Reess Kennedy

Ideas, sharings, projections

Category: Reviews

Thoughts on branded content after watching Tom Hanks in Cast Away for the 8th time

Branded content is everywhere now.

I was watching a normal video on the New York Times website the other day, it finished and another video came on. I assumed this video was the next New York Times-produced video in the same category and I was viewing a playlist. And it was exactly that: a New York Times report on some Wall Street Banker who quit his job to become a triathlete. Oh yeah, side note, he also drives a beautiful new Lexus that they spent a lot of time talking about and the entire production of this video was actually paid for, and served as an ad for, Lexus.

Nothing too egregious here. Most major news organizations now have branded content divisions. And I think news needs to explore new ways to make money.

But in the year 2000, one of my favorite movies of all time came out: Cast Away, directed by the the remarkable Robert Zemeckis.

Watching it again for maybe the 8th time recently, I was struck by how the whole movie is a love story. It’s a love story between a man and woman, a man and an inanimate object (Wilson, the volleyball) and, I’d argue, a man and an employer.

Yes, this man’s priorities change during the film–likely away from the prioritization of employer / work over family. But FedEx is always there and cast as this global private enterprise of incredible efficiency and professionalism. Granted one of their planes goes down and packages are lost but the protagonist writes at the end that a FedEx package “saved my life,” as he delivers it to a sculptor in Texas.

“The World on Time,” FedEx’s motto at the time is seen a number of times during the movie as well. And when Hanks is finally “recalled to life,” it seems FedEx is there for him in a significant way.

There’s even a joke at one point between Hank’s character and one of his co-worker chums about how if they didn’t hold themselves to this high standard of package delivery expedience they’d be just like the U.S. Post Office.

Given the current 2016 climate where brands are paying a lot of money I was willing to bet FedEx sponsored this whole thing so it was interesting to discover that according to this reporting from the Chicago Tribune back in 2001, FedEx didn’t pay a cent for any of this.

Takeaways: I don’t think branded content is going anywhere. As a result, the contemporary content consumer has to be more discerning and aware than ever before. That said, I also think publications need to hold themselves to some disclaimer standard. Nobody likes to feel they’ve been duped. I felt close to this on the New York Times website while watching the Lexus-sponsored content.

Perhaps disclaimers can be standardized in some way just like cigarette box warning labels–similar fonts and visibility standards so consumers know what to look for to clearly understand the origin and intention of a piece of content.

The holy grail for a brand is really what happened with FedEx in Cast Away back in 2000 but this is so uncommon. Still, maybe there are lessons here for brands: like that it’s okay to tell a story involving a brand that isn’t 100% positive and promotional. The authenticity this creates leaves a lasting, positive impression.

Side commentary on Cast Away: The Tom Hanks/Helen Hunt love story and chemistry in this movie is one of the best I’ve ever seen and I get very emotional watching it–even though I’ve seen it multiple times. Hunt is so authentic in her short presence in the movie and the whole thought of unintended distance and the very harsh imperfections of reality resonate. Probably no other movie in history has created a connection so strong in such a limited amount of screen time.

Then again, I also get emotional when Wilson floats off to sea, so …

It’s just a heroic story well told.



Quick thoughts on less stuff: a reversion to hunter-gatherer freedom

I’ve been reading Sapiens by Yuval Noah Arayi and it’s incredible and I recommend everyone read it too.

One quick thing that struck me is the author’s reminder of how the agricultural revolution tied us to a specific location and then the industrial revolution shackled us even more when we started producing more “stuff” and collecting this stuff in our homes, feeling less able to just relocate because of the weight of our earthly possessions. Hunter-gatherers didn’t have much stuff. They needed to be mobile so they just had the essentials. They were the first minimalists!

Arayi doesn’t get into this but I’ve been thinking about how now we have technology allowing us to reclaim some of the freedoms we lost as hunter gatherers.

Think about it: My parents had to collect books and VHS tapes and then CDs and DVDs just to have access to the stuff their neighbors would be consuming and talking about. They needed physical stuff to keep up with culture. This stuff took up a huge amount of space in the home. Now, we don’t need any of this to remain
in the loop.”

I have my kindle and my Netflix and my Spotify. I just trades a few hundred bucks a year for access to everything my neighbors also have access to and a life free from the weight that culture used to impose!

We’re now able to comfortably have much less stuff without sacrificing quality of life or access to culture or information. And this has happened in just one generation!

The previous generation also used to buy into time shares to go to one vacation spot every summer, now we have Airbnb and we no longer need to limit ourselves to one vacation spot when so many options are affordable and available with ease.

The cloud has helped us reclaim more of the freedoms enjoyed by our hunter-gatherer ancestors from 19,000 years ago!

English simplicty vs. ornateness from Mike Rowe

I’m blown away by Mike Rowe. Just because the content of his show didn’t focus on the grandiose or heady-white-collar concerns doesn’t mean this guy isn’t amazingly sharp, well-spoken and sophisticated in thought.

There are so many interesting topics discussed in his recent talk with Tim Ferriss. Check the full episode out here.

Specifically, I love words and Mike is a master wordsmith and challenges the commandment of many writers and writing teachers to keep things simple.

Here’s a great, funny, exchange I wanted to highlight for myself that speaks to this thing I too wrestle with:

Tim: “You have a very impressive vocabulary, where did that come from?”

Mike: “… I think there is something really elegant, and maybe indulgent, about finding a different way to say a thing. And so I think I often, in an attempt to turn a phrase, I’ll play with the language a lot and stumble across words that I wouldn’t otherwise use.

Look: I’ve read Elmore Leonard and Hemingway and I understand how important it is to be simple and brief. I really do. In fact, that’s probably the most important thing — which is why I think it’s a little indulgent to go the other way … but I do, just because it pleases me.

I think the lexicon is extraordinary. And sometimes pass the salt is the  simplest thing you can say if you would like someone to ‘pass you the salt’ but it’s also fun to ask them to ‘slide the white crystals in your general direction with all due speed.'”

(Laughter ensues.)

He also mentions before this about how a lot of his loves for usage and the development of his vocabulary came from reading a lot of plays when he was younger.

Mike is hilarious and brilliant. He has a new fan.


Book review and favorite quotes from Marc Cuban’s “How to Win at the Sport of Business”

I like Mark Cuban. I know he is brash and has an ego but he also isn’t afraid to say what he believes and he is humble when he talks about how fortunate he’s been and sincerely likes to help people — both on Shark Tank (a billionaire doesn’t have to make the, sometimes, small investments he makes on that show) and with the short book he wrote in 2011, “How to Win at the Sport of Business.” (Amazon link here.) I read it in two nights as my before-bed read.

Overall review: I’m not sure the book will go down as a classic business read but I like Cuban’s honesty. He was a very average dude who, after some failures, completely committed himself to winning at business. He emphases the importance of finding the right business partner who compliments you. In his case, it was someone who could handle the details of the business while he sold. He stresses the importance of an absolute focus on sales and to putting in the time when your potential clients are sleeping to learning the information your need to close more sales when your potential clients are awake. There are some other good nuggets too. True to form, there were times I wished Cuban had dug into something more or done more research but this just isn’t his style. He’s not bogged down by perfectionism. And that’s actually one of the secrets to his success.

Quick Cuban story: In 2011 I was at an event at the Wynn Las Vegas and went to grab a drink at a bar surrounded by slot machines in a quiet part of the casino and I look over and Mark is sitting two seats to my left on his Blackberry with a Michelob Ultra in front of him. Looking back, I should have said “What up Mark dawgg!” But I didn’t have anything to pitch him and didn’t want to bother him. About a minute later a group of people came over to ask for a picture and I left.

Anyway, below are some of my highlights from his book.

On finding a business partner who compliments your skills:
“We could drive each other crazy. He would give me incredible amounts of shit about how sloppy I was. I would give him the same amount back because he was so anal he was missing huge opportunities.”

On the power of a knowledge advantage:
“Most people won’t put in the time to get a knowledge advantage.” AND “Of course, my wife hates that I read more than three hours almost every day, but it gives me a level of comfort and confidence in my businesses.”

On Bill Gates stealing two women from him at a party when they were both much younger and unwed:
“As I would learn later in life, money makes you extremely handsome.”

On never turning off and always learning:
“Relaxing is for the other guy. I may be sitting in front of the TV, but I’m not watching it unless I think there is something I can learn from it.”

On the competitiveness of business:
“That’s what makes business such an amazing sport. Everyone plays it. Everyone talks about how good he or she is or wil be at it. Just a smal percentage are.”

On being an obsessively productive salesman:
“every hour of the day that I could contact a customer was selling time, and when customers were sleeping, I was doing things that prepared me.”

On how to properly measure the success of your investment of time:
It would have been easy to judge effort by how many hours a day passed while I was at work. That’s the worst way to measure effort. Effort is measured by setting goals and getting results.

On choosing something you can get lost in:
“Maybe I wasn’t the best programmer in the world, but in combination with business and sales skils, I found something that was a blast to me that I could and did do 24 hours at a time and not miss a beat.”

On the importance of learning how to learn:
“In my humble opinion, once you have learned how to learn, then you can try as many different things as you can, recognizing that you don’t have to find your destiny at any given age—you just have to be prepared to run with it when you do.”

On avoiding debt to allow you to take chances on your dreams:
“The greatest obstacle to destiny is debt, both personal and financial. The more people you are obligated to, the harder it is to focus on yourself and figure things out. Your first house, car, whatever you might want to buy, is going to be the primary reason you stop looking for what makes you the happiest.”

On the need to delegate so you can focus on your core strengths:
“pretty much every other strategic element of my businesses I have learned to delegate— that’s not easy for an entrepreneur to do. In the past, I would have taken on anything and everything that I thought I could add value to …. You may work 24 hours a day, but those 24 hours spent winning your core business will pay off far more. Bottom line is this: If you are adding new things when your core businesses are struggling rather than facing the challenge, you are either running away or giving up”

On the fallacy that more cash or investment is always needed to grow:
“So what’s wrong with that? Nothing! It’s okay to start slow. It’s okay to grow slow. As much as you want to think that al things would change if you only had more cash available, they probably won’t …
The reality is that for most businesses, they don’t need more cash, they need more brains.”

On never creating silos and wanting to make sure all customer emails get sent to him directly:
“I don’t know how they do it. I make my email available to everyone and anyone. Not only that (and more importantly), I make sure that al the customer service emails get forwarded to me.”

On the permanence of the sales profession:
“If you can sell, you can get a job—anywhere, anytime.”

Debunking myths about sales people and framing what the best really do:
“It’s not the hustler who is a smooth talker. The best salespeople are the ones who put themselves in their customer’s shoes and provide a solution that makes the customer happy … The best salesperson is the one the customer trusts and never has to question.”

On individuals being a poor judge of their own skills:
“The best salesperson is the one the customer trusts and never has to question.”

On starting the right business for you:
“Don’t start a company unless it’s an obsession and something you love.”

On creating deals that are win-win situations:
“Every good deal has a win-win solution. There is nothing I hate more than someone who tries to squeeze every last penny out of the deal. Who often raises the aggravation level to the point where it’s not worth doing the deal.”

Google public data app: country population growth comparison

I’m doing some research on China and I’ve really been enjoying Google’s public data app. It’s powerful.

It’s not a stunning, new insight but: When tech is well done it’s ability to simplify complexity and turn disorganized data into interesting, easy-to-see insights is just … magical.

Here is a link in the app to the population graph below.

Screen Shot 2016-01-15 at 3.13.29 PM

Here is one just focusing on some of the major Asia / Pacific countries (and link):

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 7.11.02 AM


The Martian (movie review)

I saw The Martian this weekend in Manhattan. I enjoyed the movie so much that I’m documenting why:

  • Intellect as the super power: The hero’s super power is his intellect / smarts (I somewhat stole this observation from Chris Matthews when he had Andy Weir (the author) on his CNBC show. Matthews says, “I love it because the definition of macho is brains.” )
  • Individualistic, not a romantic love story:  The movie isn’t a love story. Or if it is, it’s about one man’s love of science and problem solving and his own life. It’s not the story of a man who did incredible things to return to his family. It seems like he’s a single guy who does what he does solely because he decides he’s not going to die. (Not sure. The book may be different.)
  • Problem solving with limited resources: The movie is about doing as much as you can with the resources you have. Again, it’s about problem solving and it’s very MacGuyvery in that way.
  • And limited time: Importantly, the limits on resources in this book go beyond just limits on materials but also limits on time. This limit on time is likely more important for export to the current startup environment where there is sometimes a largess of resources but not enough time-related discipline or prioritization.
  • Global unity: The Chinese becoming involved in the effort to help the hero unite the world in something that is bigger than just one man or one nation — and it’s my hope that someday we might come together and choose to spend more money globally on exploration and less on national defense.
  • The author’s original story: The author, Andy Weir, and his personal story of writing the book is another improbable, inspiring tale of a man with a passion for Science Fiction writing who was persistent and finally found an audience after, originally, self-publishing the book.
  • Music: I thought it was fun hearing disco on Mars! It’s also thought provoking: When you’re the only person on a planet and you spend every waking hour figuring out how you can survive and then you’re met with this music birthed from a mature civilization that has evolved to the point where men can do far more than just “worry about survival” … they can disco dance! I hesitate to use this oft-used word in artistic analysis but: It was a stark dichotomy that gave new meaning to the music.
  • Inspiration: I love science fiction and have been enjoying all of these recent space movies: Gravity, Interstellar, and now, The Martian. For the most part, it seemed like much of the work Watney did on while on the red planet seemed plausible. With more movies like this maybe more people will be inspired to become scientists.

I don’t go to as many movies anymore; only ones I really think I’ll enjoy. Most movies are crap. But The Martian is a strong “recommend.”

All pizza is good pizza (important personal conviction proven by data)

For years I’ve held that pretty much all pizza is delicious.

Chicago deep dish is delicious. Fancy thin crust is delicious. NYC $1 pizza is delicious and NYC $3.50 Joe’s is delicious. Even frozen supermarket Celeste pizza is delicious.

Basically, if what you’re eating is made up of bread, cheese and tomato sauce, it’s probably delicious. It’s a magical ingredient formula in that way.

“So what?” you’re likely asking.

Well, I sometimes find myself having to defend this position when I am with pizza snobs. Or I find myself rolling my eyes when I read a restaurant’s menu that touts the “fame” or superiority of its pies.

Coincidentally, I found some data today to support my belief. This data shows that despite some pizza snobs the overwhelming majority of people basically feel the same way I do: that all pizza is good pizza.

Christian Rudder’s book Dataclysm includes a graph taken from Foursquare data about people’s ratings of NYC pizza places and the graph pretty much speaks for itself. Most ratings for pizza places fall between at 7-10. In other words: if some place is throwing together some bread, cheese and tomato sauce then people are almost always going to like it and rate it highly. It’s hard to mess up. See graph below.

Screen Shot 2015-07-12 at 7.15.56 PM


Rudder’s main topic of data exploration is based on OkCupid data and he uses this graph to illustrate that human preferences don’t always fall into a bell curve like they do when men or women are asked to grade the attractiveness of the opposite sex based solely on headshots.

Screen Shot 2015-07-12 at 7.15.48 PM


It’s an interesting book. And interesting that we are only at the beginning of analyzing the huge amount information we submit online about our preferences everyday as we live on our devices and become more and more comfortable with sharing information with machines.

8 surprising reasons to love the kindle (2015 edition)

I just bought a Kindle last week. I’m a late adopter on this, I realize. After only a short time I must admit: I underestimated how much I’d love it. I wish I’d bought one years ago.

Since it launched in 2007 I understood the value of the e-ink display for reading without glare but I like to keep my life simple and thought paper books were fine. Then I got an iPad and felt like that was fine too and didn’t want an extra screen.

But I finally gave in. At $119 it’s an affordable new device. And the benefits after a few weeks of usage have surprised me. Most people know it’s better for reading at the beach and that you can now easily, lightly bring hundreds of books around with you but below I’ll bullet point the eight surprising reasons I like it:


You can keep the book you’re reading private when you’re in public. I’m not reading anything subversive or anything but I also don’t always like advertising what I’m reading on the subway and the Kindle enables discretion.

Less Anxiety Over Selective Reading

I read a good number of books on “Biznass.” They’re inspiring. But they can also be repetitive in places. Kindles kind of lessen the guilt I have at just selectively reading chapters that seem original or interesting and skipping the bits that don’t pique my interest as much. It’s kind of like “a la carte” reading and doing what iTunes does for music — although with iTunes I guess you only pay for the songs you listen to and you can’t just buy the parts of book you like. There may be something interesting there though: only pay for what you read?

Percentage Completed > Pages In

I find page numbers can be distracting. I like seeing the percentage done, as Kindle has it. It allows you to better calculate how much more you have to read.

Cleaner, Faster Reading

The Kindle removes the unnecessary, duplicate headers found in normal print books, allows you to change the font-style and size, line-height and margins. It just lets you optimize your experience completely and, I think, fosters getting you more in the reading “zone” as a result. I think I read faster on the Kindle.


The new Paperwhite is light! It seems easier to hold up in front of my face than a normal hard cover.

Highlight Log

I do a lot of underlining on analog, paper books. I like going through old books and seeing highlighted passages I found especially good. It’s possible I underline too much. If someone pulled out one of my favorite books from my shelf they might find how marked up the book is suspicious. Anyway, the fact that the Kindle let’s me do this with my finger and then collect all these notes in one annotated digital log for easy sharing in email or reference later is great! I am toying with writing more book reports on this blog and the Kindle would help me include relevant or favorite passages quickly.

Screen Addiction & Backlight Cleanse

Kindle seems to help curb screen addiction.  I know that seems strange since I guess the Kindle is a screen. But since it’s doesn’t have a backlight I don’t really count it. It’s really more like reading a newspaper. But it still satiates what seems like a screen addiction I have developed. I don’t smoke but I feeli like it’s something akin to Nicorette gum in this way. And that fact that this “non-screen” also just delivers info I want to consume without email or advertisement distraction is important too.

Vocabulary Builder

I love having the ability to store all words that trip you up in one place for additional study. I also had a Google document of words I’d been working on and I exported it as a .pdf then used Calibre software to convert it into .mobi format and load it up as an ebook for Kindle could understand it. Then I manually selected each one of these words to load them each into the Vocabulary Builder app. Also note: Calibre is great software. One dude, Kovid Goyal, wrote it years ago while in grad school. It somehow lets you pull in Kindle-formatted news and magazines. I also download a lot of .pdfs online and this lets you convert these .pdfs into a Kindle-acceptable .mobi format. It’s kind of like the iTunes for ebooks.

Feature Requests

The note taking feature is really basic. I am not sure what I want out of it but this is a case where note taking in a paper book or on an IPAD or computer seems easier. Then again, if the ability to use a stylus or have a keyboard or even allow for an easy way to use a Bluetooth external keyboard were added it would start to infringe on the simplicity of the device. So I am, for now, content with having to put in a little more effort to leave notes.

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