How is Circuit City still in business?

I’m searching the Internets for a price on Season 1 of Heroes on DVD. This should be simple. At Amazon, one word – “Heroes”, obviously – typed into the search field and a quick press of the enter key and the results list Heroes as the number 1 result. Imagine that.

I tried the same approach at Circuit City, assuming it would result in something equally simple. Circuit City suggested 787 options. Heroes was not on the first page, although every version of Guitar Hero for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 2 appeared. “Go Pro Digital HERO 3 Digital Camera” was result number 1.

“Heroes dvd” gave me 14 items, none of which involved Heroes the television show. I was unhelpfully offered Heroes of Earth by Wang Leehom on CD as the first suggestion. The results decreased in relevancy from there, until reaching the end and a pitch for a Microsoft Xbox 360 Elite Console Bundle. Huh?

“Heroes” in Movies & Music faired no better. It’s mostly cartoons and John Wayne movies. “Heroes tv” returns “The Life and Works of Anton Dvorßk, Narration with Musical Excerpts” on CD, “In Search of Ancient Ireland” on DVD, and “Dynasty Warriors: GUNDAM” for PS3. A search for a few of the actors (Milo Ventimiglio, Adrian Pasdar, Ali Larter) suggests several B-movies and items available only for pre-order, but no Season 1 on DVD.

The only method I’ve discovered for finding the obscure little television show Heroes on the Circuit City website requires the following steps:

  1. Click the “Movies and Music” category.
  2. Click Movies.
  3. Click TV Shows from the specialty items.
  4. Scan the best sellers list down to the 15th item, which is Season 1 of Heroes on DVD.

Circuit City’s search functionality appears to have been designed by the hamsters deemed too incompetent to run on the wheel generating the power necessary to run its servers.

For what it’s worth, Amazon asks $41.99. Circuit City wants $49.99. Surprise. It costs real money to feed hamsters.

“I think I’m a little concussed.”

I’m a fan of Jackass. There’s still a 12-year-old boy inside me who laughs with such stupidity. And it’s quite libertarian to believe that no one should stand in the way of people doing stupid things to and with their own bodies. So I was quite excited to read that Jackass 2.5 would debut for free on The Internets today. When I checked the website, a curious sight met me:

There is no such thing as a “silly little registration process”. From the FAQ:

Can I watch jackass 2.5 without registering?
No. You must register and confirm your email address in order to watch jackass 2.5.

Microsoft is free to set whatever rules it wants in its license for Silverlight™. I’m free to refuse to give over my e-mail address, even though I have an account I use specifically to soak up the inevitable abuse such nonsense creates. I don’t care how likely or unlikely it is that Silverlight™ delivers “the next generation of media experiences and rich interactive applications for the Web”. Interpreting that as Microsoft-speak for “locking users into a restricted, ‘preferred’ experience” makes so much more sense.

And then, there’s this:

How long is the movie available?
jackass 2.5 will be available for FREE exclusively on this site until 12/25/07. Starting 12/26/07, you can rent or purchase Jackass 2.5 at BLOCKBUSTER® stores and, and download it at

Content-providers are free to offer their material as widely or as narrowly as they please. But I refuse to participate in such silliness. That kind of closed-minded thinking is the mark of a dinosaur. I prefer Netflix to Blockbuster, and I’d never deal with the DRM madness of a site like movielink, in which the viewing experience is tied exclusively to the crap that is Windows Media Player. There is a business-model here that (unintentionally) excludes someone like me. I can live with that. How long can they live with that?

Title reference here.

“Bring it on down to Omeletteville!”

I have two angles on this story:

Two days after naming its mascot “PorkChop,” the Philadelphia Phillies’ new Triple-A affiliate abruptly dropped the moniker after receiving complaints from Hispanics that it was offensive.

The Lehigh Valley IronPigs, whose mascot is a large, furry pig, had selected PorkChop from more than 7,300 fan submissions. The team, which begins play in 2008, announced Monday that the mascot will be named “Ferrous” instead.

I had no idea of the derogatory implication. I don’t have an opinion on changing it in response to complaints, other than to say it’s probably the smartest business decision. I also think that Ferrous is a better, if not particularly original, name for a mascot. And it permits this kind of sticky-sweet blech:

Ferrous can be described as a portly, affable IronPig wearing the IronPigs home uniform and jersey number 26 – the atomic number for Iron (Fe).

How precious.

My second point is to remember how complaints about vegans typically accuse us of irrationally anthropomorphizing animals. Um, no. That’s what omnivores do.

But PorkChop? Seriously? Who looks at an animated pig, a walking, jersey-wearing mascot created to interact with children, and thinks “Mmmmmm, you’re so awesome, you remind me of dinner, your name shall be…PorkChop!”?

Post Script: I still love the name IronPigs.

Striking the Free Market

I’ve only followed the current Writers Guild of America strike in passing. Mostly I lament the impending doom that is no new episodes of How I Met Your Mother, The Big Bang Theory, Heroes, Journeyman, House, Pushing Daisies, and The Office. Still, I sympathize with the writers. I think what they’re asking for is fair and at least what I’d want in their position. I wish them luck.

However, they’re to blame for their own mess. This is what happens when unions interfere. The Us vs. Them mentality never succeeds long-term precisely because it creates Us vs. Them as the prevailing narrative. Perhaps management is to blame for the initial escalation. I suspect that’s often true, although I’m basing my assumption on no investigation of facts. The desire to get something for as little as possible is universal. No surprise there.

The writers have something of value, which is why they’re now withholding their services. I don’t care if people want to group themselves together, letting the superior talents of the few balance the lesser talents of the many. Take the successful screenwriter and use her as leverage to get the non-working scriptwriter better compensation. It’s not a deal I’d make, even though I have no illusions that I could be the former in my scenario, as opposed to the latter. But talent is always the biggest bargaining chip. Make a concession on that to pull up those who maybe shouldn’t be in the field and you’ve traded your strength for goodwill. I don’t understand that.

I believe in a market price. In this case, producers have a range within which they’re willing to pay. Writers have a range within which they’re willing to write. Somewhere there’s a deal to be made. Or not. The “or not” is the key. Unionization hampers the realization that someone’s expectations may be broken. As I implied earlier, I think that’s the producers in this case, because it’s reasonable for writers to receive compensation if producers use their work on the Internet or on DVD.

Harold Meyerson (predictably) takes up the WGA cause in today’s column. I could’ve guessed his conclusion before reading the first word, but here’s what he concluded:

Nations with more high-tech economies than our own, such as the Scandinavian states, have upgraded technology and increased productivity in ways that have enhanced, rather than diminished, the bargaining power and lives of their workers. In the United States, by contrast, our corporate elites, sometimes using technological innovation as a pretext for their power grabs, have destroyed workers’ bargaining power and kept for themselves almost all the revenue from technologically driven productivity increases. The picketers at Paramount and Disney may look to be a chorus line of wise-asses, but their struggle is a deadly serious test of whether any American workers retain the clout to strike a deal with the unchecked greed that is the modern American corporation.

Reference to any type of elites disqualifies your argument from serious consideration, in most cases. I’m simply not interested in entertaining conspiracy theories as a default.

That said, Meyerson offers the refutation of his own conclusion a few paragraphs earlier in his essay:

“Our current bargaining agreement doesn’t give us jurisdiction over content written for new media,” says Tony Segall, general counsel of the Writers Guild of America West. A side letter appended in 2001 to the guild’s contract with the studios exempted the studios from having to bargain with the union over the paychecks of writers turning out material for the Web, which the insufficiently futurist leadership of the guild (since replaced) apparently viewed as a distant prospect.

Is this not proof of what can happen when you turn over your individual bargaining power to the unchecked power of another? Leaving aside the reasonableness of the WGA’s demands, they created their own mess through unionization.

Meyerson also provides an example of free market principles, which he uses to explain only corporate greed.

Last year, however, NBC-Universal asked the writers of “The Office” to create two-to-three-minute “webisodes” of the series for the Internet. Though the webisodes drove up the show’s ratings, the studio paid the writers nothing for their work. The writers, not surprisingly, ceased their webisode writing; the guild sought to negotiate for them with NBC-Universal and got nowhere fast; and the issue of the writers’ right to bargain collectively for Internet work became the crux of the writers’ conflict with the studios.

Assuming no pre-existing contractual obligations for web content, won’t the writers have power without a strike to demand payment? I wouldn’t be so silly as to suggest that writers provide the web content for free to generate higher salaries for a show with improved ratings. Actually…

The problem with unions is that they’re not dynamic enough to keep up with the marketplace. They can’t handle innovation in anything other than hindsight. As a result, they create unnecessary problems and constraints. The current situation with the WGA is just further evidence.

It’s not someone else’s fault if you’re a bad businessman.

Right, Apple is the problem:

NBC Universal topper Jeff Zucker warned Monday that new digital business models are turning media revenues “from dollars into pennies” and revealed that NBC U booked just $15 million in revenue during the last year of its deal with Apple’s iTunes.

“Apple sold millions of dollars worth of hardware off the back of our content, and made a lot of money,” Zucker said. “They did not want to share in what they were making off the hardware or allow us to adjust pricing.”

So many points. Without Apple’s hardware, NBC likely would’ve made significantly less than the small revenue stream it saw.

Spare the story of oppresion, too. I doubt seriously anyone from Apple held a gun to Zucker’s head and demanded its content. NBC had to mutually agree with Apple for Apple to offer the video.

NBC seems to have expected an ability to adjust prices upward after customers became comfortable with downloading legal video. But in its woe-is-me tale of how Apple isn’t being fair, NBC also tries to discredit Apple by saying that the product that customers will pay 50% more than they’re now willing to pay didn’t sell well. Which is it?

Link via Wired.

Something happens to a man when he puts on a necktie.

From Chris Pirillo:

When Starbucks introduced for-pay Wi-Fi in 2002, it seemed like a great deal. But five years later, the model appears old and stale and ready for a complete overhaul.

According to my friend Mike Elgan at, Starbucks will begin providing their customers with free Wi-Fi within the next year. This is an excellent development. I believe we shouldn’t have to pay for wireless access points, and I bet you don’t, either.

Who pays for the router (infrastructure) and ongoing connection (overhead)?

Delving into relevant specifics, how many people go into Starbucks looking for coffee, a sofa, and a wireless connection? How many people go in to Starbucks looking for a cup of coffee and a fast exit? Given that the cost of the initial investment and ongoing internet connection is not free¹, why should the latter subsidize the former?

If you want a service, pay for it. If you can find someone willing to provide it with the cost included in the primary product of the business, offer that establishment your business. But do not expect another group to pay for something it doesn’t value because you find the fringe benefit so neat-o that you refuse to pay for it.

For fun, change the subject from WiFi in coffee shops to any illegitimate product/service offered by the government, at full taxpayer expense, for a niche group of taxpayers (or non-taxpayers).

Title reference here.

¹ These will be minor on a per customer basis, and I’ll generously assume each Starbucks franchise would not reach its bandwidth capacity. That does not change the analysis. Also, include security to prevent customers from unintentionally (or intentionally) exposing Starbucks to civil and criminal liability.

The Internet is closed?

Is there a better way to jump back into blogging than to return with a rant?

Like most everyone these days, I pay my bills online. It’s convenient, it saves postage, and I don’t have to deal with humans. It’s the trifecta of incentives. I haven’t purchased new checks in nearly six years, as a result. I love the Internets. But apparently there are operating hours for the Internets. Encountered tonight while attempting to pay my health insurance:

The online self-service feature you have requested is unavailable at this time. Our regular system operating hours are Monday through Friday from 4:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m., Saturday from 4:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., and Sunday from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused.

I’m familiar enough with IT to base my livelihood on knowing it. I’m fairly certain that no computer system, regardless of the business’ size, needs 53 hours of maintenance per week. I suppose the gerbils behind the scenes are unionized, so anything more than a a 68.5% up-time would be abusive.

If it wasn’t such a hassle (and irrational), I’d change my insurance company. It’s not too much to ask to be able to submit a few bits representing money at 7:30 on a Sunday night.

Who dreams of being Rich Uncle Pennybags?

The National Association of Broadcasters issued a press release yesterday, quoting NAB Executive Vice President Dennis Wharton:

“XM and Sirius have spent upwards of $20 million trying to bamboozle the Beltway into believing that a monopoly is good for consumers. Yet when you cut through all the distortions displayed by XM and Sirius, you are left with one undisputable fact: Never in history has a monopoly served consumers better than competition.”

The NAB conveniently leaves out any facts to corroborate this bold statement. I’m not interested in challenging it directly, because the basic gist is fine if unrevealing. Competition is good. I believe that. I just wish the NAB believed it.

The existence of press releases and lobbying demonstrate that the NAB knows that it competes with satellite radio. If it didn’t, it wouldn’t spend millions to defeat this merger. It is not acting solely in the best interest of consumers. Incentives matter, and here the incentive is to reduce the strength of all providers of competing technology.

I rarely listen to terrestrial broadcast radio anymore. There is a sameness that is pre-packaged and unimaginative. It’s simply not interesting. I’d rather listen to the artists I enjoy and discover new artists through friends, blogs, and iTunes. Even the limited broadcast offerings I enjoy are available as podcasts, which demonstrates that terrestrial broadcasters agree with the Sirius-XM view of the radio industry’s competition model.

Satellite radio didn’t turn me away from NAB’s clients. Sirius and XM existed when I went looking for an alternative. To be fair, I don’t listen to the music channels on Sirius that often. The repetition of a limited playlist exists there, as well. Maybe it’ll cost Sirius my subscription in the future. Maybe they’ll change. But for now, it has Howard Stern, which is what I want.

The NAB’s press release includes a list of groups and lawmakers opposing the proposed merger, which is its only support for the validity of its position. It takes a little more than that, unfortunately. Instead of putting out pointless press releases calling for competition with a list of politicians, it could actually query those politicians and ask why they abhor the Constitution’s First Amendment, as just one action in the interest of consumers. Or does the NAB not actually care about consumers as much as it cares about remaining partnered with politicians to limit its need to compete?

This is how to make viewers remember a commercial.

I don’t really care if this company is a success or not. I don’t need its service, but I love the clear, perfect approach in this commercial.

Like all businesses, eHarmony is free to exclude any customer it wants, which includes pretending that gays and lesbians don’t exist have money need matchmaking services. Someone else will decide differently and seize the opportunity. Like I hope it succeeds.

As an aside, I first saw this commercial during last night’s Heroes. Seriously, if you’re not watching Heroes, you are missing out on the best show on television.

Once a regulator, always a regulator.

I’ve been mostly away from my computer and the Internets over the last few days as I take advantage of some of the better freedoms from being unemployed between contracts. I expect to post regularly in the coming weeks, but finding a new contract is obviously my first priority. Just so you know.

In the meantime, I have a two related items clogging my aggregator, so now is a good time to clean them out. First, the call for regulation is never too far from any success.

But now, precisely because of its success, it’s fair to ask if Google should be barred from furthering its dominance through acquisitions or collaborations. At issue are the recent purchases of YouTube, the leader in online video sharing, and DoubleClick, the leading broker of online advertising; in both instances Google used its gusher of profits to outbid rivals. There are also new joint ventures with Clear Channel, the giant radio broadcaster, and EchoStar, the satellite television operator.

Consider this: There may never have been a Google without the government’s antitrust suit that prevented Microsoft from crushing upstart rivals. By the same principle, isn’t it time to begin restraining Google to increase the odds another Google will come along?

It’s easy enough to look at the first paragraph and point out that YouTube doesn’t make any money. No one is certain how, or if, Google will make money from YouTube. There are theories, but theories don’t equal revenue without creativity, work, and luck. It’s a little premature to assume that this acquisition will result in further revenue growth. We could also simply look at the reality that Google is buying Internet successes rather than creating them.

The second paragraph, though, is more instructive. The phrase “may never have been” is hardly persuasive. Maybe the government’s antitrust suit helped, but we can’t know. That’s hardly a principle, unless we’re looking to some system outside of capitalism.

Nor do we have any proof that Microsoft’s dominance in its earlier markets translates into future dominance. Microsoft dominated the web browser market by the late ’90s, but its dominance in even that is waning as Mozilla builds Firefox as a product and a brand. More instructive, the web browser market is not the Internet.

Microsoft’s largest foray into the actual market Google now leads was MSN. Microsoft tried creating a closed system so that it could act as a gatekeeper to the Internets. Like AOL, this strategy was brilliant in the early days of the Internet’s public growth. As customers became better accustomed to technology, and technology got easier, the flaws in this strategy became clear. That left searching, which Google is simply better at. When Google stops being the best, customers will go elsewhere. This is the only principle at work.

Next, to demonstrate why we shouldn’t give government regulators more power than absolutely necessary, the FCC wants Congress to further violate the Constitution by giving it the power to censor violence on television.

The Federal Communications Commission has concluded that regulating TV violence is in the public interest, particularly during times when children are likely to be viewers — typically between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., FCC sources say.

“Parents are always the first and last line of defense in protecting their children, but legislation could give parents more tools,” FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said yesterday regarding the report. “I think it would be better if the industry addressed this on its own, but we can also give parents” help through regulation.

Beyond the obvious arguments that “Congress shall make no law…”, legislation to allow the FCC to regulate violence – including basic television, if the FCC gets its wish – would do nothing to give parents more tools. This is little more than a disguised version of the “for the children” argument used to excuse away most new intrusions on the rights of American adults. I expect the Congress to act on the FCC’s request because Democrats don’t love rights any more than Republicans have the last 200 6+ years. Unfortunately, I don’t have much faith in the courts, although if this finally pushes big television networks to finally fight back, I trust that we could finally see a change. Here’s hoping.