Coffee Talk #658: Jeff Smisek Booted From United

Yesterday was a good day, mostly because my friend Andy told me that Jeff Smisek resigned as CEO of United Airlines. As many of you know, I loathe that man. He holds the distinction of being the only executive in corporate America that I actively, physically hate. Early in his United career, he promised customers that many changes were coming and labeled them as “changes I think you’ll like.” While he certainly made many changes, most of them sucked. Whether you were a United employee or a United customer, most agree that Jeff Smisek changed the airline for the worse.

Earlier in the year, Bloomberg reported that United was being investigated for a scandal involving Port Authority chairman David Samson. The rumor was that United would be given favorable options by the Port Authority in exchange for reestablishing a route between Newark, New Jersey and Columbia, South Carolina. Samson has a weekend home in nearby Aiken, South Carolina. While the route was initially cancelled due poor revenue, United reinstated the route…which mysteriously disappeared three days after Samson resigned from the Port Authority. The recent resignations by Jeff Smisek and other executives are believed to be related.

That’s a helluva a story, but I only have superficial knowledge of the situation. What I know firsthand is that I used to love flying United. The service was very good (though still behind top Asian airlines) and the frequent flyer benefits were excellent. Jeff Smisek cut numerous benefits to frequent flyers, made several benefits available to credit card holders, implemented a disgraceful upgrade system, made miles harder to earn, and made mileage awards more difficult to obtain. United’s service has declined, both in terms of operations and politeness. The company has cancelled service to BKK airport in Thailand and will cancel service to JFK in New York — two destinations that I frequent. In the past, I loved flying United. Now it feels like a burden that I pay for. Here’s a nice article that contains a list of the many things Smisek and his regime did wrong.

The good news is that Jeff Smisek is out. The bad news is that the damage he did to the airline could be irreparable. Certainly new United CEO Oscar Munoz has a chance to make things better, but I doubt he can return United to its glory days. Oh well, I’ll just dream of Jeff Smisek getting sentenced to 15-20 years in Federal Pound-Jeff-in-the-Ass Prison (as seen in Office Space).

Coffee Talk #657: Diversification in the Marvel Universe and You

You’ve been thrilled by the adventures of African-American Captain America. You’ve journeyed into mystery with the mysterious female Thor. In December, you’ll be getting a Korean-American Hulk when Totally Awesome Hulk hits shelves. Ethnic and sexual diversification in Marvel Comics is an ongoing process — one that Marvel seems to be keen on pursuing. It also seems to be a process that some readers are against. How do you feel about diversification in the Marvel Universe? Is it necessary? Is it being forced? Let’s examine the issue and discuss (please).

There are many longtime Marvel Comics readers that don’t like their icons being altered. They want Steve Rogers as Captain America, not Sam Wilson. They want the son of Odin to be Thor, not a women with a secret identity (for seven issues, anyway). Lastly, they want Bruce Banner as the Hulk, not Amadeus Cho. These readers are traditionalists that prefer stories about characters they’ve known and loved for decades. Changing the identity, ethnicity, or sex of an iconic character is jarring to these readers. Staying true to years of material is more important than diversification to these guys and gals, which is completely understandable since this is entertainment.

There’s a subsection of the readers mentioned in the last paragraph that claim they want to see a more diverse Marvel Universe, but would prefer diversification through new characters. They want their icons to stay as they are, but wouldn’t mind if they were joined by all-new, all-different characters that represent various ethnicities, genders, religions, sexual orientations, etc.

For reasons that escape me, there are some readers that are fine with the majority of superheroes in the Marvel Universe being white males. For my part, I feel that diversity is overdue, but shouldn’t be forced. That said, diversity in the Marvel Universe has been silly for decades. Most of the action takes place in Manhattan, arguably the most diverse city in the world. Similar to how Friends — a show about six white people that only have white friends — was a ridiculous representation of New York life, Marvel has done a poor job depicting the diversity of New York through its heroes.

At the end of the day, I don’t care that Sam Wilson is Captain America. I care that his costume sucks and his stories have been boring. I don’t care that the new Thor is a woman. I care that she’s being written by Jason Aaron, one of my favorite comics writers of the last ten years. I’m not particularly enthused that the Hulk will be Korean-American. I’m terribly excited that Greg Pak will be writing the stories and that they’ll feature Amadeus Cho, a character that I love.

Would I like to see more diversity in the Marvel Universe? Of course I would, but I understand that it’s a process and things are moving in the right direction. For the most part, I enjoy comics that entertain me with writing. It doesn’t matter if they’re about Filipino-American heroines with cosmic powers or homosexual ice mutants that have arrived from the past. If the writing is great, make mine Marvel.

Naturally, I want to hear your thoughts on the matter. How do you feel about diversification in the Marvel Universe? Leave a comment and let me know (please!).

Vaping Diaries #345: Lilly Evans (Athena Amour) Interview

RPadTV’s ECC 2015 coverage ends with an interview with the beautiful Lilly Evans (Athena Amour), because my mother told me to always end your show coverage with a video of a sexy lady. Okay, my mom never told me that, but it seemed like a good idea when I was planning out show coverage. As usual, Lilly was hanging out at the Ruthless Vapor booth. The company always has a sweet setup at vaping conventions, with beautiful models, great music, and a fun atmosphere. At ECC 2015, the company was showing off its Breakfast Club line of cereal juices. Lilly was kind enough to walk me through the lineup before the interview.

Last time I chatted with Lilly, she was playing a lot of Destiny. She’s still playing a lot of that game with her fans, but she’s been playing more Halo as of late. If you’d like to play games with Lilly, hit her up on Xbox One. Lilly’s gamertag is featured in the video below.

While I knew that Lilly enjoyed videogames, I only recently discovered that she’s into comics as well. That’s just not fair. She finds new ways to get hotter. In our chat, she also spoke about the kinds of comics she likes.

Lastly, she told me about her new stage name — Athena Amour. She has separate social media accounts for Lilly Evans and Athena Amour. The stage name was chosen because she liked the idea of combining the goddess of wisdom with love. She’ll keep her modeling activity on her Lilly Evans accounts, while her adult movie stuff will be under the Athena Amour brand. I recommend following both (assuming you’re over 18, which you should be if you’re reading and watching vaping content).

Thanks to Ruthless for having a fun booth and for giving me another chance to interview the gorgeous Lilly Evans!

Vaping Diaries #344: Switch Mods v2 Interview (ECC 2015)

Switch Mods has made a big splash in a short amount of time, thanks to its hard-hitting made-in-the-USA mechanical mods. The original Switch Mods product came as a complete set — mod and atomizer — and could be had for under $100. At ECC 2015, Switch Mods CEO Andrew Richard and brand manager Jude Fernando told me about v2 of the company’s mechanical mod, as well as the Team Switch Mods competitors.

Switch Mods v2 is a 24mm setup. Like its forerunner, it comes with a mod and atomizer. The aluminum versions (available in numerous colors) retail for $120, the brass version retails for $135, and the copper version costs $145. Considering that they’re American Made vaping products, the prices for the various Switch Mods v2 models are impressively low. While I didn’t spend too much time with the devices at ECC 2015, checking it out for a few minutes gave me the impression that the build quality is much better than that of its predecessor’s. One of the few complaints of the original model was that its button had too long of a throw that felt somewhat uncomfortable with the mod’s beefy nine-pound spring. V2 features a much shorter throw and a lighter spring. As many vapers in cloud competitions use Switch Mods products, expect v2 to have ample power.

Andrew and Jude also spent some time talking about Team Switch Mods. If you attend a vaping event in Southern California, you’ll almost always see a member of Team Switch Mods competing in a cloud competition or trick contest. While the team is an excellent promotional tool for the company, it’s also a great way to lend support to the shops that carry Switch Mods products. I’ve known several of the guys on Team Switch Mods for a couple of years; they’re really nice people that represent the company and the vaping community well. Plus, they’re just really, really good at chucking voluminous clouds and performing sweet tricks.

To learn more about Switch Mods v2 and Team Switch Mods, kindly check out my ECC 2015 chat with Andrew and Jude below.

Kabam Aaron Loeb Interview (DICE Europe 2015)

It was a strange privilege interviewing Kabam senior vice president Aaron Loeb on behalf of the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences for DICE Europe 2015. It was a privilege because Aaron is an excellent fellow that has accomplished a lot in the videogame and theater worlds. Prior to working at Kabam, Aaron held high-level positions at Planet Moon and EA, while his plays have been performed across the country. The interview was strange because we both used to be videogame journalists. It’s true! Once upon a time, before Aaron became a powerful executive and I became a verbal entertainer of international renown, we used to be game journalists in San Francisco. To paraphrase the immortal Phil Collins, “Take a look at us now!”

Here are a few excerpts from the interview. The first clip is about whether Aaron’s experience as a videogame journalist has had any impact on his work on the development side:

For a little while there, no. For what I’m doing at Kabam, very much so. As you know, when I was a journalist, I was entirely in the web space and was never really on the print side — even back in the ’90s. Learning how to talk to an audience every single day, learning how to see what they’re interested in or not interested in, and figuring out how to target your editorial to cover the topics the audience actually wants to hear about and how to target your editorial to come up with stuff that the audience doesn’t yet know they want to hear about — those are all things that help me today.

Next, Aaron talks about his experience as a playwright crossing over into his day job:

When I’m working with writers from one of our games, they take my feedback more seriously because they know that I’m also a writer. I’m not just an executive pinhead. [Laughs] Normally if you’re a writer and you’re getting feedback from the senior vice president of the studio you’re thinking, “Why is this jerk talking to me?!? How can he possibly know the difference between good writing and bad writing?!?” So I do get some respect from our game writers because of my background as a playwright.

Check out the full interview when you have a chance (please!). Aaron is an excellent man and I’m thrilled for his tremendous success.

Vaping Diaries #343: Elixir Vape Epothecary Interview (ECC 2015)

Out of the 100+ e-liquid companies I saw at ECC 2015, Elixir Vape was the most singular. The company’s Epothecary line of vaping e-liquids is so distinct. I can honestly say that I didn’t try anything remotely similar to Epothecary at the show and haven’t vaped anything like these juices. You see, Elixir Vape Epothecary e-liquids are infused with numerous herbs. In addition to giving each juice a unique taste, the company claims that vaping their herbal concoctions promotes various health benefits. The Elixir Vape team has a licensed herbalist and a licensed nutritionist, to help ensure safety. Company co-founder Billy Vernetti told me about Elixir Vape and the Epothecary line in the ECC 2015 video interview below.

There are currently four flavors in the Epothecary line. Initially, the juices contained 0mg of nicotine, but a 3mg option was added later. Awake contains vitamin B12, ginseng, green tea, and yerba mate. Elixir Vape claims that it promotes alertness and clear thinking. Breathe contains peppermint, eucalyptus, mullein, and thyme. Billy said that this e-liquid helps those with respiratory ailments, allergies, and migraine headaches. Calm features St. John’s wort, valerian root (not Valyrian steel), and ginseng. This juice is meant to help with relaxation. Lastly, and probably most controversially, is Enhance. With yohimbe, maca root, cinnamon, and ginseng, this juice supposedly aids libido and vitality.

Naturally, I expect many vapers to be skeptical about the benefits of vaping herbal mixes. Billy was kind enough to explain the company’s view on the effectiveness of inhaling vs. ingesting these herbs. While I haven’t tried any Epothecary e-liquids yet, I do have a few friends that swear by Breathe. Two of them claim that it helps them breathe better when they have allergy attacks, while another claims that it has cleared up her sniffles on a multiple occasions. I’m anxious to try out these e-liquids in the near future and curious to see what kinds of effects they’ll have on me, if any.

To learn more about Elixir Vape’s Epothecary e-liquids, check out my chat with Billy below.

Vaping Diaries #342: Revol Vapors Austin Hopper Interview

Revol Vapors co-founder Austin Hopper is affectionately known as #TheFaceOfVape within the industry. He has been an executive at some of the biggest e-liquid companies in the business, such as Space Jam and Cuttwood. His latest venture is much more personal. Revol Vapors (Revol is lover spelled backwards) is his very own juice line and he told me all about it at ECC 2015.

Revol Vapors has launched with three e-liquid flavors. Friends With Benefits (FWB) is aimed towards vapers that like candy and is reminiscent of Fun Dip. For fans of tangy e-liquids, there’s Date Night, a melange of Greek yogurt and blueberry. Last, but not least, is Her Addiction. My personal favorite of the three Revol Vapors launch flavors, Her Addiction is a lemon poundcake e-liquid. Austin was quick to point out that all of his liquids are free of acetylpropionyl and diacetyl.

Continuing with vaper safety, Austin also spoke about the “Vape Responsible” campaign that Revol Vapors is involved with. The first initiative is getting vapers with children to lock up their e-liquids. Similar to how parents should keep alcoholic beverages away from children, Vape Responsible wants adult vapers to treat their e-liquids in the same fashion. In the vaping community, Austin is known for his proactive work for vaping political and social causes. He also talks a bit about that in our chat.

Not to kiss his ass or anything, but I really appreciate vaping executives like Austin Hopper. He has helped some of the biggest and most popular juice companies attain success, while also promoting awareness and informing vapers about political situations. The vaping business is better when people like him are involved and I hope, on a personal level, that Revol Vapors becomes a very successful e-liquid company. Anyway, check out my chat with Austin to learn more about Revolv Vapors and the Vape Responsible campaign.