Some Qwikster Alternatives for Netflix to Consider

In its latest marketing / branding / PR gaffe, Netflix announced it was splitting into two entities and launching Qwikster.

No, it’s not a convenience store, quick-lube franchise or concrete alternative.

It’s the new name for Netflix’s DVD-by-mail service (its core business, but one that will likely be diminishing as video streaming becomes more prevalent).

Unfortunately, those wacky folks neglected to verify that the @qwikster twitter handle was available, and turns out it already belongs to a pot-smoking, Elmo-loving chap named Jason Castillo.

Adding to the confusion are the numerous other similar-sounding monikers in the marketplace.

In the true spirit of collaboration and collective goodwill, I have taken it upon myself to concoct a few suitable name alternatives for Netflix to consider:

– Qwakster

– Huckster

– Soon-to-be-Obsolete-ster

– Red-Enveloped Stepchild

– Crash-and-Burnster

– Not-Qwite-As-Qwik-As-Streaming(ster)

– PostalFlix

– Dupe-the-Public-ster

– Snail-Mail Ciné

– Cut Us Some Slackster

– Spinster

– Disc in Da Mailster

– Flick 2 Ur Box  

– Special DVDelivery

– U-Scratcha, U-Buya

Any others you’d like to suggest?

Waiting on the Mystery

“Mystery,” a song on the new Sara Groves record, speaks to her recent bout with anxiety, depression and writer’s block – the longest she had ever experienced.

On the director’s cut of this striking album (“Invisible Empires,” currently downloadable from her website), she shares some candid commentary about the frustrating season she endured. And she credits her husband Troy for convincing her of the need to write through it.

“You need to write from where you are now,” she recounts him saying when she expressed her desire not to write from a negative place. “You can’t change where you are and then start writing,” he continued. “You’re not going to get out of this until you start writing again.”

And so she did:

…My body’s tired
From trying to bring you here.
And my brow is furrowed
Trying to see things clear.

So I’ll turn my back to the black
And fall
And wait for the mystery
To rise up and meet me…

She recalls bursting into tears after writing these words, as they expressed so completely what she truly believed, yet they came unexpectedly and without full volition.

I’m a huge fan of Groves’ work. It’s simple and honest and beautiful, and it always points to the God she fervently serves.

This song, in particular, resonates with me in a way few songs do.

I suppose that’s because I’ve been through similar dark periods, and I can’t always figure out where they come from or how to move beyond them.

Friends and family can help. Faith can help. Music can help.

Sometimes, though, nothing at all seems to help, besides waiting for that “mystery” to reach in and lift the clouds. It always does.

It’s nice to know I’m not alone.

Thanks, Sara. You too, Troy.

Read the complete lyrics.

Step Away from the Paper Cutter!

There’s one maxim from my early school days that will probably be etched into my mind forever.

The paper cutter maims.

It’s the sole universal truth that each elementary teacher — from Mrs. Tortorello in kindergarten to Mrs. Hundertpfund in 4th grade — could rally around (yes, I had to learn some doozie name spellings in my early years).

With the fervor of religious zealots, these ladies convinced me and my fellow pupils of the boundless evil locked within that sharp-toothed demon. It’s a fear that continues to emerge each time I see that clunky contraption with the swinging arm.

Their hysteria is understandable. Even though the lawsuit era had yet to fully dawn, the threat of a severed finger must have loomed large. And no sweet young educator would want something like THAT hanging over her head.

Looking back, I’m most confounded by the lunatic logic of banning butter knives in the cafeteria while equipping each classroom with a giant dagger.

Also interesting to me is how my teachers’ stern warnings continue to exert such influence over me after so many years.

I guess it’s the mandates that carry negative (ideally, painful) consequences that are the ones that stick. Sometimes well past their useful lives.

Fear can be such a powerful motivator. It can compel us to do the right thing. It can keep us in line. Unfortunately, taken to the extreme, it can also hold us back from fully experiencing life.

Of course, my irrational discomfort in operating a paper cutter really has no bearing on my personal success and fulfillment.

But I’m not sure I’m talking about paper cutters anymore.

Nothing Compares 2 Real Words

I blame Prince. And Sinead.

A couple decades before texting ever captivated a generation, these two colluded to legitimize ridiculous abbreviations for already short words.

Instead of writing “Nothing Compares to You,” Prince penned “Nothing Compares 2 U.” And Ms. O’Connor played along with the gimmick when she recorded the song that ultimately put her on the mainstream map.

Those seeds eventually germinated into the lexicon that has crept in and degraded our language.

I’m no living language denier, but I don’t see the purpose of substituting “ur” for “your” or “l8r” for “later” or, heaven forbid, “enuf” for “enough.” These replacements are neither clever nor necessary.

If efficiency of letters were the sole goal, then we wouldn’t be saddled with stray letters inserted at the end of certain words, a la “No wayyy.”

But we are. And it’s not just those rebellious teenagers who are doing the misdeeds. Middle-aged moms and dads are adopting the texting habits of their youngsters – and it ain’t becoming.

I have slightly more patience for those common texting acronyms like “LOL,” “IDK” and “brb.” Annoying as those bad boys may be, at least they function like real acronyms, with each letter representing the first letter of the corresponding words.

But the intentional dropping of letters or substitution of numbers for letters…not cool.

A notable exception to my hard line against compressed words is my affinity for using “U2″ as a replacement for “you too.” It’s just too irresistible and reminds me of an obscure band from Dublin. Besides it’s not actually a misspelling.

In fact, spelling is one of those rare notions that I take very seriously. Like God. And Chipotle chicken burritos with black beans.

Which, incidentally, both go quite nicely with some good old-fashioned Prince:

Nine-Eleven Times Ten



Ten years ago, I didn’t die.

My helpless body didn’t endure the angry flames that engulfed the twin structures symbolizing America.

Ten years ago, I didn’t rescue.

My heroics weren’t tested and refined as I risked everything to drag charring carnage from the remains.

Ten years ago, I didn’t sacrifice.

Not a single family member or close friend perished alongside the 3,000 who did.

Ten years ago, I didn’t crumble.

My life and lifestyle carried on with barely a nick.

But ten years ago, I shared.

Shared a horrific tragedy that reshaped humanity.

And ten years ago, I hurt.

Hurt for the thousands of relationships senselessly severed.

Ten years ago, I lost.

Lost an innocent naïveté that believed evil couldn’t thrive.

I watched.

I listened.

I felt.

Ten years ago, I remember.

Who Else is Tired of Playing Password Roulette?

As a security measure, it used to work like a charm: utter a secret code word and gain VIP access to my neighbor’s tree fort.

It was simple, efficient, kept out the riff-raff.

At some point, however, the concept of a password shifted into some sick, sadistic game whose rules keep changing to increasingly favor the house.

Now, nothing conjures up anxiety and dread quite like a vacant box beckoning for me to enter my unique string of letters/numbers/characters.

Such a seemingly straightforward request, yet it demands some masterful sleuthing skills on my end.

You see, my password history is long and rocky and littered with debris.

My original password was simple and memorable: something along the lines of “mike” (though not quite that obvious).

Soon I was asked to complicate it by adding a number, so “mike55” (also bogus) became the norm.

Next, I had to add a special character to the mix, and “mike55$” was the ticket.

And the latest – and most grueling – demand is that I create an entirely new, unique password every 30/60/90 days.

Given that I have active passwords created during each phase of this evolution, I think you get a sense of my frustration. I’m guessing you may relate.

It’s sometimes helpful when the empty password box is accompanied by an offer to retrieve a lost password — that is, of course, unless I can’t recall the answer I provided to a security question posed months or years earlier (as if I can remember which “childhood best friend” or “favorite teacher” I cited…)

My work BlackBerry is arguably my least merciful opponent, granting me just eight attempts to hit the jackpot before it wipes itself clean (and I know first-hand that it means business). This ticking time bomb loves to threaten its self-destruction while I try to recreate the convoluted logic my mind used to concoct the latest password. Maddening.

I’ve heard about those apps that serve as a master repository for all your passwords. Seems like a good idea, but guess what’s required to access it…that’s right, even my passwords need passwords.

Oh how I pine for the day when a simple retinal scan or iris scan is my ticket to ride. Heck, I’d even submit to a urine test if that’s what it took.

Unfortunately, all of this really just proves one point: that I’m too old and crotchety to play in tree forts anymore.

Got any password tales of your own to share?


Counting the Cost of Free

A funny thing happened on the way to reaching for my wallet.

I didn’t need it anymore.

It’s hard to fathom that so much of what we had to pay for a few years ago is now 100% free.

Free memberships. Free music. Even a free lunch.

The emergence of the consumer-pays-nothing business model is an intriguing one – at least to me.

Maybe the economists and futurists saw it coming, but I sure didn’t.

And while I appreciate freebies as much as the next guy, I’m troubled by the notion that all this free stuff can sometimes come at a hefty cost.

In short, I think we’re turning into spoiled brats (with me at the front of the line). We now expect something for nothing. As if it’s owed to us.

Even if I don’t pay a single cent, I still demand flawlessness. This blog, for example, is built on a platform that’s absolutely free for me to use, yet I get miffed when it crashes or doesn’t accommodate my blogging whims (and trust me, those aren’t just hypothetical theories…)

Sometimes, not having to pay for something equates to not having to care much about it. It devalues the entire product/service in that I have nothing to lose if I misplace it, destroy it or ignore it altogether.

Sometimes, though, the exact opposite happens. Facebook and Twitter are both free platforms, but have opened up new friendships and business connections while connecting me with family, neighbors and classmates from long ago.

Hard to put a value on that.  

Another slippery slope is the pay-what-you-want model. Panera Bread operates several non-profit cafes that replace cash registers with anonymous cash boxes and suggested donations.

A sign at the entrance says: “Take what you need, leave your fair share.” Customers who can’t pay are asked to donate their time.

Love the concept. Have no idea how it can possibly work.

But apparently it does work, with the majority of patrons paying retail value or more. Panera reports that about 60% leave the suggested amount; 20% leave more; and 20% less.

Guess humanity exceeds my faith in it.

I do know that I am often willing to pay more than what’s required for indie music if I’m particularly fond of the artist or feeling extra generous. And I’d probably pay at twice as much for a Chipotle burrito.

But offer me something I’m lukewarm about, and I’ll most likely grab it and go.

It will be interesting to see how this era of freebie economics continues to evolve — and how it will shape our lives and our concept of value.

Welcome to Snark Central

Two deflated figures huddle around a desk, eyes down, shoulders slumped.

This scenario accompanies a common ritual within the confines of my boss’ office: the marathon conference call.

It was during one such experience that the thought first came to me: What if we created a system to keep us actively engaged in these phone discussions, especially during those listen-only segments dominated by folks with a tendency to drone on and on and on?

Enter Snark Central, an ad-hoc exercise of writing down each business cliché, jargony phrase or ridiculous witticism that a colleague might utter (intentionally or otherwise).

It started as a lark to pass the time and make calls easier to endure, but quickly escalated into a full-blown game of dutifully logging these pearls of wisdom.

Before we knew it, we had completely filled out the front and back of the official Snark Central Logbook (a piece of notebook paper) and enlisted our teammates to join in on the fun.

The list soon became so unwieldy that I suggested our team vote for our 10 favorite phrases and whittle it down to the Snark de la Snark.

With so much rich, diverse content, there was no clear winner in our poll, but here were some favorites that exceeded garden-variety-cliché status:

– “Roll out the popcorn cart.”

– “The Washington Post smell test.”

– “News, not schmooze.”

– “Skillanthropist.”

– Make sure your stuff bubbles to the top.”

– “That’s capital ‘C’ communications work.”

– “Don’t give me coy and ominous quotes.”

– That’s where the fuzziness comes in.”

– “Down to the wire, but not over the wire.”

– “Jet it over to me.”

– “I have a buckedtload of questions.”

The beauty of our little experiment is that it’s an equal opportunity offender. These gems emerged from all ages, both genders, and numerous regions of the world. In that way, Snark Central actually exceeded my original intentions by illuminating the reality that we all say some mighty odd, inane, ludicrous, and sometimes illogical things.

In a strange way, I like to think that snarkiness actually helps bring us all a little closer together.

For that, I’m eternally grateful. And likely to hang onto your every word, so watch what you say.


Chasing Real Value


My cat, Chase, just loves it when I bring home a new jug of milk. Not because he enjoys lapping up the stuff (although frankly, what feline doesn’t?), but because he craves the free toy inside.

Now before you jump to vulgar conclusions, let me assure you that there isn’t a fake mouse floating in my dairy beverage.

Instead, Chase covets the small plastic ring that holds the cap in place. To him, it’s the coolest object ever, delivering far more entertainment value than any of the overpriced cat paraphernalia currently gathering dust in my basement.

Of course, I discovered his affinity completely by accident one morning when I unknowingly dropped the ring on the floor. An hour later, my high-strung cat was still batting it around the kitchen, hallway, dining room and halfway down the stairs. He just couldn’t get enough of it.

The only thing that seems to curtail Chase’s antics is his tendency to knock the toy somewhere out of his reach – usually under the fridge. I personally think he does this on purpose, but I have no real proof to back up the charge.

Watching Chase stalk his plastic prey brings me an awful lot of pleasure. Everytime he runs after that “worthless” piece of plastic, he somehow snubs his little whiskered nose at the entire world. Like an excited kid on Christmas who’s more enamored with the boxes than their contents, Chase serves as a constant reminder of the true meaning of value, and how it doesn’t always line up with what others want us to believe.

Grateful as I am to Chase for this deep life lesson, however, I remain deeply resentful of his ability to sleep approximately 16-18 hours each day. Clearly, this boy’s no dope.





Best, Mike


I get a kick when I see the in-vogue e-mail closer Best, (as in, “Dear So-and-So, Thanks for the info. Best, Mike.“)

Because this one-word phrase is used so readily, I’ve learned to tune it out. But I sometimes wonder what precise message it’s intended to convey to its recipient.

Here are a few possible meanings for “Best,” that are worth considering:

YOU’RE the best. [Of all my friends/family/acquaintances/colleagues, YOU lead the list. Congratulations. Well done, top-shelf e-mail buddy.]

I’M the best. [Let’s not beat around the bush, I’m pretty awesome. In fact, I believe I’m the penultimate e-pal and want to make sure we’re both clear on that point.]

EVERYONE I meet is the best.” [Because I’m feeling extra generous, I hereby bestow “best” status on all of creation.]

THIS MESSAGE is the best.” [Pay close attention to this virtual document, my fine friend, as it’s chock full of greatness.]

I’m quite hip.” [The actual meaning of this word really doesn’t matter. What’s most important is that you are connected with someone who is downright hip and trendy – and communicates accordingly.]

I wish you the best.” [OK, so this seems like the most likely meaning for the word. But is there a time period it’s intended to cover? Just the exact moment it’s read, or throughout an entire day? Or is it a wish with no expiration whatsoever? Really hard to know.]

I must admit I’m pretty impressed by the efficiency of a sign-off statement boiled down to a single word of four measly letters.

It’s even more efficient than my preferred one-word e-closer: “Thanks,” (or if I’m feeling extra cheeky, “Thx,“)

Now I’m starting to wonder what I’m thanking everyone for: Reading the message? Staying awake? Not bashing me with a snarky reply? Breathing?

Guess a little ambiguity never hurt anyone.