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Monday, July 7

Experiencing That Rocky Mountain High

Independence Day Sunset in Moab, UT 2014...


On July fourth, I woke up in Flagstaff, AZ and decided to spend the evening in Colorado's Rocky Mountains. I gassed up the van, headed out, and have been hanging out here since.

I stopped at a head shop along the 82 on the way to Aspen.

"Where you from," asked the man at the counter.

"Arizona..."

"What are you doing out here?"

"Escaping the heat," I admitted to myself.

"You plan on staying?"

"Till the snow comes..."

"I'm trying to get you a discount."
Mormon Country on the road to that Rocky Mountain High...

"I love Colorado. I'll stay."

I liked the rocky mountain high of the Strawberry Cough that I had to stay a little longer. Now approaching my fourth day in the area, I'm prepping for the next adventure.

I'm spending the next month exploring the road to Aspen, killing time until I'm due to cover the Outdoor Retail Summer Market in SLC for Cramer and Urken in August. It gives me plenty of time to acclimate to the outdoors and figure out what gear appeals to my demographic.

Until then, I'm recharging and relaxing, awaiting the lawyer's payment to go solar. The fifth of July was spent sitting in front of McDonald's on a park bench, talking to an old homeless local and learning the area. I turned in a few outstanding assignments and got my plate cleared for some more high profile jobs.

It's been a rocky road, but this will be a summer vacation to remember...


Tuesday, June 10

The 10 Coolest Video Games Showcased at E3 2014

E3 is in full swing this week at the LA Convention Center, with the gaming industry's heavy hitters showcasing the latest and greatest tech and software. Here are some highlights from the massive collection of games on display at the show:

10.  Mortal Kombat X


Warner Bros Interactive unveiled a trailer for the latest Mortal Kombat installment, which promises to provide everything we expect from the series – blood, gore, and brutally creative fatalities.

9. Super Smash Bros


In order to compete with Disney Infinity and Skylanders, Nintendo created amiibo, with Super Smash Bros being the first game that will utilize the technology. In addition, to powering up characters using these, you can also use Mii's in game. This means not only can you join the fray against your favorite Nintendo characters, but you can pretty much create whoever you want.

8. PlayStation TV


Although not technically a game, at $99 Sony's PlayStation TV can stream games from the PlayStation Now service, which will include a variety of games from the vast PS library. You can also play games on a Sony TV (if the service is available in your area) with just a controller. In addition, Sony is providing original programming, announcing a live-action adaptation of the police procedural comic "Powers" as their first show.

7. Batman: Arkham Knight


The Arkham series is easily the best Batman series in existence, and Knight looks to continue this tradition. Although it won't be released until 2015, early footage shows batman gliding through the city, blowing things up in the Batmobile, and kicking ass, until he's interrupted by ominous threats from a disturbing Scarecrow.

6. Halo: Master Chief Collection


One of the biggest announcements from Microsoft came in the form of the Master Chief Collection, which allows you to play all the original multiplayer maps from previous Halo installments in both their original form and an updated HD version. Each is on its own dedicated server, a feature Sony still struggles to provide on their PlayStation Network.

5. Mario Maker


Nintendo previously introduced level editing capabilities starting with Super Smash Bros Brawl on the Wii. With Mario Maker, players will be able to create their own Mario-themed levels using their stylus and 3DS. Combining the popularity of Mario with Little Big Planet/Minecraft capabilities is a homerun combination that will keep Nintendo on much-needed life support.

4. Assassin's Creed Unity


Set during the French Revolution, Assassin's Creed Unity is everything you'd expect from the Assassin's Creed franchise, but adds 4-player multiplayer…enough said…

3. Little Big Planet 3


In addition to fan favorite Sackboy, three new characters have been added to the LBP roster, each with their own unique abilities. Oddsock runs on all fours and can wall jump, Swoop is a birdlike character that can fly (and carry other characters), and Toggle can switch between being the largest and smallest character, allowing puzzles to be solved in a variety of creative ways. LBP 3 also promises to allow players to access all user-created content from previous franchises.

2. Battlefield Hardline


Moving from actual battlefields to feature cops and robbers in Los Angeles, Hardline takes the Battlefield series in a bold new direction. A closed beta was opened yesterday to Battlefield 4 owners immediately following the announcement, with a rooftop play area set up in L.A. for gamers. This game looks to be this generation's multiplayer FPS to beat.

1. Sunset Overdrive



Sunset Overdrive, Insomniac's Xbox One-exclusive is one of the best new IP's on display at E3. With 90's grunge themed animations that were bright and detailed, this mutant shooter looks like it a mixture of Jet Set Radio, Devil May Cry, and Zombies Ate My Neighbors. Promising large boss battles, fast-paced action, and expansive worlds, Sunset Overdrive is almost reason enough to buy an Xbox One.

Brian Penny is a former Bank of America business analyst turned force-placed insurance whistleblower, ghostwriter, blogger, and freelance SEO consultant. He's a frequent contributor to HuffPost, Main Street, Hardcore Droid, Fast Company, and Cannabis Now.

Monday, June 9

The Difference Between Good and Bad Freemium Content

Freemium has become the preferred business model for mobile apps and gaming. The model itself is actually a fantastic idea; being able to play a game for free, but pay for premium features or to skip a grind is a great way to lure gamers in.

On the PC, Defense of the Ancients, League of Legends, and Smite do a great job of providing an immersive experience for free, while offering premium purchases that simply provide a little more freedom in the grind. Although purchases are available, the free game itself is both playable and enjoyable.

Most times, however, game companies ruin the experience using freemium as an avenue to tempt impulse purchases. This would be simply annoying if it were happening on games and apps geared toward adults, but, more often than not, these tactics are used on children, as seen in games like Subway Surfers, Candy Crush, and pretty much anything by Zynga.


The Freemium Blitz


It's not just the casual game developers getting into the mix - gaming giant Electronic Arts, which was one of the first American companies to utilize this freemium model, has multiple freemium games on the market, displaying varying levels of playability and morality. One of the more annoying examples of freemium impulse tempting from EA is found in Tetris Blitz.

Tetris Blitz offers a variety of in-game purchases, which, in itself, wouldn't be an issue. The problem comes after a game when you don't use a finisher. This is when you're presented with a splash screen offering an impulse buy at an emotional time. Yes, you may wish you had used a finisher, but it's not right to make you emotional and then pressure you for money...especially in a game a child can (and likely will) play.


Live Freemium or Die Hard


Freemium software originally gained popularity in Korea and China. EA noticed the profitability and brought it stateside, and soon after, mobile app stores became flooded with these offerings, as developers realized it could be profitable. Although multiple companies are pursuing the freemium model, it's not without pushback.

Italy's Antitrust and Competition Authority is currently pursuing action against Apple and other app stores, noting that labeling a game or app as free deceives customers. Proven profits made the freemium model prolific much quicker than regulations have been able to keep up. As we've seen in the financial industry (along with the emerging marijuana and ecigarette industries), lack of regulation means profit is put over people.


Boycott Freemium Ripoffs


Overall freemium isn't a bad thing - it's a powerful business model that allows companies to attract customers without implementing a high price point. Providing users with a quality product, however, should be the main focus. Nobody would play Super Mario Brothers if you were presented with an ad every time you hit a question block or traveled down a pipe.

As freemium games become the new standard, it's up to us as consumers to make our voices heard. Al Jackson at HardcoreDroid is leading the charge, offering a boycott site, where you can add and track dubious freemium games, and join in the boycott against them.

In the meantime, keep me off your Mafia Wars, Candy Crush, and Flappy Bird invite lists. I'm a real
gamer, and I prefer to play real games.

Brian Penny is a former Bank of America business analyst turned force-placed insurance whistleblower, ghostwriter, blogger, and freelance SEO consultant. He's a frequent contributor to HuffPost, Main Street, Hardcore Droid, Fast Company, and Cannabis Now.

Thursday, May 15

Results of Spark Tech Startup Competition from the 2014 Collision Conference


San Francisco-based AirHelp has been announced as the winner of the 2014 Spark powered by Rackspace award at the inaugural Collision event, which took place in the heart of the Downtown Project in Las Vegas. In its first year, the competition saw over 30 technology startups, which were selected from 500 applicants, battle it out to win a cash prize of $10,000 plus a fund of services.

AirHelp is an easy way to get the money people are owed by airlines when flights are disrupted. It allows users to submit their claim though the website and app and takes care of the hassle for the claimant. AirHelp only receives 25% of the compensation if the claim is successful.

Speaking on their win, Henrik Zillmer, CEO and Founder of AirHelp, said, “We’re super excited about this - it is a huge honor. We’ve respected everything the organizers of The Summit have done since day one and now they’re launching in the US and we’re proud to be the first winners of Collision’s Spark Award.”

Zilmer continued to say, “It’s another stamp of approval that this is a valid business model and that we have entered into an industry that has been notoriously hard to get into due to high customer acquisition costs and we’re doing something that helps a lot of people.”

Taylor Wakefield of sponsor Rackfield said, ‘On behalf of Rackspace, it’s a great pleasure to present the Spark Award powered by Rackspace to AirHelp. Collision has been great partner for Rackspace, they have put on a great event full of great startups, great presentations and great partners. It’s been a dream to work with them.”

Collision event Founder Paddy Cosgrave said “We were delighted with the quality of startups at our first Collision conference. We decided to do this conference in Las Vegas in the Downtown Project because we believe that this area is on the cusp of becoming an innovative hub for the global tech community. It’s therefore appropriate that some of the startups at Spark are also on cusp of something hugely significant and we hope that the experience at Spark will help them in that journey.”

Speaking on the quality of the startups at the event, Spark judge Michael Birch, founder of Bebo and Monkey Inferno said, “The 30 startups were extremely high-quality and congratulations to the winners AirHelp. It was great to be a judge at the first Collision Conference.”

The Spark powered by Rackspace award focuses on high potential technology start-ups and was open to any start-up which has received under €1 million in funding to date.  Entrants were judged on the uniqueness of their idea, their level of development thus far, and their potential for future growth. Judges included Kevin Colleran of General Catalyst, Rob Coneybeer of Shasta Ventures, serial entrepreneur Michael Birch and Abhas Gupta of Mohr Davidow Ventures.

About Collision

The first Collision Conference was held in The Western Hotel in the heart
of the Downtown Project in Las Vegas. It was attended by 1,500 attendees,
150 startups and 60 speakers including Tony Hawk, Phil Libin, Sean Altman
and Tony Hsieh.

The organizers of The Summit organized the event. The Summit is Europe’s
largest tech event also known as “Davos for geeks.” Founded in 2010 the
event will host 20,000 attendees Dublin this year. with over 75percent of
those attendees coming from overseas.

Wednesday, May 14

Lifehack - How to Discover Yourself without Traveling the World

Americans are funny. We tend to look at world history as something that happened before we came along and conquered the globe. Anyone who's ever traveled the world knows it's a great way to expand your horizons to new cultures and discover yourself. Unfortunately not everyone can afford world travel or fit it into their busy schedule. Rather than try to convince you otherwise, here are alternative ways to discover yourself from the comfort of home.

1. Isolate Yourself


If you've never left your hometown, there's a good chance you still have the same friends you grew up with. While it's nice to have long-term friendships, you can't truly discover yourself while staying around the same people. It becomes a crutch that keeps you from learning how to truly socialize. You never leave your comfort zone.

Take time to yourself and learn what truly makes you happy. Many of the things you do and buy may just be because your social circle is, not because it's what you want. Giving yourself space gives you the opportunity to grow to your full potential.

2. Create a Vision Board and Bucket List


Thanks to The Secret and The Bucket List, vision boards and bucket lists have become buzz words. There's a reason they're so popular – the best way to visualize your future is to create something tangible. Make a list of what you want to accomplish before you die, and construct a collage to supplement it. Just the act of producing these items gives you insight into what's really important to you. The hard part is following the path you laid out, but that's what makes life fun.

3. Volunteer Your Time



Arianna Huffington has been making the rounds lately promoting her new book Thrive. In it, she explains the third metric to success (the first two are money and power). One of the easiest ways to discover this third metric is by giving to others. Volunteering your time at a soup kitchen, shelter, clinic, church, or other charitable organization opens your eyes to reality.

Your problems may seem insurmountable, but someone always has it worse. Giving to others reminds you of how much you truly have and inspires gratitude.

4. Reconnect with Nature



I was lucky enough to have grown up in the military. My dad was stationed in Europe, and I spent my childhood travelling the continent. We were poor, but my parents made travelling possible by camping out in nature. There's no better way to refresh your body, mind, and spirit than getting away from society and immersing yourself in nature.

5. Talk to the Elderly



It's far too common to see people shove their parents into a retirement home where they don't have to deal with the ravages of age. We're conditioned to leave the elderly alone, but they have valuable lessons to teach. Think of how many people you've met and lessons you've learned in life – the elderly have experienced that much more. They can give you an honest critique of who you are.

6. Immerse Yourself in Different Cultures


 

Every city has neighborhoods where people of similar cultures live together. You don't have to drive very far to find a Chinatown, Little Italy, etc. Visit these places to get a sample of the real deal. Talking to residents of these communities is a great way to learn the differences between your culture and thiers, and it may inspire you to explore.

7. Meditate


 

Meditation is the definition of selfishness. In order to discover yourself, you need to look inward. Lie down on the floor, close your eyes, and focus on your breath. If you do this for at least 15 minutes every day, all the unimportant noise in your life fades away. Once you've stripped it all away, you'll discover your true self.

8. Medicate


 

There's a war on drugs in this world, and I've never understood it. I get the perils of addiction, having quite a few addictions myself, but the benefits of drugs in certain situations are undeniable. Although many drugs may not be legal where you live, you can find places where they are (and they're still widely available in places they're not).

Many Native and South American cultures use hallucinogens such as peyote and shrooms to cleanse the soul and spark a spiritual journey. Artists and musicians have used marijuana to expand their mind. Drugs played an important part in my personal journey to find myself, so I'd be remiss not to recommend them. Dare to experiment on yourself – just do it safely.