A Commanding Problem

Last night I was working from home, overseeing one end of a data migration. I run a screen share application on my laptop to operate my work computer, and it works out fairly well despite the occasional delay in screen refreshing.

That is, it worked well enough until everything went higgledy-piggledy after the export and I had to react quickly.

As I typed commands into my bash shell, the Mac search pop-up kept intruding. After much cursing and forceful typing, I worked out that my work computer was under the belief that whenever I hit the space bar I was also pressing the command key — a combo that triggers the global search box.

Reckoning that there was something goofy about the shared screen session, I disconnected and started up a new session.

Still with the searching.

More cursing and smashing of keys.

I discovered that hitting the space bar twice in rapid succession managed to trick the computer into producing a single space before popping up the infernal search. Progress, of a sort.

I fired off a few commands, typing space-space-esc (the escape dismissed the pop-up) between words. Then I waited anxiously for word that things were back under control. Eventually that came, and I disconnected from my computer and went to bed.

This morning I came in to work and saw that my screen was still active. It should have gone into sleep mode shortly after I had disconnected. I approached and saw that my chair had been pushed in, and one arm was resting on… the command key!

The cleaning staff had pushed my chair out of the way to get to my trash can. A high-tech problem caused by a low-tech solution.

Tonight, before I left, I set my trash can out in the open. Just in case.


Digital Drive-In Doom!

Disruptive technology, put simply, is innovation that transforms things so completely that everybody has to adjust. It can render entire industries obsolete or force everyone to upgrade their personal equipment. Holding out against disruptive change is hard, but sometimes it’s even harder to adapt.

I spent this past weekend in Vandergrift, PA to attend a 2-night Peter Cushing film festival at a drive-in. There are very few of these theaters remaining, and they’re staring at a deadline that threatens to finish many of them off once and for all. The studios are planning to go digital-only next year.

Digital is great for showing movies. There’s no “print” as such to break and decay1. Storage is much smaller and easier. The definition is crisp. There are probably enormous benefits for 3D.

There’s just the little matter of the roughly $75K needed to upgrade to a digital projector.

Drive-ins have a limited revenue season — many in the northern states only operate during summer — and like indoor theaters they make most of their money from concessions. So basically we’re looking at a snack bar that only operates for a few hours a day, during four months a year, needing to come up with tens of thousands in additional profit or give up on showing current movies.

I suppose they could get loans, but a bank is going to want to know how the hell profits will increase enough to pay the loan back. It’s not as though going digital is likely to bring in more customers. It’s simply necessary to not lose more business when the new releases stop being available on film.

It’s a sad situation. People who run small drive-ins stand to lose their businesses. As a culture, we stand to lose an enjoyable piece of our living history. That’s the way of disruptive technology. There’s nothing unique about the fate of drive-ins; I’ll just happen to notice this loss. With the pace of change accelerating, we’re all going to experience these disruptions many times in our lives. (Anyone else have to replace their LP collections?)

Through a 3rd-hand source I learned that the studios may relent on the hard deadline, or at least push it back. It would make sense; if there are fewer screens, there is less money to be made. More time might actually help. The drive-in I was at has raised a significant portion of the upgrade cost through fundraisers, but they still have a long way to go.

If there’s real hope in this case, it may lie ultimately in nostalgia. The mere act of watching a movie at a drive-in is antiquated. Who’s to say if showing older movies won’t increase attendance? Double-bills of famous mid-century films like “Giant” or “The Blob” could be a retro draw. See the movies your parents watched, as they watched them!

You never know. Revival screenings might just pay for the ability to show new movies going forward.

1. There are still ways to render a digital “print” useless, but let’s just agree that the rate of loss is much lower.