Save the Drive-In!


Been a while since I posted, but if you've read any of my blog posts, you know I tend to write when I feel passionately about something.  Well, today I saw something that stirred my soul and ignited a little passion flame that has fired me up enough get my lazy fingers on the keyboard.  As is typical with my vociferous rants on this blog, you'll probably be disappointed by my honorable cause, but I don't care.  It's important to me.

This is pretty simple...I love to go to the drive-in movie theater. I've been doing drive-in movies since I first saw the original Star Wars as a little boy in the drive-in movie theater in Pocatello, Idaho. This was the old one that used to sit on a huge gravel lot that is now occupied by the Pine Ridge Mall.  I still remember laying on a blanket that had been spread on top of our old Chevy station wagon (light blue with the wood panel stickers on the sides) and listening to that incredible movie that sounded like it was happening in a soup can over the tiny speaker hooked onto the luggage rack beside me.  I have so many other good memories with friends and family at the drive-in (Dad will never let me forget the Pocatello Drive-In riots of '91...that was very exciting...anyone else remember that?).  I'm convinced that the world will not be as happy a place if drive-ins go away. Someday (hopefully in a long time) I want my grand kids to be able to go to the drive-in and have that same experience of spending a Summer evening in the dusty gravel lot, watching the cars drive around and around looking for the perfect spot. There's nothing like the experience of running up to the giant wooden screen while you're waiting for the sky to get just a little darker so they'll start the movie.  It's so American and so middle class and such a part of my happy childhood memories.  I think it's even more important today as a part of our culture because my kids (and most other kids) don't get out much like I used to.  They spend so much of their life online with all their entertainment on demand, ready to stream, that they totally miss the idea of going somewhere for entertainment and getting there early to get a good spot.  They rarely have to deal with other humans and be kind and courteous.  And there is no other place on earth that can create a small, greasy, overpriced hamburger that tastes so good.

You probably already know that there aren't very many drive-in theaters still operating today and we're lucky enough to have 3 just in Idaho Falls/Pocatello.  I think that's because we're a family-friendly, good, clean fun kind of people and...well...there ain't much else to do around here.  What you may not know is that there is a very good chance that most, if not all, of our drive-ins will be gone very soon.  The movie studios decided long ago (and rightfully so) that printing movies on giant reels of film and mailing them all over the country is a very expensive, sloppy, problematic way of doing business and can be replaced, like everything else we used to buy on film/tape/vinyl/disc/etc, by digital distribution.  It's why we have iTunes and Amazon Kindle and Google Play and it's why movie theaters will soon have to have all digital projection equipment or have to close the gates and walk away.  The last days of popping, crackling, weird visual artifact filled reel-to-reel movies are upon us.

The problem for many of the drive-in theaters is that digital projection equipment is very expensive and drive-in movie theaters don't have the huge profits of a big 12 theater multiplex.  For one, a drive-in found almost anyplace not called California can really only stay open for a few months each year.  Nobody wants to sit in 4 inches of snow to watch a movie and 27 degrees with a breeze in your face will ruin any movie.  They also don't make as much money on concessions as the local indoor theater.  That's partly my fault since I knowingly break the rules and sneak in my own popcorn and Twizzlers...and I don't think I'm alone.  It's not that I don't want to support's that I can't afford it.  It's why I don't take my kids to the "real" theater. So basically, nobody who runs a drive-in in 2013 is doing so to get rich and they probably don't have $80,000 to $100,000 to buy new projection equipment.  And so, the most likely outcome is that the end of movies printed on film will probably mean the end of the drive-in movie theater.  So boo hoo, another relic of my magical, carefree childhood is going away (like record stores and VHS movie rental stores) why the long, nostalgic blog entry?

Apparently, I'm not the only one who cares that this institution of American family life is disappearing.  And it's not just some local, activist yahoo who's speaking up.  It's Honda.  Yes, Honda, the car company.  They have decided they want to save the drive-in movie theaters of America.  They're actually going to give new digital projection equipment to 5 theaters (to be decided by vote) and they've started a crowd-source funding project to help save others.  What's crazy is a few months ago I was driving past our local drive-in and saw a "For Sale" sign and my first thought was "Oh no, this is the end of the drive-in in Idaho Falls" and I thought that it would be awesome if somebody did a Kickstarter fund to try and save the drive-in.  And now it's really going to least for some drive-ins.

Sadly, they don't seem to know about any of the theaters in our area, so I can't vote for ours, but I'm going to see if I can change that.  And I'm going to donate money to this cause whether it goes to theaters in Southeast Idaho or not.  I just love drive-in movie theaters and I don't want them to go away.  And if you feel the same way, have the same great memories from the back of a pickup truck with your friends or lawn chairs or an old couch on a summer night at the drive-in, you should do the same.

Go visit Project Drive-In now or watch the video below:

Slightly Better Than Sliced Bread


This next one is one of the greatest technology concepts that is likely to disappear within a couple of years.  It's a company called Zediva and the whole idea is to stick a finger squarely into the eye of the movie industry.

THE CONCEPT: Zediva is an online, streaming move service.  It's basically a combination of Netflix and Redbox in that it has a pretty limited selection of new-release and popular movies, but does not require you to hang out in front of the grocery store late at night when you have a desire to watch a movie and you also don't have to return a disc.  You simply sign onto the Zediva website, pick your movie and it starts playing.  Once you start a movie, you can watch that movie as many times as you want over the next 14 days.  Rentals cost $2 apiece or a buck if you buy packs of movie credits ($10 for 10 credits).  Also, the new releases here are truly new releases, and not month the month old releases that you get on Redbox.

THE INNOVATION:  So why didn't somebody else do this first?  Many have tried, but the short answer is that the movie industry does not like making it this easy (and cheap) for consumers to watch new release movies.  They prefer that you have to work a lot harder and pay a lot more money to watch a movie that has just been released on DVD and so they have all sorts of rules in place that keep services like Netflix, Redbox, etc. from renting new releases until they have started to get a little stale (meaning, the DVD purchases have started to taper off at Walmart and Amazon).  In order to get around this little complication, Zediva basically gives the finger to the movie industry and has found a loophole in the rules.  Zediva actually goes to the local Walmart the day a DVD is released and buys a bunch of copies of the actual physical disc (I don't actually know where they buy them, but this is how I imagine it).  Next, they take those discs back to their secret lair which is basically a room full of thousands of DVD players all hooked into the Internet and trained monkeys (now I'm really taking some creative liberty, but, again, this is how it happens in my mind).  Now, when you sign into the website and "Rent" a movie, one of these trained monkeys (we'll call him Mr. Peepers) sees an image of the movie you wish to watch on a small screen in his cage.  Being the highly trained monkey that he is, Mr. Peepers knows that if he can successfully retrieve that movie, place it in one of the DVD players and press the play button, then he will be rewarded with a banana.  The next thing you know, the movie begins with DVD menu that you control, previews and all and Mr. Peepers is happily enjoying his banana and back to watching his advanced copy of "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" and dreaming about the day when you will be the one retrieving/playing the DVDs for him.

THE CATCH:  Obviously the movie people aren't happy about this little arrangement, and are suing like mad to get it stopped, because, obviously, if something is easy, cheap and makes consumers happy, it must be illegal.  Nobody is quite sure if this approach will stand up to the convoluted copyright laws in place in the US right now, especially given that they were all written before the Internet or DVD players even existed and don't even begin to address this sort of technical setup.  But surely, if history is an indicator of where this is headed, some judge somewhere in the US will decide it's his place to create laws where none exist and protect the motion picture cartel by shutting Zediva down.  If that happens, and Zediva probably doesn't have the resources to take this to the Supreme Court, this awesome little wonder of human problem solving, loophole exploiting will cease to be.  Either way, I'm pretty sure this business model is only going to last a year or two anyway as the whole online movie thing evolves and eventually movie studios are going to figure out, just as the music industry did, that consumers will find a way to get the content.  It's just a matter of whether or not the industry will get a slice of the pie.

THE LIMITATIONS: The biggest things keeping Zediva from taking over the world today are 1) the movies are currently only playable on Adobe Flash enabled devices.  That basically limits it to desktop/laptop computers or Android OS powered devices (Yes, this really works on an Android phone...I've tried it myself on T-Mobile 3G).  If these guys could get an app out there for Roku, PS3, Wii, XBox, etc, it would explode.  They say on the website that they're working on it, but nothing yet.  2) It's still an invitation only service.  Since this whole operation is run by a couple of college drop-outs and a legion of trained monkeys, they can only add capacity as fast as they can make trips to Walmart to buy discs and cheap DVD players and get them all wired together.  That doesn't even take into account what is required to find qualified, upstanding monkeys who are looking for work and get them trained.  But, they are adding capacity and I just got my first batch of invitations this week.

HOW DO I SIGN UP: If you're looking for a great way to enjoy new release movies and you aren't willing/capable of the whole Redbox thing (my family is not able to return rentals, as evidenced by our vast collection of DVDs we've "purchased" from Redbox because we can't get them back, even after a month) and you're ok watching them on your computer or Android device, follow the link below and sign up.  Since it's a referal link, we both get free stuff if you do:

Only the first 10 people to use the link will get in.

Another Interesting Business Model


So speaking of interesting business models, here's one that's guaranteed to make you bajillions of dollars, if your interested in that kind of thing.  It's pretty simple really and I'm surprised more people haven't thought of it.  It consists of a few simple steps.

  1. Design a product that every man, woman and child in the world will want.
  2. Sell the product at a huge markup that guarantees you piles of cash.
  3. Make it really slippery and difficult to hold onto.
  4. Make it out of glass, or at least the surface of it should be made of edge to edge glass such that a drop from any height onto a hard surface will shatter the surface, rendering it useless or nearly useless.
  5. Make sure the product is designed to be impossible to to repair.
  6. Threaten all business partners that if they attempt to repair the broken product, they risk losing the business relationship.
  7. When consumers call to ask about the options they have to deal with a now broken, useless product, tell them they can take it to a company retail store, which may or may not be within hundreds of miles, and present it to the store staff which may or may not do anything to help you. Store staff will have the option to
      a) repair broken product with magical tools in the back at no cost to you
      b) repair broken product with magical tools in the back at some cost to you
      c) give you a new product at no cost to you
      d) give you a new product at some cost to you
      e) do nothing and laugh at you for being such a parental tool who actually bought this product for all of their children

Now, I know you're all thinking that this business model is much too simple and couldn't possibly work, but I'm here to tell you that this is, in fact, a real product in the real world and that the company selling this product does have large mounds of cash that can be directly attributed to this product and business model.  I am also here to confess, sadly, that I am a parental tool that begrudgingly gave my money to said company and now has 3 of the above mentioned products in my home which have been rendered completely or partially useless after a drop from the height of a small child's waist.  I haven't yet played the retail store lottery game yet to see which of the options I will be granted.  That's mostly because the nearest retail store for this company is 215 miles from my home, but I'll certainly have this opportunity soon since living without this product apparently violates a fundamental human right (according to my children).

And so my recommendation for other parents who don't want their children to be losers who don't own this product (I think, technically you are considered below the poverty level if you don't own at least one of these products), make sure that you don't allow your children to touch this thing until you have wrapped it in some sort of super, shock-absorbing protective cover.  And in case you're wondering where to get such a protective cover, I know they are available at a very high markup at the company retail store nearest you.

Happy Independence Day!


As far back as I can remember, I watched BYU football games on Saturday afternoons in the fall. In my very early years, it was with my Dad or my Grandpa, but even in my too-cool-for-family teen years, I used to walk, bike or drive to church houses in the neighborhood where I could catch the games over satellite broadcast. I would hang out with lots of grumpy old guys and a few young dads with small children running around screaming, but it was a small price to pay to see my Cougars in action.  Then there were the wonderful "Blue and White Sports Network" years when the games were all on network tv, saving me from those uncomfortable church house afternoons.

We had our good times and our bad times as fans of BYU athletics.  I was 10 years old when we won the national championship and a little older during the fun Sean Bradley basketball days (I'm a bit too young to remember the Danny Ainge days), but anybody who knows me well will attest to the fact that I was no fair-weather fan.  I was true-blue and, even though my plans of attending BYU changed after high school, my love for "The Y" never faded.  There is/was nothing better than spending a cool Saturday afternoon in Autumn watching a BYU football game and my Saturday schedule has often been centered around those games. And then in 1999 a bunch of suits got together and decided to ruin it for me and many others like me.

I find it fascinating to watch the way businesses operate, particularly how they interact with their customers, and to predict how those businesses will fare in the long run.  I actually have a pretty good track record of predicting products/businesses that will thrive and those that will fail.  I've been watching and waiting for the Mountain West Conference (MWC) to fail for 12 years.  The MWC was formed to be a "better" Western Athletic Conference (WAC) and, as far as I can tell, the plan was to take a product that many people were passionate about (BYU sports) and make it difficult, expensive and sometimes just plain impossible for those loyal customers to enjoy. I've resorted, these past many years, to listening to games on the radio.  On the radio! Like it's 1978 or something.  It doesn't take a genius to see that this might not be a sustainable business model, but the very well paid executives running the MWC decided to try it anyway and to ride that pony as long as it would stay standing.  Well, needless to say, 12 years of frustrated, angry, desperate fans has resulted in a pony that is laying on the ground in a pile of its own feces, swarming with flies. Now that BYU, Utah and TCU have bailed on the conference and its ridiculous TV situation, poor BSU and the Bronco Nation are left to suffer the aftermath in what is now the "lesser" WAC.

But enough with the negative. My real reason for actually sitting down and writing this post is that today dawns a new era in BYU athletics.  As of today, July 1, 2011, BYU is free of the MWC and has finally regained control over the rights to view their own athletic events.  Not only that, but they've built up an incredible HD broadcasting station unparalleled in the collegiate world.  BYUtv can be found on almost every major cable network and satellite tv provider in the USA, as well a decent online streaming capability that means access to over 140 BYU athletic events in the next year, available for free to all...many live and some delayed until after they are shown live on ESPN.  And for those of you with a Roku box, there is a new BYUtv channel for Roku that allows you to stream any of this stuff live for FREE!  (For those of you without a should get a Roku!)

So all of this to say that this is an exciting day in BYU sports history and should be celebrated by Cougar fans worldwide.  If you're die-hard enough, you can even start on July 12th by watching the BYU Football Media Day in all it's glory, for the first time ever outside of the Wasatch Front area.  I'm not sure I'll end up watching much of that, but I COULD!! I feel much better.  I've been wanting to write this post for quite some time, but before now, it was always just going to be a whiny rant.  At least now it can be something positive (unless you're a BSU fan).  I can't wait to see how this new experiment goes for the BYU athletic department and most of all, I CAN'T WAIT FOR FOOTBALL SEASON!!  Woohoo!! Go Cougars!

Blogging Again


It's time for my annual cleaning-up and dusting-off of the blog, because you never know when an emergency will strike and you'll be in desperate need of a blog, and that's when I'll be glad I've made the effort.  So, you, my faithful blog followers, may or may not notice that I've actually migrated my blog off of my own home-based, sitting-in-my-basement, old-computer-looking server to the magical world of Google (who owns blogger/blogspot).  So, like nearly everything else in my life that I depend on, my blog now sits on a server owned by Google, somewhere in the world.  It's been fun and educational hosting my own web server at home, but I'm getting tired of trying to keep it hack proof and worrying that it might actually already be compromised by hacker/terrorists and be serving as the hosting service for al-Qaeda operations.  And so I'm shutting it down and moving stuff out to blogger and continuing to put a lot of faith in Google that they won't decide to become evil and do bad things with all of my personal information.

I've tried to make this blog look as much like the old design as possible, not because it was spectacular, but because I didn't have any ideas for a different look.  I even got my random image generating header working here.  I'm going to move some of my old posts from my old blog to this one so that those of you who refer often to my informative posts will not lose that history (and so it doesn't look so dang empty and stuff).

I'm also hoping that this effort will revive my desire to be a more prolific and value-providing blogger.  I've been pretty bad the last year and the really sad thing is that there have been many times that I've been thinking about something that I thought would make a good blog entry.  I considered going Twitter for a while, but I've decided that just doesn't make any sense for me.  When I actually want to write, I want to sit down and take some time and write a thoughtful piece of prose and not 140 characters of Jeff trivia.  So consider this notice that there will be more regular posting from here on.  The topics will probably stray from my normal tech/fast food topics and could head into some uncharted waters.  We'll see...