Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Netflix vs. Blockbuster Online

I am one of the citizens of this great country who just can NOT get movies back to the video store on time. I love to watch movies, but I hate late fees, and boy did I have a lot of them. Then I discovered Netflix in 2004...For those of you who don't know how it works, you create a queue of movies you'd like to see on the Netflix website, then depending on what plan you have (I chose the $19.95 per month, 3 movies out at a time plan) Netflix sends them to you in the mail. Over the course of my membership it seemed that most of the time I got next day delivery from Netflix; I'd send a movie back, they'd send an e-mail to say they'd received it and then they'd send the next one out, which for the most part I would get the next day. I watch a lot of movies, the amount you can rent per month is unlimited, depending on how quickly you watch them and send them back in. I was very happy with the plan.

One problem was you are at the mercy of the U.S. Postal service...if it's a 3 day weekend, then that means with turnaround times you couldn't replace your movies for 6 days. So, I'd try to offset that by renting television series disks on the long weekends, aka Grey's Anatomy, Lost, the Sopranos, etc which are generally 4 hours per disk and would keep me busy for awhile. However that didn't always keep me sated either.

So, I'd been seeing the
Blockbuster commercials which stated you could trade your movies at a store if you wanted to rather than wait for the mail. I was mildly interested, but too lazy to switch off Netflixs. Then Netflix had the bad fortune of messing up my account 2 weekends in a row. The first weekend rather than skip a movie in my queue for the next one, they instead shipped it from Denver, which took 3 days. Since I'd recently downgraded my account to 2 at a time, that meant I only got one movie that week. Then last weekend they were supposed to send me disk 1 and 2 in a series, instead disk 1 didn't ship and I got disk 2 on a Saturday and had to wait for disk one to arrive the next Tuesday. Sort of messed with my weekend. Since the Oscars are fast approaching and I have a lot of movies to watch before February 25, well, no time for incompetence here! I went online and checked out Blockbuster....

WOW! Is THIS a better plan! I'm paying the same money ($14.95) to have 2 movies out at a time, yet as soon as I signed up I was able to print out an e-coupon which I was able to redeem at the Blockbuster store for a free movie that night (I have a Blockbuster across the street from me). Also, as soon as I get my movies in the mail and I'm done with them, I can take them across the street the Blockbuster (same distance as going to the post office), hand them my movies and pick out 2 new ones right then. As soon as my movies are received at the mailing center they will send my next 2 movies on my queue out as well! Do you know what that means? No more running out of videos on a Saturday and having to wait until the following Wednesday for more. I'm going to give it a try...

What I'm enjoying about this situation is how Blockbuster has worked their brick and mortar stores into an advantage over a HUGE online business. Most of the major businesses have websites now, but very few are dominating over the online entities...I'm sure that online DVD rentals put the hurt to video stores, and at one point there was a rumor that the video store as we know it may eventually become extinct. Blockbuster managed to morph with the times, find the weakness in Netflix system and overcome it. When I cancelled my Netflix account they have an exit poll for you to take. Under the "reasons for leaving" one of the options was, "switching to Blockbuster online". I checked that one. If Blockbuster can make the delivery times to me at a reasonable speed, then this appears to be a much better program. Fairly novel for a brick and mortar to morph and overcome online such as Blockbuster seems to be doing.

If you have no Blockbuster store close to you, and you aren't that hung up on delivery speed, well, Netflix does have more titles than Blockbuster...If you are a movie watching fiend such as myself, well, then Blockbuster may very well be on to something. I'll keep you updated!

Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Last Refuge For Scoundrels

I made a friend in Delaware last year when he wandered onto my blog via my post about the Second Hand Lions quote. Although this man waves the dreaded flag with the Elephant on it where his politics are concerned (I can barely utter the "R" word), I've found a great deal of symmetry between his views and mine. (I'm still trying to work out how that happened). Anyway, give this first in a two part series of articles by Ken Grant a read and tell me what you think.

The Last Refuge For Scoundrels

By Ken Grant
Samuel Johnson wrote, “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” While I have no doubt about the truth of that assertion during Mr. Johnson’s lifetime (1709-1784), I have to argue that Patriotism has been replaced as the refuge of last resort for just about everybody, not just scoundrels.

To properly identify this refuge, I’m going to attempt to coin a new term – “Childrenism” – as in “Childrenism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.”

So, if I’m going to have the audacity to create a new term, I guess I have to offer up a working definition. Let’s try this one on for size:

child-ren-ism noun (2007) 1: any attempt to restrict personal freedom, infringe on public liberties, or forward an agenda “for the children” 2: any use of the rhetorical question “what about the children?” to justify a weak argument 3: filler

Be honest, how many times have you listened to, or even engaged in, an exchange of ideas and you’ve heard the person proposing something truly pathetic – or even abhorrent – as being an absolute necessity “for the sake of the children”? By the way, when you say “for the sake of the children”, “What about the children?” or any other phrase associated with childrenism, you must do so with an extremely earnest expression on your face and in your voice – you know, almost whine it out of your very being.

One of the most common uses of childrenism is in the realm of censorship and broadcasting. We’ve all heard the conversation:

Self-Appointed Moralist: You have to sign this petition to the FCC! We have to make sure that these radio stations keep their language clean and stop making crude jokes!

Free-Market Advocate: Um, if you don’t like what they’re broadcasting, why don’t you just switch to another station – I mean, I’m not interested in listening to some of this stuff, either, so I just don’t listen.

Self-Appointed Moralist: Well, yes, you and I can do that – But What About the Children?

That’s it, end of discussion, thank you for playing, you can pick up your parting gift at the door.

Now let’s go into something a little meatier.

I have two teen-aged children attending a local public school. Recently there were two incidents, one involving some girls taking over-the-counter cough medicine to get high, the other involving a student bringing a starter pistol to school.

The school administration and PTA held a meeting with parents to discuss these incidents and address any questions or concerns we parents had. As you can imagine, there was much more of a focus on the gun incident than the cough medicine. Personally, I found the administration’s approach and answers to be informative, forthcoming, and reasonable.

Then, it happened. One of the other parents started asking about the possibility of installing metal detectors in the school. That’s right, metal detectors in a middle school in Newark, Delaware.

And why would we need metal detectors in a middle school in Newark? Why, for the sake of the children!

Like I said, I’m a parent. I have two children attending this school. If this school were to install metal detectors, it is somewhere in the realm of possibility that at some point a student brining a gun into the school could be stopped and my children would be safer. If I oppose this idea, then am I saying that I would rather my children live with that risk hanging over their heads?

Yes, I am willing to put them at risk of physical harm. I would rather have them live with that risk than be trained and conditioned to sacrifice their freedom for some added sense of security. And yes, I’m willing to fight for the rights of every broadcast radio and television station to air whatever they think the market will bear even if it means my kids might happen to hear a few naughty words and an obnoxious shock jock once in a while.

Why? Why would I have this attitude? Why would I choose a course of action that could risk my children’s physical and mental health? Well, for starters I would rather they lived with a sense of freedom than a sense of security. I would rather they think for themselves than try to create a false world around them.

Yes, I am doing all of this for the children.

By the way, Samuel Johnson wrote something else, and this one remains true today and will most likely remain true until the end of time: “Hell is paved with good intentions.”

Ken Grant lives in Newark with his wife and two kids. He can be reached at