiet overcame the terminal for a moment. I became aware of the feeling of my stomach against the ground. I surveyed the three exits again and not consciously, but with my feet, made the decision to run for the far right doors. I ran across dropped food; a giant soda cup; ice avalanched; Coke all over the floor. There were hundreds of things everywhere, computers, bags, shoes, jackets. Things were still spinning from the wave of people that had just kicked their way out.


Why did I run? There was an overwhelming feeling of being trapped. There was a window of opportunity, and since I could not see the perpetrator, there was still ambiguity on the outcome, and maybe the opportunity to escape. We were in danger. I felt like a deer bounding across an open field, hoping the hunter was looking the other way.


I ran 150 feet, did a running jump over a row of chairs and ran other 20 feet through open doors.

I ran with others into a wide, cement stairwell. A pilot and two flight attendants crowded in the corner, staring at the running crowd in nonplussed, confusion. They grabbed their wheelie bags close, seemingly unsure what to do as people whizzed by them.

“Go down the stairs!” my brain told me.

I watched a man help another man hop down the stairs, limping and jumping down the steps as if he had sprained a ankle.

Their faces communicated fear, “We are not moving fast enough.” The exit stairwell was wide and people rushed down, toppling, getting up again and running.

Now one floor down, I had a choice. “Get out on this level? Get out here? No. Keep going. Get outside.”


I ran through the doors out onto the airport runway into a crowd of hundreds and hundreds of people. People around me darted across the tarmac. Hundreds of people huddled along the terminal walls as planes landed. I looked around for Security. “What are we doing? What is going on?”.

More people raced onto the tarmac from behind me. I watched people hide in luggage trolleys, under cars, by the wheels of planes. Most of us kept moving, some with rolling bags, many with nothing. Shoes were missing. People were running in torn tights. We made our way in fast procession to the farthest corner of the tarmac near what would have been Gate 1.

The crowd seemed to be asking the same thing, “Are we safe?”.

There were men in yellow, reflective vests who were unsure what to do — “Stay right, keep moving” — one said quietly.

Near the Arrivals door under Gate 1, Port Authority police screamed into their walkie talkies. They gestured for us to wait. I turned my face to my phone and opened Twitter. I had bad reception, but I tried to share an update.

Then the quiet. People crowded. One man near me opened a pack of cigarettes and lit one. People around him jumped at the sight of flame. I took a picture. We waited. Then the cops announced, “Ok, out these doors”.

A crowd waits on the tarmac outside Arrivals in Terminal 1

The crowd started to move forward slowly. It didn’t feel safe yet.

Security had expressly not said, “Everything is under control”. They didn’t know. And this was being communicated in what they said, and what they hadn’t. Letting children and their parent’s go first, I stood next to the man smoking a cigarette; he dropped it to the ground, darted forward, and ran to the top of the line.

Without warning, screaming erupted, and the crowd that was exiting peacefully into the airport, exploded. There was a quick shoving match between a frantic outgoing crowd and the ingoing procession and then instantly, everyone changed direction.

OUT!” People stampeded out the doors, terror on their faces. A woman fell, her knee gushed open. The crowd dispersed along the sides of the tarmac.

Security ran too.

I hid behind the back of a van in the corner. Others huddled around me. A few minutes passed. Crowds started to descend from planes 500 feet away. They were standing and sitting in orderly squares. Slowly, people started to stand up near me as two security guards emerged and told us — once again — to make a line to leave the asphalt tarmac to the ground floor of the Terminal into Arrivals and Customs.

A woman from Sweden with her son, asked the police — “How do you know it’s safe?”. She had just watched people stream out in terror.

Still behind a large Homeland Security van, I stood on the bumper to watch what was happening. People started to file into the terminal.

“Ok. I can go too.” I thought. I jumped off the bumper to the right of the van and began to make my way to the door when screaming erupted and for a second time, dozens came running out the door stampeding into the exiting crowd. I hit the floor again, and shuffled under the van.

Others would ask me why I choose to go under the van. “Was it smart? What if a cop suspected me?”All I can say is in that moment, I had watched people run for their lives in five separate waves.

There was no feeling of calm, or evacuation.

This wasn’t a fire drill.

I remember looking down and watching a large ant walk past me. I stretched my feet and lay them flat on the ground, pressed my hands against the gravel like a pose in yoga, ready to push out from under the car. It still wasn’t safe — people ran around me. It got quiet again, and I sent texts to several people including a friend who was a Navy Seal inside the terminal, who would later be quoted in the the New York Times as saying:

“I’ve been to Iraq and Afghanistan, and I’ve never been in this situation where you’re in a massive crowd and there’s nothing you can do.” -NYT

and in his own blog he wrote:

I was confident that I was in charge of my own destiny at this point. -SOFREP

Many minutes later, a cop flashed a light under the car and asked me to come out. I obliged, and sat on the curb with others.


I went to Twitter to look for any answers on what was happening. No statement issued seemed to reflect what I was experiencing. Twitter trolls were out and active.

It surprised me that as I was currently still experiencing what was happening at JFK, people continued to tweet at me that “there was was no event”. Another twenty minutes went by before we walked through the doors of Arrivals. Baggage Claim and Customs where mobbed.

Who knows how many people went through Customs without showing their passports? Passengers would later recount watching a stream of people, at least 40 people, running through Customs to the curb of Arrivals. This is significant, but not reported.

Bags and shoes were scattered throughout Baggage Claim. People started to line up again, but there was no real order, or clear direction. One guard asked me what flight I was on and led me to the front of the line at Customs. The white-faced security guard asked my name. He typed on his computer, seemed to look at a manifest, and waved me through, not making eye contact.


Inside the terminal

It seemed like we were free to leave. The Navy Seal texted me that he was already home in the city. My bag was still in the terminal, and passengers whispered to each other that flights were still leaving. Eventually a guard asked us to stand in line to go through Security.

Terminal 1 TSA stared the crowd down. They spoke amongst themselves, and cracked a joke or two to release the tension. They tried to ignore passengers asking them what was happening. An airport security guard or gate agent told us to form a line. I waited in one line or another for four hours, waiting to retrieve my bag from the terminal. I would get home from the airport at 5 AM.

Exhausted. Adrenaline. Waiting in those lines, I watched Twitter and the media form a perception of what had happened.

There was no mention of Terminal 1 — as if everything you just read was a figment of my imagination. Passengers were exhausted. I think most people were too in shock to exchange experiences. The terminal was very, very quiet.

Many of the media reports that night and in the following days used the word hysteria. I would describe the feeling differently.It was a feeling that did not end until 11:48PM for me. More than 90 minutes after this all began. Internalize that.

For 1 hour and 30 minutes, I and others in this major American airport, in 2016, were in a true state of terror.

Did We Terrorize Ourselves?

If you saw the news, the headlines and message communicated “no big deal, move along”. That was not my experience. It was a big deal to me and hundreds of fellow passengers at JFK that night.

I shared my experience because I think it’s important to put it out there. It should make people uncomfortable.

And not because it was scary, but because it’s scary how much of a discrepancy it is to what was officially reported.

At the end of the day, I went home and then got on my flight the next day — exhausted and a little shaken — but just 24 hours later, I was back to living my life.

We live in one of the greatest, safest places that’s ever been and it’s our responsibility to uphold that greatness and safety.

We do that by demanding better journalism — real stories. Reading long form. Opting out of pablum, and listicles, and puffery on blog sites. The cursory reporting that came out on this event simply wasn’t good enough, and people didn’t ask enough questions before playing Monday morning quarterback on the social sphere.

We are our own editors these days and if we only read “How to Launch a Startup in 3 Easy Steps” we start to lack empathy for the world as it really is.

In fact, I believe our reactive behaviors on social media — drowning ourselves in opinions, knee-jerk reactions, insults, and trolling even by would-be-presidents — are eroding our safety more than any single bad actor can.

We can’t let feelings, unsubstantiated by true facts, grow into into a toxic force that pulls the fabric of our society

We must learn together. We have to set a higher bar for ourselves and our institutions.

We can’t let fear stop clear and transparent communication from authorities to the public. Suppressing, downplaying, or avoiding isn’t the safe or smart move. We can be thoughtful and positive. I do not expect our institutions to be perfect, but we need to learn. Let’s make a plan to fix the clear failure in the response.

The media should not let the story fade away.

How is it possible that with so many people in the airport, no account like this has been shared outside of the New York Magazine piece?

Reporting is a noble job — I hope it continues to attract great people to take on the challenge.

Finally we have to be better humans, please.

Get off the junk food diet of cursory reporting, PR masked as news, and non fact-checked opinion threads. The people that control the news, control perception. In many ways we are more in control than we’ve ever been. The papers of yesterday may not be able to afford deep reporting, so we need to do it ourselves and demand better with our attention and wallets.

There is a raw, exposed nerve in the public from the divisiveness of our discourse. America is great, when it acts greatly.

And to take it full circle. We all need to practice a hell of a lot more empathy for others and ourselves.

We have to be active in our society. We have to vote. To stand up for what is right. Next time it could be life and death — as it easily could have been this time.

If we don’t learn from this experience, we have in fact terrorized ourselves.

You can find me on twitter @MsSapone

Next Story — The Apple-Google shift
Currently Reading - The Apple-Google shift

The Apple-Google shift

In the last couple of years, two very distinct things have happened — or, to be more precise, been happening — in the world of consumer tech, in my opinion. A shift has occurred: Apple, once the definition of innovation, has become stale, content to rest on its laurels; while Google, once ugly and disparate, has continually pushed forward with new and better products that are a delight to use.

The result is two-fold: firstly, from a software perspective, Google-authored apps have all but replaced Apple’s defaults on my iPhone; secondly, for the first time ever, I find myself potentially choosing a Google phone over an Apple phone — a choice that represents not just a one-off hardware purchasing decision, but a first tentative step outside of Apple’s ecosystem and, as a result, a break in unashamed Apple fanboy-ism.

Okay, so I’m considering a switch to Android. No big deal. I’m following in the footsteps of many, many, many others. But what I find interesting outside of my own personal decision is that there seems to be a growing discontent with Apple — especially amongst former so-called fanboys/girls — and, at the same time, a growing appreciation of what Google have been doing, especially from a design perspective. In many ways it’s unwise to compare these two companies alone, but few would disagree that these days they’re the two sides of one coin.

So I thought I’d try and pick this apart. What’s actually changed?

It’s not that Apple no longer creates great products, but there’s just not that spark there anymore, is there? Remember when a new MacBook or iMac would launch? Or the iPhone? Or pretty much any new product? The buzz was palpable; the hype almost always justified. For years and years, Apple constantly innovated, whether it was with entirely new product lines or updates to existing ones, but recently everything has just felt a little… well, meh, hasn’t it?

Could this feeling because Apple is now so ubiquitous, no longer the underdog? Possibly. And could this be down to some very shrewd business decisions, with Apple deciding to refine and hone rather than experiment, as evidenced by the longer life cycles of designs for their phones and computers? Very likely.

But that doesn’t excuse recent product launches that have (again, in my opinion) fallen flat by their past standards. The MacBook? Well, it’s a lovely little machine (and I’m typing on it right now) and I even took a whole set of photos to capture its beautiful form, but time has revealed it to be irritating in many ways (the keys repeatedly get stuck, for instance, and the removal of a magnetic power connector is genuinely irritating). The Apple Watch? After the initial magic wore off, I came to the conclusion that it’s essentially useless — as did almost every other Apple Watch owner I’ve spoken to. The new Apple TV? A total lack of innovation — both from its previous version and the numerous offerings from competitors. New iPhones aren’t even exciting anymore.

In many ways, I wonder if this all started with the launch of iOS 7: although I was originally one of its supporters when it came out and enraged half the Apple-buying world, when I think about it these days, iOS still doesn’t really encourage interaction. It’s not about flat design versus skeuomorphic design; it’s more about how Apple laid the groundwork for what a great, minimal, mobile operating system could be… and then never really built upon those foundations. The same could be said of their camera technology. The iPhone camera’s noise reduction algorithm has ruined many a photo that would have benefitted from not being put through a paint-like Photoshop filter. Oh, and don’t even get me started on Apple Music. What a mess. Sure, it’s not a total failure from an interaction design point of view, but it’s a sub-par effort from a company that should really be far, far, far better than any other steaming music competitors. That Apple Music has been so successful is only down to the ecosystem they’ve cultivated — not because it offers a superior experience.

Then there’s just all the douche moves Apple has made again and again with proprietary connections — their decision to remove the headphone jack on the forthcoming new iPhone being the latest. All of this has added up to make even this most ardent of Apple fanboys start to question his allegiances.

And all the while this has been going on, Google — which, with each new product launch, whether software or hardware, has become even more of an Apple competitor — has continued to innovate; to make better versions of Apple’s own apps. (I don’t even need to mention Maps, do I? No? Good.) And from a design perspective, Google has well and truly grown up: Material Design offered a lot of promise when it was first announced, and in the time that’s passed since, it’s proven itself to be a strong framework for unifying a the company’s multiple software offerings. Sure, there are times when its incarnation feels a little templated and dry — Google Play Music, for example — and perhaps it’s easy to praise Google for their grown-up new looks when, until recent times, Google web apps were so damn ugly. (Remember how Gmail used to look? For a reminder of that less graceful era, look at the browser version of Google Calendar.) But the difficulty of creating a system that works in so many instances, both in terms of aesthetics and interaction, should not be underestimated.

Beneath all of these apps and interactions and aesthetics, there’s another layer of Google that has become so trusted: its infrastructure. Yes, I get the fears about our data being mined to show us more relevant ads, but who do I trust for reliable cloud syncing: Apple or Google? Who do I trust to backup and share my photo library: Apple or Google? Whose infrastructure do I trust for my emails, documents, calendars, and more: Apple or Google? Granted, the latter could be any service provider vs. Google, but the point is that Google’s infrastructure underpins so much of the internet and our daily lives, it often just doesn’t make sense to let someone else handle what we know Google can handle so well.

(At this point, i’m going to refrain from delving into lengthy praises of particular Google apps and services, but I do want to give a quick mention to the Google Calendar and Google Photos iOS apps. They’re so radically superior to Apple’s equivalents, I’d question anyone’s need to ever open those defaults again.)

All this is to say: if Google can be this good on a competitor’s operating system, how much better can it be in its own environment? This is the question that’s been gaining traction in my head recently.

Android used to be a poor man’s iOS, but it’s obviously grown a lot since then. Unfortunately, fragmentation is a problem that’s plagued Android from the very beginning and is probably the primary factor that’s never allowed me to take switching seriously, but here’s where it gets interesting: with Google making (via OEMs) its own Nexus hardware, it’s possible to use a vanilla version of Android, free of bloat from carrier-installed software. It also removes that weird you-can-only-use-this-particlar-version-of-Android thing that plagues Android phones made by other manufacturers, and, in doing so, puts Google on an evening playing field with Apple: control the hardware and you control the software.It just works.

So it’s this vision of Android — a Google phone in its purest form — that’s making me, and others, consider the switch. And with new Nexus phones rumoured to land (or at least be announced) very soon, the opportunity to do so might be just around the corner.

Or maybe not. The new iPhone is also due very soon. Maybe it’ll be amazing. Maybe it’ll be the best hardware and software combination that exists in the world. Maybe Apple’s core apps, services, and experiences that underpin the entire iOS / macOS / tvOS ecosystem will up their respective games and I’ll look back on this post as blasphemy.

But — sadly — I’m not sure that’s something the Apple of 2016 is capable of.

Next Story — No, Bloomberg, the Olympics didn’t stumble because of Millennials. It stumbled because of NBC.
Currently Reading - No, Bloomberg, the Olympics didn’t stumble because of Millennials. It stumbled because of NBC.

No, Bloomberg, the Olympics didn’t stumble because of Millennials. It stumbled because of NBC.

Bloomberg and NBC want to blame the audience for not participating in their content the way they expected them to. But if the results were not what they expected, perhaps they should consider that maybe the problem is with the product.

On Friday of last week, Bloomberg wrote an insulting piece outlining the viewership stumbling blocks that NBC has faced with the 2016 Olympics in Rio, particularly with the coveted 18–49 age block which dropped 25%. Ok, so way more than Millennials, but I’ll continue to read. The article goes on to loosely blame the regulars like Snapchat and Netflix, with very little (read: none) criticism at NBC’s presentation of the Olympics themselves, from the actual coverage, to the user experience of the platforms.

On the opening night of the Olympics, I came home from work and set out to figure out the best way to watch the Opening Ceremony live. As a multimedia professional, the Olympics Opening Ceremony is a wonderland of what’s possible with today’s video and presentation technology, something to marvel at every four years. I’ve been a cord cutter for about 8 years now, so let’s see what what this experience was like for what is a growing segment of the population, particularly in that 18–49 year old demographic Bloomberg was referring to.

Step 1: Apple TV — 20 minutes

Our 4th Generation Apple TV is the staple of our home entertainment experience. I came home to find that my fiancée had installed the NBC Sports app, and was watching the player profiles. I thought our work here was done. But after a uninteresting featurette started playing, we temporarily left the streaming video, and realized we were not watching the live broadcast, but a piece put up on demand. So we went to the Live tab, and again, were greeted with on demand pieces, with no option to actually view live. OK, so lets try and sign in. My company has a few set top boxes I help manage, so I thought I’d give it a shot. The app requested I visit an activation URL from a desktop computer (why it can’t handle it in App is beyond me but possibly a limitation on Apple’s behalf, though I doubt it). After authenticating, I’m informed we don’t have an NBC Sports subscription so the content is not available to me. FINE. But we DO have NBC. So I download NBC’s app, have to go through the authentication process a SECOND time (note: this will be streamlined in the tvOS update this Fall with Single Sign On). This go around is successful, however, NBC’s app does not support streaming, at least in my area. Beaten and frustrated, I move on to the internet.

Step 2: The Web Browser — 20 minutes

I start with the most obvious of locations, the NBC Olympics portal. The design is clunky but seems feature rich overall. Notably missing is a real schedule — I can look up the schedule by event, but it’s clunky at best, and Google’s Olympic schedule bested everything I had seen and converted all of the times automatically to my time zone. +1 for Google.

I finally navigate to the live portal where I’m greeted with the live feed, at least in the NBC Primetime programming sense of the word. Perfect! I’m done! Except there’s a little timer warning me that this is a preview and I need to authenticate in order to watch for an unlimited time. DAMNIT. This is a PUBLIC AIRWAVES BROADCASTING COMPANY! This alone would be enough to turn me off as a Millennial.

As a consumer, if I’m making a decision the day of the Opening Ceremony to view the Olympics, I’m being told by NBC that if I want to watch, I now need to A) Find a cable company I don’t totally despise, B) wait 3–5 days minimum to schedule installation, and C) take a full day off of work so I can be present while the technician plugs in a box into the pre-existing coaxial outlet in my apartment, something I’m fully capable of as an adult that can read simple instructions.

Again, luckily I have access to some minimum subscriptions, including NBC, so I go through the authentication process. But after going through authentication, I’m again told I don’t have the right package. But we do have NBC, so what gives? All I could gather (because useful error messages are a lot to ask for) is it’s either because A) NBC doesn’t stream in my area, or B) I don’t have the NBC Sports package. Fine. Whatever.

Step 3: Over The Air — 20 minutes

The last resort of every cord cutter everywhere is a television antenna, if you even own one. With our monthly bill for Hulu, Netflix, and HBO, our antenna is rarely hooked up outside of Football season, so I set out to get it plugged in, an annoying task for any mounted flat television. I have to google what our local NBC channel is because I have no idea, and when I finally land on it, I now set out to actually get signal because NBC is so weak in our building. After trying for about 10 minutes, I finally get something stable. It still cuts out every two minutes or so, hence my preference for streaming, but it’s tolerable (not exactly the word you want associated with your brand).

Presentation

I’ve been working on this for around an hour, and am really only seeing this through at this point because it’s important to my fiancée. I’m annoyed, I’m tired, but I feel like we’ve finally made it, with about 10 minutes to spare. There’s commercial after commercial playing, but I feel this is an acceptable trade off — I’d much rather prefer NBC front load the commercial experience so I can have a fairly uninterrupted presentation of this culturally significant opening event.

The show starts, and while the commentary is lowest common denominator at best, it’s, again, tolerable. We settle in and relax. The next 20 minutes was some of the worst programming decisions I’ve witnessed in my entire life. My assumption was quickly proved wrong about 5 minutes in, when Matt Lauer informs me we’re going to a commercial break in the middle of the opening. After sitting through the same Nationwide and Chevy spots as I had just 10 minutes ago, we come back to the ceremony, and even though we’re watching the Mountain Standard Time delay feed, we’ve missed parts of the ceremony. We had just settled back into the rhythm of the presentation, when it’s back to commercials. It’s roughly the same ones we just saw, and again we return with time having passed in the ceremony, dropping us back in wherever NBC saw fit. It wasn’t until NBC cut out of “The History of Brazil” piece for yet another commercial break that I finally just turned the TV off.

We weren’t watching the Olympics Ceremony. We were watching advertising that happened to have bits and pieces of the ceremony in between them.

And Finally: The Olympics

Several days later, my fiancée had friends in town that wanted to watch the Olympics at our apartment, so we sat and watched the Swimming and Gymnastics primetime presentation. It opened with Simone Biles and Co., but then, despite being filmed earlier in the day, inexplicably goes from the earlier rounds of Gymnastics to Swimming. Hours pass before we finally get to see the resolution to those Gymnastics rounds, even though Simone Biles and Michael Phelps both easily served as headlines for Primetime. Why they decided to split them up is beyond me.

We had reception issues due to a storm the following night, so I bit the bullet and bought a SlingTV subscription. NBC is included in package description, so I go for it. However, apparently Denver is not part of the “In Select Markets”. That’s fine, now I can finally authorize my account for NBC Sports. Except NBC doesn’t recognize Sling TV as an acceptable Cable subscription, despite being precisely that — a cable subscription. I give up, and we watch the broken up broadcast feed.

NBC: A Post Mortem

I was tempted to shorten this article, but then the lengths of measure I had to take to view something that is available for free over the airwaves show there is clearly a problem. I’m sure NBC were patting themselves on the backs for how easy it would be to watch online this year, but that’s only true for cable subscribers, a slowly shrinking percentage of the US population, especially for Millennials. The reason NBC is losing Millennials to other platforms for entertainment is because all of those platforms have lowered the barriers to enjoy the programming. I can sign up for Hulu, Netflix, and HBO nearly in an instant. Oh, and did I mention they’re all ad free (with a premium on Hulu)?

Had NBC offered the entire Olympic Platform for a small fee (less than $10), they probably would have seen their Millennial numbers skyrocket. Hell, they could have charged $5 more for an “Ad Free” presentation and padded their pockets even more. But instead, they relied on the old dying models of traditional broadcast network and revenue models of years past, and it bit them in the ass. And this doesn’t even touch the philosophical debate of “Why do I need a subscription for a network that broadcasts on public airwaves anyways”? Or “Who the hell cares what Hoda thinks about the Opening Ceremony?” It’s a presentation, it doesn’t need commentary. We can draw our own conclusions, and if we’re curious about something, you can help fill in the gaps during the recap. They sound like idiots trying to speak to idiots. Treat your audience like they’re intelligent and you might improve the overall public discourse.

It’s worth noting that if you want to view any of this content in its entirety on demand, NBC still has a authentication wall up on the Olympics Platform page.

This kind of programming doesn’t work for us. It’s one thing that you don’t have live coverage, even though our phones are buzzing us to notify who the winners of the big events are as they happen. It’s one thing to show an INSANE amount of advertising, usually from the same group of companies, over and over and over again. It’s one thing to inexplicably break up event coverage, even though we’re not watching live and you’ve had plenty of time to repackage the content as you’ve seen fit. Put all of those things together, and it just amounts to a terrible user experience, where the only laughing matter is how NBC could possibly be confused by the outcome.

Bloomberg and NBC want to blame the audience for not participating in their content the way they expected them to. But if the results were not what they expected, perhaps they should consider that maybe the problem is with the product.

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