Stuff To Watch: Some Thoughts On Law & Order: Criminal Intent Season 6: Some Advice For Its Creators

Music ‘When The Day Goes Down’ Acoustic Version By The Eurythmics (from the promotional only ‘Acoustic Eurythmics’ CD Sampler released in 1989)

Law & Order Criminal Intent has just finished a horrible season, an ‘annus horribilis’ or maybe more accurately a ‘tempestas horribilis’ and has moved from NBC to the USA Network. In order to make the move go more successfully and to make sure as many viewers as possible watch all future LO:CI episodes, USA just completed a marathon broadcasting of all of the episodes of the sixth season (stretched out over two weekends). So while this gesture of support made by the new network was appreciated, there are old issues pertaining to the sixth season that I feel compelled to address

I call this completed sixth season a horribly rough season because it involved a lot of changes in the creative team, which dictated a lot of changes in the creative decisions that went into making the shows and which affected both the characters and the fans relationships with them.

I won’t sugarcoat the fact that as a fan of LO:CI who was willing to watch the show from Day 1 Year 1 that the show I fell in love with was the Rene Balcer helmed version of LO:CI and that there were too many changes packed into too short a period of time with Season 6 to keep me as ecstatically happy as I was with Seasons 1-5. The characters suffered, the stories suffered and as a loyal fan I suffered along with it. But with the move to a new network and the start of a new seventh season, I have some advice for the creative powers behind the show and although it may be presumptuous on my part, I am acting as an advocate for a certain segment of loyal LO:CI viewers, viewers who may not be as clearly heard as they ought to be.

With much soul searching I have come to the conclusion that those who were responsible for LO:CI’s fall from grace (a ‘sixth year itch’ if you will) are a combination of the network, the production company and the writers. I am certain that NBC which is a floundering broadcast network stuck for the most part in last place in the ratings (which matter far more to advertisers and the shareholders of media companies than to your typical viewer) put the most detrimental pressure on the show to change. Broadcast networks have a long history of doing this fiddling with programming that works reasonably well creatively and artistically in an effort to capture *every* *last* viewer. This kind of narrow-minded thinking has decimated both the news and entertainment divisions of the broadcast networks, making them sacrifice serious, intelligent, steadfast viewers for viewers who are nothing like their core audience and probably never really will be won over as loyal viewers. The core audience however once it perceives it has been abandoned inevitably moves on…in the case of news to the Internet or in the case of entertainment programming to cable networks (and presumably in the future to Internet broadcasting). This is not an amicable parting of the ways as smart loyal viewers once burned generally don’t ever come back.

Getting LO:CI free of NBC, a network that is now helmed by a very immature programming executive who is hailed for his connections to crap celebrity culture that the vast majority of Americans don’t really think or care about and has dubious creative ideas (bringing back ‘Knight Rider’ but changing the car to be Transformer-like is his latest aspiration) was a crucial step for LO:CI’s survival. But it is going to be up to LO:CI’s writers to keep creeping network pinheadism in the name of higher ratings from further alienating LO:CI’s core audience to the point of no return.

To its credit, USA has an excellent track record with how it promotes its shows (heavily if not always accurately or cleverly) and to my knowledge has not imposed too many idiotic demands on its shows creators (one I am aware of is relocating ‘Burn Notice’ from Newark (as conceived by the show’s author) to Miami, presumably so that scantily clad young women and men could be used in a ploy to get ratings from young people…the show’s creative team very shrewdly minimized that sort of footage and didn’t dwell on it, choosing instead to make Miami into a kind of sight gag). But the ratings monster will demand to be fed no matter which network a show lives on and if the writers don’t hold the line, what makes LO:CI LO:CI will be lost.

One other area that concerns longtime LO:CI fans is what Wolf Studios may do. Dick Wolf is in the enviable position of not being dependent on any one of his brand of crime dramas for the majority of his income. Currently SVU pulls the best ratings and has the most recent award winners, while L&O is Wolf’s favored first born series and Wolf is more interested in capturing a longevity record for most consecutive L&O broadcasts rather than capturing the long term respect of viewers to come. The cast of LO:CI, no less deserving of accolades and raises didn’t get them this year and the below the line unsung heros — the LO:CI crew — in many cases took pay *cuts* to keep LO:CI going. As LO:CI is running third in the competition for Wolf’s affection, interest and resources, the writers need to be ready to stand up to potentially detrimental demands from Wolf Studios. I am certain that if the issues are mostly economic, there is some degree of cost containment that can be done and in fact this could improve the creative direction of LO:CI if necessity forces everyone to be more inventive. So I am less worried about how Wolf will influence LO:CI’s creative direction.

Now I come to the difficult area…the fans. Old school fans like myself have to some degree been placed at odds with newer fans, largely by the networks insatiable ratings growth demands and to a lesser degree to satisfying Wolf’s quest for increasing profitability of his shows. While we can accept that things change over the course of the production of a series — actors leave, writers seek to advance their salaries by taking on more roles than just writing, and networks and production companies want more money and ratings first, then some awards, and all for a decreasing investment — we longtimers have endured a lot of changes in a very short period of time.

To give you a fair analogy of this old timers overall evaluation of LO:CI Season 6 stands, think if you will for a moment about the brilliantly funny 1984 mockumentary movie ‘This Is Spinal Tap’. There is a scene in which the band’s lead guitarist Nigel Tufnel (played by Christopher Guest) shows off his collection of guitars and stage equipment to the film’s director Marty DiBergi (Rob Reiner) that goes something like this:

“Nigel Tufnel: [pointing to a customized Marshall amplifier head unit] This is a top, to, uh, you know, what we use on stage, but it’s very, very special, because, if you can see…

Marty DiBergi: Yeah…

Nigel Tufnel: [pointing to the control dials] …the numbers all go to eleven. Look, right across the board: eleven, eleven, eleven, eleven…

Marty DiBergi: Oh, I see. And most amps go up to ten?

Nigel Tufnel: Exactly.

Marty DiBergi: Does that mean it’s louder? Is that any louder?

Nigel Tufnel: Well, it’s one louder, isn’t it? It’s not ten. You see, most… most blokes, you know, will be playing at ten. You’re on ten here, all the way up, all the way up, all the way up… you’re on ten on your guitar. Where can you go from there? Where?

Marty DiBergi: I don’t know…

Nigel Tufnel: …nowhere! Exactly! What we do is if we need that extra… push over the cliff, you know what we do?

Marty DiBergi: Put it up to eleven.

Nigel Tufnel: …Eleven. Exactly. One louder.

Marty DiBergi: Why don’t you just make ten louder, and make ten be the top… number, and make that a little louder?

Nigel Tufnel: [pause, blank look and snapping chewing gum] These go to eleven.”

While it is one thing for a band to “put it up to eleven” for the occasional solo or the big finale of the concert, it probably isn’t the brightest idea to set the amplifier and the volume as high as it will go and leave it there. It’s hard on the equipment, it’s hard on the musicians who can wind up with hearing loss and tinnitus and frankly it’s exhausting for the audience too and loses its desired impact if the maximum is sought for any significant length of time (probably more than five minutes in the context of music). And note that this scene doesn’t go on forever…nor is this joke repeatedly referred to…the concept is played for it’s optimal level of humor and then the story moves on rather than killing off the joke through overkill.

And now I’ll summarize LO:CI’s biggest problem in Season 6: certain elements of the show got permanently turned up to and stuck on eleven.

Before the change in creative direction, there were slower gentler less intense main character development arcs, a mostly indiscernable series evolution arc and well paced but interesting individual episode arcs. It is fair to say that Seasons 1-5 were somewhat formulaic, but the cases in each episode were more varied and the main characters were developed cautiously, thoughtfully and subtly. The cases investigated drove the character development and the crimes explored gave the guest characters interesting lives of their own. Also no one episode spent its entire 44-45 minutes at the absolute dramatic apex such that it foolishly squandered the energies of the guest characters, the series regulars or the audiences.

This all changed in Season 6. I can’t give a reason for certain as to why but my guess is that the ratings monster drove a lot of the radical creative departures.

Take the season opener for Goren and Eames “Blind Spot”: Goren reunites with his profiling mentor (and apparently his sole reliable father figure), sees his partner Eames kidnapped and tormented, is himself anguished by the prospect that not only has he outgrown his mentor, but that the man is really a bad father, that Goren should have somehow foreseen that the profiler’s daughter would become a serial killer, and that his new boss Ross hates and distrusts him. We also see that Ross is uneasy in his new role as the commander of the Major Case Squad, doesn’t understand that as a commander his job is management and not direct investigation, and is pushing Eames to ‘control’ her partner, the ‘overthinker’. Of course Eames is captive to this illogical Ross versus Goren conflict (and not to mention to the whims of a serial killer).

You can get away with running *all* of your characters on eleven for the entire length of *one* 45 minute episode, and to some extent trivilize the crime and investigative procedure that viewers expect from a show billed as a ‘crime drama’ or a ‘police procedural’ but you can’t make a habit of it.

So what happens to this investigative team in their second episode ‘Siren Call’? How about more irrational conflict between the boss and his detectives, the need for Eames to seek psychological counseling thanks to the previous case’s kidnapping, the revelation that Goren’s mother is dying of cancer and so his time and energy are spread thin amongst his investigative duties and his fillial piety, and oh yeah, we end with a seemingly preventable and gratuitous cop’s suicide witnessed by Goren, Eames, the cop’s remaining daughter (his other troubled stepdaughter was his very own homicide victim) and his terminal cancer stricken wife.

Stuck on eleven, I tell you. And for Goren and Eames and Ross we stay this way all the way to their season finale “Endgame”

Under the old regime logically, Goren and Eames would have been put on leave or desk duty and permitted to step away from the emotional brink, to have some catharsis (and through them some vicarious catharsis for the viewers). But this is not where the writers went (presumably because ‘high drama’ equals ‘high ratings’…a classic network pinheadism that needs to be shown up for what it is: a fallacy).

I find it utter unbelievable and reprehensible that most every case that came up for Goren and Eames to investigate generally had somewhere in the background a clueless, oblivious and/or delusional male who inflicted injury either deliberately or grossly negligantly on his spouse and/or his children. But ‘Blind Spot’, ‘Siren Call’, ‘Bedfellows’, ‘Masquerade’, ‘The War At Home’, ‘Privilege’, ‘Albatross’, ‘Brothers Keeper’, and ‘Rocketman’ all fit that pattern, a pattern that does a heck of a job angsting Goren indirectly and by association Eames and Ross and the viewers. As much as I disliked ‘Endgame’, at least the suffering was openly and directly inflicted upon Goren by the perpetrator, and frankly ‘Silencer’ becomes the exceptional episode where the source of familial distress leading to the motivation behind a crime is a female sibling who abandons her brother. Of course the case in ‘Silencer’ could also remind Goren of how he has been abandoned by his brother as their mother lies dying, but at least it’s a different kind of case with different emotional implications for Goren Eames and Ross. Still the writers beat the ‘bad family stuff’-as-criminal-motivation horse into oblivion. For ratings and new viewers. At the expense of old viewers, rational thought, good storytelling and giving the actors the chance to play more broadly and creatively with the scripts.

So what about LO:CI’s other investigative team Wheeler & Logan? Well here things are less a case of ‘Law & Order: Detective Angst’, but there is a case pattern into which the writters fell that frankly was also lazy and overdone. From their season opening case ‘Tru Love’ it was clear that Logan was going to be stuck playing the now ‘old guy’ detective who is utterly befuddled by modern culture and people under a certain age and needs his youthful partner Wheeler to explain it to him (as if poor Logan had suddenly and inexplicably lost his ability to think like a young person). While this could have been a rather pointed clever and amusing play on how as the young Detective Logan used to give his mothership partners Greevey, Ceretta and Briscoe grief and now had to take a bit of what he used to dish out, frankly it insults the intelligence, wisdom and intuitiveness that are rightfully Logan’s now that he is decidely ‘middle aged’. Whether it’s adult women stuck in adolescence (‘Tru Love’, ‘Bombshell’), the music business and rap/hip-hop culture (‘Country Crossover’, ‘Flipped’, ‘Players’), other youth media (‘Blasters’ Weeping Willow’ ‘Bombshell’) or the clash of the rise of homosexuality (‘Maltese Cross’), or multiculturalism and freer female heterosexuality (‘World’s Fair) against more traditional sexual and ethnic mores, Logan was often made to look unnecessarily dumb or helpless against young hip and improbably ‘always in the know’ Wheeler. The two exceptional cases ’30’ and ‘Renewal’ angsted Logan with the loss of a friendly career ally in the former and a potential romantic partner in the latter. And of course we had Ross interfering with the Logan and Wheeler led investigations as well, angsting Logan with his assertions that Logan is still in Ross’s eyes an ‘overreactor’ or a hothead while championing the unproven Wheeler. Talk about an unnecessary age war.

So here we long time fans are as befuddled and exhausted as our heroes. Now we surely are familiar with all of their inner conflicts and emotional issues but that came at the expense of the crimes and the cases. Some of them were too easy for us to solve and some of them we just didn’t really care who did it (although upon reflection we missed getting glimpses of criminality in all its myriad forms and with a variety of motivations that the ‘Criminal Intent’ name implies). It was something of a minor victory to still be watching a sixth season LO:CI episode at its conclusion, but it wasn’t a lot of fun or something that made you think much because you were overwhelmed by the emotional heroin of full metal melodrama.

So with the new network and the new season here is this fans small plea to the writers: dial back the emotionalism already. Pretty please, just simply give us all a break.

We have graciously let you into our most intimate and vulnerable spaces; our living rooms, bedrooms, media rooms…wherever there is a television, your characters have been given our permission to be eagerly welcomed guests in our homes. For six seasons we have largely enjoyed your company, chosen it over the company of other shows and other activities (most notably such as spending time with our families and friends). We are well invested in both what happens to the characters personally and what happens to them professionally and care about both the process *and* the outcome of each of the episode, series and character arcs. Our homes for the most part are supposed to be havens from a world that increasingly seems ‘stuck on eleven’ thanks to complex and difficult economic and political issues our country faces, the ever-increasing presence and dependence upon technology we as a society are confronting, and increasing change in just about everything you can imagine. Forgive us for sometimes wanting to take things a little slower and experience them less intensely but remember that we want you to entertain us with your stories, not exhaust us with drama kings and queens the way most other forms of media want us to. Intense feelings in characters are not unappreciated but not if to experience them we have to sacrifice the logic and quality of storytelling.

Running at eleven is simply not sustainable, certainly not for us old timers and most likely the new viewers will eventually burn out from the excess of spectacle and angst chosen over storytelling and progressive judicious familiarity with characters of depth rather than volume of feeling. We long time viewers have few ways to communicate this exhaustion directly to those in charge other than online or in old fashioned letters to production companies and more indirectly by changing the channel and not buying the products and services your artistic endeavors are meant to promote. As it is your typical viewer old or new is running all kinds of debts: too little time, constrained financial resources, being pulled in many directions by friends, family, community. We are willing to give something of ourselves to you in terms of time to work out these intense emotional phases for our main characters but not if you keep exceeding the limits of believability or the bounds of emotional restraint.

Let me give you one other piece of advice (and this goes for everyone on the creative team, not just the writers). Always remember that you are the professionals and we are the amateurs. If we all wanted to as fans, we all could write fan fiction which I can tell you from personal experience usually involves pushing characters’s emotions to eleven and often loses sight of context and good storytelling until you learn to do better. It is hard to restrain one’s self as an amateur writer, to learn about the dramatic arc of storytelling and follow the conventions set out by a genre and adhere to it rather than to indulge in flights of fancy and amuse one’s self to the exclusion of everyone else’s enjoyment. Whether you choose to read fan fiction or monitor online fan discussions of how the shows are progressing is your decision, but please don’t let yourselves be seduced into exchanging your visions of where the characters, crimes and series should go for ours. Not all of our ideas are good ones and you shouldn’t chase ratings or universal public love and approval or professional accolades through us. While your characters speak for victims living and dead, and their friends, families and loved ones, you ultimately speak for your characters, or more accurately, your characters speak through you to us. We don’t expect you to be perfect, but we do expect you to be the characters’ advocates, their champions. You don’t have to do everything we say we’d like you to do, just do the things that make sense for the characters and the stories. In the same way you would reject bizarre or inappropriate ideas from those above you like the network or the purse-string holders in production (or get creative when forced to labor under an idiotic edict), be strong and reject our silly and stupid notions and be true to your own artistic judgment. Even us stuck in the mud old timers can be brought around on many of your new ideas (not all of them as you have made mistakes too…welcome to the human race), but it is up to you to woo us back.

We are looking forward to being surprised and delighted…what a welcome change that would be from the larger world we live in. May you rise to the challenge, tackle it with aplomb and deliver television destined to become timeless entertainment.

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Collecting Advice: Don’t Make This Mistake With A Collection

I am posting only briefly to say that I am minorly traumatized by recent events that happened in the actual physical location of The Vault.

Upon opening a giant (4 foot long, i.e. so big it had handle openings cut into its ends so it can be moved) cardboard footlocker-sized box of posters I have not looked in since 2003, I discovered the remains of what was a rodent ‘condominium development’. I say the remains, because the mice responsible were evicted well over 2 years ago (their food source was eliminated as soon as I became aware of their presence in the house). So I wasn’t confronted with any actual mice or their corpses.

What I did find were some destroyed posters, thoroughly chewed and shredded. Color me upset and mildly grossed out.

Most of the posters I lost were thankfully not VDO related…in fact the only posters like that affected were my 3 US single sided styles A B & C posters for ‘The Cell’. Thankfully these weren’t expensive posters and will not be hard to replace (in fact I will probably go ahead and spend a little extra for the double sided versions I had wanted in the first place). But the mess that had to be cleaned up was not fun and took me several days to straighten out. And I lost some of my other lesser movie posters and many promotional and concert music posters (from an earlier collecting phase) which I liked and was saving to get framed at some point so I’m kind of mourning their loss and frustrated that it was so easy for the mice to ruin them.

At least I had the good sense to store the most important and/or valuable posters inside thick walled poster tubes with plastic end caps…mice were unable to enter these at all. The posters either not in tubes or in a few cases in partially capped tubes towards the bottom of the box were the ones that got shredded into confetti. But I have definitely learned not to store anything “shreddable” and “organic” like paper or wool or cotton in cardboard boxes in the basement (the same mice destroyed a few sweaters of mine stored in cardboard wardrobe boxes, the kind you get from a moving company that have a metal pole from which you can hang hangers and the same offending handle openings cut into two of its sides).

I think what happens with the violated cardboard boxes is some of the mice enter through the handle holes, get stuck in the boxes and shred up anything between them and getting back out of the boxes. They all eventually figure out how to escape but they leave a lot of damage in the aftermath.

This not so subtle wake-up call prompted me to upgrade every kind of item I am storing related to VDO that will fit into the following nifty storage container made by Sterilite:

Sterilite Wheeled Footlocker

I have invested in 9 of them so far and have plans to buy at least one more (for VDO TV appearances and movies on DVD, VCD, VHS tapes and laserdiscs which are currently split between 2 18 gallon Rubbermaid tubs). Unlike the locker pictured in the photo, the ones I found are black with a white handle although they also come in a deep blue with a silver handle. They strike me as extremely rodent-proof, easy to move around and easy to store. They’re not exactly cheap, but they are easy to find in my area and give me piece of mind should critters decide to try and move into the house again (living in the country this is always a strong possibility). And transferring everything into what I think of as safer containers has made me better organize and catalog what I have. So this is something of a blessing in disguise. I just wish these had existed when I started collecting…they would have saved me some grief (but then so would me packing away the posters more carefully in the first place).

I still need to find something more suited to posters that are more than 4′ in their smallest dimension (things like banners and subway sized posters) but I have some ideas about how to better protect those than with only capped cardboard tubes stacked on their ends in lidless plastic Rubbermaid tubs.

So I and the stuff are going to be okay. In the relative scheme of things, it’s not that big of a deal and it could have been worse. And 99.8% of my VDO stuff is unaffected although it’s been eye opening to find that I needed to get so many of these footlockers to house 6+ years worth of collecting efforts.

Still I don’t understand why the mice picked my collection to shred when they could have done the same to papers stored in cardboard boxes with handle holes…those they left untouched…go figure.


Music “Don’t Ask Me Why” Acoustic Version by The Eurythmics (from the promotional only ‘Acoustic Eurythmics’ CD Sampler released in 1989)

This Photo Is A Bit Old But…

…it will have to do for today while I regroup and work on kind of a broad sweeping blog post. Thanks to Ethan Hawke and whomever had the brilliant idea of giving him a camera to mess around with while he was shooting ‘The Newton Boys’

Given how I have felt more than a little like this (overwhelmed and eager to hide) lately:

What is it with everyone on the web wanting everything and wanting it right this minute just like that awful little bratty Veruca Salt character in “Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory”?!?!

You might say I’m crazy to feel this way, but this morning while I was taking a break from organizing a big blog post and uploading a couple of new photo sets to Flickr, I happened to watch AMC’s ‘Sunday Morning Shootout’ and the industry guest of the two Peters (Bart and Guber) was none other than Variety’s Anne Thompson who is now writing a blog at Variety’s website called ‘Thompson On Hollywood’.

Thompson was making the point that for professional journalists they find themselves having to rush even faster to get stories out first. In her case, sometimes that means she blogs something before a fellow journalist who is also set to do in-depth coverage on the same event finishes their story and files it.

To Thompson, it also means “live blogging” which strikes me as the same sort of thing that happens on the TV news with a “breaking story”. On TV this means you get to watch a bunch of people from the news division basically interrupt everything scheduled to say things like “we think there’s something going on, we’ll tell you what little we know whether or not it’s true and no we haven’t wasted precious time checking it out, and then we’ll just keep on babbling like idiots so that you don’t change the channel and so that later some other channel can claim that they were ‘first’ to report the story, so pretty please don’t touch that remote, okay?”

I want someone to please tell me how this is going to work in what is mostly a type-written medium?!?!

Are we going to see pages on web sites and blog posts full of typos, bad writing, etc or are these people just going to put something like little YouTube videos that say the same useless things the TV news talking heads and pundits say all over the Internet?

When did legitimate journalists stop caring about being the ‘best’ (ie telling a complete, factually accurate and useful story) and start caring about being ‘first’? And why are people who get their information online letting this sort of crap journalism take over here? If I want to watch a shitty excuse for a news story I can always go turn on my TV, thanks.

Do we really need to sacrifice usefulness for speed?

Oh well rant over. The photos I added at Flickr today are primarily photos of books that have been adapted into various movies with VDO in them. I am happy to say that I have taken the time out to actually read almost all of them (I need to read Malcolm X’s autobiography)

Music from the pre Web overload era (to remind me and everyone to slow down and enjoy the speed of life a little):

‘Switchboard Susan’ by Nick Lowe

Web 2.0 Is Time Consuming, Sometimes Tedious, Sometimes Thrilling. And It Makes Some Entertainment Professionals Look Better Than Others

Music “Cry” by Godley & Creme

This post I hope is more realistic than ranty but one of the many things I do is look into various Web 2.0 sites to decide whether or not it’s worth my time to sign up for them and build things on them, the way I blog here, keep photos at Flickr, keep videos at YouTube and keep audio files at MusicWebTown.

I have received a few emails and a few contact form requests through my blog here from people who want to know whether I have a MySpace page.

I have signed up for a MySpace page and I use it a little bit
but basically I prefer to be contacted via email rather than carrying on conversations at MySpace via their email and messaging systems …the contact form here on the About Page of my blog is the best way to reach me if you have a really pressing question to be answered. I get to contact form requests a lot faster than I get to MySpace emails and messages.

What I am using my MySpace page for (besides to redirect people interested in what I do online to this blog and at Flickr, YouTube, and MusicWebTown) is to add to the Friends section the following kinds of people:

1) Entertainment professionals who have worked on projects with VDO
2) Entertainment professionals in training who have worked on projects with VDO (there’s a certain college student who just finished an internship on CI who fits this category and I expect that over time I will find more and more amateurs, extras, and behind the scenes people to network with)
3) A few entertainment professionals who I would like to see work with VDO or whose work I really love
4) Fans of VDO (both casual and hardcore)
5) A few personal friends whose only online presence is on MySpace (so far thankfully no one fits this category)

What I don’t like about MySpace is how busy/cluttered/unprofessional looking it is. There are a lot of ads there and I am trying to minimize how many ads people who are exploring what I do are forced to see. I don’t like ads and clutter on web pages the same way I don’t like looking at all the logo bugs etc they put on broadcast and cable TV shows and I’m assuming most of you don’t like them either so I try to avoid sites that are chock full of ads and pop-ups etc.

Also it is a pain to relearn how to redo the appearance oriented stuff at MySpace. I finally figured out how to make my MySpace page less hideous looking than its default version, but it took forever to do simple things like make all the headers the same color (to me orange headers are hard to read and I can’t believe those are the default header colors at MySpace) or make actual working links to my pages here (I can’t believe I finally got that working – hooray!). There’s still stuff not working on my MySpace page the way I want it to work but I can live with it for now. But it’s a really clunky to use site.

MySpace is kind of weird to me in that some of the pages that people have created are pretty good-looking considering how much stuff MySpace wants you to put on your pages. There is a whole huge cottage industry around creating things for MySpace pages, some of which I don’t understand, like all of the funky graphics people leave in their Friends comments section etc just to say ‘hello’ to each other each day. That sort of seems pointless to me, but then again what I do on my sites isn’t exactly vital to the survival of mankind so I guess I shouldn’t knock it too hard.

The other thing about MySpace is how scary/juvenile it can be. Some of the pictures people post there of themselves are really off-putting. I don’t get why anyone would want to post pictures of themselves in varying states of undress and/or intoxication and/or potentially embarassing foolishness that could haunt themselves for the rest of their lives but that’s just me and my pre Web 2.0 generation.

The thing is that because MySpace has become so popular that it is sort of a necessary evil. I think a lot of actors and entertainment professionals realize that to reach all of their potential audience (especially the youngest segments), they need to have a presence on MySpace. Some of the actors are smart enough to have also set up their own websites and redirect people to their sites. An excellent example of this is Anthony Michael Hall’s pages. His MySpace page is decent-looking enough but his personal webpage is far more useful and attractive. For those who don’t know who I’m talking about, AMH is the lead actor of ‘The Dead Zone’ on the cable TV network USA (the new home of CI). AMH also did a cameo in ‘Happy Accidents’ so his site is worthy of inclusion in my blogroll for that reason alone.

But then there are actors like Robert Sean Leonard who only seem to have a MySpace page and no webpage of their own. RSL (a star of TV’s ‘House M.D’) has heavily tricked out his MySpace page but it has annoying things like its black text on black background layout (hard to read), music that starts playing automatically (the House theme which you might not want to be blaring out of your computer’s speakers), and general weirdness in how the page loads and displays. If RSL had a website, I’d be thrilled to put it in my blogroll because he’s one of VDO’s co-stars in Ethan Hawke’s ‘Chelsea Walls’ (and he’s also an excellent actor and musician). But I just can’t see including MySpace pages in my blogroll, even if they are the entertainment professional’s only web presence.

So I am afraid that for the sake of completeness and to be sure that I and anyone else who wants to learn more about the people who have worked with VDO can do so, I will have to keep my MySpace page. But please understand that this page is the pariah in my family of pages and will only be of limited utility, essentially just for checking up on who is in its Friends section.

In the highly unlikely event that AMH (or his people) stop by to read this, keep up the good work at your site. In the equally highly unlikely event that RSL (or his people) stop by to read this, I’m begging you to please get a real website somewhere other than MySpace. If you do I promise to link to it in my blogroll :-)

Sites mentioned in this blog post:

Anthony Michael Hall on the Web:
AnthonyMichaelHall.net

Anthony Michael Hall at MySpace:
Anthony Michael Hall at MySpace

Robert Sean Leonard at Myspace:
Robert Sean Leonard at MySpace

VDO Vault on MySpace:
VDO Vault at MySpace

PS In the also highly unlikely event that VDO (or his people) stop by to read this blog, Happy 48th Birthday a day early to you Vincent D’Onofrio. May you continue to be blessed with the affections of your friends and family as well as the good wishes of your fans on this and every day.

As per my usual policy there will be no blog post on June 30th 2007 as it is (only) the second anniversary of my mother’s accidental death and it is a time for quiet reflection offline with my family in remembrance of her life and spirit.

State Of The Vault Sites Report: Right Now I’m Loathing Web 2.0

Music ‘Missing (Todd Terry Remix)’ by Everything But The Girl

I guess I am something of a bad blog mommy in that I have been very slow to update pages here but you need to look at things from my perspective:

1) I still have ungodly numbers of photos to scan in and up load to Flickr in some semblance of order…this does not include items that either do not fit on my scanner…
2)…for which I either need to buy or borrow a digital camera…
3)…or in the case of my slides for which I need to get access to a decent slide scanner. I have spent a week or so trying to fake it with my scanner and various kinds of backlighting and my scanner is simply not going to let me do what I want to do. It has me very annoyed to say the least.
4) There are all kinds of ‘next level’ things I need to start doing (for example: text files anyone?) but I am having trouble figuring out the best way to get them online and make them organized and usable…
5)…and yet not look as God-awful and cluttered as a lot of the badly implemented sites out there like Blogger and Myspace etc. I hate ads and dancing hamsters and unrelated crap on pages, especially when they’re under my control.
6) Then there is some truly rare video that I have to figure out how to efficiently get into an uploadable form and get uploaded for which I could either drag my eMac out of the basement…
7)…and upgrade its OS and finally learn how to use my Formac Studio TV and Final Cut Pro plus set up its external hard disk…
8)…or outsource the job to a friend which involves stuff being sent out of state etc.
9) Then of course there is email in my inboxes at various sites plugging new Web 2.0 apps which promise to be fabulous…
10)…but most of which are duplicative of my efforts here, waste my time, and produce ugly useless and/or pointless results (like Squidoo or Twitter).
11) Of course there is stuff to be organized before it can be digitizied and uploaded.
12) There is maintenance to be done at the sites I care about (here, Flickr, You Tube, and Musicwebtown)
13) There are post topics I need to get up here already…
14)…some of which are the continuation of old topics…
15)…and some of which are new topics.
16) Couple all the above with stuff still being found and acquired for my collection…
17)…requests to join discussion groups (which respectfully and regretfully right now I have to turn down for now)…
18)…emails to be answered (and I am trying hard to catch up on them…I enjoy answering your questions and am trying to do a good job on that with each one so pardon my snail’s pace)…
19)…and real life demands…
20…and color me overwhelmed.

So if I go AWOL for stretches of time it’s not because I don’t like doing what I am doing or I hate the people who come here. It’s actually exactly the opposite. But my creative process is just extremely slow. I wish it were faster, but I prefer good, thorough and well thought-out over fast.

Others who are either blogging or running websites or discussion forums or make videos online etc will understand this lack of swiftness intuitively.

My only frustration is with my tools to do what I am doing. I’m not mad at anyone other than maybe the people who make such klunky software and myself for not being instantly able to figure out their ‘neat toys’.

Oh Happy Day! Film Butchers Rye By Post Are In Receivership

Well I just got this bit of *excellent* news from one of the many collector/preservationist discussion boards I hang out at.

Apparently some aspects of the made-up movie and TV memorabilia business are not as profitable as they are cracked up to be…the UK’s Rye By Post which takes *reprint* photos and *butchered* bits of film which they call ‘filmcells’, a couple of metal plaques and some glassed in picture frames and matting and make the whole lot up into ‘movie memorabilia’ to sell at grossly inflated prices is *bankrupt* and has been taken over by receivers as of today!

Hallelujah! Amen…overpriced home-made collectibles aren’t worth what Rye By Post thought they were and the market has voted with its complete and utter apathy! I *love* it!

The spin Rye By Post puts on this in an ebaY ‘guide’ (and these guides are supposed to help collectors not serve as press releases or crappy advertising so no way am I reproducing their link for you, they don’t deserve the free recommendation) is absolutely priceless (the typos and misspellings are all theirs):

“Ryebypost is in administration !

Ryeby post makers of filmcells also known as film cells cels cells or film media are now out of business, this is a huge shock to the memorabillia world. Ryebypost ceased trading on the 07 05 07 when the admistrators were called in to sort the companies finance. Ryebypost held licences to produce film cells like spiderman 3 the wizard of oz and Scarface, many of the orders placed by distributors have not been fulfilled.

We have many items still in stock but these are now HIGHLY COLLECTABLE as they will NEVER BE REMADE.

There are literally thousands of website advertisements for items that will simply not be delivered, many companies now have to go through databases to remove the much saught after stock.”

This is great news for those of us who collect originals…I will be glad to see them stop reprinting photos and butchering up classic movies (‘Full Metal Jacket’, ‘Ed Wood’, ‘Men In Black’ and ‘The Cell’ are the only VDO movies of which I am aware have received this treatment, but it wouldn’t surprise me to hear of others being cut up in the name of commerce). It makes me want to strangle the idiots who think nothing of cutting up perfectly good prints of my favorite films like ‘Chariots Of Fire’ or ‘Blade Runner’ or even silent films like Lon Chaney’s ‘The Phantom Of The Opera’ just to make a buck. People who prostitute my and millions of other people’s happy moviegoing memories in this fashion deserve a lot worse than to lose all their money.

Oh and I’ll bet that a lot of their music and sports memorabilia is bogus too…won’t it be fun when this crapfest of faux collectibles hits FeeBay at low low prices?

Not.

(Music: ‘I Wouldn’t Want To Be Like You’ The Alan Parsons Project)

Full Metal Rant: Now that ‘ full of “it” ‘ ebaY’s been hacked by vladuz, what can I do to protect myself?

I spent my weekend (including my 38th birthday yesterday) learning about a story that ebaY and PayPal would rather you not have a clue about.

Too bad for them that I’m going to spill the beans so you can protect yourself from a security compromise the impact of which is too huge to get your mind around.

The bottom line?

ebaY has been hacked. Big time. Multiple breaches even. And your ebaY accounts, your PayPal accounts, and all of the financial information attached to them could be seriously compromised.

Most Americans are unaware of what has happened as most of the auctions affected were run by non-US sellers but somewhere around December of 2006 it became clear that certain nefarious people (generally outside of the USA) were able to take over innocent people’s accounts (a TKO in ebaY speak), run all kinds of scamming and infringing listings, divert funds from the sellers PayPal accounts, stiffing both buyers and sellers and generally cause a lot of grief and harm for these innocent sellers and their unsuspecting bidders.

ebaY wants you to believe that this was a couple of isolated, minimally damaging incidents, that they’re all in the past and that sellers and bidders are either too careless in how they come up with their passwords or that they are too trusting and will easily allow themselves to tricked into clicking on a link in an unsolicited email and thereby duped into giving sellers their names and passwords.

To spin one of their slogans: ebaY is full of “it”

Over the past few days a Romanian hacker calling himself (or herself) “vladuz” has posted screenshots of a few pages from ebaY’s internal databases…one showed a taken over seller’s account history and the more sinister one showed ebaY employee names, email addresses, and passwords.

Take a look at http://www.auctionguild.com/generic148.html and feel free to shudder. I know I did when I saw what was there.

I am certainly not very knowledgeable about executing hacks and cracks but I can sure tell you this…what vladuz showed off, you can’t get access to via mere carelessness with an ordinary user’s email address and password or clicking in email links. Possibly if you did act so ‘carelessly’ with an ebaY.com account, you could have let someone into the ebaY system, but until vladuz surfaced, presumably you had to be an ebaY employee to have an ebaY.com email address and access to their databases, servers and the information of millions of registered users around the world. And presumably ebaY employees were taught by ebaY not to be so careless with an ebaY.com account…but I digress..

As of yet no one is really sure what all vladuz has access to…over the past several hours, ebaY users (especially those in the UK and Germany) have seen vladuz take over other people’s auctions (and as proof vladuz includes either ‘zudlav’ or ‘vladuz’ in the auction listing text), compromise two existing ebaY employee accounts and post using their ids to ebaY discussion boards (which are often called ‘pink’ accounts or ‘pinks’ or ‘pinkliners’ for the pink header line that is automatically attached to an ebaY.com account’s posting to an ebaY discussion board), and even *create* his or her very own pink account (vladuzsgi).

So what the heck has ebaY been doing about this?

Well besides pulling hijacked auctions as fast as they can find them and essentially chasing their own tails because new auctions are constantly and repeatedly taken over, ebaY has been actively doing everything it can to KILL THIS STORY. Those in charge at ebaY have not only been deleting vladuz’s discussion posts on ebaY discussion boards, they delete any postings mentioning the name ‘vladuz’ by other ebaY users, they delete postings with the word ‘hacked’ in them, and they suspend users who keep discussing the same from being able to post to the ebaY discussion boards.

While I find this a somewhat questionable use of their time money and resources (while they chase discussion board posters away, vladuz keeps popping up to show off what else he/she has access to and can exploit) ebaY at least has some justification for trying to gag their own users on their own site.

However as of yesterday ebaY went too far.

ebaY is attempting to supress the information of which an increasing number of its users are already aware…that the implications of these hacking incidents are that a large quantity of sensitive information (financial and otherwise) are at extreme risk and that the problem is so huge that ebaY has to come clean with the whole wide world.

Instead the powers behind ebaY are intimidating both ordinary registered users and those who are online authorities who cover online auction related news. In particular the treatment of the people behind The Auction Guild is especially suspicious: TAG’s legitimate questions about vladuz and the purported security of ebaY and PayPal were fobbed off onto an inexperienced ebaY PR spokesperson

http://www.auctionguild.com/generic149.html

and now for some strange reason if you visit TAG’s site using an the Opera browser, their site is on a list of ‘suspected fradulent sites’

http://www.auctionguild.com/generic150.html

The fact that according to the article above ebaY’s legal team is attempting to intimidate vladuz’s web host (who is in Germany) into following US tradmark law and the DMCA to stop a purportedly Romanian hacker (who could be anywhere in the world right now) not withstanding, all signs point to the fact that whoever is running ebaY has officially lost their collective mind.

Strongarming internet users and journalists into silence isn’t going to solve the problem…coming clean with users (which if PayPal has been compromised may be *required* under California state law at least as far as ebaY users registered in California are concerned and it would not be hard for the powers that be in Sacramento to get jurisdiction over the company up the road in San Jose or the company they own a few states over in Omaha) and taking the business of online security more seriously is the ONLY VIABLE WAY out of this morass.

My more knowledgable friends say that solving ebaY’s security holes may not be possible given how cobbled together the whole architecture of the ebaY-PayPal system is. I don’t know if that is true but it is time to address the most important question:

If I’m an ebaY and/or a PayPal user, what do I do to protect myself?

First, from now on watch your ebaY and PayPal accounts and the bank and credit card accounts attached to them *like a hawk*. If you see something suspicious, notify the appropriate parties immediately.

If you have largely inactive or abandoned ebaY or PayPal accounts you should close them *immediately*. Keep your balances in your still used PayPal account(s) low and transfer money out of them (preferably and ultimately to a more secure bank account not attached to a PayPal account) often.

In terms of bidding on ebaY auctions that require payment by *PayPal only*, consider setting up a PayPal account for payment whose only source for funding is one of the preloaded fixed limit credit cards you can purchase at your local bank/shopping mall/grocery store…the fees for these run from $2-$10 but the peace of mind they could provide may be worth that many times over. Such card numbers can also be attached to a throwaway free email account if you further want to protect your privacy and minimize spam and phishing emails.

In terms of accepting money via some kind of third party online payment system, you might consider signing up for Google Payments, but if you are selling items on ebaY, be aware that ebaY cancels ebaY auction listings that state that they accept Google Payments (talk about being anti-competitive and monopolistic).

I really don’t have a good solution for ebaY sellers short of just not offering PayPal payment as an option…they may be forced to go back to money orders and possible personal or business checks and get merchant accounts for credit card processing for payment, but better safe and a little slower and possibly more expensive than fast cheap and sorry.

It also goes without saying that you should *never* send wire transfers (Western Union, MoneyGram, etc) to pay for anything you buy online…once the money is wired it is G-O-N-E forever.

Finally tell your friends and family who use ebaY or PayPal know what is happening there and discuss ideas for protecting yourselves when you bid or buy online with them.

Anyhow here are some story links to get you started educating yourself on this situation (it’s too bad I have to do what ebaY should be doing):
http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/02/23/vladuz_strikes_again/
http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/02/20/ebay_conspiracy

http://www.auctionbytes.com/cab/abn/y07/m02/i22/s03/:
http://www.auctionbytes.com/cab/abn/y07/m02/i23/s01/

Typical screen captured ebaY discussions are available at:
p://www.ebaymotorssucks.com/
http://firemeg.blogspot.com/

Groups discussing this issue off of ebaY and in their own forums are at
http://www.pheebay.com/
http://www.powersellersunite.com/

Oh and for the powers that be at ebaY/PayPal who might want to have their legal teams send me harassing letters, etc…it might behoove you to know that I happen to be a licensed attorney (my bar card is from Texas) and I can figure out what all my rights and legal protections are….enough said.