A Day In The Lyf

…the lyf so short, the craft so longe to lerne

The Fundamental Theorem of Renting

with 6 comments

I should start by saying that I’m not a videophile. My TV is color, but it’s at least as deep as it is wide, and it’s certainly not high-def.

But I do know this: DVDs suck, and the DVD rental industry is broken.

Trying to improve DVDs by making them higher resolution is like trying to fix ice sculptures by making them prettier. It works great, until summer rolls around.

As far as I can tell, the media industry (which includes both video and audio media) has been moving towards higher resolution at the expense of longevity. LP’s, in case you didn’t know, stand for “long-playing,” and I can still play some of my grandma’s. You could literally do jumping jacks on eight tracks and they’d be fine. Tapes might get out of sorts from time to time, but you could fix them by sticking a pencil in the cogs and getting the tape wound correctly again.

Then the music industry came out with CDs, and the digital revolution began. Fast forward a bit, and here we stand.

Luke, I am your, your, your, your, your, your, your

Damn, just when I was getting into it, too. I haven’t been keeping strict tabs on it, largely because I don’t keep strict tabs on anything, but I’d guess that approximately two videos out of every one I rent has a significant scratch, strategically located right at the climax of the movie. Not at the beginning, mind you, because then the previous renter would have failed at maximizing the amount of time you waste. If they put the scratch at the beginning of the movie, you might even still be sober enough to storm back to the movie store and demand another copy. Put the scratch at the end, and most movie-goers will just assume that they saw the good parts anyhow, and forget about it. But climatic scratches leave scars. By the time the scratch actually does manifest itself, you’re expected to suffer through the still-frame slideshow, under the delusional hopes than in just a couple of minutes, the show will resume as normal.

When that fails, naturally, you’re supposed to resign yourself to the fact that you’ll have to skip to the next chapter, and backtrack to just after the scratched area of the disk. That probably takes a while, on account of your excessive optimism of just how insignificant the scratch is. Eventually, you just skip the chapter you were on altogether, hoping you didn’t miss any Oscar moments.

(By “you,” I mean my wife, at least when I watch DVDs, because I still haven’t figured out how to navigate the arcane series of steps required to coerce the remote control into skipping past the affected area. And, by this point, I’m usually too drunk to learn.)

As the next chapter begins, you realize that, while you (or my wife) has succesfully crossed the Grand Canyon, several minor fault lines still emanate from the crevasse. Eventually, my much soberer wife decides that it is no longer worth her time babysitting the remote, gives up, and hands control over to me. Damn. I should really learn how to use that remote one day.

The funny thing about all of this is that the movie industry wants us to upgrade our DVDs to Blu-rays. The demos I see at electronics stores really are spectacular, too. But what the marketing fails to mention is the economics of renting, as summarized by the Fundamental Theorem of Renting:

Renters demand to rent products that are in better shape than when they return them.

Like all deep truths of the universe, this Fundamental Theorem has a number of interesting corollaries, such as the fact that, to be true, every renter must find ways to return the product in worse shape than when they rented it. Car renters intuitively know this, and home renters are required to pay a deposit to combat the Fundamental Theorem, but movie renters pretend that renting is a harmless affair.

It doesn’t matter anyway. Blu Ray is too late. By the time it came out, physical media was no longer that important. Now I just have to wait until my wife figures out how to stream Netflix…


Written by Brandon Byars

January 8, 2011 at 11:40 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with ,

6 Responses

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  1. In your blog post about Lisp macros, you state (with regard to metaprogramming:)

    “You cannot change the language at run-time.”

    For most languages, this is true, however, as you mentioned Smalltalk, I’d like to point out: the compiler is written in Smalltalk, and is thus available for modification (like everything else that lives above the VM) at run time. It’s usually comprised of a Parser class and a Scanner class. While Smalltalk has a small amount of syntax in the way of a macro system, it’s worth pointing out that it’s still a pretty trivial grammar, and parsed with recursive descent.

    One fun trick is to use an anonymous function to simultaneously change the grammar and rewrite all the source code in the system in one go; *poof* new object language:)

    Lots of fun can be had with pulling down e.g., Squeak, as well as perhaps OMeta, and playing around with ideas for macro systems.

    Great article all the same! I often find myself struggling to explain the difference between a hygienic macro and a C macro to people who are only familiar with the latter.

    Casey Ransberger

    January 26, 2011 at 12:01 pm

  2. Finally, a post I understand :-) Good stuff.


    September 14, 2011 at 11:36 am

  3. Ha! Thanks for the post! Very funny! :)


    December 5, 2011 at 10:18 am

  4. The digital world screams to be freed from its physical containers. As we saw Blockbuster crumble, we now know that interconnected network style access is the future. Plus, why rent out physical assets one at a time? Digital goods can be rented with (near) infiinite concurrency. It makes me wonder the future of programming and ThoughtWorks. Will we (coders) go the way of the DVD (dare I say, betamax?) as AI learns to code as well as we do and w/ (near) infinite concurrency?

    Sorry to zombify an old post :)

    Mike Graf

    May 10, 2012 at 8:31 am

  5. Hey would you mind sharing which blog platform you’re working with?
    I’m going to start my own blog in the near future but I’m
    having a difficult time deciding between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and Drupal.
    The reason I ask is because your layout seems different then most blogs and I’m looking for something completely unique.

    P.S Sorry for being off-topic but I had to ask!

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