Baby’s first license agreement

A couple days ago while surfing the Family and Kids section of Netflix instant, I found a show I knew my daughter would love. We watched a couple episodes and it was then I noticed the small print in the Netflix interface: available for streaming until June 23.

It's a cartoon about horses and pretty innocuous, but I knew we would quickly have to have The Talk, you know the one, where you explain the Hollywood studio system, the complicated license agreements between online delivery services like Netflix, and the byzantine world of paying the creators of programs based on the slivers of monthly fees of Netflix customers. 

Tonight, perhaps I'll tuck her into bed and read from one of her favortes, the latest iTunes End User Software License Agreement.

Kevin Bacon Number II: The Wire Index

I've noticed many of the films and shows I've enjoyed over the past few years have featured actors that previously appeared in The Wire. Someone should build a site that calculates a number based on how many actors in a show or film previously appeared in The Wire. It could be calculated like so: 

(Actors in the work that were on The Wire / Total number of actors in a work) * 10

This gives you a number between 0 and 10, with 10 being a perfect total saturation of the cast (probably only in actual episodes of The Wire) and zero being not a single actor from The Wire is involved in the project. I'm curious what the highest number non-Wire show/film is and I have a feeling if I was about to watch something and it had a number hovering between 2 and 3 I would be almost certain the work would be enjoyable.

Developers: this seems like it'd be fairly possible to do with some IMDB api work and you could probably make some money off the site by throwing Amazon "order now" links to any DVDs mentioned. 

 

Netflix on the iPad

One of my favorite apps for the iPad is Netflix's streaming service. I started out watching tons of documentaries. I really enjoyed two recent ones: Beer Wars and The Union

Beer Wars is an inside look at the world of microbreweries and how it's nearly impossible for them to sell at major stores thanks to the near monopoly held by Bud, Coors, and Miller. The Union is yet another "pot should be legalized" movie, but it's better than any I've seen before, with a long slow exploration of all the angles of the "why is pot illegal?" that doesn't fall for cheap tricks or emotional pleas and comes off as an intelligent run-down of how crazy the US laws are around pot and how they got to be that way.

Eventually, I found I didn't always have 90 minutes to sit around watching films and I eventually found the streaming TV shows listing at Netflix. It's really fantastic to have all three seasons of Arrested Development just a click away, or any number of TV shows I've never watched when they were first broadcast.

I thought my favorite app for the iPad would be Air Video, but that requires me to seek out shows and movies, download them, then stream. Netflix has surprisingly become my go-to app for relaxing and enjoying video on the iPad. It's a bit buggy and crashes whenever I finish an episode, but other than that, it's pretty great.

The Art of Negotiation According to Pawnstars

The other day I caught a marathon of the show Pawnstars. On the surface, it's kind of a blue collar version of Antiques Roadshow and at first I thought it was a pale rip-off of the original. But after watching a dozen or so episodes and a couple Antiques Roadshows, I'm convinced I like this Pawnstars show more, mostly due to the more modern items being discussed that I can recognize versus the Roadshow saying an ugly broken victorian chair is worth $250k which makes no sense to me.

Anyway, the big part of the show is that this is a pawn shop in Las Vegas of all places, so people are often desperate for money when they bring items in, and there are rounds of negotiation on price featured for every item following an appraisal. The appraisal stage varies among these three situations with the main pawn shop employee/owner Rick:

  1. Rick doesn't know how much something is worth, and brings in a local expert to give a real world auction appraisal price in front of both him and the owner of the item.
  2. Rick knows a lot about the item and gives an estimate for how much he might be able to sell it for.
  3. Rick has no idea how much it is worth, neither does the seller, so they guess.

Now, if you were really trying to get top dollar, it would help to do some research at the very least on Google before you ever try to sell anything. It being Las Vegas and people often being desperate for money, it's clear most sellers arrive not knowing anything about their item or what its worth may be.

The best part is the negotiation stage. I'm a terrible negotiator and in the past I've only done bargaining for new cars over email, since I completely fail trying to persuade lower prices from someone standing in front of me. I'm fascinated at how consistently Rick pulls a fairly low price for items and there is a general pattern to the procedure worth knowing.

Rick always asks people "So what do you want for it?" and the negotiations start from there. In the first situation, they have a third-party price and sellers will often say they want that full price but eventually cave. The second situation is the owner coming up with a price, and sellers tend to not cave so often (probably due to trust issues). The third situation is my favorite, since it's pure speculative negotiation with both parties in the dark about any true worth.

There is a general pattern almost every transaction follows and it goes like this:

"What are you looking to get for this?"

"$800"

"Hmm, I can't go anywhere near that, I was thinking more like $400 or so"

(usually there is a joke or some light laughter thrown in to defuse the tense situation of offending a seller with a low-ball bid)

"$400?! I'd really like to see $700"

"Hmm, about $450 is as high as I could go"

"I really needed to get at least $600 today"

"Ok, my absolute final offer, and only because I like it (inserts flattery for the seller) is $500"

"Ok, sold" (handshake)

No matter what the appraisal is at the start, almost every transaction involves the pawn shop not wanting to pay more than half of what something is worth. A lot of sellers balk and leave, but most give in because they had no idea what is was worth so anything more than zero is a deal.

My favorite deals are in the third category, where by just asking what someone wants for it, and talking them down to about 50-60% of that price, you later find out with a real appraisal an item was worth thousands of dollars and picked up for just a couple hundred through successful negotiation.

Superbowl

Yesterday's Super Bowl was great. A perfect come from behind win that ended the way everyone wanted it to, with the Saints on top.

In the past, I've watched the game mostly to see the ads, but this year was pretty bad. Aside from the Letterman ad and the great Google ad, the rest were a mess of misogynistic garbage about supposedly manly men stuck in terrible marriages.

With that in mind, I present my version of the Google Paris Love ad, done as a continuation of the original, in the style of all the other terrible ads that played throughout the game.

What does “MeFi” mean in the background of Mythbusters?

I figured I should write the answer to this entry in case some fans of the TV show Mythbusters ever wonder what a small easter egg in the background of the show set means. For anyone typing the title of this post into Google, here’s your answer:

Adam Savage, the co-host of the show is obviously a geek and spends some time online each day between shooting scenes for the show. Among many popular blogs, he reads MetaFilter, which goes by the shorthand “MeFi” by its members. Most of his participation takes place on Ask MetaFilter, a question and answers area of the site. This is his profile on the site.

Early this year, he posted a question asking members of the site to suggest some myths they could test from the Old West. The show had already covered a bunch of standards in previous shows and Adam wasn’t too happy with the suggestions for new myths from his producers, so he asked on the site. There were over 200 answers, but these three made it onto the show:

 

 

 

Adam talks about how the myths were chosen and how they were filmed in a podcast interview I did with him a couple months after the original question. In it, he talks about how he wanted to thank the website by having some small “easter egg” mention of MetaFilter, Ask MeFi, or MeFi somewhere in the blueprint and credits at the end of that episode.

Turns out that instead of a temporary small mention on that one specific episode that aired this evening, it was done in masking tape on a door in the set’s background several episodes before and has since stuck around. Time will tell how long it lasts, but now you know what it means and why it’s there and thanks again Adam for the shoutout. Mythbusters continues to be my favorite show on TV due to the great simple science and geekiness displayed each week. Mythbusters is probably doing more to help steer kids into engineering and adults into DIY/hacking projects than anything else on TV today.

SPOILER ALERT

So if you didn’t see Lost tonight, you shouldn’t read this post.

Ok, still here? Great. So a few characters get killed off at the end, but I have to wonder… the first two to die happened to be played by actors that both happened to be busted for drunk driving recently.

Coincidence? Or a nice way to remove the people that brought negative attention to the show?

Rambling about blogging and TV

I’ve long wondered when the act of blogging TV would take place. I don’t mean writing blog posts about the last episode of Lost, I mean actually snipping segments from TV and posting them for all to see. Basically doing with TV what bloggers were doing in 1999 with the web — snipping bits here and there to make a full picture of some topic through the use of quotes and links.

YouTube (and to a lesser extent Google Video) have finally reached a tipping point of blogging TV. With 1999 blogs, I knew that anything happening online that was interesting would get picked up by those few dozen blogs and eventually I stopped following primary sources like CNN and the NYT and just followed blogs. With TV, there’s no way I can keep up, but I know if something interesting pops up, it’ll be all over YouTube the next day.

I’d argue that YouTube is the king of this movement because they have such loose and lax legal guidelines. Of course, everyone that uploads claims they own the copyright and got release forms from everyone involved and cleared anything seen on camera, blah, blah, blah, but in reality, it is totally lawless and people are basically uploading random interesting TV bits they dump right off their computer. It reminds me of Napster in 1999, totally interesting, and totally illegal in the eyes of IP lawyers.

Like Napster, there are positive sides to this kind of loose fair use/infringement. It’s only because things are so lax that everyone and their brother saw the Chronicles of Narnia SNL spoof video, and SNL ratings definitely saw a spike in the shows that followed (and I noticed SNL tried to capitalize on this by putting Andy Samberg in more skits and letting cast members do funny little videos for the two following episodes).

I’m really surprised that TVeyes didn’t become the tool of choice for this type of activity. If you’ve never seen their service, it’s really incredible. The thing with TVeyes is they already record pretty much all the major networks including cable outlets. Then they digitize it all, index the closed captioning, and provide search tools for the text and automatically crunch out video segments that meet your search criteria. So for instance, if like me you watched the SNL show on your DVR the night it aired, you could say “damn, that was good, I need to get a copy to my friends” you just pop onto TVeyes, do a search on NBC for “narnia” and it would find the segment and prepare a little 3 minute video capture of the show. It’s like TiVo for all TV, with searching and quoting features built it, which is exactly what YouTube is doing, but they require that someone, somewhere recorded and digitized it.

TVeyes has been around since at least 2000, back when they’d email you whenever a word popped up anywhere on TV. Unfortunately, TVeyes seemed to focus on the enterprise, acting like a video clip service to corporate giants, but I guarantee if they kept this stuff open to all, everyone could flock to it and share the videos. Overnight, you’d have thousands of people mining the very best bits of TV and revolutionizing that industry.

In a way, I’m already starting to see the effects of YouTube and its many clones. Goofy clips are starting to pop up on more comedy shows like The Colbert Report — stuff they never did before, but suddenly they have these small chunks of random comedy (click on the charlene video) that seem ripe for viral spread through YouTube, almost like they were trying for it.

Maybe stuff like clips on YouTube vs. regular format TV is kind of like how blogging was first viewed critically in 1999-2000. Everyone was afraid people wouldn’t read 3,000 word essays if blogs took over — that it was shortening our attention span as everything had to become small, easily read chunks with links to more information. It was the death of the long format and it was going to ruin us all. But it didn’t, and I don’t think sharing TV clips is going to ruin TV anytime soon.

Set TiVos to stun

Don’t forget like I almost did: The Colbert Report starts tonight, so you might as well set that season pass to grab it after the Daily Show when you get home.