Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A whole new ball game is evolving

Donegal's Mark McHugh is the best sweeper in the game

All sporting success is largely derivative of other sporting success.

When Alf Ramsey's 'Wingless Wonders' landed the 1966 world cup draw rules Cup for England, most domestic clubs in the English league eschewed the traditional winger for a narrower formation.

Ramsey perfected the system at Ipswich Town, and brought it to the international stage.

When Joe Kernan brought Armagh to their solitary All-Ireland title in 2002, he did so with Tony McEntee playing as a withdrawn midfielder, dubbed as the first big-time 'sweeper' in Gaelic football.

The germ of that idea originated with the contingent of Armagh footballers who studied in Queen's and played their varsity football under the coaching of Dessie Ryan.

There, the likes of Kieran McGeeney and the McNulty brothers Justin and Enda would immerse themselves in the possibilities of what could be achieved by tweaking and tailoring formations in Gaelic football.

Around this time, we also witnessed the 'third midfielder', where an immobile lump of a man would wear the number 15 jersey usually reserved for svelte corner-forwards, and instead stay out around the middle to contest kickouts, add heft, and clear a bit of space for two inside-forwards to work in.

Then in order to counter Armagh, Mickey Harte came up with the 'swarm defence', dependent on massive energy reserves and multiple players surrounding a man in possession until he was eventually choked up.

Bearing in mind that these innovations came 20 and 10 years ago, we can safely say that the evolution of Gaelic games since has begun to stall a little.

There have been subtle shifts, but only to existing ideas. For example, take the brand leader in sweepers - Donegal's Mark McHugh.

He is not a sweeper in the Tony McEntee sense but rather a creative and energetic link who, when not in possession, cuts out the corridors for passes forward, and while in possession instantly turns defence into attack.

Alan McCrabbe achieves something along broadly similar lines for Dublin hurlers.

There is much to admire about the Irish rugby team under Joe Schmidt, but perhaps what drew most praise from the players that landed the Six Nations was Schmidt's attention to detail.

Within that set-up, their training sessions were conducted with a mixture of practical and theory. The theory was aided by video analyst Mervyn Murphy working 12-hour days right through the tournament to decipher what was relevant on the opposition.

The backroom team found a receptive audience in the players, who were able to process and learn.

It might be a point to note that, of the teams competing against them, Ireland had the second-highest average age of 26.66 years.

That's a lot of maturity to draw from within a panel.

That maturity, and their humility, made things easy for their sports psychologist, Enda McNulty.

Embedded in the set-up and working across a number of platforms, the depth of tactical knowledge in rugby has been an eye-opener for him since his Queen's days.

"In sport," McNulty says, "We're far too simplistic in our problem solving after a defeat. 'We weren't fit enough' is the classic one in Gaelic games."

Many who have been involved in Gaelic football and hurling will be startled to recognise the truth in that sentence.

As a child, I recall watching my uncle playing on a Tempo Maguires team badly beaten by local rivals Brookeboro.

Immediately after the game, the manager punished his players by forcing them through a gruelling half-hour run through reeds and bushes.

That might have been an extreme example, but there remains a significant proportion of gulpins who insist on 'running the s**** out of them' in the next training session if he feels his team did not perform as he desired.

It's the next thing McNulty says that really nails it.

"There's a lot of talk about how much Gaelic games has tactically evolved over the last five or 10 years. I would say it has been far too slow, that it is virtually prehistoric.

"To look at the attention to detail the likes of Joe (Schmidt, not Kernan) go into, it's a 100 years advance on what Armagh were doing in 2002. In Gaelic games, we think someone's a genius if they bring two men back into the hole to protect their full-back line."

He's right of course, but then the comparison doesn't stand up when you consider that one code is played by amateurs, the other by minted professionals, backed up with a team of highly-accomplished sports scientists.

If you look, you can detect subtle changes, but every sport evolves at its own pace.

And it's not as if the playing style of rugby spent the 150 years between the drawing up of the first set of rules to becoming professional in 1995, in a constant state of flux.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Winn Dixie Employee Reportedly Uses Coupon Codes to Obtain Money

An employee at a Winn Dixie store in DeLand, Fla. reportedly used fraudulent codes from coupons to obtain money from her place of employment.

Ibilola Badmus, of Sanford, Fla., was charged with grand theft of more than $20,000 according to Volusia County Branch jail records Best Buy-codes&tc=ar">The Daytona Beach News-Journal reported Wednesday.

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The incident reportedly cost the store thousands of dollars denting the retail location's revenue fund The News-Journal reported Wednesday.

Employees began to see a decrease in financial reports from the coupon use in February, which amounted in large quantities according to Brandon Haught, spokesman at the Volusia County sheriff's department The News-Journal reported.

Loss prevention officers tracked the transactions back to Badmus when they discovered her coupon activity which totaled $23,000 dating back to November.

Badmus reportedly acknowledged her activity stating she needed the money to fund medical bills from her ill child, which she said was $10,000 The News-Journal reported.

"An internal investigation revealed that it wasn't coupon-cutting customers causing the problem but rather an employee," Haught told The News Journal.

Employees then told the Sherrif's Office, and officers subsequently gathered evidence from the store, and questioned Badmus.

Three thousand dollars of the money was found in her bank account, which was given in to the Sherriff's office by Badmus's husband.

Winn Dixie has over 480 stores throughout Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Three hundred and eighty have pharmacies inside them in according to information on the retailer's website. The company also employs 63,000 people.

Winn Dixie offers a variety of different brands at its various stores. These include, Topcare, Paws, Fisherman's Wharf, Chek, Prestige, Kuddles, Valu Time, Winn and Lovett, Winn-Dixie Organics and Naturals, and Winn-Dixie which has more than 2,800 products according to information on its website.

The stores sell meat, produce, bakery, deli, floral, and kosher products.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Amazon strike merchandising deal

SEATTLE - One of the biggest names in professional basketball history has announced a partnership with one of the biggest names in e-commerce.

According to The Puget Sound Business Journal, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's Starguard Collectibles has a deal with Amazon Deal to sell athlete-signed merchandise on the website.

Starguard sells sports memorabilia that is directly from the athletes. DNA taken from the athlete's thumbprint verifies the authenticity of autographs on the merchandise.

More information about Starguard Collectibles can be found on the company's website.

Monday, March 17, 2014

[Weekend Poll] Are You Keeping Your Amazon Prime Membership With The $20 Price Hike (If You Have One)?

While we didn't report on the story ourselves, Buy">Amazon's decision to raise the price of its Prime membership service by $20 (to $100 a year) has hard corners of the internet up in arms, albeit over something no one really needs in the first place.

If you're not in one of the countries where Prime is available (I was surprised to learn that it is, in fact, available outside the US), you may not be familiar with the service. The gist is free 2-day shipping on a huge number of items ( even a $1000+ 3-piece sectional sofa) available on Amazon, reduced pricing on overnight or weekend shipping, Kindle Lending Library access, and Amazon Prime's Instant Video service, which has thousands of free TV episodes and movies. For less than $10 a month, it's still a pretty remarkable deal.

And yet, there is decided angst being expressed about the change on various social networks, and the tech media is eating it up. So, we're curious - is the price hike going to cause you to say goodbye to Prime? Have you even said hello? I know I'll be keeping my subscription (which is still student for another year, though I'd happily pay $100 for the 'Prime Privilege'), as I know I get way more than my money's worth from the service between TV / movies and free shipping without having to spend $35 per order. Hell, I order my toothpaste from Amazon - I'd probably pay $150 a year for it without so much as flinching.

But $20 more a year has apparently caused some people to already pull the plug on their subscriptions. What say you?

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Top 5 Best Online Deals on Sony Xperia E1 Dual SIM Smartphone To Buy In India

<Deal Nowp>Japan-based premium smartphone maker has now been focussing a bit on the mid-range and affordable handset models. The Xperia M handset launched last year was pretty much an impressive device. Now for this year the company has already launched an affordable handset called the Xperia E1 Dual SIM handset.

Thus today GizBot has come up with a number of deals on the handset available in India. But before that you might want to take a look at the specs of the handset before going ahead with the deal. The Xperia E1 Dual SIM, which was unveiled back in January alongside Xperia T2 Ultra might is an enhanced version of its predecessor, the original Xperia E.

The device features a 4-inch WVGA display featuring 480 x 800 pixels, and runs on Android 4.3 Jelly Bean mobile OS. Under the hood, you will notice a 1.2GHz dual-core Qualcomm MSM8210 processor coupled with 512MB of RAM and 4GB of internal memory, which can be expandable up to 32GB via a microSD card slot.

Recommended: Top 10 Best Sony Xperia Smartphones With Quad Core CPU Support To Buy In India

On the imaging front, the Xperia E1 incorporates a 3-megapixel camera sensor with 4X zoom and an option to record videos in 720p HD format. Unfortunately, there the phone does not come with a front-facing camera. The Xperia E1 packs 100 decibel (Db) speakers, which is something to reckon with. Additionally, the Sony Xperia E1 features a 1,750mAh removable battery fitted inside.

Also, Sony also is offering a promotional 30 day free pass for company's Entertainment Network music streaming service. The device also supports 3G connectivity. The Xperia E1 handset comes in three sizzling colors: Black, Purple and White.

Take a look at the deals on the handset in the sliders below:

Click Here For The New Sony Xperia E1 Dual Smartphone Photos Gallery Recommended: Top 10 Best Full HD Display Smartphones To Buy in India

Friday, March 7, 2014

Got Milk: after failing to steal Spotify's thunder, Samsung aims for Pandora

Samsung launched a new free music app for users of its smart phones Friday that aims to take on pandora with a free and ad-free radio streaming experience and a unique interface that takes some design cues from terrestrial radio. It's the company's second major foray into music services, and it could signal a shift in direction.

Milk, as the new app is called, offers access to some 200 genre-based stations, as well as the ability to launch custom stations based on artists or songs, just like Pandora. The app's user interface is however very different from Pandora's fairly straightforward music player. At the center of the Milk experience is a virtual dial that can be used to quickly scan through stations that are arranged by genre.

At the center of the Milk app is a dial that lets users skip through and browse for stations.

As the users scans through these stations, Milk actually plays the beginning of each song, making it sound a bit like skipping through the signals of terrestrial radio, minus the white noise and ear-wrecking interferences. It's a fun experience that's being made possible by Milk caching 8 seconds of the first song of each and every station, explained Samsung Mobile Services Director Chris Martinez during a briefing with journalists in San Francisco Thursday.

Milk will be made freely available to U.S. users of Samsung Galaxy S3 and S4 as well as Galaxy Note devices through the Google Play store starting Friday. The service is ad-free for now, but Martinez and Samsung Media Solutions Senior Marketing Director Aline Yu said Thursday that the company may evaluate whether to add advertising, or possibly offer a freemium model, in the future. One possible value proposition for a freemium offering would be streaming quality. Currently, users can chose to stream with either 50 kbps or 96 kbps, but audiophiles may be willing to pay for higher bit rates.

Milk's music streams and its recommendation engine is powered by Slacker, but the service will also offer access to Samsung-exclusive content from select artists in the future, according to Yu. Just like Pandora, Milk is DMCA-compliant, which means that you can only skip up to six times in an hour per station. The same licensing regulations also limit the number of songs played by the same artist, which is why a Beatles station might quickly switch to Cosby Stills Young and Nash, followed by some more recent Paul Simon recordings.

A fun interface, but no social sharing

I had a chance to play a bit with an early release of the app Thursday, and have to say that I actually enjoyed the user interface. The dial is a fun way to switch between stations, and the nod to old-fashioned radio is charming. Of course, that novelty factor could eventually wear off, but the radio experience is still pretty solid.

Milk stations are DMCA-compliant, so you won't hear just one artist - but you can finetune the results.

Sadly, Milk doesn't really offer any additional information about the music it's playing, which makes it a pretty bad music discovery app. Also missing is any social sharing, but Martinez said that this is one of the features under consideration for future releases.

The fact that Milk doesn't have any ads is pretty neat, but listeners occasionally get to hear a "station ID" jingle, which is essentially a really short plug for the service itself. Yu told me that this very brief jingle may show up in a user's stream two to three times per hour.

Is Samsung better off with Milk?

There's something else that's interesting about Milk: It's not the only music service offered by Samsung. The company is also running a Spotify-like subscription offering that is being sold for $10 a month. That service, which is offered through the Samsung Hub app, is based on a service run by mSpot, a company Samsung acquired in May of 2012. Samsung has never said how many users its subscription music service has, but there is no evidence that it has gotten a whole lot of traction in a market that's dominated by Spotify and that has proven challenging even for long-running competitors like Rhapsody and Rdio.

At the briefing in San Francisco, it seemed like Samsung is much less bullish about subscription music these days. "We think we are better off looking at radio as a democratized service," said Martinez, adding that the target market of users who access radio is much larger than that of subscription music services, whose total customer base across all services he pegged at under 10 million. Samsung's goal was to be where "millions and millions" of users are, he added.

I quizzed Martinez about the fate of Samsung's music subscription offering after the briefing, and interestingly enough, he declined to say whether it will still be around in the future. "It's around now," he said instead.

It is indeed, but given the difficulties other services have had in this space, one has to wonder for how much longer.

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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Would Md. ICC toll discount draw more drivers?

LAUREL, Md. -- As the Intercounty Connector remains relatively unused, one candidate for Maryland governor wants to offer an incentive to commuters to drive the toll road.

Attorney General Doug Gansler says if he were elected governor, drivers who used the ICC at least 15 times per month would get a 50 percent Buy Cheap on all tolls. The roadway runs between Interstate 95 in Laurel and Interstate 370 in Gaithersburg, with a final segment from 95 to Route 1 in Laurel opening this summer.

"Our region was ranked the worst in the country for traffic. There's a lot of congestion on the Beltway. The whole purpose of spending $3 billion on the ICC was to reduce traffic. That hasn't been done. If you look at the ICC at any given time, it's like an empty runway at an airport. So the idea here is for people using the ICC to commute, to give them a reduced price," says Gansler.

For a commuter going end-to-end in rush hours, tolls cost about $60 a week, or about $3,000 per year. Gansler says under his proposal, that same driver would only spend $1,500 per year.

"The reason we picked 15 trips per month is because it shows a driver's commitment to use the road. Financially, there would be a break-even proposition because ... if you drop the price, more people will use it. In the short term, there may be a loss of money for the state. But in the long term, the increased ridership will compensate for the lower toll," says Gansler.

Montgomery County Councilmember Phil Andrews has called upon the Maryland Transportation Authority to cut all tolls in half, no matter how often a driver uses the road. While the principles are similar, Gansler says he believes limiting the discount to commuters makes more sense. He says the Andrews proposal goes too far, although the two use similar language to characterize the roadway.

"When we found out that it was being used on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and the Harbor Tunnel, it seemed like, why are they not using it for people in Montgomery and Prince George's County?," he says.

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, who is running against Gansler, did not commit to a position on the issue.

"I think it's important to look at the impact of what a rate reduction would mean," Brown says.

"Certainly, we want to increase ridership on the Intercounty Connector. Studies right now show that reducing the tolls would not accomplish that. So I'm interested in looking at all the measures we can take to increase volume on the ICC, so that it can accomplish its purpose of alleviating congestion on the Beltway and facilitating trips between places like Rockville and BWI."

MDTA officials do not agree with Gansler's proposal, saying the agency would not consider such a concept.

"The ICC was built for the future, and not to be at full capacity with the traffic demands of today. A key purpose for tolling the ICC is to manage these future traffic demands and congestion in order to continue providing the time savings and reliability that it does today. Using a different tolling model by offering commuter discounts is counter to the roadway's purpose," writes MDTA spokeswoman Cheryl Sparks.

When asked how the ICC differs from the Bay Bridge or Baltimore's Harbor Tunnel, she reiterated that the ICC is a congestion-managed roadway.

"Commuter discounts on the ICC are not being considered, as this is contrary to the tolling methodology for which the ICC was built," she writes.

Gansler says that if he is elected Maryland governor, he expects the MDTA to change its position.

"The MDTA serves at the pleasure of the governor. The board is picked by the governor. You would just say that we spent almost $3 billion on this road, we need to use it. It's taxpayer money. We need to actually have the ICC pay off and benefit the people for whom it was built," says Gansler.

MDTA officials say the roadway is reducing traffic on nearby roads, pointing to a report from the Council of Governments released in June. The agency also says the roadway is meeting traffic projections and remains in a ramp-up period.

Gansler counters that it hasn't had an impact on the Capital Beltway. He adds the ICC is not meeting the original expectations, pointing to how the MDTA lowered the traffic projections in 2005. He says MDTA lowered the bar so much that you can step over it.

As The Washington Post reported late last year, the ICC took in $39.6 million in revenue in fiscal year 2013. The figure met internal expectations, but was much lower than the $50 million to $80 million projected in 2005.

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Dish deal with Disney will allow TV online

By The Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, March 5, 2014, 12:01 a.m.
Updated 32 minutes ago

LOS ANGELES - With a string of recent deals, cable and satellite providers are beginning to acknowledge a brutal truth that companies like Hulu and Netflix have known all along: Many TV viewers, especially young ones, want shows and movies on their own terms - wherever, whenever and on whatever devices they choose.

Dish Network took a big step toward such a future with a deal announced on Monday with Disney. The agreement opens the way for the satellite TV service to live-stream Disney-owned channels like ESPN and ABC over the Internet to customers' smartphones, tablets, video game consoles and other devices.

The goal is to attract so-called cord-cutters who have become disenchanted with large channel packages and rising monthly bills for cable or satellite service.

Charlie Ergen, Dish Network Corp. chairman, hinted at the underpinnings of the deal last month, when he admitted that the traditional pay-TV business model - charging customers $80 or $100 a month for hundreds of channels, many of which they never watch - is not appealing to younger people.

"We're losing a whole generation of individuals who aren't going to buy into that model," he told analysts. "Obviously you'd like to kind of have your cake and eat it too, and make sure that you come up with products that can engage that new generation."

The new service will bypass Dish's 14 million-customer satellite system and offer content via the Internet in much the same way that Netflix delivers video.

No start date has been announced. Dish will probably have to cut similar deals with other programmers to make such a service attractive.

Dish would not say how much the service might cost, except that it would probably be cheaper than current packages.

The deal is the first of its kind between a major pay TV distributor and a top media company. But the pair won't be alone in trying to launch such a service.

In January, Verizon Communications Inc. bought Intel Corp.'s media group with an eye toward launching an Internet-delivered TV service over mobile devices. Sony Corp. said that month that it would launch an Internet-based TV service in the United States. this year.

"It's hard not to see this as the beginning of the virtual (multichannel video service) that we've been waiting probably two years for," said Rich Greenfield, an analyst with BTIG Research.

He said that while 100-plus channel packages and high-definition picture will still appeal to most TV consumers, an Online Deals-only TV service with mobile capability and lower price will appeal to others.

"I think it's realizing that it isn't a one-size-fits-all market for multichannel video," he said.

Dave Shull, Dish's chief commercial officer, said Dish's offering will target people ages 18 to 34 who live in apartment buildings, don't have multiple TV sets and "are looking at something that is lower-priced and doesn't come with the traditional pay TV commitment."

For Dish, that commitment usually means a two-year contract with a price increase in the second year. Long-term contracts allow the company to make a profit while covering the cost of launching and maintaining satellites, installing satellite dishes on roofs and putting set-top boxes in living rooms and dens.

By delivering video over the Internet, Dish would probably be able to contain the cost of the new offering significantly.

One question is how Dish will deliver the programming to people's homes because, like Netflix, the service could put a strain on Internet providers such as cable companies, which may be tempted to charge Dish for better access or faster delivery speeds.

The deal's financial terms were not disclosed. But as part of the agreement, Dish agreed to disable - for three days after the initial broadcast - a function on its Hopper digital video recorders that allows people to automatically record and strip out commercials from prime-time weeknight programming. But that provision applies only to programs on ABC.

The two companies had fought a legal battle over the so-called AutoHop function.

Dish CEO Joseph Clayton said in a statement that the deal was "about predicting the future of television."

The companies said they will work together on new advertising models.

Dish and Disney said they are looking at inserting ads into programming based on viewer data, developing ways of advertising on mobile devices, and measuring viewing for longer than the current industry standard that includes the live broadcast plus three days of DVR viewing.

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Tuesday, March 4, 2014

3 Ways To Still Avoid Sales Tax Online

(Photo credit: danielbroche)

Sales tax pays for many valuable public services, so first consider if you want to skirt it. Many people remain adamant about not paying it. Leona ("only the little people pay taxes") Helmsley was caught evading sales tax by having merchants (like jeweler Van Cleef & Arpels) ship empty boxes to her out-of-town home. For most people, though, unless you live in one of the few states without a sales tax, if you go down to the store and buy a sofa, TV or laptop, you'll pay sales tax.

Go online instead, and maybe not. If you buy online from a merchant that has a store in your state, you pay sales tax even if you buy online, and even if the goods are shipped from out-of-state. These days, even if the online merchant doesn't have a store in your state, you still might pay. In all, 45 states and the District of Columbia have sales tax. The only states without statewide sales and use taxes are Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire, and Oregon. Every state with a sales tax has a use tax too. Property purchased online and brought into your state triggers use tax, whether the purchase was personal or business.

Internet retailers don't have to collect sales tax from customers in states where they have no physical presence. Many states have expanded the nexus that make sales tax apply. Amazon collects tax in 20 states: Arizona, California, Connecticut, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin. Commencing in January, 2016, you'll be taxed Printable Coupons Amazon purchases in South Carolina too.

But even if you buy from a small merchant that doesn't charge you, you are still liable for use tax, the counterpart to your state's sales tax. Brick-and-mortar merchants have long complained that this gives online retailers a competitive advantage. The Marketplace Fairness Act, which passed the Senate, would allow states to require online retailers to collect state sales taxes.

States miss out on billions in uncollected taxes from remote sales, and the figure keeps going up. Many states need the revenue, and a number of governors have indicated support for the Marketplace Fairness approach. They include Nikki Haley of South Carolina, Bill Haslam of Tennessee, Mike Pence of Indiana, Rick Snyder of Michigan and Paul LePage of Maine. Former GOP governors like Jeb Bush, Mitch Daniels and Haley Barbour have spoken in favor of the concept too.

Some states plan to make the Internet sales tax revenue-neutral, with efforts to cut taxes elsewhere if Congress passes it. In Virginia and Maryland, the legislatures have marked the potential revenue for transportation. But still, any tax-whether or not one can fairly call it a new tax-is a tough sell.

Americans for Tax Reform and the Heritage Foundation object to the burdens online retailers would face. They claim it would not level the playing field. Quite the contrary, it would favor brick and mortar stores, they say. Online retailers would have to deal with numerous state and local taxes that differ from customer to customer.

As all these debates continue, if you want to avoid sales tax, consider these basics.

1. Read the Website. Many websites make their sales tax policy clear. In some cases, you may have to wait until checkout to know if you'll pay tax. Some online sellers make deals to remit tax for sales in certain states. The website will tell you or will add the tax when you check out.

2. Try Smaller Websites and eBay Merchants. You might escape sales tax if you buy from smaller merchants who don't collect tax on shipments to your state.

3. Get to Smaller Merchants Directly. Some people still claim they 'showroom' Amazon, getting to the merchant directly to try to bypass sales tax.

Just remember, avoiding the tax at checkout doesn't mean you've avoided it forever. You are liable for use tax if you bring the goods into your state or have them shipped to you. States historically didn't enforce use tax except against businesses, but that's changing. Many state income tax forms now collect use tax, and remember, you sign tax returns under penalty of perjury.

You can reach me at This discussion is not intended as legal advice, and cannot be relied upon for any purpose without the services of a qualified professional.

Monday, March 3, 2014

TODAY'S DEALS: Home Properties Completes Major D.C. Disposition

<Promotional Codesp>Montgomery Village, Md.-Home Properties announced a $110 million disposition on Friday afternoon. The apartment REIT closed the sale of Cider Mill, an 864-unit community in Montgomery Village, Md., earlier in the week on Wednesday, February 26. Home Properties has held the asset since September 2002.

The sale, which was valued at roughly $127,000 per unit, netted $47.5 million in proceeds (after closing costs and $58.5 million in secured debt payment). The weighted average historical cap rate on the sale is 6.9 percent after the application of a 2.7 management feed and before capital expenditures.

"The sale of Cider Mills is consistent with our strategy to lighten our Washington, D.C., geographic concentration," says Edward Pettinella, president and CEO of Home Properties.

Pettinella says that the REIT still has 28 percent of their units in the D.C. region, and plans to maintain roughly that portion of units moving forward. He added that the sale generated a higher cap rate than average for 2013 dispositions, and attributed that fact to substantial property upgrades and its location in the weakest submarket of the firm's D.C. regions.

Dougherty Mortgage closes $12.1M for Minneapolis seniors housing

Minneapolis, Minn.-Dougherty Mortgage LLC has originated a $12.1 million HUD 233(a)(7) loan for the refinancing of Minnehaha Senior Living, a 77-unit senior living community for residents 62 and older in Minneapolis.

Dougherty Mortgage closes 35-year refi loan for project-based Section 8 property

The 40-year term, 40-year amortization loan was arranged by Dougherty's Minneapolis, Minnesota office for Covenire Care Nokomis, LLC. The Minnehaha Senior Living property provides a full spectrum of care options and is located just north of Lake Nokomis and Minnehaha Falls, easily accessible from all areas of the Twin Cities. The property provides affordable housing for 20 percent of the residents at 50 percent of the area median income.

Minneapolis-Dougherty Mortgage LLC originated a $6.7 million loan under the HUD 223(f) program for the refinancing of Roseville Seniors, a 127-unit rental property for residents aged 62 and older, as well as disabled residents, regardless of age.

The property, located in Roseville, Minnesota, has a Section 8 Housing Assistance Payments (HAP) contract in place which covers 100 percent of the units. The 35-year term, 35-year amortization loan was arranged by Dougherty's Minneapolis, Minn. office for Good Neighbor Senior Apartments Limited Partnership LLLP.


Monday, February 24, 2014

10 Ecommerce Solutions for Small Businesses

Launching an online store doesn't have to be rocket science. With the right tools, anyone can sell online - and be successful at it, too. From do-it-yourself (DIY) ecommerce website builders to online marketplaces and merchant services, there is a plethora of ecommerce resources available. These tools make starting an online business easier and more affordable than ever. If you've always wanted to sell online, now is the time. Here are 10 ecommerce solutions to help you get started.

1. Shopify

Start selling online with Shopify's DIY online store builder. Merchants can easily create an online store with no website development skills necessary. Simply choose from more than 100 website designs and add your products. Websites are fully customizable and include a secure shopping cart that can accept VISA, MasterCard and American Express. Merchants can also sell their products anywhere with Shopify Mobile (Shopify's own mobile credit card reader) and Shopify POS (Shopify's iPad point-of-sale system). Shopify starts at $14 a month with zero transaction fees. A 14-day free trial is also available.

2. 3dcart

Build an online storefront fast with 3dcart's shopping cart software and online store builder. Just choose and customize your template, upload your logo and product images, and add descriptions and pricing - no HTML or programming expertise required. The 3dcart program accepts all major credit cards, as well as PayPal, Google Checkout and Checkout by Amazon. Merchants can also sell via social and mobile commerce with 3dcart's built-in Facebook Store and mCommerce app. The 3dcart service starts at $9.99 a month. A 15-day trial is also available, and new members will also receive $50 in Facebook ads credits. [REVIEWED: Shopping Cart Software 2014]

3. Volusion

The Volusion all-in-one ecommerce solution provides all the tools companies need to start selling and growing their business online, such as an ecommerce website builder, shopping cart and Web hosting service. Features include professionally designed ecommerce templates; easy inventory management, order processing and returns; built-in search engine optimization (SEO); social media tools; 24/7 support; and more. Volusion plans start at $15 a month with no transaction fees. Try Volusion with a 14-day free trial.

4. Square Market

Need an ecommerce website ASAP? With Square Market - from the creators of the Square iOS and Android credit card reader and POS system - business can set up an online storefront in minutes: sign up, list products, set up shipping - and you're ready to launch. Sell everything from tech to fashion, health, beauty, art, design, books, baby products, home items and even food. Features include personalized store logo and images, flexible Coupon, adjustable tax rates, size and color options, social media links, online marketing tools, mobile-ready storefronts and more. Square Market accepts all major credit cards, and payments are deposited in 1-2 business days. Unlike other ecommerce store builders, Square Market charges no monthly fees - merchants only pay when they make a sale at a rate of 2.75 percent per sale.

5. Etsy

If you sell unique products, check out niche ecommerce marketplaces like Etsy, which you can use to sell all types of handmade, vintage and other goods all over the world. Product categories include art, jewelry, men and women's clothing and accessories, home and living, mobile accessories, weddings, and more. Sign up for free, and start selling your creations from your own Etsy shop. Fees include a 3.5-percent transaction fee for each sale and a listing fee of 20 cents per item.

6. Doba

Want to run an online store, but lack the resources to purchase your own inventory? Or maybe you don't have the time or patience to pack and ship orders all day. Doba's drop-shipping marketplace connects online retailers with wholesale suppliers that process and ship orders under your business name. Choose from more than 2 million products and list them on your website, or automatically push them to eBay and other marketplaces. You only pay for products when you make the sale, and Doba's suppliers take care of the rest. Doba pricing starts at $59.95 a month, and discounted annual membership plans are also available.

7. MobiCart

Go mobile with your online business. MobiCart turns your ecommerce store into a mobile commerce (m-commerce) app to attract customers that shop using their mobile devices. MobiCart is fully customizable to fit your brand, and works on its own or links to your existing website. It integrates with more than 45 shopping carts, such as 3Dcart, Volusion and Shopify. This service comes with a native mobile app builder for iPhone, iPad and Android, as well as HTML5 Web apps accessible via mobile browsers. MobiCart is free to use for up to 10 products. The basic plan starts at $15 a month, or get two months free with a yearly plan.

8. Dwolla

Small businesses can take a hit from credit card processing fees. Dwolla offers a fast, secure way to move money for online transactions - and aims to do so at the lowest cost possible. Dwolla charges only 25 cents for transactions over $10, while transactions under $10 are free. Money transfers between Dwolla's payment network and your bank or credit union are also free. You can access Dwolla via the Web, iPhone and Android mobile apps, the Dwolla Merchant Kiosk, and any Dwolla-enabled point-of-sale system.

9. Forter

Selling online isn't without its risks. Forter provides ecommerce merchants with a simple plug-and-play solution that combats online fraud and delivers 100-percent chargeback protection. This tool eliminates the time wasted manually reviewing orders and the headaches of implementing and managing multiple security features. Instead, Forter automates the process by using profile data, behavioral data and cyber intelligence to instantly detect fraudsters and decline or approve customers in real time. And in the event that a bad transaction falls through the cracks, Forter promises to cover all resulting fraudulent charges. Contact Forter for pricing information.

10. Zendesk

Top-notch customer service keeps shoppers coming back. Zendesk is a support ticket platform designed to help you deliver excellent customer support. It offers a streamlined customer service system that gathers emails, tweets, Facebook posts, and phone and live chat inquiries into a single platform, so you can answer questions quickly and efficiently. Other features include reporting and analytics data, full customization to fit your brand and customer feedback to gauge a customer service team's performance. Zendesk pricing starts at $1 a month per customer service agent.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Anupama Chopra's review: Highway - Hindustan Times

Promotional Codes-highway/article1-1186909.aspx&media=,%20Alia%20Bhatt%E2%80%99s%20performance.%C2%A0Her%20scenes%20are%C2%A0deeply%20moving.%20Her%20honesty%20and%20courage,%20both%20as%20actor%20and%20character,%20is%20exhilarating.%20And%20yet,%20I%20left%20the%20theatre%20deeply%20dissatisfied.">

Hindi: Highway
Direction: Imtiaz Ali
Actors: Alia Bhatt, Randeep Hooda
Rating: ** 1/2

Highway is a problematic film. Elements in it have great beauty - starting with Anil Mehta's cinematography. The film was shot and improvised as the cast and crew drove across six states. Mehta's camera caresses the changing terrain so that we can almost taste the bleached salt pans of Rajasthan and the crisp air of Kashmir.

There is AR Rahman's soulful music - especially Patakha Guddi - and above all, Alia Bhatt's performance. There are two scenes - one a long monologue - in which she lays bare her soul and becomes utterly broken. It's deeply moving. Her honesty and courage, both as actor and character, is exhilarating.

And yet, I left the theatre deeply dissatisfied. Writer-director Imtiaz Ali is one of Bollywood's most original and interesting storytellers. Here he courageously goes off the formulaic star-driven, song-driven path and returns to his favourite genre - the road movie.

Imtiaz gives us a portrait of two damaged souls who, through a journey across north India, help to heal each other. So Veera Tripathi, an affluent Delhi princess who lives in a mansion with a Rolls-Royce, ultimately finds peace in the arms of Mahabir Bhatti, a rough Gujjar criminal, played by Randeep Hooda. The idea of a victim falling in love with her kidnapper isn't new - the Stockholm Syndrome in which the hostage forms an emotional bond with the abuser has often been cinematic fodder, especially in Hollywood.

Review: Alia Bhatt delivers a power-packed performance in Highway Review: Alia Bhatt, Randeep Hooda's Highway is bumpy yet enjoyable

But here, it is both uncomfortable and unconvincing. Veera becomes relaxed around her kidnappers fairly quickly. Early in the film, she says to them: Yahan aake aacha lag raha hai so thank you. After her initial horror, she behaves like a friend, chatting and laughing. Later in the film, she tells Mahabir: Kafi cute lagne lage ho tum. This to a man who, at regular intervals, threatens to sell her to a brothel.

The film posits kidnapping as therapy. It tells us: So what if you've been abducted, heal yourself as you travel the undiscovered countryside. Given the horror inherent in the situation, this just feels false and fundamentally wrong.

Imtiaz skillfully creates moments that are at once, tender, funny and fragile. But my problem was that I simply didn't buy into the story.And yet, both Veera and Mahabir stayed with me. They are compelling, intriguing characters. Randeep is extremely effective as the brutalised and brutal Mahabir. I just wish they had met under different circumstances.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Bravely Default: The Kotaku Review

<Amazon Dealp>

There's an old saying: if it looks like a Final Fantasy, feels like a Final Fantasy, and sounds like a Final Fantasy, it's probably Bravely Default.

Yes, Square Enix's latest sojourn in the well-trod world of medieval fantasy and magical crystals will feel familiar to anyone who has played old Final Fantasy games and other classics. Bravely Default, which is out today in North America, is a lot like Final Fantasy V, and Final Fantasy IX, with a dash of Final Fantasy Tactics. This is a game about four heroes saving the world, and you won't go a minute without being bludgeoned by references to Square's bigger series-and if you don't get the hint from the Phoenix Downs and Firagas, two significant characters are actually named Edea and Steiner.

This Final Fantasy-ish feel-coupled with that series' undeniable decline-has led many pundits to herald Bravely Default as the game Final Fantasy should be. But really, it's found its own groove, jamming alongside its spiritual predecessor, where it can serve more as complement than replacement. Both series have their place in the world of Big JRPG.

And besides, to look at Bravely Default just as an "old-school Final Fantasy" would be missing the point: this is a game that pushes the genre's boundaries in some interesting ways, embracing traditions while simultaneously messing around with features we'd never see in those classic Japanese role-playing games. Some of the ideas are undercooked, like a town-rebuilding feature that's more diversion than depth, while others are brilliant, like a random encounter slider that lets you turn off non-boss battles almost entirely. Bravely Default might feel like a classic game, butat its core, this is an RPG unafraid to experiment.

In many ways, this game is worth savoring. If Bravely Default is RPG comfort food, it's the type of comfort food you see on one of those Food Network shows where the chef has to add her own spin to make some weird-yet-delicious concoction like deep-fried mac-n-cheese or cornbread with bacon syrup. Unusual, yet familiar-that's Bravely Default.

It's a shame the last few bites have such a bad taste.


The classic RPG, for all of its merits and flaws, has a certain sort of rhythm. Play a Dragon Quest or one of those older Final Fantasy s and you'll find yourself following the same routine: enter new town; get mission; stock up; fight through dungeon; beat boss; repeat. Within that structure are the beats of combat, which also have their own rhythm: regular attacks for fodder enemies; buffs and special moves for bosses; heal as necessary. Many of these older games were special not because they broke out of this pattern, but because they distinguished themselves through interesting worlds, clever stories, or killer soundtracks.

Bravely Default changes up this rhythm in some fascinating ways. Take combat, for example. Like many older RPGs, Bravely Default uses a turn-based combat system-your characters line up on one side of a small battlefield, walloping enemies round by round with physical attacks and spells. But instead of just attacking or healing, you've got a crafty alternative here: turn manipulation.

During any round, each of your characters can pick from two pace-shifting options: Brave and Default. Picking Default makes that character defend, storing up her turn to use during a future round. Brave allows that character to use all those extra turns, or borrow up to 3 future turns to use them all at once, at risk of causing some sort of subprime turn mortgage crisis.

This is all reflected with a number called Brave Points (BP). Each character starts a battle with 0 BP. Most attacks and abilities cost one point each, and every character gains one point after every round. If your characters get into negative BP, they're rendered helpless until they climb back to 0. So a character can start off combat with four quick attacks, risking defeat if she doesn't win because she'll lose her defenses for the next three turns, or she can stay conservative and keep building up turns for the future.

It's a clever, unique system that makes turn-based combat more fun than it usually is. You can breeze through random battles by spamming Brave and unleashing as many attacks as possible, knowing that future turns won't matter if you win in the first round. For harder battles, you can use a more conservative strategy, saving and spending turns based on each boss's attack pattern. (Adding more fun to the party: Bosses and other enemies can use the Brave/Default system too.)

But wait-there's more! Your party of four can also acquire and shift between up to 24 different jobs, ranging from traditional (black mage, monk) to unusual (pirate, vampire). By cosplaying as each of these classes, your characters can use their abilities to do damage, heal, and boost stats. Some abilities eventually prove essential against the tougher bosses, and overcoming tough challenges in Bravely Default, like a football game, often amounts to having both the right preparation and the right strategy.

Sometimes it also requires a little level-grinding, particularly if you play like I did, turning off all random encounters as often as possible. Yes, you can turn off random encounters. You can also fast forward through combat... and turn on auto-battle to let your characters repeat the same actions over and over... and skip scenes... and automate dialogue... and turn on airship auto-pilot... and switch difficulty at any time.

Little conveniences are sprinkled everywhere throughout the game; for example, once you've gotten an airship, you can summon it from anywhere-no need to remember where you last parked.

In many ways, Bravely Default is designed to be as user-friendly as possible-at least until you get to the miserable last few chapters. (More on that in a bit.)

Like many RPGs, Bravely Default is a story about political conflict, and corrupt religion, and four heroes who have to save everything. Two of those heroes are fascinating-the foppish Ringabel, best described as a cross between FFXII's Balthier and a sleazy pick-up artist; and spunky Edea, who is smart and courageous and badass in just about every way. The other two-a shepherd named Tiz and a plot device named Agnes-are bland and unremarkable, even annoying at times.

Throughout the game there are a number of optional Tales-like skits that both supplement the story and add some lighthearted moments to the journey.

Most of them are fun to watch.

Most of them are about food.

Many of them are just about how awesome Edea is.

Your enjoyment of these skits will hinge on how much the characters resonate with you. The banter totally worked for me, but if you can't bring yourself to care about Bravely Default's adorable noseless heroes, you also might not care to sit through all these party chats.

Surely you can find someone to like, though-even the most shallow of Bravely Default's non-player characters is entertaining in some way, from the malevolent poison-maker to the enigmatic vampire lord. Guided by a peppy fairy, a perverted sage, and a host of other interesting characters, your band of heroes romps around the world, saving crystals and listening to villains say melodramatic things like "All but the vestal will end here as dew upon my blade."

The faux-medieval dialogue can get little clunky, yeah, but there's one old Final Fantasy tradition here that's very welcome: Bravely Default doesn't take itself too seriously. Characters constantly poke fun at one another, in and out of those optional skits, and there are lots of memorable moments and scenes.

Unfortunately, when the game does take itself seriously, its mechanics get in the way, because your characters are constantly wearing their job outfits, even during cut-scenes. This inevitably leads to Tiz and Agnes having an intimate moment while wearing a ninja mask and a clown suit:

The ranger outfit, which comes with a fox mask, is one of my particular favorites-because nothing says Serious Moment like a fox mask.

On a darker note, we need to talk about the most infuriating part of Bravely Default: the endgame.

Warning: the following section contains light spoilers not for the plot, but for the structure of Bravely Default. Skip if you don't want to know anything about the game's latter chapters.

For some 25 hours, the pacing in Bravely Default is excellent. No scene is too long, and the plot chugs along smoothly, with just enough mystery to keep you invested.

Then, when you get to Chapter 5, everything goes to hell.

"Tedious" is too kind a word for what happens to your party over the next few chapters. In order to get the game's true ending, you'll have to repeat a series of four dungeons-and four boss battles- five times each. Mitigating this repetition are the user-friendly features-pro tip: switch to easy difficulty; turn off random encounters; set battle speed to max-but it's still an unpleasant experience. I got through the boss gauntlet in a few hours, mostly by doing something else while I played, and I have no plans to ever go near it again.

(If you don't mind getting a fake ending, you can skip over a chunk of this-but you still have to go through those dungeons and boss battles 2-3x each.)

Granted, one could argue that at this point in the story, the characters are going through a grueling experience, and that this allows you the player to empathize with that. But a game can be grueling without being boring, and during its final hours, Bravely Default fails at that.

Spoilers end here.

Endgame pacing issues aside, Bravely Default is very good at a lot of things. It's good at staggering new items and classes so you feel like you're progressing surely and rapidly as you play. It's good at throwing you into satisfying boss battles, with villains who have actual personalities and combat strategies to match. It's also excellent at dreaming up a stylish world with a handful of charming sidequests and even some little plot snippets that you won't notice unless you talk to all the townspeople multiple times. Like all the best video games, Bravely Default rewards your curiosity in a satisfying way.

And, yeah, if you play RPGs for stunning production values, this will be your jam. The dungeons are a little stale, but the towns rank among the best visual spectacles I've ever seen in a video game-stay still for a few seconds while standing in a town and the camera will zoom out, revealing some stunning, creative, fascinating locales. One city, nestled in a groove on the side of a volcano, resembles a giant set of armor, forged out of magma and hard steel:

(Shame the 3DS doesn't take screenshots-my iPhone camera doesn't do justice to this art.)

All four of Bravely Default's main cities are nothing short of stunning-artist Akihiko Yoshida is at his peak here. And the music! God, Revo's music. Just try not to fall in love with the ridiculous boss theme the second it starts. It's like Dragonforce on speed. And Edea's track -my god. That sax.

Some of the game's other features are better in concept than execution, and I get the feeling the developers are just establishing foundations that will inevitably evolve and improve in future Bravely games. (Producer Tomoya Asano has already said he wants this to be a massive franchise, with a new Bravely every year.)

Take Norende. Norende is a little city that you can manage over the course of Bravely Default by recruiting villagers via 3DS friends and strangers you pass on the subway or meet online, then using those villagers to construct and enhance buildings. When I first heard about this feature, I thought it'd be a deep mini-game influenced by management games like SimCity or Civilization, but there are no interesting decisions involved here-you just put villagers to work and wait for them to finish. I expected to be able to build and craft and strategize, but really, all you can build is a bunch of shops. It's like a Facebook game-granted, you don't have to pay or spam your friends, but you'll find yourself doing things just for the sake of doing them, not because you enjoy the action.

By the way, you might have heard that there are microtransactions in Bravely Default, but don't freak out-they're totally irrelevant. You can spend extra money to buy SP Drinks-items that let you recharge your SP, which let you slow down time and get extra attacks in battle-but you don't need them at all. You can beat the game without giving Square Enix an extra cent.

People will inevitably refer to Bravely Default as a "classic" RPG-I sure have-but really, this game is more than that. It's the next evolution of a classic RPG, with just enough spice to taste a little bit different than the old Final Fantasys and Dragon Quests and Lunars of the world. Bravely Default is a flawed game, and it's forever marred by its infuriating endgame, but I'm glad it exists-and I'm excited to see what will come next.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Strollers Recalled By Britax Due To Partial Fingertip Amputation Hazard

<toys r us black fridayp>BETHESDA,MD. - This recall involves Britax B-Agile, B-Agile Double and BOB Motion strollers. The single and double strollers were sold in various color schemes, including black, red, kiwi, sandstone, navy and orange. They were manufactured between March 2011 and June 2013 and have the following model numbers: U341763, U341764, U341782 and U341783 for the B-Agile strollers; U361818 or U361819 for the B-Agile Double strollers; and U391820, U391821 and U391822 for the BOB Motion strollers. The model number and the manufacture date in YYYY/MM/DD format can be found on label located on the inside of the stroller's metal frame near the right rear wheel.

Britax has received eight incident reports. Incidents include one partial fingertip amputation, one broken finger and severe finger lacerations.

Consumers should stop using the recalled strollers immediately and contact Britax to receive a free repair kit.

This item was sold at major retailers and juvenile products stores nationwide, and online at,,,, and other online retailers from May 2011 through June 2013 for between $250 and $450.

Consumers should contact Britax; toll-free at (866) 204-1665 from 8:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. ET Monday through Thursday and 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Friday, visit the company's websites at or and click on "Safety Notice" at the top right corner or on "Learn More" at the bottom center of the page, or e-mail for more information.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Mecum in Kissimmee, Barrett-Jackson in Scottsdale: 2014 auction price comparison - Autoweek

If you wanted a 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS, you were better off heading to Kissimmee, Fla. than you were trucking out to Scottsdale, Ariz. this past January.

The major January collector car auctions are over, which means that a new sale season is just beginning -- not that the year-round bidding ever really stops. And while much has been made of the jaw-dropping quarter-billion in sales seen in Arizona, figures detailing Mecum's Jan. 17-26 Kissimmee, Fla., event are just starting to trickle out.

It's not fair to compare Mecum's event to all of the Scottsdale auctions, but parallels between the Florida mega-sale and Barrett-Jackson are easy enough to draw. Mecum showed up with a whopping 3,000 vehicles -- more than all of Scottsdale combined -- but sold only around 1,800. Barrett-Jackson brought 1,388 vehicles and sold 1,382 (as of writing). The selections at both auctions run the gamut from garishly customized late-model SUVs to pristine, numbers-matching muscle cars; take out B-J's premiere "salon" collection and the lineups look even more similar.

Of course, some key differences must be acknowledged: Mecum's Kissimmee event stands alone, while Barrett-Jackson is part of a larger cluster of sales with enough gravitational pull -- Hagerty estimates that roughly 15 percent of all cars auctioned each year change hands in Scottsdale in January -- to draw tens of thousands of enthusiasts, all of them potential bidders. That helps to explain why the sale's $113 million final tally dwarfed Mecum's $60 million take.

Beyond that, B-J's general no-reserve policy means a lot of sheetmetal changes hands very quickly. Look through Mecum's results and you'll see a relatively large number of cars that failed to sell, though we're sure auctioneers prefer to refer to these as "sales still waiting to happen." Buyers might like setting a sale-Promo Code floor because it means they won't have to yield to the high bidder. On the other hand, the prospect of snagging a deal at a no-reserve event could attract bargain-hungry bidders, increasing the chance of a sale...

But we're not experts on bidder psychology or we'd start an auction company, so our opinions here probably don't matter too much to you. All that really matters is whether you should hop a plane to sunny Florida or sunny Arizona if you're craving a collector car come January 2015. The sheer volume of vehicles offered at both Mecum and Barrett-Jackson make some interesting head-to-head comparisons possible.

Let's take a look:

Chevrolet Chevelle SS

Two 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SSs, both equipped with a 454 V8 and a four-speed manual. Both have bucket seats, a center console and white racing stripes. The Barrett-Jackson example (a so-called "stunning re-creation," whatever that means) sold for $54,880; the Mecum example went for $30,000. What gives?

The Mecum car has some aftermarket components, including wheels and Flowmaster exhausts. The B-J Chevelle seems to adhere to original spec. In a world where restorers replicate assembly-line chalk marks, this could help account for the $25,000 difference.

Winner: We'd go with the Mecum car. A set of Flowmasters, aftermarket headers and blinged-out wheels don't alter the car substantially, and they can always be replaced down the road by the originality-obsessed.

Jeep Scrambler

Given the popularity of vintage SUVs, it's surprising that Barrett-Jackson didn't have more Jeep Scrambler pickups to choose from. The one Jeep featured -- a customized 1990 model -- sold for an impressive $27,500. We'd favor the original 1983 Scramblers sold at Mecum; one went for $11,000, another, $20,000.

Winner: Mecum. But keep in mind that a Toyota FJ-40 did sell for over $100,000 in Scottsdale this year; there must be something in the water. Or maybe the vintage SUV craze hasn't hit Florida...yet.

Stutz Blackhawk

An oddball car, sure, but it shows how massive and all-encompassing these auctions are. Mecum's was a steal at only $11,500. No Blackhawks showed up at Barrett-Jackson this year, but last year, the auction house moved one for a whopping $47,300. Why the disparity? The B-J example was owned by Sammy Davis Jr., which has a lot to do with it.

Winner: Inconclusive. Stutz Blackhawk-lovers really missed out on a bargain at Mecum, but the star provenance of the B-J specimen makes a straight comparison difficult.

DeTomaso Pantera

At Mecum, you'd have paid $49,500 to take home a 1974 example of the increasingly desirable Pantera. At Barrett-Jackson, a 1971 car would have set you back $48,400. The difference is originality -- the early B-J car is tuned, to put it mildly, with flashy five-spokes and a nitrous-oxide system. Depending on your perspective, this is either a huge improvement or an unacceptable desecration. Compare that to the "highly original" Mecum car.

Winner: We'd vote for the unmolested car at Mecum, but that's personal preference at play. This one's inconclusive.

1957 Chevrolet Bel Air Hardtop

Both the Barrett-Jackson car and the Mecum car recently enjoyed full restorations; both pack beefy 350 V8s paired with automatic transmissions. But the B-J car sold for $58,300, while the Mecum Bel Air went for a paltry $38,000. The biggest difference, so far as we could discern? The former car looks mean in black; the latter sports a turquoise and white two-tone job. Unless the Mecum seller seriously botched the restoration, we suspect you're paying a huge premium for a very similar car at Barrett-Jackson.

Winner: Mecum, unless you really, really need a black car.

Cadillac Allante

The weird thing about Cadillac Allantes is that they actually seem to be appreciating in value these days for some reason. And they're everywhere -- every non-catalog auction has one or two on the block, and even catalog houses feature them from time to time. Even so, $6,500 seems like a lot to pay for the convertible Caddy -- but that's what it took to win the 1996 car at Mecum. Yet at Barrett-Jackson, two 1993 Allantes sold for $11,000 and $17,600. We're scratching our heads about this phenomenon, but we suppose you can't argue with the market.

Winner if you can call it that: Mecum.

1968 Chevrolet Corvette convertible

At Mecum, you could get an all-original Stingray convertible for $31,000. A freshly restored 'Vette went for $44,000 at Barrett-Jackson. Both had 327 engines and four-speed manuals. We suspect the crisp, restored car presented better, but there's also value in originality.

Winner: A toss-up, really, but we'd lean toward Barrett-Jackson. $44,000 isn't a lot to pay for a concours-quality Stingray convertible; for $31,000, the all-original example had better be nice to justify that sale price. Still, we're tempted to take our chances and go with the original Mecum car here. Unrestored cars come with their own set of problems, but they're only original once (or so they say).

Corvette L88 coupe

The 1967 Corvette L88 coupe sold for an incredible $3,850,000 at Barrett-Jackson, while the 1968 L88 coupe brought in only $510,000 at Mecum. This isn't an apples-to-apples comparison; the earlier L88 is valued at slightly more than twice as much as the latter car, which Hagerty says is worth $1.3 million).

Winner: Inconclusive. The half-million sale price of the '68 L88 fell right in line with its projected value, but someone paid more than triple the projected value of the car at Barrett-Jackson. We have to pin some of that on the fast-paced, frenzied environment the Arizona auction house strives to create, which often results in cars going for far more than their book value. A Mecum sale in Dallas last September saw a 1967 Corvette L88 convertible sell for $3.2 million, so its clear that it doesn't take the glamor (?) of Scottsdale to make bidders crazy for rare fiberglass.

1954 Packard Caribbean convertible

The 1954 Packard Caribbean convertibles aren't quite as highly desired as their flamboyant tri-color '55 siblings, but these stately-yet-fun cars have held their value well over the past decade. A freshly restored example sold for $71,000 in Florida, while a clean, well-maintained car sold for $50,600 in Arizona.

Winner: Tough to say, but we'd lean toward Barrett-Jackson. If the B-J car's story checks out and the car was truly owned and maintained by a former Packard mechanic, we'd choose it over the totally restored Mecum car. Then again, a $20,000 budget won't get you much of a restoration, so you might be better off biting the bullet and paying more for the recently refreshed car. How much do you value originality?

Pontiac Firebird Trans Am

Is there a huge difference between the 1973 Trans Am ( sold at Mecum for $36,000) and the 1975 Trans Am ( sold at B-J for $55,000)? We're not entirely sure why one commanded such a larger premium over the other. Both are 455 V8-equpped cars with four-speed manuals, and both look to be in great shape.

Winner: Mecum. You could buy a lot of cheap beer with that extra $19,000.

The bottom line is that both Mecum and Barrett-Jackson's January events are gargantuan enough to feature bargains and eyebrow-raising high-dollar sales. Yet Mecum's Florida show, which generally hasn't received the publicity of the multi-auction Scottsdale circus, often features near-duplicate cars for many thousands of dollars less. For whatever reason, this seems to be especially true for anything powered by a big American V8.

If Mecum held its event the week before Barrett-Jackson, we'd fill a hauler with muscle cars from the Florida sale and drive straight through to Arizona, where frenzied bidders and handsome profits would almost certainly await us.

The order of the two events is reversed, though, so we'll have to put that dream of arbitrage out of our minds. But if you're looking to put a classic in your garage and you can wait until next January to do it, it might just pay to do some comparison shopping.

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Monday, January 27, 2014

Great Deals on a Variety of Transcend Storage Today on Amazon

Today's Amazon Deal Gold Box features SSDs, SD cards, and external hard drives from Transcend, all at great prices. Here's the complete list:

Though totally unrelated to storage, it's also worth pointing out a second Gold Box deal that features a 6-piece home theater system from JBL for $280, or $70 below the previous low price. Happy shopping!

This post is brought to you by the Commerce Team, a dedicated group of deal hunters and product enthusiasts. We operate independently of Editorial to bring you the best bargains every day, share our favorite products with you, and ask you about yours. When you buy something we recommend, we may also get a small share of the sale. We welcome your questions and want your feedback.

Follow us for the best deals on the Internet, curated for @Gizmodo readers.

- Gizmodo Deals (@dealzmodo) December 9, 2013

Get in touch with me on Twitter or by emailing shep@gawker.

- Shep McAllister (@shepmcallister) December 10, 2013

Should Folk Music Be Kept Out of Classical Music Halls?

There are occasional moments in Bartók's String Quartet No. 1 when the gloom lifts, when the densely woven musical lines pause momentarily for a spot of pure, consonant sunniness. In the string quartets of Beethoven or Brahms, these rare and radiant episodes would have a temporal and harmonic meaning, they would bring the argument to a conclusion, or summation, before moving on with a new idea. But in Bartók's musical language, the effect is almost visual. They don't suggest closure, or rest. Rather, it seems as if the music has been pierced, like sun through a canopy of trees, or the enlightenment of a restless mind finding something definite and tangible in its search for certitude. In a small, intimate way, they remind the listener of one of the most thrilling moments in all of twentieth-century music, the "fifth" door of "Bluebeard's Castle," Bartók's sole opera. When opened by Bluebeard's relentlessly inquisitive new wife, the tyrant's majestic realms are represented in a gigantic, brilliant blast of orchestral sound of music remake, with the stage direction: "in a gleaming torrent, the light streams in."

The first quartet was completed in 1909, when the Austro-Hungarian Empire was a brutal but still vaguely coherent project, when Hungary still held large swaths of Transylvania where Bartók would collect his beloved folk music, and before World War I would remake the map of Europe, geographically, intellectually, artistically, and spiritually. The usual narrative used to explain Bartók's six monumental string quartets maps their evolution along two axes: the composer's musical development and relation to the folk tradition, and his experience as a Hungarian during five of the most tumultuous decades in European history. The first quartet, arguably the composer's first masterpiece, is a prelude to the other five, still connected to the nineteenth century, expressive but less rigorous than the later ones, and not yet fully representative of the peculiar tendency to formal order and motivic complexity that folk music inspired in the older composer. Even those moments of light and illumination are unique to the first quartet, and have no reprise in the more ferociously energetic, even brutal style of his later exercises in the form.

In January, the Takács String Quartet, one of the most respected ensembles performing today, brought complete cycles of the six Bartók quartets to New York's Carnegie Hall, Washington's Kennedy Center, and Stanford University's Bing Concert Hall. Played over two nights, the concerts in Washington were almost sold out, though a ferocious snow storm and bitter cold snap depressed attendance. Yet empty seats made for an even more intense artistic event, whittling an already self-selecting audience down to the most passionate and engaged. These works, a summit of the twentieth-century repertoire, are intellectually exhausting when heard individually; gathered together, they present a challenge to the listener that is almost overwhelming.

The Takács recorded these works twice before, most recently in the 1990s; the response then was admiration, mixed with the caveat that there was still room for their readings to grow and deepen. Today, they are completely at home in the music. Beyond the sheer technical challenge of performing the fiendishly difficult score, the major interpretative issues have to do with finding a workable balance between extremes: complexity and clarity, polyphonic austerity and folk-inflected high spirits. Without a trace of fussiness or ostentation, the Takács finesse the underlying challenge, remaining true to the abstraction of the music while referencing its worldly engagement with infectious rhythmic patterns, its occasional humor and even brief moments of Mahlerian irony (in the last movement of the fifth quartet). Even things that might at first seem a weakness to their approach are, after sustained listening, obvious virtues. Is the violin tone perhaps a bitter spidery and thin? Perhaps, but the resulting ensemble texture is the more unified and balanced for that. Is the viola just a tad wooly and woofy? Possibly, but its distinctive timbre makes it easier for the ear to find easily lost inner lines.

There is a bad habit of pretending that concert music needs the charisma of folk music to widen its appeal.

A note in the program book tells listeners that the Takács often collaborate artistically with the Hungarian folk ensemble Muzsikás, "whose sense of adventure and joyful abandon has hopefully crept into our performances." This is worrying. The influence of folk music, processed in Bartók at a level far deeper than quotation or pastiche, is everywhere present in these quartets, but there is a bad habit of pretending that concert music needs the charisma of folk music to widen its appeal. Bartók, and his Romanian counterpart George Enescu, turned to folk music for reasons quite different than, say, Vaughan Williams or Dvořák, who sought engaging, ready-made melodic material. The folk music of Eastern Europe was disruptive, dissonant, and dizzyingly complicated on the rhythmic level. The turn to folk music was not, for Bartók, nostalgic, but rather a way forward. What he found there wasn't simplicity, but density, and in that density was a modernity as vital as anything hatched in the musical systems of Paris and Vienna.

Transylvanian folk style also foregrounded ornament in a way that breaks down the usual sense that ornament is something inessential but attractive pasted onto the deeper, structural substance of the music. In Bartók's processing of folk music, these small turns and mordant-like figures become essential motivic material, and even the most alert listeners rely on their recurrence to find a way through the musical thickets.

So one wonders whether inspiration from an actual folk ensemble may well be misdirection, leading the interpreters to highlight a superficial sense of folksiness that Bartók never intended. Fortunately, whatever the Takács may have learned from Muzsikás, it hasn't resulted in any simple-minded fetishization of the ostinato patterns, modal melodic figures, or the freely improvisational "hora lunga" style he occasionally used as a thematic template. Compared to another great Hungarian ensemble, the Végh Quartet (which produced an important Bartók cycle in the 1970s), the Takács keep rusticity at bay, acknowledging it but always within its appropriately processed and abstracted musical frame. Lesser Bartók performers, determined to make the music more engaging, make it more episodic, and everything that falls between the occasional episodes of fiddling, dancing, and perpetual motion breathlessness just sounds like filler. The Takács' readings are more integrated and organic, with the focus on the music's continual and frenetic development rather than its pure drama and atmosphere.

The more one listened, the more remote and odd Bartók's aesthetic seemed. The musical voice, the stylistic fingerprint, was always recognizable over the course of almost four hours of music. But compare the Bartók quartets to the 15 quartets of Shostakovich, and one hears an almost desperately single minded consistency in the former. Shostakovich's cycle is deeply personal, and often imbued with a profound sense of fear; Bartók's is strangely depersonalized, and more focused on anxiety. Although fear can be based on a false sense of danger, anxiety is a more ungrounded emotion, free floating, detached from immediate causes or explanations. While fear can be dispelled, anxiety is ever present, lifting on occasion but always settling back in. Even at its most calm and reflective, as in the lento movement of the Fourth Quartet, one never senses any slackening of Bartók's obsessional need to keep control of the music. His relation to his musical materials is like our relation to the world: One must keep a grip, and keep moving.

So the music is always anxious, always driving forward, which is both exhausting and exhilarating, and perhaps that's why Bartók's endings-ironically anticlimactic, humorously flippant, pompously emphatic-are so appealing. By the time Bartók ends something, no honest listener could claim to want to hear more. The idea, the gesture, the mood has been wrung out, used up, finished off. And then it's on to the next thing, with renewed energy and relentlessness.

When the critic George Steiner published his T.S. Eliot Lectures (delivered in 1971 at Kent University), he chose a title from Bartók: " In Bluebeard's Castle: Some Notes Towards the Redefinition of Culture." The opera inspired him because of the metaphor of the door, the obsessional need to keep opening them, even at our peril.

We open successive doors in Bluebeard's castle because "they are there," because each leads to the next by a logic of intensification which is that of the mind's own awareness of being. To leave one door closed would be not only cowardice but a betrayal-radical, self-mutilating-of the inquisitive, probing, forward-tensed stance of our species.

This was Steiner's best hope for hope, after the brutality of World War I, the obscenity of Hitler, ages of anti-Semitism, and the terrors of the post-war age, especially its predation on what was once called, without embarrassment, Culture. It is also a perfect description of the powerful, dutiful, heroic denial of self in Bartók's string quartets, which also proceed by a logic of intensification, and which leave the listener grasping at "the mind's awareness of being." Leaving the second concert, I slipped into a taxi, the driver of which was playing something loud, pop, and auto-tuned on the radio. I didn't recognize it, not just the artist or the song, or the purpose or the meaning, but the basic imprint of authentic human creativity. But it was engaging noise, and I drifted off into a dull submission to its repetitive energy. With a fleeting sense of sadness, "the inquisitive, probing, forward-tensed stance of our species" fled from the mind, replaced by something easier and emptier, neither serene nor focused, but hypnotically disengaged. After hours of Bartok, the very category "music" seemed incapable of stretching wide enough to encompass what the Takács do, and what the singer on the radio was doing.

Image via Shutterstock

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