Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Greenberg revisited

My post on the use of printed reference works vs. Ebay elicited a nice comment recently. In his post the author said:
There is one special issue though about Ebay versus Greenberg. Due to Ebay the prices of truly desirable items rises (much demand, little supply) and of normal rolling stock is dropping.
True indeed, and that too adds to the danger of relying solely on Ebay as a source of information. A good price guide -- whether it be for stamps, Staffordshire china, or toy trains -- is still of value long after the printed prices become obsolete. It gives you an overview of the field, and usually arranges the items in some kind of coherent order, such as by sets, date of issue and so on. A good guide can help you place a piece in context, and help you understand its place in relationship to other objects in that area of interest

Many times the posted values for items are Ebay (at least in the fields I'm familiar with) are radically out of line with what a knowledgeable collector would pay. Sometimes it's a bargain, but many times it's not.

Is that Stieff bear common or rare? Is it of historic significance or just a run-of-the mill example? A well-researched price guide can better help you decide what an item's realistic value is. And that can help you make an informed buying decision.

- Ralph

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Fair and balanced -- our bottom five posts

In our last post we took stock of where we were after 10,000 views, and ran down our five most popular posts. Here's the five least popular posts, in descending order. Why list them? Well, hopefully to give these entries another chance.
5) ...there's Apple TV -- The iPhone's continues to get all the press, but I still think Apple TV has the potential to be the more important release.

4) Format fallout -- The final installment of my commentary on the WGMS/WETA nightmare. Let's all hope the story's over, but there's an outside chance we'll be revisiting this sometime in the future.

3) Digital Syllogism -- There's still a lot of folks with expensive flat-panel TVs who think they're watching HDTV, but they're not. I tried.

2) The Digital Dogma Divide -- Strangly, the follow-up post where I provided a real-world example of my premise garnered more views.
And the absolute least read post so far:
1) Return of the Marching Memes -- OK, so no one's interested in our little musical challenge. We'll try something else.
And, yes, all five at the bottom are mine. Ken doesn't post as often, but he did take home the prizes this time. Quality wins over quantity again!

- Ralph

Friday, February 23, 2007

A milestone -- and our top five posts

Sometime this morning CE Conversations passed an important milestone. We've had over 10,000 views since Ken and I started this blog back in August. The counter down on the lower right counts direct hits to this site -- the number I'm referring to are visits to our Feedburner site, that creates our RSS feed.

Feedburner provides a variety of traffic stats, included one that tells us which posts are the most read. And so, to celebrate the passing of the 10,000 view mark, here's a rundown of our five most popular posts as determined by you, the reader.

5) Dust-catching DVDs (Ralph) -- an examination of the value of renting vs. owning media

4) Publishing Pariah (Ralph) -- the first installment of our posts about "White Lies"

3) "Better" Best Be Better (Ralph) -- a look at the urtext of the Blu-ray/HD DVD format war

2) Digital junk food (Ken) -- articulating the role of short-form video on the Internet
And the most popular post to date,
1) Who needs an iPhone, when.... (Ken) -- suggesting an alternative to the iPhone madness
Ken's two entries have more views combined then do my three, proving that you prefer quality to quantity. Congratulations, Ken!

- Ralph

Thursday, February 22, 2007

What's on my list

OK, Ken (and you, too, gentle reader). Here's what sitting in my Netflix cue as of February 23, 2007.

1. Little Miss Sunshine – When the movie first came out, the reviews suggested it might appeal to my skewed sense of humor. A recommendation from my daughter who shares a similar outlook clinched the deal.

2. Woman in the Moon – I was reading an article about Fritz Lang, and saw a citation for this film. That's all I needed to explore further. Woman in the Moon (1929) is Lang's other science fiction movie, and by most accounts has a story that's surprisingly sophisticated for the time.

3. Lawrence of Arabia – Incredibly, I've never seen this film all the way through. I've only seen clips in various documentaries about movies, and viewed parts of it while channel surfing. Just filling another gap in my knowledge (and looking forward to a great viewing experience).

4. The Navigator – I've always admired Buster Keaton. I haven't seen this film, but I have watched his more famous pictures such as Steamboat Bill, Jr. I admire his inventiveness and his ability to perform astounding physical comedy seemingly without effort -- I also seem to be one of the few that like his work in the 60's beach movies.

5. Garden State – I'm a big fan of Scrubs, so I was automatically interested in Zack Braff's first film outing. Friends whose opinions I respect also recommend the film, so into the cue it went.
Looking at the lists side by side, it looks like Ken's trumps mine in variety and depth.
Ken – what say we revisit this topic in a month or so and see how the lineups change?
- Ralph

What's on your list?

With the Academy Awards on the way, everybody's talking movies. It seems only right that Ralph and I should stick our oar in as well.

A lot of writers like to take this time of year to roundly berate the Academy for it's lack of judgment in past Oscar awards. It's an easy exercise -- just pick your favorite movies that didn't win "Best Picture" and contrast them with the undeserving winner. It's like shooting fish in a barrel. Here's a good example.

For a more interesting exercise in movie criticism, I'm going to let you take a look at my Netflix queue's top 5 movies -- what I picked, and why it's on the list. So, for February 22, 2007, here it is:

1. The Lavender Hill Mob -- I've had a taste for classic comedies lately. I really enjoyed Preston Sturges' Sullivan's Travels and Billy Wilder's One, Two, Three. I thought I'd give this old favorite a spin. And anything with Alec Guinness can't be bad.

2. The Battle of Algiers -- OK, I've had this sitting by the DVD player for weeks now. I know it's an important film, with prescient insights into our country's current Middle Eastern mess, but it looks like a real downer. I'm just not in the mood for it...

3. The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes -- Three episodes from the classic Granada TV adaptations of Arthur Conan Doyle's stories. Purely comfort food.

4. Casino Royale -- I'm a Sean Connery 007 guy all the way, but I've heard good things about this...

5. Children of Men -- This hasn't been released on DVD yet, but I'm anxiously awaiting it. I'm always game for a well-done vision of an apocalyptic near future.

That's what's on my list -- your turn, Ralph.


Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Digital Dogma Divide Demo

Yesterday I wrote about the primary arguments satellite radio and HD Radio supporters throw at each other. The subtext of premium content vs. no subscriptions isn’t hard to find. Here’s a sampling of quotes from the customer reviews for the Boston Acoustics Recepter Radio HD on the Circuit City website.

Those who gave the radio good reviews included these comments [italics added for emphasis]:
"HD is the future of free radio."

"I like my local talk radio programs so that is why I went with HD radio vs. satellite, and it's free of course."

"I was able to get all these additional channels… without paying a subscription fee."

"Yes, the radio is ugly, but i sure like not paying XM!!!"
And while there were some negative comments about the radio itself, there were statements like these [italics added for emphasis]:
"Save your money and get Satellite Radio… which have hundreds of stations HD Radio just carries local stations."

"It's OK, but my Sirius Satellite Radio is just plain awesome... content is everything and Sirius has it all...."

No subscription fees vs. premium content. The non-discussion continues.

- Ralph

The Digital Dogma Divide

A lot of virtual ink continues to be spilled about the merger of XM Satellite Radio and SIRIUS Satellite Radio. As the commentary flies fast and furious, I'm taking a step back and looking at the subtext of the discussion -- particularly as it applies to satellite radio vs. HD Radio.

In the comment fields for reviews about satellite radio products, HD Radio tuners, op-ed pieces about radio and so on, the same arguments roll back and forth again and again. Satellite radio supporters talk about the richness of the content, and the (for the most part) lack of commercials. HD Radio supporters talk about how over-the-air broadcasts are free, and the presence of commericals on some satellite radio channels.

It's not really a conversation, as neither side engages the other. Not surprising, as they're talking at cross purposes. For some folks, content is important -- important enough to pay for. For others, content isn't important at all -- nice if its there, not really missed if it isn't.

Some gladly pay extra for HBO and Showtime because they believe the original programs ("Sopranos," "Deadwood," etc.) are worth the cost. Other are quite happy with the basic channels -- what programs they actually watch don't matter as much.

The same is true with music. I'm passionate about classical music, and really relish works that require active listening. Many prefer their classical music to sit politely in the corner and sounds pretty -- like Muzak. Books, movies, plays, art -- there's always a divide between those who consider them important, and those who don't.

If you consider content important enough to pay for, then settling for poor selection isn't an option. If you're indifferent to the content, then paying extra for it makes little sense.

XM/Sirius vs. HD Radio. The argument rages on, with both sides citing features that are valueless to the other, the underlying premises remaining unarticulated.

- Ralph

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Another Sunrise and Web 0.0

This past weekend my wife and I attended Scuffletown's CD launch party. "Another Sunrise" is the name of the release, and it represents a significant growth in John Whitlow and Marc Carraway's collaborative music-making.

It was a great evening. The Gravity Lounge in Charlottesville was packed with fans and friends. I've know Marc and John for years, and many of our mutual acquaintances were there as well -- including a few I hadn't seen in years. I traded some stories, shared some memories, networked some, and even laid the groundwork for a new project or two (more on that when the time is ripe).

Much has been made about new mode of social interaction -- MySpace, FaceBook, SecondLife and so on. While it is exciting to think about being in a virtual room with avatars of like-minded people from all over the world, there's dimensions to human interaction that can only be fully experienced face-to-face.

Web 2.0 is a part of us, but Saturday night I enjoyed a little of Web 0.0, and heard some great music besides. And it wasn't at 128kbps either!

- Ralph

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Digital Syllogism

Now that it's over, I wonder how many people who purchased a flat-panel display to watch the Super Bowl in high-definition actually did so -- and how many thought they did so. A Forrester Research study done last year that's just now creeping into the media's awareness suggests those aren't small numbers. The USA Today article about consumer confusion -- published just a few days ago -- shows that the general public still has only a vague idea about what HDTV is and how to get it.

Primarily because of a lack of information, many are making the following deduction:

Major premise: All HDTV signals are digital
Minor premise: My new TV can receive digital signals
Conclusion: All digital signals my TV receives are HDTV

The problem is that HDTV is a subset of the digital transmissions broadcasters are moving over to. There's Standard Definition (SDTV) which is most basic form of digital transmission -- locally produced programs mostly use this. Then there's Enhanced Definition (EDTV), which has a higher resolution image (480p) -- this is the standard for most nationally distributed TV fare. High Definition (HDTV) delivers the best picture (1080i or 720p), and because it's less forgiving of flaws, is the most expensive to produce programs in. That's why broadcasters will tell you when something's in HDTV. Right now, it's still a big deal.

Because HDTV is the non plus ultra of the digital formats, its been used interchangeably with the term "digital TV." Marketing campaigns only talk about HDTV, and a majority of the sales associates at the box retailers use (and think of) the terms interchangeably.

Lots folks who purchased flat-panel sets in January didn't know what 1080i (HDTV) was, but they totally wanted it. Perhaps Jessica Simpson speaks for us after all.

- Ralph