Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Comedians in Cars: Seinfield's Still Got It

Watched the first episode of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee with Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David and loved it. Great to see such a simple, yet well executed concept for web video.

There's also a bootleg copy of Seinfeld's HBO show Talking Funny on DailyMotion if you haven't checked that out.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Bank of America: Now With Fewer ATMs

There are two or three Bank of America locations within a mile of where I live, in addition to several other banks. Wells Fargo, BB&T, M&T and Capital One to name just a few.

If anything, there are way too many physical bank locations. Bank of American apparently agrees with me, shutting down almost 10 percent of their ATM locations

Unfortunately, the ones they are shutting down are, to me, the ones they should be keeping, those in malls, gas stations, convenience stores etc, rather than a standalone bank. Especially in a high-rent urban area, you would think you could put a half-dozen ATMs in various kiosks for the cost of having a small full-service bank. 

My perspective is that more people should be using credit unions and online banks like Ally anyway. Ally will refund any ATM fees I incur, because they don't have any ATMs.

I would think there'd be a business opportunity for a CoinStar or RedBox-type vending machine company to offer an ATM at locations like a 7-11 or a grocery store with an ATM fee of $1 or less.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Have We Reached Peak Iron Man?

I was watching the original Robert Downey Jr. "Iron Man" recently. The origin story was done very well, but you didn't have non-stop pointless action or lame villains the way that "Iron Man 2" did.

So, when I hear about a sequel for both Thor and Captain America, both of which were pretty lame in their first iterations, then a third Iron Man, a second Avengers, an Ant-Man movie, plus a movie for a more obscure group of heroes called the Guardians of the Galaxy which include a raccoon and a talking tree, it seems to me there's a growing bubble of inflated expectations for Iron Man and the many related offshoots of the Marvel Universe.

If you aren't familiar with the idea of a "peak," here's a post about the most famous: peak oil.

This is not particularly surprising, given how poorly thought out the Batman iteration was in the '90s, which finally ended in the abomination of "Batman + Robin," which hardly any one ever brings up to George Clooney now (and also may have been "peak Chris O'Donnell," an actor who people may tend to forget was a pretty big deal in that decade, then didn't do a single movie for four years and is now mostly known for an NCIS spinoff.)

In the same vein, the "Fantastic Four" movies seemed to flame out pretty quickly, with the second movie being horrible. The Matrix trilogy also comes to mind.

At one point last year, there were literally four Iron Man-related cartoons on basic cable. There are still two that remain, and an animated Avengers reboot that is already in the works. There was even talk about doing another release of Avengers in some kind of Director's Cut because $600 million wasn't enough for the studio.

To some extent, you see the same thing with the Wolverine character and the X-Men, where no one is particularly interested in another X-Men movie about any one except Hugh Jackman's character, although there is supposedly a "First Class" sequel in the works. There were also three Wolverine-related cartoons last year, none of which were particularly successful.

At this year's Comic Con in San Diego, Robert Downey Jr. seemed to intimate that "Iron Man 3" will likely be the last in the current run. But, right now, there seems to be no limit to the potential prequels and sequels, some of which could even be done direct to video.

But I wouldn't be surprised if either one or all of these movies under-perform at some point, especially after the big budget flops of "Green Lantern," "Battleship" and "John Carter." At a minimum, there has to be diminishing returns.

This post at IO9 essentially makes a related point, that there are only so many viable super heroes, and Guardians of the Galaxy likely aren't one of them: There are only a half dozen A-list superheroes.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

GigaOM: Is the Future of Retail Is Showrooming?

Thought GigaOm's headline on this article was spot on. If you think about stores like Apple, Ikea, William Sonoma etc., they combine customer service, on-site education and the ability to browse items with a soft sell approach. Even Microsoft is essentially copying Apple with their Windows stores.

Certainly, there are some instances where you need an adapter or a case or a gift card immediately, and you want to be able to buy it the same day (Last minute Christmas shopping comes to mind). 

But, most of the time, if you can look at an item in a show room and then buy it from Amazon with free shipping and a fairly low price, that's what you are going to do. This is the antithesis of car shopping, where you are essentially trapped once you enter the showroom. 

I've had friends tell me they liked being able to look at items for their wedding or baby registries at a physical store like Crate & Barrel, but then the registry exists online, and the shipping and gift wrapping is all handled. Considering how much money is spent on these registries, you would think more retailers would adopt this approach.

Seems so obvious, yet look at JCPenny's struggles to adopt a more Apple-ish approach. 

Another store that drives me insane is REI. While their customer service is great, the way their stores are laid out is generally horrible. It is great that they offer free shipping with in-store pickup, where you likely end up buying something else.

This as Amazon is apparently considering same-day delivery in some areas.

TechBargains: Cord Cutters Prefer Netflix, Youtube

HackingNetflix highlights a survey by TechBargains of what streaming services do most cord cutters use. As you can see, they must have allowed people to enter more than one service, but the clear winners are Netflix and Youtube.

I've never used VUDU or Blockbuster, but if I had to chose one streaming service, it would likely be Netflix.

Obviously YouTube has the advantage of being free, so I'm surprised that isn't closer to 100 percent, but then Netflix is built into almost every TV and DVD player sold these days.

The one thing I think is not mentioned enough in the media is the free movies and TV available to Amazon Prime members. A combination of the free Prime Video and the paid Amazon streaming could be a fairly compelling streaming solution.

I have noticed more free streaming options on iTunes, including the season premiere or pilot of a few TV shows.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Brokers Lose $2B in Bad 401(k) Bets

If you work for a public company, there is often an Employee Stock Purchase Program and/or the ability to buy company stock in your retirement program. But some times employees double down on their employers out of a misguided sense of loyalty and/or some idea that they have insider knowledge (which would be illegal if it were true.

Workers at the five largest Wall Street banks saw the value of company stock in their 401(k) accounts, sometimes the biggest holding of those plans, decline more than $2 billion last year, according to annual filings. Those losses don’t include shares received as bonuses.

ESPP's are generally a good thing, as it allows you to buy company stock at some kind of discount or subsidized or pre-tax price, and then sell it after the lock up period expires.

On the other hand, investing your 401(k) in your company's stock is a terrible idea. Ask the employees of Enron and Lehman Brothers how much their loyalty was rewarded when they lost their jobs in addition to  the value of their retirement cratering.

HT: The Big Picture

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Hulu Plus Offering 2-Month Free Trial

Thanks to Lifehacker, I signed up for a two-month free trial of Hulu Plus today.

I'm already not sure if this was worth it, as hardly any of the shows that I normally watch appear to be available. I'd be one thing if there were new episodes of Happy Endings etc. but I don't see Walking Dead, Louie, or any of the cable shows that I would watch.

The most popular show is E! News Now? Wow, I don't know if I will even wait two months to cancel it.

The only possibility to me is the original content, but I believe that is free without Hulu Plus. Catching up on Community or Parks and Recreation might be an option.

For $8 a month, I'd much rather look at a season pass on Amazon Video or iTunes, as it could take me a month to watch a full season of some shows.

Previously: 2M People on Hulu Plus ... But Why?