Monthly Archives: November 2009

Why Sony’s iTunes competitor will fail – and how they could (but won’t) make it work

Back when the Playstation 3 was in the works, I wrote a lot about Sony’s misguided strategy for the console. My doomsday scenarios haven’t come true, but the company is definitely struggling — losses are projected at $674 million this year after $2.6 billion in losses last year, according to BusinessWeek. (“The two worst-performing products: TVs and video games.”)

So it’s great to see Sony has more dynamite ideas up its corporate sleeve. Like building an iTunes-like service. Because everyone knows consumers are looking for yet another site where they can pay to download movies/shows, music, and books!

Surely Sony has some secret sauce that’ll make this service stand out from the zillions of other similar services, both living and dead. Take it away, BusinessWeek:

Sony will try to differentiate its service from iTunes. One example: Users will be able to upload videos shot on camcorders, save photos taken with digital cameras, and post other digital content to their personal online accounts. … At some point down the road, Sony would consider letting independent software developers create applications for the service, much the way Apple does for its iPhone.

[Slaps forehead as crickets chirp.]

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Searching for the best value in durable luggage

The internet is the best thing to happen to consumers in decades. Pick a product or service — cars, computers, TVs, cookware, homes, insurance — and chances are you can find tons of ratings, information, and deals to help make an informed decision and save money.

This makes it all the more frustrating when planning to buy one of the handful of products that has eluded internet-induced transparency. I discovered this several years ago when buying a mattress. The internet was largely useless against the industry’s bewildering “specs,” dizzying array of models (many of which are unique to a particular retailer), and creepy throwback salesmen who seemed even creepier because of the information asymmetry inherent to our encounters.

The same frustrations have come up in my recent search for luggage. Smart decisions are tough when facing units of measurement and materials that seem made up (“denier,” “Tricore ballistic nylon”); retailer-exclusive models (making comparison shopping harder); and a dearth of authoritative information (Consumer Reports’s website has a single, subscription-required ratings roundup).

Luggage goes on sale every other week, but as with everything else, holiday sales are usually some of the best of the year. I’ve spent some time scoping out Macy’s (in anticipation of a big sale today, Nov. 18) and other luggage sellers, and I think I’ve come up with a few good options. Of course, now I can’t decide which to get.

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Bonsai trees are much cooler than Mr. Miyagi led me to believe

This is going to sound ignorant, but until today my knowledge of bonsai trees was based entirely on The Karate Kid.

If I had to guess, I’d have said a bonsai tree was some dwarf species or a bush that looks like a tiny tree. A little kitschy, no big whoop. But today Melanie and I went to the National Arboretum’s Bonsai and Penjing Museum, and my ignorance was slightly diminished at the same time my mind was officially blown.

As any non-ignorant person (or Wikipedia reader) must have already known, bonsai (the Japanese term) or penjing (the Chinese term) refers to “the art of aesthetic miniaturization of trees, or of developing woody or semi-woody plants shaped as trees, by growing them in containers” (I would have used a more authoritative source’s definition, but I can’t find one on the American Bonsai Society’s website).

I guess the “semi-woody plants shaped as trees” part could be the “bush shaped like a tiny tree” that I had in mind. But most of the specimens at the Arboretum are literally miniature trees.

Walking through the exhibit is like walking through the forest sets of A Nightmare Before Christmas or Coraline. Except in this case, the trees aren’t painted models with popcorn for blossoms — they’re actually trees!

The other cool thing is that a bunch of the trees are 100 or more years old. One is from the mid 1600s! The age combined with the warped perspective makes the whole exhibit pretty dizzying.

Here are two examples from the Arboretum. But you don’t get the same vertiginous sense of scale unless you’re standing in front of them — or rather, over them.

Update: Here’s a photo that gives a better sense:

Josh and a bonsai

If you’re in the D.C. area and, like us, have overlooked the Arboretum because of all the higher-profile things to see in these parts, I highly recommend a visit. (The rest of the grounds are very pretty, too.)

Sidenote: Pat Morita was nominated for an Academy Award for playing Mr. Miyagi??? Wha?