another jet flight

When I first blogged about the online shopping site Jet back in August, it was being touted as a membership-based shopping site, a cross between Amazon and Costco or Sam’s Club. Few if anyone had actually bought a membership at that time, because the site – which had some heavy-hitting investors and the money to launch with a bang — was offering free trial memberships of three or six months. The stated premise was that the company would sell its goods more or less at cost and would make its money solely on the annual membership fees.

Soon after my blog post, the company announced that it was changing its concept a bit and would not be membership-based after all.

I placed a couple of orders with the company early on, about the time of my blog post, but then in the last quarter of the year I was busy with Christmas shopping and my personal shopping was sort of on a day-to-day basis.

But since the first of the year, I’ve ordered from them a couple of times under the new model. I don’t think the discounts are quite as deep as they were under the old model – although it’s hard to compare, for reasons I’ll explain in a moment – but they’re still good, and if you have never used the site and have any interest in making routine household purchases online it’s worth checking out.

I did have one glitch with my most recent order – and I’ll explain that in a moment, too – and it’s a cautionary tale but not a deal-breaker.

The way Jet works is that they try to have low, competitive basic prices on household goods – some in bulk quantities, others in individual quantities – but on top of those competitive prices, there’s a discount formula that rewards you for putting more and more items in your shopping cart during a given order. The first item you decide to buy goes into your cart at its basic price, then the second item goes in at its regular price less a small discount, then the next item gets a slightly larger discount, and so on.

This rolling discount plan can save you money – but it also makes it harder for you as a shopper (or for Jet’s competitors) to comparison shop for one specific item.

Any purchase over $35 gets free shipping (and it’s fast shipping, except as explained below), and I believe that threshold is measured before the discounts are applied, which is good news for the buyer. (I know that was the case last fall, but I haven’t tested it recently.) You also get a discount for using a debit card (which I would do anyway) or by waiving the free-return policy for certain low-cost household items that you probably wouldn’t try to send back anyway.

But here’s the thing. Jet has a seamless ordering process, but (sort of like Amazon), some of its products are being sold directly by Jet, others are being sold by other partner sites. Some of the items from partner sites may have slower shipping and use different carriers. Your order may arrive in several different pieces – some directly from Jet, some from its partner merchants.

The glitch I wrote about earlier had to do with one of those partner sites. On my most recent order, I found what was clearly described as a new, original-manufacturer Canon ink cartridge for my printer, and the photo which accompanied the item was of the authentic Canon packaging. The price was good, so I ordered the cartridge. But when it arrived today, it turned out to be a remanufactured cartridge from a third party. I’ve bought remanufactured cartridges before – in fact, I have two in the printer right now – but that’s not what I ordered this time, and I could probably have gotten a remanufactured cartridge just as cheaply, or for even less, from any number of other sources.

Fortunately, Jet has good customer service. I had not waived my free-return rights on this item, and so within seconds I had printed out a pre-paid FedEx label for returning the cartridge. They will refund the money to my debit card once it arrives. That process was automated, but I also sent an e-mail to the company complaining about what I considered a deliberately-deceptive listing by one of Jet’s partner sites. I received a quick response promising that they would look into the matter, but that’s easy to say.

But that’s a glitch. All in all, I’ve been happy with my purchases from Jet and will continue to do business with them in the future. I suggest you check them out.

DISCLOSURE: For years, this site – like a lot of others on the web – has been part of the Amazon affiliates program. When I include an Amazon link for a product, and someone clicks on it and buys something from Amazon, I get a very small commission. I don’t make any significant amount from this – at times, it’s been years before I’ve gotten to the $10 threshold at which they deposit accumulated commissions into your checking account. My participation in this program does not affect the views I express or the topics I cover here, as evidenced by this post about one of Amazon’s competitors.

a blessing in song

I am one of three people with administrative access to our church’s Facebook page. A few weeks ago, while my pastor, the Rev. Lanita Monroe, was on a mission trip to Louisiana, I was checking that page and there was a message from a man named John Lemonis.

Crosby LaneJohn is a member of a vocal trio called Crosby Lane, named for famed hymn writer Fanny Crosby. Their specialty is new, Americana-style or country-style arrangements of classic hymns, and they also tell the stories behind those hymns as they perform them in concert. They also have some original songs, one of which – “Crucified” – is right at this moment being played by not only Christian radio stations but country stations, and is about to premiere on the cable channel GAC.

Crosby Lane had a radio interview scheduled in Scottsboro, Alabama, early in the day on January  20, and then after that they would be driving back to their home base in the Nashville area. They had decided to message some churches along their route home to see if any of them might be interested in a Wednesday night performance.

I messaged John back telling them that our pastor was in Louisiana. I gave him her e-mail address. I had no idea whether he’d end up e-mailing her (after all, one of the other Facebook contacts might come through first), or how often Lanita was checking her e-mail while on the mission trip.

After the return of the mission team, I was delighted to discover that John had, in fact, gotten in touch with Lanita, who had agreed to have the group perform tonight. I tried to help get the word out through social media and on the church news page of the Times-Gazette, so that we’d have a decent crowd.

Then, of course, weather happened. I worried that Lanita might have to call off the church’s normal Wednesday night activities, or that we might have a poor crowd. When I stopped by the church while on my daily walk today, it looked like our Wednesday activities were good to go, but the person I spoke to at the church wasn’t sure whether the band was still coming. If they came, they would be driving down from Nashville rather than up from Alabama, since their appearance in Scottsboro – the whole initial reason for their visit here – had been cancelled.

They came, and I’m so glad they did. It was a wonderful performance, melodic and inspiring. John and Michaela Lemonis and Tonja Rose blessed all of us with their music, with the stories behind the hymns, and with their joy in performing, even for a crowd of 35-40 people on a cold, wet Wednesday night. As it happened, I ended up sitting at the same table as the three of them during dinner, and they couldn’t have been nicer or more enthusiastic.

Everyone who was there for the performance loved it, and many of us bought CDs afterwards. “We want you to come back!” someone called out.

I hope they do too, on a night when we can give them a bigger crowd  — even though they may have bigger and better things ahead.

Let’s go to the races

I don’t know what made me think of “Let’s Go To The Races” this morning – I guess it was all this week’s Powerball talk, combined with the fact that I was headed to the grocery store at the time.

“Let’s Go To The Races” was a grocery store promotion from, if I remember correctly, the early 1970s. Our family moved to Bedford County in 1972, and I think I remember seeing LGTTR in one of our previous cities, connected to a different supermarket chain, and then seeing it again once we’d moved here. Or maybe I remembered seeing it in another city when we traveled to visit friends or family. Here in Middle Tennessee, the game was sponsored by Cooper & Martin grocery stores, which had a location in the Big Springs Shopping Center in Shelbyville.

The game worked like this: You would pick up a free card at the checkout when shopping at the sponsoring grocery store. The card would change color each week, to make it easy to identify that you had the right card for that week. Once you tore the card open, you would see five different horse races, with a different a different entry number horse listed for each race.

On Saturday afternoon or Saturday night, there was a half-hour TV show on one of the local stations. The show featured five different horse races. You would look to see if the horse listed on your card for a given race won that race; if your horse won, you were entitled to a cash prize. The prize money would increase with each race.

The horse races were real, but they were on film and were from months earlier, maybe years earlier, in any case long before the game tickets had been printed. The organizers of the game knew in advance which horse would win, and so they could announce that you had a 1 in 500 chance (or whatever) of winning, because they knew that exactly 1 in 500 game tickets had a winning horse.

The horse racing segments were the same nationwide, and the tickets looked pretty much the same except for the sponsor logo, but the host segments were locally produced so that they could be customized for each grocery store chain. The YouTube video I found and embedded below is for Hy-Vee stores, in the midwest:

If you happened to miss the TV show, you could always check the week’s winning numbers at the grocery store, where they would be on a little poster hung on the wall somewhere near the checkout.

It’s strange the things that stick in your mind after so many years.

the spoils of babylon

I have been binge-watching “Eric Jonrosh’s ‘The Spoils of Babylon’” tonight on Netflix, for the first time since it first aired on IFC a few years ago. It’s just as funny as I remembered it being.

This is a parody of the type of potboiler miniseries that aired on network TV in the 70s and 80s – think “Rich Man, Poor Man,” “The Thorn Birds,” and “The Winds of War,” among many others. The conceit is that novelist Eric Jonrosh adapted his novel for television back in the 1970s, but it never aired, and now it’s being seen for the first time, with Jonrosh introducing each episode.

Of course, there is no such person– Will Ferrell (a partner in Funny Or Die, which produced the show) plays the part in a fat suit and huge beard, as an impression of latter-day, wine-commercial Orson Welles.

In keeping with the conceit, there are fake opening credits featuring the names of the (completely made-up) actors who starred in the production back in the 1970s, and about whom Jonrosh reminisces in his introductions.

The ensemble cast is great – Tobey Maguire, Kristin Wiig and Tim Robbins are the actual leads, but also appearing are Jessica Alba, Val Kilmer, Haley Joel Osment, David Spade, Molly Shannon and more.

The story, quite intentionally, jumps around in time and narrative styles. It begins during the depression, as struggling oil man Jonas Morehouse (Robbins) encounters and adopts a homeless boy, who fights against his forbidden attraction to his adopted sister. The story zips along, in six half hours, through the 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s, mocking stereotypes and cliches at every turn.

If you missed this when it first aired, it’s a great thing to add to your Netflix queue. Netflix has also just added the followup, “Eric Jonrosh’s ‘The Spoils Before Dying,’” which is not a sequel and has no characters in common except for Jonrosh himself. “Dying” is a parody of the film noir genre, and it’s also quite funny.

The limits of fan fiction

Science fiction is not the only genre which attracts unauthorized fan fiction – I have a family member who once wrote a great short story using the modern-day characters of the BBC series “Sherlock” — but it certainly attracts its share.

When I was a teenager, there were science fiction fans who published “fanzines,” little mimeographed newsletters. The rise of computers, the Internet, and other technologies has completely transformed the way in which genre fans can express themselves creatively. Now, fans – with relatively small budgets, at least by Hollywood standards – can produce their own short films, complete with special effects.

There have been several fan-produced “Star Trek” series, some of which have quite nice special effects and which have even managed to secure stars from the real “Star Trek” in guest roles.

The increasing sophistication of these products leaves Hollywood studios in a tricky legal position. On the one hand, they want to encourage the enthusiasm of the fan base – those are the people, after all, who the studio will need in order to make its next big movie or TV series a success. But – and this is a gross oversimplification from someone who is Not A Lawyer — there are principles in copyright law that require you to protect your rights consistently or else you might lose the right to protect them at all. That sometimes forces you to go after a relatively-minor infraction, not because the minor infraction is any threat to you, but because you want to preserve your legal rights in case of a major infraction somewhere down the road.

The owners of the “Star Trek” franchise – formerly Paramount Studios, now CBS – have apparently had an unspoken rule of thumb that they would not go after fan films as long as they were non-commercial. I don’t think they actually approved of such productions, but they made no attempt to stop them.

But now, they’re going after something called “Axanar,” a fan production which has raised more than a million dollars on crowd-funding sites. Here’s a promotional video for the project. The promo is done as a faux documentary, although I assume the finished project would be straightforward storytelling. You can see the high level of production value:

This is light years beyond some mimeographed fan fiction story being mailed out to a few dozen friends. This is, in some ways, actual competition for the authorized “Star Trek” movies and TV shows. Sure, the writing probably won’t be as polished and the acting may not be as great. But the gaps between the fan product and the commercial product are closing.

Apparently, Lucasfilm has published and distributed specific rules and guidelines for “Star Wars” fan projects, something CBS (and Paramount before it) has never done.

It’s a tricky situation. A year from now, CBS will be trying to get “Star Trek” fans to sign up for its online streaming service so that they can watch a new Star Trek TV series.  As the owners of the Star Trek copyright, they have the legal right to stop or regulate competitors from using their content. But they will have to step carefully and find a way to preserve their rights without alienating the very fans whose money they will need a year from now.

spoiler-free, I promise

This will be a spoiler-free reaction to “Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens,” although I may create a separate blog post to talk about the movie for those of us who’ve actually seen it.

I saw the movie this afternoon at the Capri Theater in Shelbyville. I loved it. Loved it, loved it, loved it. It was everything the original “Star Wars” movies were that the prequels weren’t.

I loved the new characters – and the movie spends a lot of time setting up the new characters. Daisy Ridley and John Boyega are both terrific. But of course, I also loved what we saw of the original characters.

The movie has some fun parallels to the original 1977 movie, which was released as just “Star Wars” and is now known as “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.” Some critics (even some with generally positive reviews) have dismissed this as pandering or fan service, saying the new movie hews too close to the original. But I don’t think so. I thought it was all presented in fresh and unexpected new ways. I thought there was just enough homage but that things were well set up to go in new directions as we move forward. Unlike the prequels, in which the fates of Obi-Wan and Anakin were already known to us and loomed over everything, this movie opens up infinite storytelling possibilities.

Because of the way this one ended, I’m glad the next movie is due in the summer of 2017 – only a year and a half, and not the three years we had to wait between segments of the original trilogy. (Summer 2017 will also be the 40th anniversary of “A New Hope.”)

It’s a great movie. See it sooner rather than later, before someone really does spoil it for you.

viewers like you

Anyone who thinks about it reasonably understands the value of public television, and right now, local public television stations have to rely on some form of local fund-raising to make their budgets. You’ll get no argument from me on either of those points.

But the current system of on-air pledge drives seems more and more broken each year. Here are a couple of the things that really annoy me about it:

Bait and switch: The type of programming that turns up during pledge drives is so different in style and approach from regular programming that Pledge Drive Public TV seems like an entirely different station from Regular Public TV. And I don’t mean that they save their best shows for pledge drive season – that would be understandable. I mean that the target audience for their regular schedule sometimes seems like an entirely different demographic than the target audience for pledge week.

Frankly, it’s a little disturbing sometimes that so many of the pledge drive shows are geared towards seniors – it’s almost like PBS has decided to target a demographic with low sales resistance. Sometimes, I halfway expect them to segue into selling reverse mortgages and medic-alert pendants.

No longer local: I remember when the pledge breaks used to originate with the local station. They would feature staff members from the local station, and occasionally other local radio or TV personalities. I think it sent a great message to occasionally see a news or weather personality from one of the commercial TV stations appearing on the public TV station asking for funds.

Now, all or most of the pledge breaks are packaged with the programs, and they are national and generic. The announcers, whom you’ve never seen before, ask you to support “this public television station” or “your public television station” but they never say its name, channel or call letters, because they’re airing on hundreds of stations across the country. I understand that it’s easier and cheaper to do it that way, but I think it gives up part of the connection the stations should be trying to build with their viewers. How can I think of it as “my public television station” if they won’t talk to me directly?

That’s enough ranting for now. Public TV is a good thing, and we should all support it. Apparently, not enough of us can or do, and so they have to ask for money. I just wish they’d find some different way of doing it.

Chad bounces checks

As I was getting ready to head out the door for work this morning, a western was starting on Turner Classic Movies. The names of the stars flashed boldly on the screen: “GLENN FORD … ANGIE DICKINSON … CHAD EVERETT.”
I had to smile when they got to Chad Everett. In the early 1970s (according to Wikipedia, 1969-1976), Everett starred in a drama on CBS entitled “Medical Center.”

Long before “ER” or even “St. Elsewhere,” TV medical dramas were about saintly, all-powerful doctors who had all the time in the world, who seemed to know all their patients socially, and who stopped by unannounced to check on their patients at home. “Medical Center” was an heir to “Dr. Kildare” and a contemporary of “Marcus Welby, M.D.”
My mother swooned over Chad Everett — the most vocal I ever heard her get about liking a handsome leading man.
Then, all of a sudden, she dropped him like a hot potato. Apparently, he was on a talk show — could have been Johnny Carson, or maybe a daytime talk show like Mike Douglas on a day when Mom happened to be home. I didn’t see it, but apparently he was telling stories of his days as a struggling young actor and was laughing at some scheme of his that involved writing bad checks. My mother, who was working for First National Bank at the time and who’d worked for other banks earlier in life, was horrified. She’d have gladly forgiven him, I’m sure, if he’d shown remorse, and portrayed this as a youthful indiscretion, but he was laughing at it, almost boasting about it, and that mother clearly could not countenance. She never felt the same about him again.
I was surprised by a couple of things in Everett’s Wikipedia page. Apparently, in 1972 Lily Tomlin walked off the set of the Dick Cavett show in protest after Everett, who was also on the show, referred to his dog, his horse and his wife as “my property.” Also, Everett apparently did a great John Wayne voice, and was personally selected by the Wayne family to perform it for a Hollywood-themed ride at Walt Disney World. He also did the Wayne voice for a bonus scene in the VHS release of “Gremlins 2.”
Anyway, it’s funny the little memories you have and how they come back at unexpected times and places.

broken record, I know

Turner Classic Movies: TCM keeps running an (excellent) interstitial with Laura Dern talking about her admiration for Barbara Stanwyck, but when it ends they use it to promote an upcoming showing of Meet John Doe. Fine, fine. It’s just that the Stanwyck movie I *really* want to see this time of year is Christmas in Connecticut.

I just checked, and TCM will be showing it 11 a.m. (Central) on Sunday, Dec. 13. Go ahead and set your DVRs now; I certainly have.

Sometimes I wonder if anyone ever takes my classic movie suggestions. I don’t know that I’ve ever heard back, “Hey, John, I watched Topkapi on your recommendation and loved it.” But I guess I’m enough of a narcissist to keep putting myself out there anyway. I’m relatively harmless, in any case.

Although I have blogged about “Christmas In Connecticut” on multiple prior occasions, I guess I will go back and talk about it again. Narcissist, and all that. It was a bad day at work, and so I need to get my mind off things.

“Christmas In Connecticut,” despite its title, is really a straight romantic comedy which just happens to have a holiday setting. Elizabeth Lane (Stanwyck) is Martha Stewart before there was a Martha Stewart – the ultimate cook and hostess, whose monthly column in “Smart Housekeeping” magazine is closely read by much of America. She vividly describes her idyllic life on her Connecticut farm with her husband and infant son, and includes her mouth-watering recipes.

There’s just one problem: It’s all a lie. She’s single, lives in a Manhattan apartment, and can’t cook. The recipes come from her restaurateur friend Felix (S.Z. Sakall, whom you know from “Casablanca” and who is billed in some movies as “Cuddles” Sakall), and everything else comes from her imagination and her talent as a writer. Her immediate supervisor knows the truth, but the publisher of the magazine, Alexander Yardley (Sydney Greenstreet, speaking of “Casablanca”) does not – and would be horrified at the deception.

Yardley receives a letter about a war hero (Dennis Morgan), who has no family and nowhere to spend the holidays. Yardley summons Elizabeth Lane and tells her that she and her husband should invite Jefferson Jones to their Connecticut farm for the holidays – and that he, Yardley, would love to join them for Christmas dinner and sample some of Elizabeth Lane’s famous cooking. It would be patriotic! It would be good publicity for the magazine! It would be in the spirit of the holiday!

Elizabeth Lane, who has just bought a very expensive mink coat on credit, can’t afford to lose her job and can’t bring herself to stand up to the forceful Yardley and refuse his plan. So she has to come up with a farm, a husband and a baby, all on short notice.

If you know anything at all about romantic comedies, you know that once she has all of these things in place, she’ll begin falling head over heels in love with the veteran. Oh, what a tangled web we weave ….

Seriously, this is just a fun, funny movie, with great performances all around.

There’s also a TV movie from the 1980s with Dyan Cannon and Kris Kristofferson, directed by …. Arnold Schwarzenegger (because when you think “romantic comedy,” you immediately think “Arnold Schwarzenegger”). I’ve only seen bits and pieces, but there’s no way it could measure up to the original.

Why haven’t you set your DVR yet?

going deep with david rees

The best show you’re not watching started its second season tonight, and has moved from National Geographic Channel to the Esquire channel. If tonight is any indication, they’re running a new episode followed by a rerun of one of the first season episodes – perfect if you’re just discovering the series and catching up. Fortunately, I was in on this gem from the very first episode.

Going Deep with David Rees is devilishly hard to explain. Host David Rees starts by telling you that he’s going to teach you how to do something you already know how to do – make ice, for example, or swat a fly. But then, as he explores the topic, he reveals details and nuances and background that you would never have expected. It ends up being remarkably informative, but it’s presented in such a unique and humorous voice that it’s remarkably entertaining.

Tonight’s episode, “How To Pet A Dog,” addresses Rees’ fear of dogs (which I assume is real and not just something he put on for the show), talks about how dogs were domesticated. Rees talks to the very funny author and comedienne Amy Sedaris about how to pet rabbits to see if any of that knowledge will transfer to dogs. He talks to astronaut Chris Hadfield – the one who made all those great educational videos, as well as a David Bowie cover, while on board the International Space Station – about how Hadfield overcame a fear of heights.

Eventually, he gives you some actual practical tips about approaching and petting a dog with which you’re unfamiliar.

Watch this show.

And now, since I mentioned the Chris Hadfield music video, here’s the Chris Hadfield music video: