Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Netflix Blu-ray vs. DVD confusion

I have Blu-ray enabled on my Netflix account, and have the option set to prefer Blu-ray discs, which is what I want 95% or more of the time. Recently, I was trying to get the DVD version of Rango.

I went into the DVD queue and set the format to DVD, and was surprised that they sent me a Bluray. I proceeded to try again on another sub account and the same thing happened.

So today I called Netflix customer support to find out what the deal is. Apparently they must have had a firestorm of complaints from people about getting DVDs of movies that have Blu-rays available. For example, if you added a movie to your queue and only DVD was available at the time, and then a year or two later they make a Blu-ray of it, it used to be that they would just send the DVD because that was the chosen format. Now, they *ignore* the format that you choose in the queue and just send Blu-ray always if available, assuming you have the automatically send Blu-ray option enabled.

In order to get a DVD of a movie that is in Blu-ray, you have to change to manually choose Blu-ray, which means each time you add a movie to your queue you have to pick the format. Or you have to turn the option back and forth whenever you want to get a DVD.

I can understand that there are customers that may want to always get Blu-ray but it seems to me that this problem could be much more easily solved in a way that would meet my needs as well as the "always Blu-ray" and the "mostly DVD, occasionally Blu-ray" folks.

Basically, they would just need to remember whether you had ever manually changed the format in your queue, and if so, respect that. The preference would simply set what your default format is, either DVD or Blu-ray. Then the list would indicate for each item in the queue whether it was DVD, Blu-ray, or Default (which could parenthetically indicate the preference, or that could be mentioned above the list once, or both).

You could very easily migrate people to this new setup by doing the following for all items in the queue which have a choice of format:
  • For manual mode, all items that are set to DVD should instead be set to Default (DVD). Blu-ray items stay as Blu-ray.
  • For automatic Blu-ray mode, all items are set to Default (Blu-ray), regardless of the setting in the queue because that is actually how things behave today.
So for those who never visit the queue to set the format, everything behaves as it does today, but if you do set the format, it is respected. There could even be a popup menu on the queue to set the default format easily, which would update all Default items to indicate the proper format.

If Netflix does not change to something like this, I think they need to change the presentation of the queue when you are in automatic Blu-ray mode, so you know that you never ever will get a DVD for any movie which has Blu-ray available... perhaps just don't show the popup menus at all and show things as Blu-ray, and have a link to turn off the option. Alternately, show popup menus with all of them having Blu-ray, and if you try to change it then it should prompt you to turn off the automatic Blu-ray setting.

Without one of these two approaches, the queue is very misleading because what it shows as the format that you will get is completely ignored in automatic Blu-ray mode.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

How to use alternate from addresses with Gmail on iPad or iPhone

Gmail has a neat feature that you can associate alternate from addresses with your account and then send as any of those addresses from the web interface. Unfortunately this feature is not available from the mobile web interface for iPhone or iPad. There is another way to do this using the Mail app, however.

You need to set up your Gmail account as a generic IMAP account (not using the Gmail selection). Then simply copy a comma character, and then paste that into the address field and enter all your from addresses separated by commas.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Video stores are in trouble

Traditional brick and mortar video stores are toast... looks like Redbox and Netflix are taking over. See page 13 of Coinstar's quarterly results for a comparison of Q42008 vs Q42009.


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

More on dollar coins and modernizing US currency

Here's my latest toy:

It's a Portsou coin holder. It is from a Canadian company... apparently US and Canadian coins are about the same size. It makes paying with exact change and using dollar coins very convenient. Here's a video of it in action. 

I was able to get about $20 in Presidential dollar coins at the bank and so I filled up the top two slots with them. I've used them a few times so far and had no problems getting businesses to accept them. Since $20 won't last very long, I decided to order a box of $250 Thomas Jefferson dollar coins from the US mint. They have a special offer with no shipping charges to encourage more coins to be introduced into circulation.

I've talked about things which the US could learn from other countries before. Since then I learned about the Coin Coalition and Save the Greenback, two groups that lobby our federal government both for and against dollar coins. The Coin Coalition is mainly the vending machine industry, and Save the Greenback represents the Bureau of Engraving and Printing employees as well as paper and ink suppliers. I've also read that polls indicate that the public prefers dollar bills to coins. I suspect this is mainly due to ignorance. Most people have probably never seen the new dollar coins, and many think that "In God We Trust" was removed when it was really just moved to the edge. (The latest presidential dollar coins moved "In God We Trust" back to the front of the coin.)

Here's what I would like to see happen to modernize our currency:

1) discontinue the penny
2) stop printing the dollar bill
3) increase production of dollar coins
4) increase production of $2 bills

Doing #1 and #2 opens up space in cash registers to put dollar coins and $2 bills both of which exist and are underused. Eventually I think it would make sense to transition to $2 coins like the rest of the English speaking countries of the world have, but this would be an easy change to do now. Also, increased production of $2 bills might placate Save the Greenback somewhat. Getting rid of the penny will also open up space in pockets and purses for the dollar coin.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated in 2000 that switching from dollar bills to dollar coins would save about $500 million dollars a year due to the much longer lifespan of coins (30 years vs 18-22 months for bills). Getting rid of the penny would probably save some money as well. Printing more $2 bills could offset this somewhat, but that would be worthwhile to get us moving in the right direction. Perhaps after one successful bill to coin transition, the government would be more likely to see the benefit of a $2 coin.

If this transition ever happens, my Portsou will be fine because I can just put a stack of dimes where the pennies are today. This is how it is used in Canada. Also, if we ever create a $2 coin, hopefully it is just slightly larger than the current dollar coin in which case I could put it in the upper left slot where the Canadian $2 coin goes.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

What to do when you get a chain forwarded email

This is a public service blog post.

Step 1)

Do not immediately forward this to all your friends/family/coworkers.

Step 2)

Skim the message enough to get the key idea and do a simple Google search to see if there are any web pages about this email. A good site to look at is snopes.com.

Step 3)

Assuming that the email is a hoax, misleading, old news, etc., reply to the sender (and optionally the other recipients) of this message about what you found. That will save everyone a lot of time.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Citibank putting ads in my recent transaction list

Look at this lame move by Citibank:

Is nothing sacred? Is Borders that hard up for business that they need to advertise that they have free shipping on orders over $25? Right next to a transaction with Amazon? I have Amazon Prime so I don't really care. Even without Amazon Prime, this deal is no better than what Amazon does.

A month or two ago there was an ad like this for Dell next to a transaction at the Apple Store. Again, not like this ad is going to change my mind.

They also put ads for signing up for electronic statements and enrolling in some annual fee program to get your credit checked. One more reason I'm going to stop using this credit card and just use my USAA card which doesn't pull this kind of crap on me.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Things the US could learn from other countries

Every time I travel internationally, I notice some things that other countries do better than we do that just make sense. Here's a few of them.

Credit cards - Standardized PIN pads

In Australia and New Zealand, all PIN pads have the same layout of buttons and the sequence is always the same. Swipe/insert card, press button for payment type (cheque/savings/credit), then enter PIN or press OK. Additionally, they can use a PIN for credit card transactions which is quite convenient. US credit cards do not support this feature and require a signature.


Additionally, cash is much easier to deal with in Australia and New Zealand, for several reasons:
  1. include sales tax in advertised price - this leads to round number pricing on most items. It is very common for prices to be whole dollar amounts.
  2. no pennies - this one is a no brainer. Just round everything off to the nearest 5 cents (or 10 cents in NZ). Because of reason one above, this is often not even necessary.
  3. 50 cent pieces and 20 cent pieces - this reduces the number of coins you need to make change for a dollar. In NZ you only need 4 coins max - a 50, two 20s, and a 10. In Australia it's 6 coins - a 50, a 20, two 10s, and two 5s. In the US you need 11 coins - three quarters, a dime, two nickels, and 5 pennies. Almost half the coins in that scenario are pennies. Update: if you remove the constraint that the total be exactly a dollar you can do it with 10 coins: 3 quarters, 2 dimes, a nickel, and 4 pennies. That's $1.04 total.
  4. Dollar and two dollar coins - we have dollar coins and two dollar bills in the US but try aren't really used much for some reason. This is silly because we end up having to replace one dollar bills often due to wear. Coins last much longer than bills. Additionally, the two dollar coin allows you to make change for a 5 with just three coins - a one dollar and a pair of twos.
  5. 50 dollar bills - when you withdraw cash from an ATM in Australia or New Zealand, some or all of it comes in 50s. Any business will commonly make change for a 50, even for a small transaction. In NZ, you get a mix of 20s and 50s from the ATM. When dealing with $300 it is really nice to have less bills - six/nine instead of 15 in the US.
  6. Plastic money - leave it in a pocket and send it through the wash - no worries.
  7. Different color for each denomination - we are moving this direction with the new versions of bills but in other countries each bill is fully a different color rather than just green tinted with some accent. Makes it easier to distinguish and sort bills.
Metric system

I can understand the barriers to change on this but the metric system makes so much more sense. It seems to be intelligently designed rather than random or haphazard iike the Imperial/statute/whatever system that we have.

In addition to making things hard on ourselves dealing with unit conversions, we have to adjust to metric when traveling.

Not to mention our low performance in science education and trade deficits with the rest of the world... I have to think that switching to metric would at least improve our situation.