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    Published on: September 23, 2011

    by Kevin Coupe

    There is a provocative piece in Fast Company that talks about the iPod, described (quite accurately, to my way of thinking) as “one of the most transformational consumer devices ever made.”

    Apple currently makes four different varieties - the Shuffle, the Nano, the iPod Touch, and the iPod Classic. And, Fast Company suggests, “Apple should kill 'em all.”

    Here’s the economic argument:

    “In the last quarter of 2010, the iPod was responsible for just over 8% of Apple's total revenues, and then in the second quarter of 2011 Apple sold [12] just 9 million iPods of all types compared to 18.7 million iPhones and 4.7 million iPads. This represented a 17% decline on the previous year's figures. By this time next year, and probably after an accelerated drop in sales as the world gets more used to iPads and cheaper iPhones (let's guess a 20% year-on-year decline which'll see just 7 million iPods sold in the second quarter of 2012), Apple's time and effort is just not going to be worth injecting into the iPod product line. That development cash (admittedly something Apple's not short of) and staff could be redeployed to make Apple more innovative elsewhere.”

    The artistic argument, however, is the more intriguing one, and it essentially works along the same lines as another discussion we’ve been having here on MNB the last few days - that while the iPod may have been transformative, it is no longer innovative, and it is better for Apple to disrupt its own competitive advantage with a leap of innovation than to wait for someone else to do it first.

    It is, to be sure, an intriguing perspective. I’m not sure you have to kill one product line off in order to introduce another innovation. And I’m not sure that this will happen anytime soon; Apple has already lost the full-time services of Steve Jobs as CEO this year, and new CEO Tim Cook may not want to begin his tenure by replacing the iPod.

    On the other hand, to quote Mark Twain, “Sacred cows make the best hamburger.” In any business, one has to be willing to do what Fast Company suggests.

    Personally, as far as I’m concerned they can have my iPods when they pry them from my cold, dead fingers. But I have to admit to being intrigued by the proposal. Eventually, there will be a post-iPod world. Who better to launch that world than Apple ... especially if the company wants to remain at the edge of innovation?

    Certainly worth thinking about.

    And while I’m at it, a quick note of explanation for why MNB was a little later than usual this morning. Sometimes the reality of travel means that internet service isn’t always what I’m hoping it will be. That’s just life, and what I usually do is track down the nearest Starbucks or other place with wifi and just get the job done. That’s what happened this morning, and I appreciate, as always, your patience.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 23, 2011

    It probably was inevitable that once Netflix irritated its customers by increasing its prices, and then alienated a lot of them with its decision to split the company’s brands in two - using the Netflix name for its streaming service and inventing a new “Qwikster” brand for its DVD rental service - that someone would see the tumult as an opportunity.

    reports that Dish Network - which acquired the bankrupt Blockbuster video chain five months ago - plans to announce today an Internet video streaming service designed to give frustrated Netflix customers safe harbor in a competitive storm.

    Netflix, of course, was the disruptive business model that exposed Blockbuster’s shortcomings and helped to propel it into bankruptcy and, some would argue, near irrelevance.
    KC's View:
    I’m not sure that Netflix can’t recover, and I’m equally unsure that Dish Network will come up with an offering that will attack its weaknesses. We’ll see.

    But the lesson is a good one. Because it isn’t just Dish Network that Netflix has to worry about. It is Apple, and Amazon, and all sorts of other ventures including some being created by two teenagers in their parents’ basement coming up with a model that none of have even dreamed about. Because it is the competitor you don’t see coming that’ll really kill you.

    Published on: September 23, 2011

    Following up on the story from earlier this week about vending machines that are more like iPads - designed to appeal to a technologically savvy generation - an MNB user sent in a link to a story on, concerning a French baker who “recently rolled out 24-hour automated baguette dispensers next to his two bakeries in Paris and Hombourg-Haut.”

    According to the story, “Jean-Louis Hecht came up with the idea when, living above his boulanger, he was disturbed countless times by people wanting to buy bread after he had closed shop. The bread is partially cooked before being put into the machine — which cost EUR 50,000 — and finished off when a customer orders; delivering a hot, freshly-baked baguette within seconds. Each stick costs EUR 1, and when the machine debuted in January the baker sold 1,600 baguettes, reaching sales of 4,500 in July.”
    KC's View:
    Beyond the obvious competitive advantage that this machine provides, it also points to something else - that technology can be used to provide superior products, not just lowest common denominator items. It is a lesson that I wish more US food retailers would learn. In a competitive environment, good enough is no longer good enough. At least, IMHO.

    Published on: September 23, 2011

    The New York Times reports that “when health investigators identified imported cantaloupes as the source of a salmonella outbreak early this year, the importer agreed to a recall. But now that company, Del Monte Fresh Produce, is trying to block additional restrictions on melon imports, setting off an unusually public battle between the produce industry and food safety regulators.

    “The company, which is one of the country’s largest produce marketers, says the restrictions could damage its reputation, and it has sued the Food and Drug Administration to lift them.”

    The story goes on: “Aside from suing the F.D.A., the company has threatened legal action against a leading state food-borne disease investigator in Oregon, where the Del Monte cantaloupes were identified as the cause of the salmonella outbreak. And it has challenged some of the basic techniques of food safety investigations, like relying on ill people’s memories of what they ate when microbiological testing does not find pathogens on food.”
    KC's View:
    This strikes me as a complicated case, way beyond my ability to tell who is right and who is wrong. The Times says that there are advocates for both sides - other producers are rooting for Del Monte as it challenges the established authority that it perceives as being too aggressive, and consumer advocates believe that the company is trying to bully the federal government.

    I’m all in favor of judicious and even fierce regulation, especially when it comes to the food supply. But I also think that ineffective, inefficient and, most important, inaccurate regulation doesn’t do anybody any good. If the FDA has erred, it ought to be challenged. I just hope that Del Monte is not throwing its weight around because it has the deep pockets to do so; there’s certainly a risk here, because stories about this could be perceived by readers as saying that Del Monte is trying to cut food safety corners. Which is never a good message.

    Published on: September 23, 2011

    The Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) have announced that “Facts Up Front” will serve as the theme for the consumer education campaign in support of the food and beverage industry’s fact-based front-of-pack nutrition labeling system that was launched in January as Nutrition Keys.

    “Facts Up Front” is described as “a nutrient-based labeling system that summarizes important nutrition information from the Nutrition Facts Panel in a simple and easy to use format on the front of food and beverage packages.  ‘Facts Up Front’ is designed to help busy consumers – especially parents – make informed decisions when they shop ... Participating food and beverage companies will place the icons on the front of products that highlight nutrition information – calories, saturated fat, sodium and sugar per serving – in a clear, easy to understand format.  ‘Facts Up Front’ also provides consumers with valuable information about ‘nutrients to encourage,’ the nutrients essential for a balanced diet, as well as those currently under-consumed by most Americans.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 23, 2011

    • Walmart has announced its plan to install solar panels on up to 60 additional stores in California, expanding the company's solar portfolio to more than 75 percent of its stores in the state, making California the first state in the nation where Walmart has devoted this level of commitment to renewable energy.  

    When complete, Walmart says, its total solar commitment in California is expected to “generate up to 70 million kilowatt hours of clean, renewable energy per year, which is the equivalent of powering more than 5,400 homes,” “avoid producing more than 21,700 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year, which is the equivalent of taking approximately 4,100 cars off the road,” and “provide 20 to 30 percent of each facility's total electric needs.”

    Internet Retailer reports that Walmart has said that “it will start selling jewelry, apparel, stationery and other products made by women from some two dozen countries , such as Ethiopia, Guatemala, Kenya and Thailand, via the retail chain’s e-commerce site ... Wal-Mart will sell the items starting in spring 2012 via a dedicated page on By 2016, the retailer expects to be selling some 500 items through the e-commerce site.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 23, 2011

    The Nielsen Co. is out with its annual Holiday Shopping Sales Survey, which suggests that “online, club, dollar, toy and consumer electronics retailers, as well as categories such as gift cards, technology, vacations and toys, will all perform well” during the upcoming end-of-year holiday shopping season. However, the survey also indicates that only five percent of US consumers plan to spend more on gifts during the holidays, “with affluent households (those earning $100,000 or more) leading the way.”

    According to the report, “Among households earning $100,000 or more, consumers ranked online merchants, club stores and dollar stores as the top three channels where they plan to spend more this shopping season. Among households making $50,000 or less, consumers plan to increase their spending at dollar stores, online merchants and supercenters.”

    Other survey findings include:

    • 62 percent of consumers plan to use shopping lists;
    • 46 percent of respondents report plans to eat out less;
    • 40 percent plan to stay at home more;
    • 37 percent plan to use coupons –15 percent higher than pre-recession polling;
    • and 31 percent plan to buy value brands.
    KC's View:
    I’m sure we’re going to be seeing more and more of these kinds of stories, and I’ll dutifully provide them to you when I think it is appropriate. And there is no question that it feels like an economic environment that is not just going to be challenging in the fourth quarter, but well into 2012 as well.

    But I’m with Michael Sansolo on this one. In his column earlier this week, he wrote about the importance of not wasting a good recession - that it is critical, especially in tough times, to find and exploit one’s differential advantages. This is the time to put distance between you and the competition. This is the time to create better, more substantial relationships with your customers. No excuses.

    Published on: September 23, 2011

    • Numerous published reports say that in the UK, Tesco plans to announce a broad range of price cuts this weekend, a move that will precipitate another in a series of battles in an ongoing British food price war. The goal, reports to say, is to stabilize what has been a slow loss of market share over recent quarters, compounded by a shrinking consumer budget because of economic hard times.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 23, 2011

    • The San Jose Mercury News reports this morning that Renovo Capital, the private equity firm that is angling to acquire bankrupt Andronico’s in the San Francisco Bay Area for $16 million, has received court approval to also acquire AG Ferrari, another area upscale grocery chain, for $1.2 million. AG Ferrari also has been in bankruptcy protection.

    The story suggests that Renovo believes that a combination of the two companies - including the sale of each’s private brands in the other’s stores - could help it make the retailers more competitive in what has become a highly competitive marketplace.

    Drug Store News reports that Procter & Gamble, following up on the Men’s Zones that it created for select HEB stores, now has created a prototype “Guy Aisle” for CVS that is being tested in Charlotte, NC. According to the story, “The new CVS/pharmacy men's grooming section includes products specifically designed for men's unique grooming needs, including Gillette, Old Spice and Head & Shoulders.”

    • Sobeys Inc. announced that it “is launching a sustainable seafood traceability system today to provide Canadians with unprecedented visibility into the quality and sustainability of the seafood they eat. Through a partnership with Ecotrust Canada's Thisfish™ traceability program, customers can now trace a variety of fresh seafood products and frozen Sensations by Compliments seafood right back to the fisherman who caught it, the boat it was caught from, the fishing area where the catch took place and the fishing method used.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 23, 2011

    • Dan Meyer, senior regional vice president at Stater Bros., where he is a four-decade veteran, has been promoted the position of Senior Vice President Retail Operations, a new role within the company.

    • Bi-Lo has hired Joan Miszak, formerly SVP of human resources and organizational effectiveness at Raley’s, to be its new SVP of human resources and organizational effectiveness.

    And, Bi-Lo also has named Bruce Steadman, formerly SVP of retail client services–loyalty analytics for Information Resources Inc. (IRI), to be its new Group VP of center stores.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 23, 2011

    Not everybody agreed with my FaceTime commentary yesterday, which talked about China being able to build convention centers and bridges and railways in a fraction of the time that we can, and what the acceleration of innovation means to all businesses.

    MNB user Lisa Malmarowski wrote:

    This is half the story. How does China do it is the bigger question? At the expense of human and worker rights? No, an escalator shouldn't stay broken for half a year, but that's a different issue to fix and in my opinion is not a good analogy to use.

    Seriously, besides sheer population and density advantage, how is China pulling these things off? 

    Just because you can, doesn't mean you should, by any means necessary.

    No disagreement with that last statement. None at all.

    And from another MNB user:

    Two points: Before you get all wrapped up in Tom Friedman's new book, you might consider checking out Adam Gopnik's evisceration of it in last week's issue of The New Yorker.

    Concerning the speed with which the Tianjin center was built and the bullet train from Beijing: Don't forget the Chinese rail accident last month (or July?) that has been attributed to faulty design and failure to develop proper safety procedures. Maybe ... just maybe, not necessarily ... the Tianjin center went up so quickly because of shortcuts.

    I read Gopnik’s piece, and it certainly is an interesting take on the new Friedman book. I can’t respond fully to it, since - as I noted yesterday - I have not yet finished “That Used To Be Us,” but was simply grabbed by one metaphor and wanted to share it. (Though my general feeling is that Friedman is someone who I think makes common sense a lot of the time ... and who is worth paying attention to.)

    I’m certainly not suggesting that the US engage in human rights abuses in order to fix escalators ... or build anything else.

    However, there has to be another way. The unemployment rate is high, we have pressing infrastructure needs in this country, and it seems to me that there ought to be away to do things faster and better without abusing people. If we’re not willing to work 24 hours a day - not as a rebuke to capitalism and freedom, but as a celebration of capitalism and freedom - then do we really have a sustainable model?

    I’m just asking.

    MNB user Sue Galati wrote:

    Every time I cross the Bronx Whitestone Bridge, I ask myself  “Just how long does it take to fix a bridge??”  I mean it’s been decades…

    I cross that bridge constantly. And I think the same thing.

    When I’m not worried about it falling down.

    Got several emails responding to my comment the other day about a story that said too many kids are drinking whole milk; essentially, I said, there are a lot of other things to worry about before we obsess over this.

    MNB user Elizabeth Archerd wrote:

    You're right. We have lots of real things to worry about.

    Much of the baby-boom grew up on whole milk and did not have a childhood obesity problem. A recent study published, peer-reviewed showed that whole chocolate milk actually helped overweight and obese children. Something unique to milk fat helped their bodies handle fat better overall.

    Another big study appears to show no weight benefit from using skim or low fat dairy products.

    Real food is not the problem.

    On the subject of whether Amazon is a smart place to buy groceries, MNB user Steven Ritchey wrote:

    I know when Amazon first started carrying groceries, I looked at their offerings, and decided I could do better at my local grocers and at the Dollar General store.  Pricing to me was not impressive at all and couple that with the fact that I had to wait for shipping, it didn’t work for me at all.  Now I buy from Amazon, I have bought a number of things in a number of categories.  If it were harder for me to get out of the house, or if like you I had elderly people to take care of who didn’t live with me, or had kids in college I could see it being useful.  But, since none of those things fit me, I’ll continued to go to the grocery store every week or so.

    I’m not against Amazon, far from it, it’s just that for me, their grocery offerings don’t work for me.

    Like I said, the answer to the question depends on your life circumstances. I’m reasonably sure that for the time being, Amazon is comfortable with that.

    Regarding the gender discrimination class action lawsuit against Costco that ran into a judicial buzz saw because of the precedent set when the US Supreme Court tossed out a similar suit against Walmart, one MNB user wrote:

    I highly suggest a documentary that is currently showing on HBO called “Hot Coffee”. It shows just exactly what is going on in this country in regards to “tort” and “court” reform. The last bastion of equality in this country where “Joe” citizen could take on Corporate America in a fair fight is slowly being removed. The Walmart and Costco examples are two glaring examples of this crisis.

    Responding to Michael Sansolo’s column about taking advantage of the current economic malaise to find and exploit competitive advantages, one MNB user wrote:

    Sansolo hits anyone running stores right between the eyes! Don’t blink on this one.

    As the economy continues to limp along, how many of us are training our employees to unleash them to better serve customers? I’m talking about specific skill training for employees to be an asset for our customers. Knowledgeable employees share information with customers. Knowledgeable customers buy more and are more loyal. If customers would understand the multiple product regimens to improve their skin care (hair care, oral care, etc. pick one), or which products in the prepared foods area of your deli case would complement a salmon fillet, or how to discuss planning for a special occasion (food, flowers, supplies), sales would skyrocket, EVEN IN A DOWN ECONOMY!  And all it takes is a little time to train…..

    I know the standard excuses……labor hours, can’t spare people from the store floor, how do I keep this going with new employees, but there are very affordable solutions if you make the commitment to stand out from your competition!

    Needless to say, we also continue to get email about the Netflix debacle. MNB user Kristy Chadbourne wrote:

    When I got the email from Mr. Hastings, I promptly went to the Netflix website and cancelled my membership.  They have increased pricing dramatically and now you've got to go to TWO websites and manage your account?  Don't think so.  I don't recall getting a survey in the mail, so seems to me they didn't care what their customers thought of this change.  Just an email AFTER the fact.  Bye Netflix....

    From another MNB user:

    When I opened and began reading Hasting's email early in the morning, I quickly checked the calendar for a moment thinking it was suddenly the beginning of April. Unbelievable.

    MNB user Jim DeJohn wrote:

    It was fun reading "your views" this morning regarding the Netflix fiasco.  In fact, I had cancelled my DVD part subscription when the price hike was announced.  When I received the email from Reed on Monday morning - I actually deleted it as I thought that a group like anonymous must have hacked his account and wrote such an absurd email...nope...I was was reed.

    From another MNB user:

    After reading this article, the only way this split really makes sense is that Netflix will spin off the DVD rental business and let it die a slow death. Well, maybe not that slow...2 - 5 years.

    MNB user Brad Morris wrote:

    I had to chime in. I canceled my Netflix account this morning. My reasoning was simple. The final straw was the separation of the two services, DVD and streaming.

    While it is great to be able to stream a TV show or movie, I like to consume entertainment on the high-end. That means Blue-Ray. My kids, on the other hand, are all about the now. Streaming was perfect for them. With one service, all of our needs were met. There was one website and one ID and password to remember. If a movie that the kids wanted wasn’t available for streaming, it could easily be added to the DVD-by-mail queue.  If I got stuck in an airport I could always stream the occasional title to my iPad. Netflix offered the best possible complete solution until the world exists where everything is available in the highest definition and sound-quality, anywhere at any time.

    The first mistake was charging too much more in too bold a manner. Had Netflix slowly increased prices to come in-line with costs/margins, most of us wouldn’t have noticed or minded. Prices go up…that is what they do. New contracts are negotiated with studios, postage is higher, we get it. It was the abrupt and too public nature of the increases that focused everyone’s wrath. I was willing to pay more. It was more in the way they did it.

    The separation of the two services into separate businesses is just plain stupid. Let’s see… my customers have more choices than they have ever had and every day I have a new competitor pushing at my business model… I think it is time to make it harder and more complicated for my customers to do business with me at the same time that I am charging them more money…

    To add insult to injury, when I canceled my subscription there was no way to explain why I was doing it to Netflix. They gave me a laundry list of reasons I could choose from, none of which matched my reasons. There was no mention of the price increase, nor of the pending business separation. I couldn’t even write a comment, had I wanted to.

    Another MNB user chimed in:

    I find it interesting that usually we are criticizing companies for not reacting to the changing consumer landscape forcing themselves into irrelevancy.  But now, in the case of Netflix, we are criticizing the changes they are making to ensure relevancy at least into the near future.  Mail order DVD’s is probably the next big business to implode, as streaming continues to grow rapidly.  It appears that Netflix is re-positioning themselves to handle this transition.  They have the data.  I’m sure it showed how their customers behaved.  How many received mail order only, how many used streaming only, and how many used both and to what percentage.  I’m sure the data shows the real direction that the consumer is moving, and it appears to me that Netflix is making a pre-emptive strike to follow the consumer.   I’m sure the consumers that use both are unhappy that they have to use two websites.  But how many people is that really in relation to the entire customer base of Netflix?

    That’s the data we don’t have, and they haven’t shared.  As a longtime customer of Netflix, at first I was shocked at the price increase.. however, when I looked at how my behavior had changed over the past 5 years from predominantly DVD’s and no streaming, to almost only streaming and getting about 1 DVD a month on a good month, they saved me $2.00 a month by allowing me to move to a streaming only plan.  They forced me to make a decision I should have made on my own.   There are probably other advantages at work for Netflix that none of us know, relating to negotiations to improve their library.    Maybe the message hasn’t been delivered correctly, but it certainly seems that Netflix is doing exactly what we criticize so many other companies for not doing.  Can you say Blockbuster? Borders?  I was sad to see their brick n mortar stores go away, but listening to me telling them to keep them open, would have helped sink the ship even faster.

    All fair points. Which is why I felt it was necessary to run the piece the other day that, if it did not exactly defend the Netflix decision, at least created a rationale for it - that all companies are vulnerable to disruptive influences, and that perhaps Netflix was trying to disrupt its own business before someone else came along to do it.

    In many ways, it may work out that this is a classic case of the strategy being right and the tactics being all wrong. We’ll see.

    MNB user David Bernstein wrote:

    The whole thing makes me think of the first Iron Man movie, when Jim Cramer from "Mad Money" rips on Tony Stark's sudden new direction for his company: "It's a weapons company that doesn't...make...weapons!"  Netflix has become synonymous with DVD's by mail, but now it's a DVD rental company that doesn''s!

    Anybody who reads MNB knows that I’m a sucker for a good movie reference. But...

    To be fair, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings used to go out of his way to say that the company was not a DVD rental company, but rather an entertainment provider, and that he always figured that streaming would replace DVDs. That’s not the problem. At issue is how he has handled it.

    To be continued...
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 23, 2011

    This weekend, I’ll be attending a college reunion. Thirty-five years ago this month, I started my senior year at Loyola Marymount University, and I’m going back to celebrate events that the school no doubt sees as more momentous - the 80th anniversary of the Del Rey Players, the on-campus theatre group with which I spent a lot of my time, acting in numerous productions, and the 90th anniversary of the Los Angeles Loyolan, the campus newspaper for which I contributed movie reviews all those years ago.

    But more importantly, I’ll also be seeing a bunch of people this weekend that I have not seen, for the most part, in more than three decades. People who, while I was at Loyola and some three thousand miles from home, were my family. They didn’t have Facebook then, or Twitter, or inexpensive cell phone service, and I’m sorry to say that most of us have lost touch over the years. This weekend will be an opportunity to make that right. Or at least see if we want to.

    It’s funny. I’m a little nervous about the weekend. Seeing people after all this time, especially in the context of an event that is designed to mark the passage of time, has made me think about the plans and dreams that I had, the events and achievements and failures of the years, and wondering how I’ll measure up. Not against everyone else, necessarily, though I’m sure that’s part of it. But also I measure up to my own expectations.

    It was inevitable, I suppose, that I’d start a checklist. A scorecard. Wins and losses.

    Rewarding career, albeit one that I never could have seen coming 35 years ago. Check.

    Great wife, first marriage, still in love 28 years later. Check.

    Three terrific kids, not one of them an internet billionaire, but nobody is in jail, either. Check.

    Traveled to six continents, 46 states, and I still love boarding trains, planes and automobiles to see something I haven’t seen before. Check.

    Get to give 25-30 speeches a year, fulfilling my performance ambitions. Check.

    Co-authored a book. Check.

    Still got my hair. Check.

    Okay, so not everything is perfect. I’d like to be 20 pounds lighter, better at time management, and I wish I were not struggling with the novel so much. I wish I knew more about wine and were a more accomplished cook. And I wish my knees were in better shape, so I could go back to jogging. I’m sure there’s other stuff, too, but I’m probably in denial.

    The thing is, I’m conflicted about the whole keeping score thing. Do it too much, I think, and one can become obsessed with the wins and losses ... and lose appreciation for the process. I love process.

    On the other hand, scorecards are there for a reason ... and I think it probably is healthy to figure out from time to time how one measures up. At least, or especially, to one’s own expectations.

    If only to figure out what the next great challenge is, or should be. It is reassuring, I’ve discovered, to know that I still hunger for the next challenge, the next opportunity.

    Haven’t checked that box yet. Don’t even know what that box is. But it is nice to know I’m ready. Or at least willing.

    I have two movies for you to see this week ... though each comes with a warning.

    Contagion is a superior thriller by director Steven Soderberg, who uses his camera to masterfully portray what happens when a bird flu starts to spread around the planet, seemingly unstoppable by the disease experts who we trust to save us from such epidemics. This is first and foremost a medical thriller, painted in clinical tones with few detours into sentiment. The cast is first rate - especially Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Jennifer Ehle, Kate Winslet, and especially the always great Elliott Gould in a small but pivotal role. There are a few detours and subplots that I was not nuts about, especially the ones having to do with an unscrupulous blogger played with appropriate smarminess by Jude Law, and another having to do with a researcher played by Marion Cotillard. But I found myself riveted.

    One caveat here. I liked this movie a lot more than Mrs. Content Guy, who was not nuts about the clinical approach - she preferred the old Dustin Hoffman movie, “Outbreak,” which was about a similar subject but was more character driven within the confines of a traditional thriller structure. So we disagree.

    The other movie is Drive, which stars Ryan Gosling as a movie stunt driver and garage mechanic who moonlights as a getaway driver for people looking to pull heists in LA. Gosling’s character is totally defined by the act of driving - his character is never called by name throughout the entire movie, which is directed with with cool precision by the Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn (who made the highly regarded Bronson, which I’ve never seen). The performance has been compared by some critics to similar cool characters played by Steve McQueen or Clint Eastwood, but I found myself thinking more of James Caan in The Gambler, or even, believe it or not, Ryan O’Neal in a 1978 Walter Hill movie called The Driver in which O’Neal (who was a huge star at the time) played a getaway driver known only as “The Driver.” Whatever. Gosling is very good.

    Gosling’s cool veneer when he finds himself involved with a pretty neighbor (Carey Mulligan), her son, and her just-out-of prison husband, who is himself involved with underworld types. The driver’s world slowly but surely spins out of control, especially as he is drawn into the orbit of an aging gangster named Bernie Rose, played, improbably enough, by comedian Albert Brooks - who ought to get an Oscar nomination for this shaded and complex portrait in evil.

    Here’s the warning that comes with Drive. There are moment of unspeakable violence that occur throughout the film, enough so that I occasionally had to avert my eyes. They are not gratuitous, but they erupt with a ferocity that is hard to watch - sometimes because they bump up against moments of unexpected tenderness. If you go see Drive, be prepared.

    And, I have a book for you to read: “The Ranger,” by Ace Atkins. I ordered this for my iPad after Atkins was named to succeed Robert B. Parker as author of the Spenser series of novels, and it made me look forward to his first, “Lullaby,” due out next spring. “The Ranger” all takes place in the deep South, as an Army Ranger on leave, Quinn Colson, returns home for his uncle’s funeral and gets caught up in corruption and murder. To be honest, it took me a bit of time to get into the book; rural Mississippi might as well be Mars from my point of reference, and it took me a while to get familiar with the rhythms and cadence of the language. But once I got into it, I was hooked ... and I fully expect that for awhile at least, Atkins may be balancing two different series. Good for him.

    We all define heaven in different ways. I know this may make me seem incredibly shallow, but for me, it seemed like at least a little slice of heaven this week when I found myself in Etta’s, down by the Pike Place Market in Seattle. Sitting at the bar, eating one of the best crab cake sandwiches on the planet. Enjoying a wonderful French chardonnay, the 2009 Joseph Drouhin Saint Veran ... which was just perfect, not that there was any doubt since Morgan - my favorite bartender on the planet - poured it for me. There was a Mariners game on a nearby TV, but I really didn’t pay much attention since I was captivated by slivers of Puget Sound that I could see across the street, with ferries and sailboats and a bright sun heading toward the horizon.

    Like I said, a little slice of heaven. Not the only slice. But when you have one of those moments, it is important to appreciate it.

    That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you Monday. Assuming I survive the reunion.

    KC's View: