lovehate: In Defense of a 24 Hour Culture

Oh sure, I don't need a hamburger with a side of onion rings and a soft serve chocolate sundae at four in the morning, but I might WANT them. I might also need a new printer cartridge at 5am to print out a term paper that's due at 9. Perhaps I'd simply like to buy some stamps so that I could send a parcel to a friend in Spain, but need to do it during the "witching hour" because the contents of the package are under a Wiccan curse.

I applaud the fact that some of the businesses in my city are starting to respect the nighthawk and cater to the nighthawk's needs. Before continuing, I'll give credit to the convenience stores which started the tradition a couple of decades ago. Yours was truly the stuff of inspiration. But while your wares have expanded beyond what I thought was originally possible, there are only so many Ultra XL Chalices of Soda I can down in a lifetime. Also, the snack cake/refried beef torpedo conundrum is just too confusing to plan for.

There's one entire chain of supermarkets that's now open 24 hours a day, every day of the week. Of course that's incredibly useful if I'm feeling industrious and would like to actually shop, but often the late night craving is for something where I don't have to get out of the car. Somewhere there has to be a supermarket with a drive-thru that stocks only the essentials. I completely understand that a loudspeaker shout out for a hummus and a rotisserie chicken at 5am isn't going to cut it at a drive-thru window, but surely they can have some pop, chips, milk, and bread on hand so I don't have to by a week-old loaf at the Kwik-E-Mart.

In my 20s there used to be a 24 hour Taco Bell drive-thru near my house... OHHHH! Burritos at Dawn! (strangely enough, once considered by Sergio Leone as a sequel to A Fistful of Dollars). Now McDonalds has taken up the torch around this area, but Mickey D's is the last fast food place I want to consider. C'mon Wendy's, Harvey's, Subway, Dairy Queen! Get off your asses or the Nighthawk Alliance will start a daytime boycott... which is easy because we're not awake.

I've seen those Discovery Channel docs on Japan's crazy vending machine malls, where one can buy ANYTHING out of a vending machine. Why don't we have these places in North America? They'd be easy to staff. But I don't want some cheap-ass version of the Vendomart. I want to be able to buy ANYTHING. New car - check. New laptop - check. Hand-woven Armenian Bathmat - check. Homemade Perogies stuffed with Goat Cheese and Bacon - check. I'll travel to get there too. Just put two in every city and someone will be raking in my cash. They could also be at the hub of local hotels. When I pull into a town at 2am and am reduced to gas station culinary escapades, I get upset.

And that's another thing. Why do I have to look high and low in some towns to find a 24 hour gas station - it's the 21st frakkin' century! Would you rather I went back to a cart and left horseshit all over your streets?

If a casino can stay open 24 hours a day, with video surveillance, adequate staffing and ample well-lit parking, surely I should be able to find somewhere in any major town or city to buy a mosquito coil, a piece of sandpaper and a can of varsol to explore my McGyver-esque fantasies in a children's playground area... wait... maybe I've said too much... I should get home before the sun comes up.

thinglets: Why Blu-Ray Player Prices Aren't Dropping

“The pain I feel now is the happiness I had before. That's the deal.” C.S. Lewis

(The following is not based on ANY proof. It is simply a collection of inferred conclusions from a tenuously logical construct.)

The Premise...

Snakebitten by a generation-old loss in the VCR market when Beta loses out to VHS, Sony vows that they will not lose again in the High Definition DVD war. They are willing to cut ANY and all deals necessary to ensure the success of the format. They set upon contacting major electronics manufacturers and studios to ensure a buy-in to the Blu-Ray format. The resulting cost: selling out on the hope for Playstation 3 marketshare.

Connecting the dots...

Sony (the king of proprieta ry technology) tries to buy the battle against HD-DVD, which the Xbox 360 had already bought into, in the hopes of taking a stab Microsoft. With several Southeast Asian manufacturing powerhouses they open up manufacturing specs for Blu-Ray while assembling the following partners:

Apple Inc.
Dell Inc.
Hitachi, Ltd.
Intel Corporation
LG Electronics (Lucky GoldStar)
Mitsubishi Electric
Panasonic (Matsushita Electric Industrial)
Pioneer Corporation
Royal Philips Electronics
Samsung Electronics
Sharp Corporation
Sony Corporation
Sun Microsystems
TDK Corporation (Tokyo Denki Kagaku)
Thomson SA
20th Century Fox
Walt Disney Motion Pictures Group
Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc.

Missing, of course, from the above list are Microsoft (Sony's only real gaming competitor at the time) and Toshiba, the last supporter of HD-DVD. Presumably Sony believes that by assembling this coalition, it can ensure a win in the HD media war, and, in the long term, put up a real battle against the Xbox 360 for gaming supremacy.

Flies in the Ointment...

Broadband: The ability to download content and get it to a gaming system has saved Microsoft from a higher demand for removable media with greater space. Removable media is seen by many to be dead or dying. The successes of interactive "live" gaming over networks has also shifted the core demand of gaming systems to better network play. Console gaming is becoming network gaming.

Upscaling DVD Players: People are happy with "good enough". Upscaling DVD players have given new "leases on lives" to old DVDs. They're not as good as Blu-Ray, but when you don't have a Blu-Ray, you'll never know it. Also, you don't have to re-buy your entire collection. The lower than anticipated demand for Blu-Ray players and discs further ups the options for upscaling DVD players which every low end player manufacturer pumps out with glee.

Risk of Mass Production Locks Prices: All of the manufacturers in the list above start to worry about taking the plunge. Sony WANTS everyone to take the plunge. If the Blu-Ray component prices go down through increased manufacturing, players will shoot down to $100 and the PS3 can follow to a $200 price point which would threaten the Xbox 360 market share. I honestly think Sony was ready to go there over a year ago and take the loss, but knew that the Blu-Ray coalition would ostracize them. If the PS3 drops to $200, no one else can sell a player for above $100 - EVER! This formidable corporate assembly could kill the Blu-Ray format in six months if they wanted to; Sony takes the hit, instead, by not being able to reduce PS3 prices and losing the gaming war.

Nintendo Wii: Coming out of nowhere, Nintendo reopens the console gaming war to a three ring circus with the Wii (notice how they're not on the list either). Nintendo not only kicks Sony's ass, but kicks the Xbox 360's ass as well: (as of June 30th, 2009 - units sold)
Wii – 102.49 million
Xbox 360 – 33.20 million
PlayStation 3 – 27.73 million

The Oven Timer Rings...

Blu-Ray has largely been a flop from a market share perspective. That's not to knock the technology, but, as with any removable media, technology, it's transitory, and the evolution of networking may render removable media obsolete altogether. And the final, perhaps the most disturbing, death knell to Blu-Ray could be that people really just DON'T CARE about HD for much of their "disposable" content. For the same reason that tens of thousands of people watch pirated film downloads from a shaky camcorder, or watch on their iPhone, is a pretty strong indication that there are a number of people who prefer quantity and free availability to cost and quality.

If Sony and the coalition could afford to make the $100 player, Blu-Ray would evolve and take. Until that happens: stagnancy.

lovehate: The Immaculate Waffle

We often turn to each other and snicker upon hearing of the entreprenurial opportunist who sees Jesus in a Ruffle and sells it on eBay. We often split our sides at claims of Christ on a cracker, the Virgin Mary Rice Krispie square, or the incidental rendering DaVinci's Last Supper on a mold formation in month old cottage cheese. The sad truth is, it's quite obvious the person selling the product is not a "true believer". If so, how could these latter-day Merchants at the Temple bring themselves to sell what could very well be akin to the Ark of the Convenant?

Even those that consider themselves religious refuse to get caught up in the divine delectables, the holy hors d'oeuvres, the beatific breakfast sausages that draw so much closing story fodder on nightly newscasts while every "Dan Anchorman" wannabe echoes a couple of light chuckles as they go to the wide shot of the Action 5 News Team enjoying the joke. But someone's not laughing, because, on eBay, people are actually bidding on this stuff.

You may think yourselves above such digestible miracles, but even in your Doubting Thomas ways you may be an active participant in a cult-like subset of the Church of Food. 

Are you padding down from every hotel/motel room you've ever stayed in, before you've checked out, showered, or sometimes even dressed, to share in the bounty that is the complimentary hotel breakfast? At what cost in time and effort are you willing to buy-in to the word "FREE" while skittishly glancing around the sunroom to observe those shoving individually-wrapped muffins, sickly bananas, orange juice concentrate, and dishwater coffee down their sullied maws.

People will sacrifice hours of needed sleep and waste up to an hour meandering amidst the soma-like trance fields that are the hotel breakfast nooks. They'll bitterly complain later in the day that their road trip driving sessions are going too late into the night, forgetting the cultural Mecca they participated in that same morning at tiny round bistro tables made cozy by the warm glow and hum of microwave ovens.

But nowhere is this devotion to ritual so evident than people who will line up for hours waiting their turn for the malted Belgian waffle iron to be free. These are people who would never go out and just buy a freakin' Eggo once in a while, but instead shamble wearily in the queue, like breadline comrades in Iron Curtain Warsaw. They mutter obscenities under their breaths at the mother who spends double the necessary time explaining the process to her four year-old while trying to soothe the crying jags at not being able to fill a bowl with a generic Froot Loop substitute and throw them around the room. They secretly wish death upon the doddering senior who has to peer intently to decipher the instructions before calling over a companion to ask them what to do next. They seethe with rage at the person who isn't immediately present at the waffle iron upon the completion of their batter press session - to tired to yell, too polite to open it and steal it, to exasperated at the 38 minutes they've been standing in line while their partner has the kids packed up and is honking the horn outside the window, they grimace and direct elaborate sneers of disdain worthy of someone who molested a child.

This is what we've become. We want our ten cent portion of waffle mix SO BAD that we are willing to waste far more valuable time to attain it. We'll gladly spend $20 extra for a hotel room that doles out $5 worth of high fructose gluten in the morning. We're willing to shave hours off of well-needed sleep to rush down to mingle with the Morlocks so that one day we will be able to tell all our friends how worthwhile an experience our travel breakfasts were. Not that far from the devotion of the eBay divine potato chip purchaser, where they've traded money for a chance at getting closer to their creator, you've traded time to stuff your craw.

In the end, they'll have a chip that looks like Jesus... or more likely the Shmoo, while you'll have a twelve hour window to get to the next motel so that you can befoul the bathroom with what passes as pungent remnants of a "healthy" breakfast, grab a five hour sleep, and be ready to be down in the foyer for 9am the next morning, or at least before the last stale croissant is put away.

In the name of the Fritter, the Bun, and the Whole Wheat Toast, as it was in the beginning, finishes by 9:30am, checkout at noon. Alpen.

P.S. Across Canada on Canada Day, all Mandarin Chinese Buffets served free meals. Nice gesture. Kudos to the owners. And the cult descended:

"The restaurant's first customers for its Canada Day (Wednesday) buffet lined up at 10:30 p.m. Tuesday night, say staff who saw them then and let them in the next morning. Yesterday afternoon, a line of several hundred people wound around the plaza. Many of the 1,600 people who ate there yesterday waited for several hours."

Some people waited overnight, over 12 hours, in a concrete parking lot for a buffet that costs $16.99 - largely middle-class people, forgoing the better part of a day for a free meal.