November 16, 2013 at 10:28 PM
I hadn’t given any thought to Scarecrow Video in months, maybe years, when I heard the news a couple weeks ago.
As you’d expect, Seattle’s world-famous video store is in trouble. Rentals have dropped 40 percent in six years, despite efforts to draw people in with coffee, beer, screenings, all kinds of deals and even bar trivia, and owners are wondering if it’s time to fade to black.
The culprit, of course, is change. Video-store rentals hit their peak, $8.5 billion, in 2001. Last year, we spent as much on those rentals as we did in 1984, a measly $1.2 billion, according to analyst IHS.
Blockbuster Video, founded in 1985, operated 1,700 stores when the company filed for bankruptcy in 2010. This month, parent company Dish Network said it would close the 300 remaining company-owned Blockbuster stores next year.
Scarecrow owners Carl Tostevin and Mickey McDonough put out a call for help in October. Scarecrow is no Blockbuster; it has collected 118,000 titles and a lot of love. The store’s fans will step it up. Supporters of independent businesses will stop in on principle.
But what about the rest of us? I’ve done nothing but rent or stream from Netflix, Amazon.com, Hulu or iTunes for years. Same with most of my friends. I’d love for Scarecrow to stick around, but online convenience rules. Is there something I’m missing?
I went in last week to find out.
November 9, 2013 at 9:45 PM
Ian Allan gets bored watching full live games of his favorite sport. Davida Marion rolls her eyes when friends ask to hang out on Sundays. Marc Sells once yelled “Yes!” when he heard a certain someone had torn his ACL.
Is this madness? Maybe. It’s fantasy football.
I knew almost nothing about the booming $1.2 billion fantasy sports industry until a few weeks ago, when the Seahawks took on the Houston Texans. We served chips and hummus in the TV room, and Sells, a good friend, grabbed his phone and opened his laptop. While we rooted for our team, he rooted for his fantasy players, whose real life performance in games across the NFL would either validate or condemn painstaking decisions he had made that week.
More than 24 million Americans play fantasy football, and I’ve managed to avoid talking about it with any of them. This year, though, is different. This year, for the first time in my life, I’m actually following a season of sport. I’ve now gasped and jumped and scared the baby with some wild, out-of-nowhere shriek for nine straight weeks of soaring Seahawks football, and I can’t believe I didn’t get into this sooner.
October 5, 2013 at 8:52 PM
Clothing stores that know what you like. Self-driving cars that know where you’re going. Sensors that warn you’ll have a heart attack days before you have it. Bars that serve your favorite drink minutes before you sit down.
This isn’t fantasy. It’s the future.
It’s described in “The Age of Context,” the second book by tech enthusiast and former Microsoft evangelist Robert Scoble and business journalist Shel Israel. The book is a parade of newborn technologies and an analysis of trends in mobile, social media, data, sensors and location technology that all lead to one compelling conclusion: The world we’re headed to is a world that knows us. One where commerce, transportation, health care, service and learning are transformed by technologies smart enough to not just meet our needs but anticipate them. It’s a world where we are safer, stronger and more powerful than we ever dreamed.
But there’s a cost: For the world to open up to you, you have to open up to the world. You have to share more and more of all those trackable, quantifiable behaviors we’ve come to call your personal data.
September 7, 2013 at 8:24 PM
Last week, for the first time ever, I walked into a store and bought something with nothing.
I was at the shoe counter at Nordstrom, a pair of Under Armour sneakers boxed and ready to go. I’d forgotten my Nordstrom notes — coupons the store mails customers who use its credit card — and asked the sales associate to look them up. He did.
“Do you want to buy this with your Nordstrom card?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said, opening my wallet.
“Don’t bother,” he said, looking at his screen and pressing a button. “You’re all set.”
Back home, I pulled out my wallet and looked inside. There was my license, the credit card I didn’t need, a bunch of business cards and gift cards I forgot I had and, tucked in the back, some stray $1 bills I didn’t remember putting there.
It’s hard to imagine a world without cash. It’s harder to imagine a world without wallets. But the way things are going, you have to wonder if we’re destined to lose both.
July 6, 2013 at 8:00 PM
A light moved back and forth inside the Stratasys Objet Eden 260V, blue as the one on R2D2’s rotating head. Inside, it was cooking plastic. Layer after layer of polymer was turning a file you see on a screen into an object you hold in your hand.
No big deal to industrial designers who’ve seen some form of this for years. To me, it’s magic.
The Eden 260V is one of several 3D printers that sit unceremoniously at the back of Makerhaus, the tinkerer’s wonderland in Fremont, as if they weren’t out to change the world.
The Eden 260V costs over $100,000, but the game-changing MakerBot Replicator 2X, sitting on a table a few feet away, is just $2,799. A display case showed off the machines’ products — everything from detailed figurines to a one-piece replica bike chain, its bendy parts in working order.
Looking at them for the first time last week, I didn’t know what to see. Are these newly cheaper, more accessible machines agents of a new industrial revolution? The in-home “desktop manufacturing” that will let us print a new light bulb at home? Or are they too slow, too geeky and too complicated to be more than glorified tchotchke makers?
June 29, 2013 at 8:08 PM
Remember when grocery store self-checkout was the future?
The bulky talking machines have been around for more than a decade, and I’ve used them maybe four times. I finally noticed the 12 that are huddled in the University Village QFC when my husband went straight for them a few months ago. On the day of the Fremont Solstice Parade, I found myself lined up behind them at the Fremont PCC. But only because there was no other way with that crowd that I was going to pay for my sandwich in time for the naked bike ride.
There was talk in the early 2000s that self-checkout lanes would soon handle all grocery-store transactions. Now we know better. Everyone likes control and convenience, but some of us (raises hand) don’t want to do more work. Supermarkets like Boise-based Albertsons cut back on self-checkout lanes when it became clear that the machines are an option, not a revolution.
June 1, 2013 at 8:00 PM
It was a drive like any other drive. I got on Highway 99 and headed south, confident, after checking Google Maps, that I’d be downtown in 20 minutes.
Then, near the Aurora Bridge, 99 became a parking lot. A portion of the route had been closed for construction. I’d had no idea.
“This traffic is crushing my soul,” I tweeted half a block and half an hour later. “Help me. Please. Something. Anything to keep me from losing my mind.”
Sitting stuck in traffic is a special kind of hell. These past couple weeks, Puget Sound drivers burned bad. First the 99 nightmare May 18. Then a bridge collapse May 23. Then, a few days ago, a semi jackknifed on Interstate 5, all but shutting down the freeway and surrounding roads for miles just in time for the morning commute.
Congestion is a reality of urban life. But somewhere in those two hours on Aurora, I wondered — what if it doesn’t have to be? Robot cars from “Minority Report” and “iRobot” cruised through my mind, as they do every time my decade-old Civic churns in gridlock. Someday we’ll escape this, I thought. Technology will show the way. It will be wonderful.
May 4, 2013 at 8:00 PM
Most days I go to Third Place Books in Ravenna, I walk right past the merchandise and sit down to work at the Vios Cafe in the back.
But one day last month, I had a minute to look around.
Sitting on the corner of the new hardcover section was a book about Thomas Jefferson that looked awesome. “The Art of Power,” it was called.
What I did next was pure instinct. I took out my phone and snapped a picture of its cover, intending to put it in my Evernote as a reminder to buy it later on Amazon.com.
Instantly, I felt awful.
I checked the price on the book. $35. No way it’s that expensive online, I thought. I wanted to keep moving. Had any employees seen me snap the pic?
The week before, I’d walked through Elliott Bay Book Company on Capitol Hill while waiting for my husband to meet me for lunch. “I miss not seeing bookstores as beautiful endangered species,” I’d posted then on Facebook.
Ah shoot, I thought. I have to buy the book while at Third Place Books, don’t I?
It was a classic case of showroomer’s dilemma. “Showrooming,” if you haven’t heard the term, is the act of treating physical stores as showrooms for products you later buy online.
It’s price-conscious shopping. But is it also, morally, petty theft?
April 20, 2013 at 8:00 PM
Thursday night, after dark, monsters moved in Boston.
Friday morning, we woke to a terrifying thing. A policeman killed, another wounded and others threatened. A proud city on lockdown. A dangerous young man on the loose.
And something — the ground upon which we build our knowledge — had made another shift.
Not everyone felt it. But if you were one of the hundreds of thousands across the country caught mind and heart in the moment, maybe you did.
News is not just something we check every now and then. It’s not just a job, for some people, or an interest, for others. What goes on in our world and how we come to understand it tells us more than we know about who we are and how we’re connected. There are facts and reports and updates. Those are the bones. But there is also feeling, reaction, emotion. That’s the blood.
And it’s pumping.
News became a little less of an industry and a little more of a living, breathing organism Thursday night. It’s not a new direction. For more than a decade now, ever since anyone with a thought and an Internet connection could so easily provoke his species, news has become less controlled. More vulnerable. More, well, human.
It has not, though, become easy. In fact, news demands more from us now than ever.
January 29, 2013 at 8:00 AM
Members of the largest and oldest library association in America — the American Library Association — are meeting this week in downtown Seattle.
They’re asking some tough questions.
“In order to create real change, we will need to deepen and go beyond historical relationships, rethink how we leverage technology to best serve readers, and even shift paradigms — for instance, from repository to creator,” ALA President Maureen Sullivan wrote in a letter to members ahead of the association’s midwinter meeting. “There is no doubt that ‘transformation’ is the right frame of reference for the work before us.”
The Pew Internet & American Life Project just released the latest in a set of library use studies funded at least in part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The first, out last summer, examined the state of e-book borrowing. The results: Patrons appreciate it, but access is low, selection is small, and 60 percent of Americans 16 or older couldn’t say whether their libraries even offered e-books for lending.