Blockbuster Deathwatch

Blockbuster

Okay it’s finally time to put Blockbuster on a deathwatch. This isn’t just me wishing this would happen. This is Blockbuster saying it to the public. In a recent SEC filing Blockbuster actually said, “Our future viability is dependent on our ability to execute … If we fail to do so … would not be able to continue … and could be forced to file bankruptcy …” Holy Cow!

I’m sure the accountant who got to write those footnotes had a fun day. Anyway, they go on and on about the bleakness of their future. It’s crazy. They are acting like it is inevitable and despite having some sort of plan to save themselves it is not going to work. I for one despise Blockbuster and its either clueless of drug addled employees.

Their stock currently sits at $0.33 down from a an all-time high of $30 in 2002. They lost $435 million in Q4 of 2009. And they are $964 million in debt. Think some bank is going to give them a loan? Think again.

I give Blockbuster until the end of the year or perhaps right after Christmas in a best case scenario. They have noting to offer their shareholders that can possibly save their long since dead business model. The only reason I’ve set foot into a Blockbuster in the last ten years is because we were watching a TV series and did not want to wait until tomorrow to watch the next episode.

Blockbuster is getting crushed by Netflix and Redbox. Redbox is simply Blockbuster done more cheaply. No giant brick and mortar stores to pay for, they don’t have thousands of employees to pay. Redbox is open 24 hours a day. You can check to see it a movie is in stock before hoping into you car. You can even reserve that DVD/BD before you leave your house. Yes, there are late fees, but at $1 per day, who cares? Blockbuster has recently instituted late fees again. At this point they are desperate for cash and they don’t care how they get. I have to wonder if I lived right next door to a Blockbuster would I even use it? There is probably very little chance I would actually use it. Most of the stores around here are so old and run down they attract diseases. The carpet has not been cleaned in 20 years.

Blockbuster added 2000 kiosks last year, and they say they are going to add another 7000 this year in a partnership with NCR. More reactionary moves of a dying whale. If a company becomes nothing more than a reaction to its competitors it has already failed. If you fail to innovate you die. Their price war with Netflix didn’t fare much better either.

So why is Netflix so successful? I think they gained a loyal following because of two reasons initially. There were never any late fees and you never had to deal with the stupid employees. Blockbuster always made you feel like you are being granted some sort of privilege to be renting a movie from them. Then to compound the insult they charged you late fees if you you were even a few seconds late returning a movie. That was never customer service. I really liked when Blockbuster took a page from Disney and they rearranged the layout of their interior stores so the checkout lines took you through the myriad shelves of highly profitable but totally unrelated junk. I think this is standard fare for big box retailers these days. Best buy has perfected this to an art form.

Have you ever asked an employee at Blockbuster for a movie recommendation only have it be a horrible movie? Asking Blockbuster staff, “Is this a good movie?” is always a risky proposition. It’s not like the nerds at Radio Shack The Shack who actually know all sorts of useful information about electronics and cables so you can get the right part. Netflix has one of, if not the most sophisticated recommendation systems called, Cinematch. If you have not used it, you should seriously give it a try. It has surprised me on a number of occasions after watching a movie it recommended. One more reason why Netflix is a winner and Blockbuster is a loser.

Looking at this chart from The FeedFlix Blog you can see where the future is. Blockbuster my have movies via snail mail and blue boxes but this is the one thing they don’t have that has a chance of success.

Yes they have agreements with Samsung and Tivo but honestly it is too little, too late. They not only have to compete with Netflix but that huge monster called Amazon. They both have a huge head start and a doing very well at it. It has now been a year since Blockbuster started its streaming service and there is no turn around in sight. Netflix has agreements with many if not all of the major TV and BD manufacturers, and it works well.

So it has become obvious that Blockbuster’s success is inversely proportional to the amount of bandwidth in a home. As bandwidth increases their profits will continue decrease. It is only a matter of time before they are crushed by their debt and ever decreasing cash flow. Can Blockbuster avoid Chapter 11? Blockbuster says it faces a $390 million debt payment in 2012 and raised the possibility of a restructuring in its filing. “This is a company that has two years to turn itself around,” says Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter, who gives Blockbuster a neutral rating. The CEO Keyes is “making all the right moves. But he has the lousiest job in the world.” If they owe you money I would think it is time to start collecting.

Lucid Lynx First Impressions

Beta 1 of Ubuntu 10.04 has been released. This is the first beta of the next LTS released codenamed Lucid Lynx. There are lots of new features since the release of 9.10.

Since installation the highlights for me are the incredibly fast boot time, Ubuntu One, and MeMenu. My laptop with a 7200 RPM SATA HDD and a Intel Core i7 CPU boots in about 12 seconds from the GRUB screen. Why is GRUB so ugly in Ubuntu anyway? Ubuntu One is like Mobile Me but for Linux. They give you 2 GiB of free storage and you can upgrade from there. It is interesting that Microsoft is the only major OS developer that doesn’t have an equivalent service yet. There is also a nice ap store now for installing application. To patch you need to use the traditional software manager or the CLI.

During my initial setup I ran into a few problems. I know this is a beta but they are still worth noting. During the post install reboot, my computer locked up with some strange kernel messages. The new default open source driver for nVidia hardware really sucked bad for me. I replaced it with nvidia-current (190.53) which performed much better. 2D performance under the open source driver was terrible. Not sure why they included it or why it is so bad. The GPU is an NVIDIA Quadro FX 1800M.

Also for monetary reasons the default home page and default search engine are set to Yahoo! now. While no one in their right mind uses Yahoo as a search engine if it helps keep Ubuntu alive then so much the better. It only took a few seconds to change it to Google.

Gone is GIMP, hurray! The developers for GIMP are a bunch gigantic arrogant jerks who refuse to listen to sane users and their valid requests. There is no greater evidence for the failure of Linux on the desktop then that group of nitwits. Momentum on other editors will not increase. Good riddance.

Among the many changes are a new theme which incorporates a change to the location of the window management buttons from the right side like a Windows implementation and other Linux distros, to the left side like Mac OS. Not being much of a fan for this, here is a simple way to move those back to the right side.

gconftool-2 –set /apps/metacity/general/button_layout –type string menu:minimize,maximize,close

This is what it looks like by default. The buttons themselves look good, although sometimes when I look at them I swear they are not anti-aliased. I’m probably wrong. Having them on the right is a major headache. I really think they should have been moved in a non-LTS release. I hope the crowd pressure will force them to recant.

You can also launch the Configuration Editor (Alt+F2 and type in gconf-editor) and then navigate to apps -> metacity ->general. Look for button_layout on the right hand pane and double click on it to edit it. You should change it from

maximize,minimize,close:

to

menu:minimize,maximize,close

Another consequence of the default theme change is that it is very difficult to discern the delimiter between the window title bar and the application menu space right below that. I found myself missing a click on the window title bar in an effort to relocate the entire window within the desktop. The two colors are only very slightly different from one another. The windows are now almost edgeless and it makes grabbing the window left and right sides for resizing more difficult. Hopefully in future beta versions this will all get tweaked and improved upon.

This version is shaping up to be the best version release thus far. I really think Novell and Red Hat should give up on their desktop versions as products. I can understand using them as vehicles for development but other than that it seems almost silly with how awesome Ubuntu has become. Well that’s all for now.

Chipping Away at Comcast

Comcast

Comcast is starting to spend big money to ensure that its proposed purchase of NBC Universal gets the nod from federal regulators. Expect these numbers to continue to ramp up as Comcast applies even more pressure (read: wining and dining) to the DOJ and the FCC. I can’t seem to find equivalent NBC expenditures anywhere.

Comcast Spent $3.5 Million Lobbying in 4th Quarter

The FCC is taking the lead on the proposed merger between Comcast and NBC Universal. This is probably a good thing as GE, Comcast, and NBC Universal have many friends in the DOJ offices but far less friends in the corridors of the FCC. I don;t always love Julius Genachowski but he has done a few things that I’m happy about. He should be pretty tough on Comcast when the decision times comes. He is one of the few at the FCC political level that seems to have a clue about how the modern media and technology world works and what is good for consumers.

FCC calls shots on Comcast-NBC deal

Feds pledge tough review of Comcast-NBC deal

A big setback for Comcast and Cablevision. The court finally sets straight the previous ruling that these cable operators must share their content with competitors. This was seen as a critical decision for Comcast. One of the hopes of Comcast post NBC Universal merger is to lock in all those channels the produce their own content to the Comcast distribution thus forcing consumers to purchase a Comcast subscription in order to watch programming they want. This is called a monopoly. This is why the merger between NBC Universal and Comcast must be stopped.

Court Rules Cable Owned Stations Have to Be Provided to Satellites

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100312/ap_en_tv/us_cable_access_rules

If like most consumers you think this deal stinks and will raise your cable bills you, should tell the FCC. They have asked for your input [PDF]. Remember how well that AOL-Time Warner merger worked out for everybody?

If you’re against Comcast – NBC deal you have about six weeks to let FCC know.

Finally this just one more example of the duplicity of Comcast when it comes to truth in advertising. Imagine what they will do when they have control on a major content producer like NBC Universal.

Comcast: ‘Unlimited Usage’ Doesn’t Mean ‘Unlimited Usage’

No one really has any idea as to whether this merger will be approved so you as the consumer must continue to make yourself heard.

More HD Compression for Comcast users

Comcast

Comcast you never cease to entertain us as we all know the woes of your network. You are so limited by your little piece of precious cable running through the streets, most of it gobbled up by all of those pesky analog channels you can’t get rid of. Figuring out ways to increase the number of HD channels you can provide your customers is great for business but not so much for picture quality. Remember when you decided to use bit starving for more HD channels and hoped that nobody would notice. So why are you trying it yet again?

Your other buddies in the cable business try other methods like transitioning their customers from analog to digital channels, and others deploy switched digital video solutions, and still others move VOD to IP or start using more efficient codecs like MPEG4.

Some of those options certainly have drawbacks, but you guys are smart enough and can certainly find a better way, right? But testing out ways (that appear to be snake oil from Arris, BigBand Networks, Harmonic, and Imagine) to fit four quality HD channels in one 38Mbps QAM channel while still using MPEG2 seems about as likely as winning the Queen of England bowing before me. So while you continue to delay the inevitability of upgrading your infrastructure I just hope you don’t forget that not everyone who watches Comcast HD doesn’t mind if it looks like an exercise in Seurat pointillism.

Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte

Read the article, Comcast Unit Sizes Up 4:1 HD Compression from Light Reading Cable

Boss Key Awesomeness

The first two days of the NCAA basketball tournament are filled with plenty of daytime games, which means plenty of employees may be more focused on brackets and office pools than spreadsheets and documents.

Chicago-based consulting firm Challenger Gray & Christmas Inc. estimates that could cost employers up to $1.8 billion in lost productivity during the first week of the tournament alone.

Remember when I told you about the totally awesome boss key in the Winter Olympics video streaming client? Well the NCAA has done the same thing but this one is even more awesome.

Boss Key

You can see the boss key near the top, right below the Coke logo. Push it and you get the image below.

Boss Key

Windows 7 with PowerPoint 2007. But it gets better. The Olympics only had Windows Vista and an Excel spreadsheet. Lame. And, I hope you’re not using a Mac or even worse Linux.

Boss Key

In the PowerPoint slide there is a comic of Dilbert and a flowchart.

Dilbert

This is the detail on the comic strip. Scott Adams characters reference the study done by Challenger. How funny is that? The Boss Button was clicked more than 2.77 million times during the 2009 tournament.

Scott Adams even adda some funny comments on his blog.

Halo Hound

Halo Dog

This has got to be one of the coolest pictures in the history of the world.


Two members of the Austrian special forces join Nato’s Operation Cold Response, one of Europe’s biggest military exercises, in Narvik, Norway.

Dropping from 10,000ft, they glide in order to land unnoticed. The dogs often carry cameras and are trained to attack anyone carrying a weapon.

“Dogs don’t perceive height difference, so that doesn’t worry them. They’re more likely to be bothered by the roar of the engines, but once we’re on the way down, that doesn’t matter and they just enjoy the view,” said the dog handler. “It’s something he does a lot. He has a much cooler head than most recruits.”

Commandos from 14 countries, including British special forces and Royal Marines, took part in the Nato exercise. The use of dogs in High Altitude High Opening missions was pioneered by America’s Delta Force, which trained the animals to breathe through oxygen masks during the jump.

The SAS has adapted similar techniques and, according to special forces sources, bought a number of American-trained dogs for use in Iraq and Afghanistan. The dogs used by the British are fitted with a head camera, allowing special forces to see inside insurgent compounds, and Kevlar body armour.

As well as reconnaissance, the animals are trained to attack anyone carrying a weapon, although it is claimed that they will not attack those who are unarmed.

Two SAS dogs are reported to have died on raids in Iraq. Thor and Scotty were killed in 2008 when British special forces waged a successful campaign to destroy al-Qaeda’s bombing networks in Baghdad. Both animals are remembered on a stone memorial at the SAS headquarters in Hereford.

Original Article from The Times

Ranking Pixar

Pixar

Some friends and I started talking about Pixar movies and we all had different ideas about which one is our favorite. So I decided I needed to rank all the movies in order. This will probably change in six months and if I made this list a year ago it would probably very different.

  1. WALL-E (2008)
  2. The Incredibles (2004)
  3. Up (2009)
  4. Ratatouille (2007)
  5. A Bug’s Life (1998)
  6. Cars (2006)
  7. Monsters, Inc. (2001)
  8. Toy Story (1995)
  9. Toy Story 2 (1999)
  10. Finding Nemo (2003)

I know most people will say, “Finding Nemo, last? What’s up with that?” Well for my personal taste that is the way it broke down and I’m sticking with it. Yes I know it is still the highest grossing Pixar movie to date. There are four Pixar movies in the pipeline, one of which we get this year, Toy Story 3. The others are Cars 2, Bear and the Bow, and Newt. It’s always good to know we have more magic to look forward to.

I’m still amazed at the impact Pixar has had on both family entertainment, animation, and movie making. The stories they have created are still engrossing and fresh with each new story. Everyone in the industry has copied Pixar and just like Colton said long ago, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Does anyone make 2D animated movies anymore, not counting stop-motion animation? Dreamworks is the biggest competitor to Pixar. So how do they compare? I think the chart below made by Gagnon II pretty much sums it up. Click for the full size version.

Pixar vs. Dreamworks

Keep on rockin’ Pixar. I’ll keep spending my money on your flicks. Deal?