eBay Death Watch Continues. . .

eBay Traffic Plummeting (EBAY)

eBay’s (EBAY) core business continues to fall apart. Some of the decline is likely the result of the declining economy. The rest of it is likely the result of the trends that have been clobbering eBay for the past two years: competition, overpricing, and the deterioration of eBay’s value proposition. eBay’s efforts to turn around this business do not appear to be working.

Also, TechCrunch has a chart showing how Amazon is gaining on eBay.

Posted in Web

Black Friday Spectacular!

Well, I certainly hope you all did your part in this “economic crisis” that so many businesses are using as an excuse to look good while they lay off people they should have laid off months or years ago.  I hope, instead, that you spent lots of money on momentarily cheap stuff today.

I picked up a couple things I can’t talk about yet, since they’re Christmas presents for people who might read this blog.  And, for myself, I picked up the Transformers movie DVD at Target for $5.99.  It’s movie-only, but that’s OK. I want it mostly as a home theater demo disc.  It’s the ultimate boys’ movie — big and loud and shiny.

Did you pick up anything today? Did Amazon’s slate of specials woo you?  (iPod Touch for half price?!?  Wow.)  Did Apple’s meager savings push your credit card over the edge?

Posted in DVD

Thanks for the hassle, Hollywood

My cable-provider-provided DVR went on the fritz this week.  Like happened a couple of months ago, the connection between the DVR and TV was being interrupted.  Last time, it happened about once every 30 seconds.  This time, it happened every couple of seconds. The power wasn’t turning on and off on either the DVR or the TV.  I tried various combinations of HDMI ports and cables, but nothing worked.  The TiVo and DVD player and Apple TV worked fine.  It was only the cable box.

Rather than returning the box again for another refurb unit they’d foist on us, we called for a service visit.  Let them measure the signal to make sure it’s strong or do whatever other tests they need to do.  Something.

The cable rep diagnosed the problem right away: HDCP over HDMI.  For those of you not in the know, that’s the copy protection protocol foisted upon us by Hollywood to keep us from illegally pirating their content.  And, like happens with all copy protection schemes, the only people it hurts are those who are just trying to watch the content they’ve honestly and legally paid for.

The cable guy said we probably tripped over one channel that had HDCP enabled and that was enough to send the box into a tizzy.

By moving to component cables instead of HDMI, everything was set right.

Now THAT’S ridiculous.

On the bright side, it means I only have two things using HDMI connections on my two-port HDTV.  I can put the HDMI switch box into storage for now.  I won’t be using it.

So thanks again, Hollywood.  Excuse me while I go Bit Torrent a movie in exchange for this harassment.

Posted in TV

The Shield Finale: “Family Meeting”


OK, it’s now The Morning After.  I’ve picked my jaw up off the floor, dusted it off, taken some nitroglycerin pills, and can speak coherently towards the series finale of “The Shield,” a show which teased its viewers last night with so many potentially cliched and easy endings, yet never took a one.

“The Shield” stayed true to itself to the very end, never compromising.  The finale was an ending, without being the kind of episode that’s so aware of itself as an end that it got wrapped up in that.  It was another episode of a great series, but even better.

“The Shield” was a ridiculously good show that never got the attention it deserved past Michael Chiklis’ one Emmy. Part of me really hopes the whole “let’s reward a good show after it’s gone” mentality strikes the Emmys folks this coming summer. Heck, give the Emmy to Chiklis’ face.

There are shows you watch because you enjoy, and there are shows you watch because they are truly great.  I enjoy ’24,’ but it doesn’t hold a candle to ‘The Shield’ as far as great dramas go. The former is a fun roller coaster ride when done right.  The latter is modern day televised Shakespeare.

And that’s what makes writing this so easy and so enjoyable. There’s so much to talk about here that I could go on for another 2500 words.  Hopefully, it’ll be quicker than that.

Let’s get to it.  Full spoilers after the break!

Continue reading

Posted in TV

One Shield Hang Up

My DVR listed “The Shield” for 90 minutes tonight.  I recorded an extra 15 to be sure.  The recording cut out near the end of the credits.

For those who were waiting to watch the show off your DVR in the days ahead, you might want to download it from iTunes, instead. I’d hate to see you get that far into the finale and miss the last 15 minutes.

The Shield: There Aren’t Enough Superlatives

mackey_bigger.jpgOnce I pick my jaw up off the ground, I’ll write more about it.

Tomorrow night.

OK, just this: Best Series Finale Ever.

Best last thirty seconds of a series ever.

Jeez.  If more TV were like this, we’d all be happy people.

I need to go hug my daughter now.
And I’ve just ruined the show with overpraise for all of you who haven’t started watching the DVDs yet. I’m sorry.  I’m just in awe.

Michael Chiklis gets the Emmy this year, or the Emmys might as well close up shop.

Meta: Support Your Friendly Neighborhood Blogger

It’s that time of the year again: Holiday shopping season!

I’m not going to ask you to buy anything specifically. I won’t hard sell you anything.  I’m not pushing a book or something crazy like that.

But if you are ordering anything through Amazon in the next month for Christmas, there’s an Amazon banner at the top of this site’s front page.  Click on it to get to Amazon and this blog will receive a tiny fraction of the money you spend.  (Somewhere between 4% and 6%, depending on volume.)  It doesn’t have to be anything specific.  Just click through before putting items in your cart, and this blog will be credited with directing traffic to Amazon, and those nice folks in the Pacific Northwest will cut me a check in a couple of months.

Lots of blogs emphasize this at this point of the year, and I’m no exception.  You’re going to spend the money anyway, so why not help a brother out at the same time?  Pick a favorite blog and click through their Amazon links before you shop.

Thanks for your support and your readership.  It’s been a fun year, and there’s still plenty to go!

Here endeth the meta talk.

New DVD Releases for 25 November 2008

One shopping month left till Christmas. Time for me to start pimping that Amazon banner at the top of the home page. . .

Some last minute DVD releases for you:

  • Hancock

Will Smith tries to do a superhero movie without an established superhero property.

  • 24: Redemption

I’m almost embarrassed to admit this, but I completely forgot it was on this weekend.  I’ll be watching it in another fashion, but here’s the DVD if you want to keep your DVD collection for the series up to date.

  • The Real Ghostbusters: The Complete Series

Ah, another classic of my childhood. It was my introduction to J. Michael Straczynski before I knew who he was.  I probably saw some of his “Murder She Wrote” episodes, too, back then.  But, no, I didn’t watch “Jack & The Fatman.”  This set is something like two dozen discs, and will include the short-lived “Slimer!” spin-off.

Posted in DVD

The Shield Wrap Up, Part 2 of 2

Continuing on, then, from yesterday’s thoughts on “The Shield” at its end.

As there will be spoilers for storylines of the last seven seasons (but not of the finale!) discussed below, I’ll hide it under the break.

This is a little more scattered than I had hoped it would be, but there’s a lot of ground to cover here, including Julien’s lost storyline, Dutch’s unfulfilled promise, Shane’s growth to practically being a co-star, the Aceveda/Mackey parallel, and more.

In the meantime, don’t you think that DVD box art for Season 5 looks like something Dave Johnson might have done up for a “100 Bullets” cover? Hold onto your hat and let’s see where we wind up. Continue reading

Posted in TV

The Shield Wrap Up, Part 1 of 2

“The Shield” has always been one of those shows that you watch to marvel in the miscreance of its characters.  There is no black and white on this show, just plenty of shades of gray.  That’s never been clearer to me than when I watched the most recent two shows back to back the other night.

It’s also a show that you feel the need for a cold shower when you’re finished with it, no doubt due to the same reasons.

The 90 minutes series finale is on Tuesday.  It won’t get blockbuster ratings.  It’ll get a few good reviews from the critics.  It’ll likely be ignored by the Emmys, who should shower the show with at least three acting nominations and a boat load of writing nods. But for those of us who’ve followed the show from the initial gun shot at Terry Crowley’s head seven seasons ago, it’ll be both a riveting finale where anything goes, and the cliched end of an era.

I’m not sure which stands out more on the show — the writing or the acting. I’m probably better equipped to handle the writing side of things, so I’ll focus on that.  But lots of spoilers for the series thus far (and none for what’s coming up in the finale) can be found after the break.  My final writeup came in over 2500 words, so we’ll break it into two parts.  The second part will go up tomorrow.

Continue reading

Posted in TV

WSOP Final Table

WSOP ChipFinally caught the final table of the World Series of Poker 2008 over the weekend.  Some assorted thoughts on the game, on poker, and on TV production:

  • Boy, someone at ESPN really loves their ring flash, don’t they?  I’m not sure shooting interviews with the final table players with big glowing circles over their eyes is really a good look.

  • I was happy that the man I was rooting for — Dennis Phillips — made it all the way to third place.  He made me nervous in the early going.  And where is Steve Danneman these days? I miss him.  He was fun.

  • Man, it must suck to lose at the final table on a one-outer.  I don’t blame the guy for stumbling out of the arena after that.  Ouch.  I wonder if he’s getting the six of diamonds tattooed on him now somewhere?  (That bad beat is so memorable, I didn’t have to look up which card was the killer; I remembered that one, as I’m sure Scott Montgomery forever will.)

  • Delaying the final table for four months is done for television and I don’t like it.  Part of the thing with a big tournament like this is momentum and physical stamina.  Letting people take four months off resets everything.  Letting them see the videos of the people they’re playing at the final table with is almost unfair.  Since everyone has the same “advantages,” though, I guess it’s fair.

  • That four months also gave all participants the chance to line up sponsors and so, ugh, everyone looks like a friggin’ NASCAR driver at the poker table.  Those obnoxiously large and ungainly patches are ridiculous.

  • Also ridiculous is the crowds.  It’s the final table of poker, NOT a gladiator combat thing.  The crowds just get more and more obnoxious. If you thought The World Poker Tour had unwieldy crowds, you haven’t seen anything. The site of 300 people in red caps and white workshirts rooting for Phillips was kinda cool, though.  I could have done without the truck horns.  Or the singing from the Danish contingent.  I’m such a purist, aren’t I?

  • Lon and Norm still crack me up. I suppose I’m not a purist in that way.  I know they don’t talk about poker strategy, but they’re entertaining.

  • Now who will make a joke out of “The Demon Deacons?”

  • Sorry to see the head to head battle last all of five minutes.  I’m sure some of that was in the editing, but who can beat the drama of Monkeymaker/Farha?

  • I don’t know that I could ever play a final table like that.  I’d likely just let myself get blinded off, waiting for a couple of other people to get greedy and lose first.  So long as you weren’t out first at the final table, you were an instant poker millionaire.

I can imagine the scenario: After folding for two hours straight, I’m in the small blind and dealt pocket aces.  Not wanting to scare anyone off, I call the big blind.  The big blind immediately folds, knowing I must have something insanely good, so why bother?

“Winning Poker” is not the title of a book I’ll be writing anytime soon.

Trivia for Kitchen Nightmares

Chef Gordon Ramsey of Hells KitchenWith all the episodes centered in the New York City area, it was bound to happen that Gordon Ramsay’s “Kitchen Nightmares” would finally take on a restaurant that I know.

OK, it’s not one that I’ve eaten at or ever paid attention to, but I’ve passed it many a time, and I recognized its street sign.

Last week’s focus was on “Fiesta Sunrise,” a Mexican restaurant in West Nyack, NY. That town is best known for its gigantic mall, the Palisades Center. I’m pretty sure it ranks as one of the top ten largest in the nation. It’s four stories and has everything you could ever ask for. It’s only one hotel short of being a place you could live in without ever needing to go outside. In addition to all the usual mall things — cell phone kiosks, sunglass kiosks, Croc kiosks, etc. — it has every major department and big box store you could imagine: CostCo, Best Buy, Home Depot, Target, Nordstrom, J.C. Penneys, etc. It has its own post office, a large movie theater complete with stadium seating, an IMAX theater, a bowling alley, and an ice rink.

The crazy thing is, there’s a large chunk of it unfinished upstairs, to stay within some local code. There are actually those who protest the idea of opening up any more stores in a mall that’s four stories tall and has hundreds of shops already. Yeah, that last store or three next to the restaurant row is really going to make the traffic outside unmanageable. Sheesh

But Gordon’s estimate of 25,000 cars a day passing by the restaurant are not unfounded. I imagine the number is much higher on the weekends.

The even funnier point of the mall is that it’s sinking into the ground. It’s only ten years old now, but was built on some soft land. If you park underneath the mall, you can see the effects around the columns holding everything up. But it is a worry that the mall might someday disappear into the earth.

In any case, the mall appears in the background of all the exterior shots of the episode featuring the restaurant’s sign. Specifically, it’s the Lord and Taylor wing of the mall you can see.

The restaurant’s front awning sports a “Grill 303” sign. I imagine that was the previous restaurant that was there. The “303” refers to the highway the restaurant is located on, Route 303.

In the closing shot of the restaurant, one of the cars parked by the front door has the News 12 logo on it. News 12 is a local news station. Conveniently enough, it’s on channel 12 on my cable provider.

For comic fans: Wizard’s offices are in Congers, NY, about ten minutes up the road from this location.

Posted in TV

Link Dump Time!

  • Yesterday was the Nintendo Wii’s second birthday in North America.  My, how time flies.  It seems that it’s a little easier to find a Wii today, but that won’t last once the Christmas season starts next week.  If you’re still on the fence, this might be your last best chance to find one on shelves in 2008.
  • Allow me to be the one millionth website this week to point out that Google now hosts LIFE’s picture archive.  You can, indeed, get lost for hours upon hours in there. Other blogs are only just starting to mine the archives for interesting material.  I think I just lost a half hour staring at World War II pics. . .
  • Does it annoy you, too, when people ask you a question that they could have just Googled for first and saved us both some time? Here’s the new proper response: LetMeGoogleThatForYou.com
  • What’s the dumbest idea you could think of for the web?  What’s the least useful thing ever?  How about HugeURL?

Truly Widescreen TV

Ever since shows like “Lois and Clark” started filming in widescreen format, there’s been a problem.  They’ve needed to pander to people with standard 4:3 ratio television sets.  So while the show exists in widescreen with extra material to the left and right, everything was still composed for the center. Those wings on the screen were dead zones.

Today, 15 years later, the same is true.  Watching a network drama in widescreen format on my HDTV, I see that everything is still happening in the middle of the screen. You might not notice it right away, but once you do it’ll drive you mad. Then you’ll notice the little network bug is right in the corner of the 4:3 layout, while the image still extends out to the right.  This is also true in sporting events — all the graphics stretch completely across the screen, but the information is only in the center of the screen.  It’s even true on reality shows.  Next time Tom Bergeron is shuffling dancers off back stage on “Dancing With the Stars,” note how far to the right he is on the screen.  Those people sitting behind him off on the far left are never seen on a regular 4:3 TV set.

With digital television signals becoming the norm in a couple of months, will this madness soon end?  Will we soon see people talking on screen from the far left or right edge?  Will directors be allowed to compose their television shots in the same way they’d compose their theatrical shots?  I hope so.

Posted in TV

New Releases for 18 November 2008

Another week, another set of DVDs to ponder:

  • Wall-E

I’ve already reviewed it here and here.  Loved the movie.  The bonus features are strong, particularly the hour and a half PIXAR retrospective documentary.

  • Tropic Thunder (Unrated Director’s Cut)

I’ve heard nothing but great things about this Ben Stiller movie.  Am curious to see it.

  • Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2

Er, no.  Thought I do admit that I saw the first one.

  • 300 Collector’s Edition

You get the movie, a digital copy of the movie, and the original graphic novel collection.

  • Monty Python’s Flying Circus Collector’s Edition: Complete Series

Only $90 or so. Not bad at all.`

Posted in DVD