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AndyO Blog

Saturday, March 06, 2010

My list of best Seattle breakfast restaurants

I recently updated my list of best breakfast restaurants in Seattle. Let me know if you have any favorite breakfast spots I should check out.

List of Best Breakfast Restaurants in Seattle

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posted by AndyO @ 10:50 AM   0 comments links to this post

Saturday, February 27, 2010

My list of best Washington State movie theaters

I recently updated my list of best movie theaters in Washington State. Let me know if you have any favorite theaters I should check out.

List of Best Theaters in Washington State

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posted by AndyO @ 10:56 AM   0 comments links to this post

Monday, February 22, 2010

NBC's Olympic Coverage: Bad

As I've skipped through my DVR recordings of the Olympics, I've come to realize that I'm disappointed in most of NBC's coverage of the games.

Sure, there are some interesting special effects, like showing the "ghost" of one skier racing against another, or the moving line a skater has to beat to take home the gold medal; but for the most part, it's bad sports journalism that feels like a reality TV show.

This New York Times article gets at what's wrong with NBC's coverage:

Cheering Team USA on NBC's Olympics


posted by AndyO @ 12:16 AM   0 comments links to this post

Saturday, January 23, 2010

ARCO's ATM is anything but convenient

On Thursday, on my way to get car tabs, I stopped at an ARCO gas station to get gas and cash. I pulled up to the pump and inserted my debit card into the ATM. Of course, there was a 45-cent convenience fee (actually not bad for a cash machine).

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After I started pumping gas, I examined the ATM a little more; it soon became clear that there wasn't an option to get any cash from this machine. I was paying 45-cents for the convenience of using ARCO's gas pump, which is odd because Shell and Chevron don't charge extra fees for using their gas pump. 

I felt a little swindled by ARCO. I think most people would agree that an ATM should include the ability to spit out some cash. Even if you pay with a debit card at Safeway or 7-11, there's usually an option to get back some cash. And they don't charge you a convenience fee.

What does ARCO have to say about this? Here's their website, which says this about how convenient their gas stations are:

Straight up convenience.

You can pay on the gas island with cash or your ATM card using PayQuick, It�s an easy way to purchase at the pump to get in, out and on your way quickly.

To avoid the 45-cent convenience fee, use your ARCO Debit MasterCard. Plus you can earn reward points when you use it!

Because I was in a hurry (and I needed cash for the emissions test you have to get in Washington state), I went inside to see if they had a real ATM. They did, but now they wanted $2.00 for the convenience of withdrawing cash.

I don't know about you, but I don't find $2.00 in fees very convenient. Which is why I won't be visiting ARCO again anytime soon. I also recommend that ARCO change the language on their pumps to be more accurate. For example:

Pay with cash or debit card

The worst part was that I did pay the $2.00 convenience fee at the real ATM, because I was in a hurry. I know that ARCO was counting on this, but you would think they'd be interested in forming a long-term relationship with me so I'd be willing to return to their store and buy snacks -- because that's where the real profit is.

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posted by AndyO @ 4:49 PM   3 comments links to this post

Saturday, September 19, 2009

IMAX 3-D digital films: Upsell illusion

I just went to see Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs with the kids today at the Regal Thornton Place theater in IMAX 3-D digital. The total cost for the matinee show (11:40 am) was $40.50! That's $15.50 for me (instead of the usual $8.50 matinee price) and $12.50 for each kid.

Stepping into the IMAX auditorium eased my buyer's remorse somewhat. The screen reaches from floor to ceiling and wall to wall -- not as big as the curved Boeing IMAX theater at Seattle Center, but certainly bigger than the average screen.

When the film started, the sound system thundered like a freight train, and the image quality was sharp and vibrant. But then I noticed something that I'd noticed in two other IMAX films, Up and Night at the Museum 2:

The image didn't fill the entire screen.

Much like watching a 16:9 widescreen movie on a TV, there were black "bars" across the bottom and the top of the screen:


So, how is this much different than a regular movie image? Why am I paying almost twice as much just because the screen is large?

After doing a little research, I found that a firestorm erupted in May 2009 by actor/comedian Aziz Ansari after he saw the new Star Trek movie on a screen that he didn't consider to be of proper IMAX size. (Turns out, most people think this is around 72 feet high.)

According to IMAX CEO Rich Gelfond in a Wired article, the screen size isn't the only thing that makes IMAX what it is:

IMAX means the most immersive film experience on the planet. 3-D is going to be more obvious to you in IMAX. And in 2-D, IMAX means a special sound system. It means special treatment of the film so that when Star Trek is shown in an IMAX theater, it goes through a digital process where we up-res the movie so there's more brightness and more contrast.

And with the screen part of it: In all of these multiplexes, IMAX is the biggest screen. But it's not only screen size. There's something called "perceived screen size," which involves the relationship of the viewer to the screen. If you're in the first row, that screen is going to look a hell of a lot bigger to you than if you're in the 30th row. We typically take out the first four rows of seats in a theater and move the screen forward so it's a lot farther forward in an IMAX theater. Also, the screen goes floor to ceiling, wall to wall. By bringing a floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall screen forward toward the audience, the viewer has the perception that the screen is larger than just the physical size.

I buy that there's a different process for converting a film for IMAX and that the sound system is better. But my beef is that the screen size is large but the movie isn't filling that screen. Well, then, I must be seeing a much better image resolution.

It turns out the image resolution might be only slightly better.

The IMAX digital film is created by using two Christie 2K resolution digital projectors. According to Wikipedia, "the two 2K images are projected over each other, producing an image that is potentially of a slightly higher resolution than common 2K digital cinema."

So, if the screen isn't larger, then you're not really getting much value for your expensive ticket -- just an image that is potentially of a slightly higher resolution. But I thought the reason for paying for an IMAX version of the film is so you can have the most immersive, amazing experience in a movie theater. Turns out it's not much different than going to the non-IMAX or 2D version of the film -- at least in some theaters.

Then what's going on here? Like many things in life, it's about money.

Let's take a look at The Dark Knight. $55 million of the $1 billion the film earned worldwide (18%) was from IMAX theaters. Without those "premium" tickets, the film takes in less money, the studio execs get smaller bonuses, the theater chains can't add more IMAX theaters, etc.

But the real crime with the smaller IMAX screens or the reduced projection size on a large screen is that the average moviegoer isn't even aware (at least consciously). They're paying extra for the IMAX brand -- and not really getting their money's worth.

So, as I see it IMAX has three problems (and to their credit, they're looking into fixing the branding problem now):

  1. Not all IMAX screens are equal in size.
  2. Not all IMAX screens are equal in resolution (digital vs. 70mm).
  3. The projection image size of the IMAX film doesn't always take up the entire screen size -- which brings us back to #1.

If you want to know which IMAX screens are the smaller size, here's a handy map:

View IMAX or LIEMAX? in a larger map

If you're interested in reading some other articles about this issue, see the following:

Roger Ebert's Q&A on IMAX (published before Aziz Ansari's blog)

LFexaminer: Is IMAX the next "New Coke"?

LFexaminer: Links to IMAX controversy articles

Variety: IMAX responds to screen size critics

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posted by AndyO @ 11:41 PM   1 comments links to this post

Monday, July 20, 2009

Thoughts on the 40th Anniversary of Apollo 11

It was 40 years ago today, when I was just 2 years old, that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon. This was, arguably, the greatest technical achievement of the human race. And every year since that historic event, we seem to grow farther away from what was accomplished in 1969. Instead of new manned missions beyond the moon -- or even a base -- we get conspiracy theorists telling us we never even went to moon.

I can only hope that with Project Orion we start to move forward again with manned deep space exploration. While I'd like to see us go to the Moon again, it seems like a bit of a step backward. If we said we were going to the Moon again to set up a base there, then it starts to make more sense. But everyone knows the next real objective is Mars. There's a  scientific reason to go there.

They say after the Apollo missions, the people of Earth turned inward again (there wasn't an environmental movement until those pictures of Earth were taken by the astronauts). Perhaps what we really need is to turn outward again -- to explore. Perhaps this would change us as a species in ways we can't even imagine.

I hope so.


posted by AndyO @ 11:55 PM   1 comments links to this post