Archive for the 'Music' Category

A Potent Blend

Monday, March 3rd, 2008

I’ve recently been thinking about music more. Music is a very important part of my life and digital music has allowed people (like me) to adapt their music—that is, the music they listen to as opposed to that which they create—in a more significant way than was possible or at least practical previously. Collections of songs aren’t anything new nor are they particularly heralded by digital formats, but they’re significantly easier to create than previous methods allowed and the collections themselves no longer need artificial limitations such media capacity (tape length, etc.) although there still are limitations depending on device or storage but when we’re talking about subsets in the thousands of songs from collections many times that it’s functionally a non-issue.

Actually, length is kind of significant for the things I’ve been thinking about because what I’m trying to determine is the best method for creating The Mix, which is to say a semi-definitive collection of songs that are ideally suited for the broadest number of occasions. I don’t know about you but my music listening tends to be based on a huge number of factors that range from current mood to present setting to company to the number of times I’ve heard a particular song, artist or album in the recent past. Making a good mix or playlist can be difficult because the requirements may be drastically different from moment to moment.

But ignoring the potential impossibility of the task for a moment, I’m still working on a formula for what I’ll redefine as the most adaptable mix possible. It may help to further define the premise for the mix which is why after much thought I’ve decided that the easiest way to get a really great mix is to try to musically define myself through this project. My assumption is that if I try to cover all aspects of my personality with a song or two, I have the best chance of creating something that is likely to resonate, at least in part, regardless of time or place.

All fine and good. But what of the earlier question of length? My initial thought was to make it limitless. With iPods that hold dozens of hours of music or even entire libraries of songs and even inexpensive low-capacity devices that can hold several hundred songs there’s hardly cause for imposing limitations, right? But the problem is that there is fundamentally no difference between that and, say, having my whole music collection on a high-capacity device and setting the whole thing to “Shuffle Library.” Technically speaking, that is me in a musical nutshell since at some point for some reason I acquired those songs.

So I think the premise if it is to be successful requires some kind of parameters. My reasoned opinion is that the list should be limited by time and not song count and the cutoff should be two and a half hours. That’s roughly two and a half CDs which is plenty sufficient for most normal music-listening situations be it travel time, a stretch of work or as background for another activity (like a social gathering perhaps). It’s long enough that a second playthrough will probably not be onerous since each track’s appearance is theoretically a couple of hours apart but not so long that you’d have to wait forever to hear a particular inclusion and is plenty of room to include a broad cross section of most people’s libraries, including a full album or two if that’s your bag. The key is that you can come in as far under the limit as you wish, but you cannot go over.

Okay, so the ground rules are set now… how do you choose which songs to include? Assuming an average song length of three and a half minutes, two and a half hours gives you a bit more than 40 songs to include. Obviously there will be wiggle room if you include a lot of punk songs and less if you’re partial to progressive rock epics. Still, using that number as a guideline here’s what I came up with:

  • 5 songs that make you want to dance.
  • 4 songs whose lyrics seem to be about you.
  • 3 songs that remind you of younger days.
  • 3 songs that reinforce your good moods.
  • 2 songs you’d learn if you picked up a new instrument.
  • 2 songs that pick you up when you’re feeling down.
  • 2 songs that make you feel normal for feeling down.
  • 2 songs whose music seems to be written for you.
  • 2 songs that reflect your spirituality.
  • 1 song that puts sad times into perspective.
  • 1 song you associate with the saddest time in your life.
  • 1 song that makes you hopeful for the future.
  • 1 song that puts a good mood into perspective.
  • 1 song you associate with the happiest time in your life.
  • 1 song you can’t help but sing along with.
  • 1 song you can’t hope to sing well but wish you could.
  • 1 song that soothes you when you’re angry.
  • 1 song you feel is the most romantic thing you’ve ever heard.
  • 1 song that represents your greatest regret.
  • 1 song that represents your greatest triumph.
  • 1 song you’d want played during the closing credits of a movie about your life.
  • 1 song you’d want played during the intro credits of a movie about your life.
  • 1 instrumental.
  • 1 guilty pleasure song.

Any additional space you have left can be used however you see fit and if you run overtime you can always trim the multiple song categories down, but this is the template I’m using.

So what do you think? Does this cover all the bases? Is the format flawed? What would your Mix sound like? Use the comments below or contact me at paul@ironsoap.org with feedback and I’ll be back tomorrow to let you know what I came up with.

The Occasional Taste

Thursday, January 10th, 2008

I’ve been sick for the last few days with a pretty hefty cold. I thought it was the flu at first because of the general sense of achy unpleasantness and chills, but after staying home on Wednesday and having it not manifest with the usual aches and fever I’m inclined to believe it’s merely an industrial-strength common cold.

I’m still recovering but I’ve been doing a lot of lying around and thinking so I have a few unconnected thoughts and anecdotes to share, in a familiar format.

  • For reasons that won’t make sense unless you’re a gamer who owns an Xbox 360 and an OCD-afflicted psychopath such as myself, I purchased a copy of Madden 06 for under $5 from my local game store and have been simulating thirty seasons worth of games. What’s significant about this is that, according to the software, the 49ers won’t win the Super Bowl again until the year 2033. Just something to look forward to.
  • I’m reading a wonderful book by Naomi Klein called “No Logo” about marketing, advertising and branding. There is a passage in the book that stuck with me:

    The people who line up for Starbukcs, writes CEO Howard Shultz, aren’t just there for the coffee. “It’s the romance of the coffee experience, the feeling of warmth and community people get in Starbucks stores.”

    I guess that’s why I dislike Starbucks. Here I thought they made bad coffee and served them in pretentious and ubiquitous locations. Turns out the make pretentious and ubiquitous locations in which to serve bad coffee.

  • Our band name (comprised of myself on “vocals,” Nik on guitar, HB on drums and Gin as a roadie/groupie, but soon she’ll play bass… I just don’t have another guitar-shaped controller) is “Joey Big Hat is a Bit Much.” It’s completely an inside joke and probably not a very funny one at that. However, it still cracks me up whenever I think about it.
  • The above bullet refers to Rock Band, which Nik bought me for my birthday.
  • However, I’ve decided that this year I will buy a new guitar (I’m thinking Fender Telecaster), Nik has indicated that she wants to take guitar lessons and Lister has indicated that once he returns from overseas he wants to get a bit more serious about forming a jam band so music is on people’s minds. There may one day be a real-life variant of JBHiaBM. We probably won’t cover Bon Jovi’s “Dead or Alive” however.
  • My folks sent me a very kind gift for my birthday which was essentially funds to be converted into San Jose Sharks tickets. I did some digging around and found that you can actually buy unwanted season tickets for a single game through Ticketmaster which seems to be the only way to get lower-reserve seating. But I found that the price differs wildly depending on what team is visiting. For example, for about $60 a ticket I can get lower-reserve center ice tickets (row 25) and see the Sharks play the Columbus Blue Jackets. For those same seats I can see them play the Anaheim Ducks… for $300 each.
  • I’m probably going to see the Blue Jackets.
  • We went and saw Juno on New Year’s Eve. It’s an exceptional movie.
  • Just days before my birthday I went to the eye doctor as a sign of solidarity with Nik, who was going because she’s had terrible migraines for about a month now and her doctor suggested she may be having vision trouble (the actual doctorese-to-English translation of that is “I have no idea what’s wrong, so hows about a stab in the dark?”). I hadn’t had my eyes checked in a very long while so I went along, assuming my vision was still 20/20. It’s not. Now I need glasses. Strangely, Nik and I need practically the same prescription.
  • I have no delusions that people who meet me or pass me on the street are fooled into thinking I’m anything but a nerd. However, for those few who may have been blinded by the ruse, I think glasses ought to remove all doubt.
  • Truthfully, I’m okay with that. However, with my basketball-shaped noggin, hairless pate and the chunky Buddy Holly style glasses I went with, I fear I may end up resembling Dr. Bunsen Honeydew.

We Know Everything Was Built to Expire

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2007

Engage random mode.

  • I’m not entirely sure what Buccigross is babbling about for much of his column, but the Mailbag section has a “Jeremy” from “Dallas” complaining about the dark jerseys being worn in NHL home games. Buccigross says Reebok’s new uniforms next year will reinstate the light home jerseys. Noo! I’d much rather see the superior dark jerseys when I get a chance to go to a game. In fact, I think all sports should have dark unis at home, light on the road.
  • Speaking of hockey, the Sharks went up 2-1 with a fitting 2-1 victory on Monday. They looked a little better. Not a lot better, but a little. I still think we should be winning these games by two or more goals and not from empty-netters, either. Detroit just ain’t that good. Buccigross has a point when he says the Sharks need to play with more fire because the talent is there, I’m just a little worried about how much they want it.
  • Last hockey notes regarding other series this round: The Ducks pulled off the comeback upset to go up 3-1; I didn’t see the comeback but the Sharks had better learn from Vancouver’s mistakes here because I see a lot of similarities between Vancouver and San Jose… the Sharks just have a little better luck. That will run out eventually. Luongo is really good but he can’t win alone and the Canucks have to figure out how to make the Ducks pay when they take penalties or there will be no reason for Chris “Cheap Shot” Pronger to not play his miserable brand of hockey all day long. Meanwhile, the Rangers tied up the series with another controversial video replay. I totally think the right call was made from the replay but I would have liked to see a better call on the ice and is it just me or did that whole sequence show that the overhead cameras above the goals need to be of much better quality? Two more frames in there or a better center-ice camera zoom and that’s a goal. It’s gotta be frustrating as heck to essentially lose a game due to technological limitations. At least the Sabres are heading back to home ice. I really want them to advance: They play hard and that ought to be rewarded.
  • Dr. Mac turned me on to Goozex, which has the dumbest name in history but is a really cool video game trading service.
  • On one hand, I felt like the time travel episode of Heroes did all the things I hate about SciFi time travel stories: Had no internal consistency, overlooked obvious paradoxes, muddled the story unnecessarily and introduced scenarios that had no logical explanation. On the other hand, the intent of the device was so compelling and—mind-bending anti-logic aside—so well executed that for once I found myself not really caring. One thing that Heroes has done better than any show I can think of is really make me trust the writers to come up with something awesome. I watched and do watch other serialized shows with a lot of apprehension that at some point they’ll drop the ball and just go off on a really dumb tangent (I fought this fear with the X-Files for six seasons before it became clear that the mythology had done exactly that; I continue to fight with Lost on this matter) forcing me to lose interest. There are three episodes of Heroes left and I have no doubt that they’ll be awesome. I’m even done questioning Niki because so far even things that are slower to develop (like Future Hiro) turn out to be really cool. </fanboy>
  • I watched The Last King of Scotland thinking it would be really good because I like Forest Whitaker as an actor and a lot of critics I tend to agree with really loved it. Whitaker’s performance was good but the movie itself was stupid. I think part of it was that I had no sympathy for the main character (who is not the Forest Whitaker character) and sort of wished he would go away. It’s hard to be repulsed by a villainous character when the protagonist is reprehensible himself: There is no contrast. Also, it gets really graphically violent at the end but is handled in a sort of schlocky, gratuitous manner. Dumb.
  • On the flip side, Nik and I went and saw Hot Fuzz, which was great. Even better than Shaun of the Dead, I thought, and I really liked Shaun. Word of warning though: Hot Fuzz is also over-the-top graphically violent (but the schlock works here because the whole movie is silly/serious like that) so don’t be surprised like Nik was.
  • I’m totally digging the new Modest Mouse album, We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank. Most people would probably listen to it and go, “uh, what?” But I love it. Brilliantly weird.
  • We have actual cable-box-based Comcast now (versus the straight-from-the-wall boxless variety) and cable internet instead of DSL. For one thing, I know it may be anecdotal but I’ve always had much, much better speeds from cable than DSL. So it’s nice to have our broadband actually feel like broadband again. But since it’s been three years since we had a cable box, there are a couple of really cool things they have going now. One is the serial cable from the TiVo actually works now so I don’t have to use the stupid flaky IR solution which basically makes the TiVo have to try to change the channel as if it were pressing buttons on a remote control. Predictably it failed a number of times when we had to do it before, usually right before key programs like season finales were about to air. The other is Comcast’s On Demand service which I was skeptical about but I find to be very cool. I make the analogy that it’s kind of like watching someone else’s TiVo. You don’t necessarily have exactly what you want, but there is probably something in there worth your while. I just wish I didn’t have to pay $14.99 if I want to get FSN Plus. True, it doesn’t matter much now because all the NHL games are either on the main channel or nationally broadcast, but during the regular season I found it exceptionally annoying that a game was televised but I couldn’t watch it because I didn’t get the stupid channel.

A Final Story

I’ve got only two computers any longer: My trusty iBook G4 which is sadly having some display issues but still runs like a champ for the most part and a first generation Mac Mini which serves as our “household” computer and is shared by Nik and I. The Mini has all our iTunes stuff and we use it for general web surfing, email and pretty much anything that doesn’t get too geeky.

Since we purchased the Mini, it has been connected to an old 17″ Viewsonic CRT that was probably on its last legs a year before I hooked it to the Mini and has a horrible lack of brightness and a gargantuan footprint. When we moved to the new place we bought a new desk to replace the monstrosity I bought back when I had about twelve computers running at any given point in time (and another half dozen in various states of disuse or disrepair). The old desk was an official computer desk with all kinds of nooks and cubby holes for software, instruction manuals, CPU towers and so forth. It was, with the introduction of the Mini and the consolidation of the operating computers, grossly overwrought for its intended function.

So we got a nice, normal desk and put the beast in the garage to serve as a workbench. Of course the problem with the new desk was that without all the extraneous compartments we really needed a monitor that didn’t monopolize the whole thing. So I found a great deal online for a 19″ widescreen LCD monitor from Staples: $150 including shipping for a brand-name model. That was, I found, a good $25 cheaper than any other comparable deal—before tax and shipping. Sold. I got my order confirmation from Staples a few hours after I placed the order and was happy to know it would be delivered the next day so I could get it set up right away. After all, we’d been sharing my flaky-screened iBook for a week or more and it was about time to get things set up again.

The day of the delivery I used UPS’s website to track the order. It said it was scanned into the shipping center in Sacramento sometime Tuesday morning (the 24th) and would be shipped sometime that day. I got home from work around 11 in the morning and waited around for the guy to show. Sometime around four thirty I started to get concerned so I called UPS directly and asked what would happen if they didn’t get it to me by five o’clock. The operator told me their business day ended at 7:30 pm, so there was actually plenty of time left for it to arrive. I accepted that and went back to waiting.

7:30 on Tuesday came and went and eventually I got some sleep and woke up later that evening to go to work. I didn’t get a lot of sleep so I dragged through Wednesday morning’s shift and came home hoping to see a “Sorry we missed you!” note on the door. It wasn’t there, but I was too tired to care. I collapsed into bed and slept until Nik got home. Still no monitor. There wasn’t much to do about it at that point so I put it out of my mind and decided to worry about it the next day.

The next morning I woke up fairly early with a list of things to do. I started unpacking some of the millions of boxes that were still around from the move while I listened for the doorbell that would indicate the monitor had finally arrived. By one in the afternoon my unpacking was making progress, but my patience was wearing thin. I checked the UPS website for tracking again and noted with some confusion that a new entry was listed: Sometime the day before the package was scanned into the distribution center in Las Vegas, Nevada. I picked up the phone and talked to an operator who was less than helpful. She offered to send a message to the Las Vegas center and have someone there call me back within an hour. I told her that their promises to do something within a certain timeframe was in question so I didn’t want to hang up and waste another hour. Was there someone else I could talk to? The Las Vegas rep, for example.

I was told that UPS uses a messaging-based system and could not directly transfer the call to Las Vegas. I suggested they might want to consider upgrading their system beyond that of the Pony Express and she offered to let me talk to a manager. I agreed.

The manager, Amy, was like most customer service managers: Practiced in her courtesy but nothing remotely resembling sincere. She apologized and I told her I didn’t really care if she was sorry, I only cared if she could get me my monitor. She said there was nothing more she could do but if I hung in there, it would arrive the following day for sure. She also offered to reimburse the shipping fees. I sighed and thanked her for her help, but I asked for and got her direct phone number. Just in case.

When I hung up I called Staples. I knew they had done their part, but I wanted to know how much the shipping fees had cost. The nice lady at Staples told me that the cost to me for shipping was nothing: All orders for more than $50 came with complimentary next-day shipping paid for by Staples out of their UPS account. I verified that when UPS refunded the cash, it would go to Staples and not me. I was told this was correct. For her part she offered me a coupon even though her company was blameless in the whole thing, and I thanked her. She told me if I continued to have problems to call back and they would see what they could do to help.

The next day I waited somewhat less patiently until sometime before noon, than I called again. I was quickly run up the chain until I spoke to some supervisor (not Amy) who told me that they weren’t, in fact, sure what had happened or even where my package was at the moment. I asked with some confusion how they were going to get me the monitor that day if they didn’t know where it was. The supervisor then told me there was no way it would come to me Friday. The best I could do was to contact the shipper (Staples) and have them institute a “trace” which was a formal investigation into the whereabouts of a lost package. I asked what that would do for me and was told it “might find my package.” I indicated that was not acceptable.

She said she understood my frustration and I—well, I didn’t exactly lose it but any calm, understanding demeanor I might have had vanished. I told her my frustration was not to be understood, it was to be expected at that point and I demanded to know what she planned to do to make good on their blunder. She said, “Nothing.” I informed her that it hadn’t even been close to pleasure doing business with her and hung up. I had nothing more to say. If she wasn’t going to help me, then I didn’t care. I called Staples.

For their part, Staples was exemplary in the whole mess. As soon as I explained what had just happened, they offered to ship me a new monitor at no charge. When I hung up and realized after talking to Nik that it would be much smarter to have it delivered to her work instead of our home, I called back and they cheerfully updated my shipping information. The only unfortunate part was that they don’t ship on the weekends so it wouldn’t be until Monday when the replacement order got out of the warehouse.

I never heard from UPS again.

Yesterday, nine days since my “next day” package was supposed to arrive, I picked up the monitor from Nik’s office.

On the up side, the monitor is beautiful and has a tiny, insignificant footprint which makes for lots of extra room on the desk. I brought the old CRT from the apartment, just in case, and it’s sitting in the garage. When I do my next round of unpacking I’ll toss it away. Good riddance.

On the down side I feel like UPS has really got a racket going on. The problem is that my default threat of taking my business elsewhere isn’t practical with UPS because so often when you order something to be shipped to you, you don’t have the choice of how that shipment takes place. Amazon.com, for instance, will continue to use UPS whether I want to pay for UPS service or not. My alternative is to simply not take advantage of online shopping and that’s almost more of a punishment for me than it would be for UPS, not to mention the small online stores I would in turn be refusing to support.

I wonder what the correct way to handle this is? Let it go? Better Business Bureau? Buy FedEx stock? It’s annoying how callous UPS can not only have the audacity to be but can afford to be. What is their motivation for trying to make me happy? It’s not like they will realistically lose my business nor would it matter to them if they did. As far as they’re concerned they ate the cost of the shipping so their conscience is clear, but that leaves me stranded either trying to get additional restitution from a company that did no wrong (Staples) or forced to simply eat crow.

By the by, I hate crow.

So the best I can do is say any time you have a choice, I encourage you to use someone other than UPS. Trust me, it’s not worth the hassle.

I Have Proof

Wednesday, February 14th, 2007

I finally finished my photo essay which chronicles in a poignant way just exactly how bizarre my workplace can be. Each photo has been documented and annotated so you don’t have to scratch your head wondering why Pepsi is weird. I should apologize for the quality of the pictures: Most of them are pretty bad, photography-wise. Also I realized that I have my camera settings way too dark which applies to both indoor and outdoor shots so I need to a) color correct my photos and b) break out the camera manual and figure out what I’m doing wrong. I think you’ll at least get the idea.

Also, while I’m linking stuff, I’ve been working my way through the new-in-2006 albums I acquired last year and doing mini-reviews of them in my Last.fm journal. I still have a half dozen or so more to go, but parts one and two are all set to go right now.

Other than that I don’t have too much to report. Heroes was really good last night (it’s amazing how in two episodes they managed to undo a lot of the tedium of the Niki storyline and make it exciting, although DL’s non-role last night was a bit odd) and I thought last week’s Lost return was pretty solid as well. Work is still occasionally throwing me for a loop especially when people try to helpfully schedule events around my on-duty hours. I genuinely appreciate the courtesy but in all honesty I don’t have much gumption after a night of work: Ten hour days make for a nice brief week but they have their downsides. I, of course, realize that not everything can happen on Thursdays and Fridays and it makes logical sense to have appointments at noon or one in the afternoon; but the way I have tried to set up my sleep patterns makes that sort of plan stressful since I seem to feel like I’m constantly checking the clock and doing mental calculations for how much sleep I’m losing.

I guess that’s really kind of dumb anyway since no matter what I do I end up getting behind in sleep by the end of my week. Tonight, for example, will be a long one. But at least I have nice lengthy weekends to recover. At any rate all of this is likely to change in the fairly near future anyway since there are some changes a-comin’ within the team and actually in the company as a whole. Mostly these are good changes, so it is—as far as I know—nothing but positive.

Hitting the Notes

Wednesday, February 7th, 2007

Steve Jobs, it seems, would like to have iTunes Music Store sell music that is unencumbered by DRM. Meanwhile, the RIAA thinks you’re getting a sweetheart deal when you buy a CD and has decided that no infraction is too small to trot out the slavering law-dogs.

The whole thing is starting to really bore me. Jobs is absolutely right when he points out that the RIAA companies themselves are the primary suppliers of non-DRM music (although they’ve certainly stooped to some impressive lows to try and change that). Look, I know that sharing digital music anonymously online especially in a coordinated peer-to-peer effort (like Kazaa or Limewire) is a questionable interpretation of Fair Use. Back in the day, there was no other recourse and I can honestly say that at this point any music I may have acquired in that way has either been deleted or, probably more likely, replaced by a legitimate copy. Which is what we were saying all along: “We don’t mind paying for it, but you charge too much, are behind the times and you release too much crap for us to experiment so we’ll do it our own way, thanks.”

Turns out we were right and once someone caught up with the consumers and offered legitimate alternatives many of us supported those efforts and we appreciate most of what has been done to try and make experimentation more palatable. Which doesn’t mean that all my music is strictly legal by the RIAA’s definition. I share some music on non-public networks with close friends because, well, that’s what I’ve always done way back to when my buddies and I would make mix tapes and copies of albums on cassette for each other. Music is a wonderfully dynamic thing that has both individual/personal aspects as well as social/community aspects. Mostly I think the RIAA wants to squelch the social aspects of enjoying recorded music because it isn’t profitable for them. Not that it couldn’t be, if they put some creative energy into it, but they’re too busy fighting a losing war to keep their old models and paradigms in place (and spreading an immeasurable amount of ill-will in the process) to be bothered trying to roll with the punches.

I’m tired of hoping the RIAA will wake up one day and realize that abusing their customers is a brain-dead business model. But at least it sounds like someone with half an ounce of clout gets it, so even while my hope wanes there is always the chance that I could be pleasantly shocked one day.

That’s the great thing about being cynical: When you’re right, you expected it all along. When you’re wrong, it’s like the best gift ever.

Bullet the Blue ‘Soap

Monday, November 6th, 2006
  • According to the latest poll, very few people here are taking my advice and watching Heroes. Get with it people, I’m telling you: It rules. Of course now I said that and someone will tune in tonight and the episode will completely flop.
  • My resistance to continued griping about the officiating in the NHL this season can no longer win. What exactly are these refs smoking prior to the games? Cheechoo booted for boarding a guy he hit in the faceoff circle and lost contact with for at least six feet before either player came anywhere near the boards?! An awkward and dangerous fall, sure. Fortunate that he was okay, certainly. Game misconduct? Uh, no. Also, two goals called back including one from a penalty to Mike Grier in which the goalie went back to play the puck and fell over his own stick? So, just to be clear: Hitting a defenseless San Jose goaltender in the back and throwing his head to the boards is okay; a San Jose player being in the vicinity of a clumsy netminder: two minutes in the box for interference. Got it. Just wanted to be clear.
  • I’m grouchy today because I’ve had a headache since Saturday. Have you ever seen parents of an infant try to placate the mysteriously fussy child? They feed them, change them, play with them, try to get them to sleep, and the baby remains grouchy. I feel like that with my head. I’ve eaten plenty, I’ve tried taking naps, I’ve taken Tylenol and ibuprofen, I’ve taken warm showers to relax my muscles and so on and so forth. Nothing seems to work for longer than about twenty minutes. It’s not so bad that I can’t function normally, but it’s annoying as all get out.
  • I saw a friend of mine this weekend who isn’t around too often since he decided to move overseas. He has been pestering the old XBox Live crew to upgrade to the 360 to we can get our online gaming on again and he point-blanked me with the question, “When are you getting a 360?” The sad thing is that I’ve already been thinking about it quite a bit and even broke down and included it on my wishlist so his question nearly broke my spirit clean in half. On one hand I absolutely don’t need any more goofy toys and on that same hand I have a vacation coming up, Nik and I are getting ready to move for the first time in three years and Christmas is right around the corner so monetarily it isn’t going to fly. But on the other hand: Shiny graphics and online gizmos!
  • In preparation for leaving my current job I’m tasked with cleaning out my work-provided laptop PC. I had forgotten how annoying it is to try and clean yourself off of a computer you’ve used for any significant amount of time (for me that’s about two and a half days).
  • I bought a few CDs last week including the new Muse album and Wolfmother’s disc. Both bands have a kind of 70s throwback feel with Wolfmother channeling Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Jethro Tull while Muse can at times be likened to Queen and Rush. It’s sort of cool although occasionally Wolfmother crosses the line between homage and outright thievery but both were worth the somewhat abbreviated prices ($10 and $11 respectively from Rasputin’s). One strange thing though, I noticed that I very much enjoyed Muse’s work when played from beginning to end in the original album order. When I listened to it again later on random, it wasn’t nearly as good. I’ve never encountered that before, I wonder why that is?
  • Above I noted that Nik and I are gearing up for a move which has been necessitated by my new job acquisition since the distance from our current apartment to the new office is, according to Google, 66 miles compared to the 29 miles I travel now. More significantly, travel to the new office from our current location during normal work and commute times would require sitting it no fewer than five heavy traffic spots. If we end up where we’ve started looking, I’ll reduce that to three traffic spots and the mileage will be about halved to 34 miles.
  • Also regarding traffic and commuting, some relief is in sight since there is a strong chance I’ll end up working at least some graveyard shifts (which would basically eliminate the traffic concerns) although Nik is not exactly thrilled with the idea of having certain evenings entirely to herself. Even if I do end up exclusively working grave shifts, they do run a 4×10 schedule which will give me three nights at home per week (ideally Thursday, Friday and Saturday) so I’ll be home for a pretty large part of the week. We’ll be all backward in our sleeping schedules, but I’m confident some sort of arrangement can be made.
  • Tomorrow’s voting is going to be somewhat unpleasant since I have to get up very early in order to make it happen, being that I have two tickets to the Sharks game tomorrow night. The elections are really stupid this year with practically every ballot measure being some sort of smokescreen to bilk more cash out of Californians and (as usual) 98% of the candidates running for office being either schmucks or despicable wastes of oxygen. But I feel even more inclined to vote in elections like this when the options are all really lame because I honestly shudder to think what your average Californian would come up with on some of this stuff without my expert guidance.
  • So what is standard procedure when leaving a place of employment for handling all the lame company schwag they dump on you? As of this moment I have it all sort of sitting in my cube where it is of no harm to me or anyone else, but I have no need for a goofy (and highly illegible) desk clock branded with this company’s logo, nor do I need a laptop bag, a wine glass or a stress ball, all adorned with corporate branding. My inclination is to just toss it but I’m afraid that might be construed as excessively rude, so am I to take it home and then junk it there? How is that really better? I guess it’s a matter of plausible deniability; where they can go on thinking I cherished this stuff long after I departed when in fact it all ended up, blissfully out of their realm of knowledge, in a dumpster at my apartment complex. Still, a large part of me wonders what kind of doofus would actually care enough to keep track one way or the other.
  • I just learned that Lister got himself a Nintendo DS. Looks like local multiplayer goodness (as opposed to WiFi multiplayer goodness which Dr. Mac and I have had trouble co-ordinating) is about to be on.
  • Turns out I have nothing else to talk about. I guess it’s time to go back to counting the minutes until tonight’s Heroes episode.
  • Actually I do have one last observation: I am a total dork.

Land of the Living

Tuesday, October 17th, 2006

Whew.

It’s good to be back. Typically when I’m sick I spend a lot of time doing the kinds of things I like to do even when I’m not sick like playing video games and reading, that sort of thing. Then when I end up feeling well enough to go back to work, I kind of miss the free time to do whatever, you know?

Not this time. I had possibly the worst sick week (plus) ever this time around and it was nothing even close to fun. In fact I felt so bad the whole time that it was actually a pain to watch TV or movies, although that’s pretty much all I did. Even with the TiVo and Nikki constantly making runs to Hollywood Video to pick up movies for me to watch (eventually she just rented a whole season of 24 for me to watch which shut me up for a good four days) I was still scraping the bottom of the entertainment barrel quite a bit. I guess that’s what happens when you’re at home sick for 10 days straight, but it left me with a new appreciation for the time I have to do other, more interesting things.

As a matter of fact I got a new perspective and appreciation for pretty much everything in my life while I was sick. Being too miserable to sleep or eat or do much of anything for that long leaves a lot of time for thought and I kind of started realizing how much of my life I spend being grumpy about really pointless things. I came to a lot of other conclusions about some of the unfortunate choices I’ve been making lately mostly in terms of my attitude toward things that are either not worth the bother or indifferent attitudes toward things that actually do matter and hopefully I’ll try to be better about that. I suppose the only positive thing that came from being sick is that I got (hopefully) an improved perspective on my life. Something about absence making the heart grow fonder would probably be aproppriate here, if not tiresomely clichéd.

Anyway, I don’t have a lot of time or anything since I’m still trying to play catch up from all that time I missed out on, but I did have a few things I wanted to say today before I forget:

  • One of the many movies I watched last week was Double Indemnity, an old 1944 black and white noir picture starring Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck and Edward G. Robinson. It’s really quite good (although I liked The Big Sleep better) as many of the old pictures I’ve been watching have been. Unfortunately, I’m starting to run out of ideas for old movies to watch. I fully confess that this is due to ignorance and not a lack of quality material to check out; the next couple I have coming from Netflix are From Here to Eternity, All About Eve, The Guns of Navarone, Suspicion, M, Touch of Evil and The 39 Steps. Anyone know some others I should check out?
  • I watched season four of 24 like I mentioned above and it was much better than the season that stopped me from following it every year (the piteous season three), but the show still drives me insane. Mainly what makes me nuts is two things: One is why everything has to revolve around LA. I mean, I know the show is set there but c’mon: There should be enough time to make the travel realistic (how anyone gets all over LA in less than 20 minutes is beyond even the most forgiving critic) by spreading the love a little bit to different CTU branches and making things more plausibly spread out. Related to this quibble is why everything is handled by CTU. Aren’t there any other governmental agencies that can do some of this stuff like, say, the military? It makes no sense, especially when they spend twenty minutes of each episode griping about how “stretched thin” they all are. Well, delegate, people! Problem solved. My other beef is that they’re constantly sending like three people to go pick up these potentially well-armed suspects and then they act all surprised when only the main character survives the assault and they have to be rescued by someone else. I’m thinking if I need to bring in a suspect for questioning because they are the only person in the world who might be able to reveal the location of the bomb/terrorist leader/plane/kidnap victim/whatever, I’m sending in a freaking army to get them. I think the CTU people kind of cause more of their own problems than they seem to realize.
  • One show that I don’t have a lot of complaints with right now is Heroes. Man, I love that show. Last night’s episode was superb, yet again. The only thing that really bugs me about the show right now are the naysayers. Yes, it is very much like the X-Men. So what? The X-Men are cool, and this gives us a chance to see an X-Men-like story with new characters (so we aren’t bored with the origin stuff if we’ve read the comics already) and a re-imagined take on the whole superheroes concept. I think it’s working very well and the pacing seems to be just about perfect: I’m always left wanting more but they aren’t killing me slowly with the glacial pace of the plot like Lost. One of the great Lost debates is the Characters-vs-Story discussion where some people say they are more interested in the character development and therefore don’t mind the so-slow pace of the Island Mysteries aspect but others (like me) think the characters should really be there to move the story along so the development of the characters becomes almost meaningless since it takes over the whole show leaving the plot to flounder. With Heroes they got it all right by developing the characters at a nice clip but letting those developments also push the plot forward. Very well done and I was quite pleased to hear that the show got picked up for the rest of the season. If you haven’t already started watching this show, I can’t recommend it enough and I’ve heard they plan to run a brief marathon of the last three episodes (not including the Pilot) sometime in the next week so if you haven’t seen it yet, keep an eye out for that to help you catch up.
  • So the final consensus on the new Decemberists album is that it may surpass Picaresque in terms of total quality and has quickly shot to near the top of my all-time favorite albums list. Love it. On the other hand, the new Evanescence album, The Open Door is bland and uninspired and quite a disappointment. Nik also picked up AFI’s Decemberunderground album from iTunes on the strength of a couple of singles she heard on the radio. It’s not too bad, really although I need to give it a few more listens. AFI is kind of a more intense Green Day but they have some catchy riffs and some nice melodies going on, so I think it could get some decent playtime.
  • I had a bit of a chance to listen to some of Sirius satellite radio driving around to doctor’s appointments and stuff in Nik’s car while I was sick. It’s a pretty cool thing and the lack of commercials on the music channels is really, really nice. There’s a lot of selection available as well which means it usually isn’t hard at all to find some station playing something you like. My only complaint so far probably has more to do with the head unit than Sirius itself, but I’m having a really hard time finding the non-music channels. There is supposed to be a way to choose a channel via category but I can’t seem to make it work the way the manual describes which means a lot of the NPR, comedy and sports stations are ostensibly there but not accessible. This is going to become a problem pretty quickly when I want to start listening to Sharks games on the way home from work and can’t even get to the stations.
  • Speaking of the Sharks, I got better just in time since Nikki bought me a three-pack of Sharks tickets for our anniversary and the first game is tonight versus the Dallas Stars. I’m heading out after work to pick HB from work and then heading on to the tank so hopefully my body will cooperate and I’ll be able to enjoy myself. I’m kind of counting on excitement to push me through some of the weariness I still feel, but it should be a really good time.

Download A-Go-Go

Thursday, October 5th, 2006

Nikki and I went to the Download Festival on Saturday to catch The Shins and Muse play. There were some other bands there like Rogue Wave and TV On the Radio, but those were just filler until the other bands got on stage. Actually the top billed acts were the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Beck, who we didn’t stay to see since I don’t really care for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Beck wasn’t scheduled to take the stage until 10:00 pm. Since we’d already been there since about 1:00 pm, Nik was getting tired and I wasn’t all that excited about sitting through a mediocre band to see someone who I more or less appreciate but probably wouldn’t pay to see by himself.

It was totally worth it though because The Shins are a really good live band and they treated us by playing four tracks from their forthcoming CD (due in January, according to the band) all of which were solid but a couple of which I really dug. Despite the fact that I generally prefer The Shins over Muse, I must admit that Muse rocked the house. It’s been a very long time since I’ve seen a band that was that good in concert.

Muse is kind of a Radiohead-wannabe band (at least they admit it) only they are probably best classified as Radiohead circa The Bends with all the distorted guitars and angsty-scream vocals which occasionally settle into a bitter—but beautiful—falsetto. But the one thing that Muse’s studio albums don’t (and can’t) capture is that Muse has a certain Queen-like operatic sensibility that, in concert at least, gives their songs this very epic feeling. Plus, these guys can play.

They tend to sound so much like Radiohead at times that when simply listening to their albums you can easily forget that what you’re hearing is musically phenomenal because, well, Radiohead is musically phenomenal so it just seems like emulation. But in truth Muse have a certain wonderful Rush or Dream Theater-like mastery over their craft that is pretty awe-inspiring to watch unfold. I came away from the show with the understanding that if Muse or The Shins ever headlined a show in my area, I’d be there.

And if you haven’t checked out The Shins’ Chutes Too Narrow already, you really need to. Go ahead, I can wait.

Blah

Almost immediately after returning home from the concert I started to feel a bit out of sorts. Sure enough, I woke up on Sunday feeling like garbage and spent the whole day moping around on the couch. I worked from home on Monday like I usually do, but I felt pretty sick the whole time and Tuesday I just couldn’t do it so I called in sick. I felt a bit better yesterday but I still decided to work from home again to avoid passing whatever this weird flu thing is on to anyone else. Today I’m more or less over it although either as a side effect or something unrelated but unfortunately timed, I managed to end up with this weird itchy rash on my hands and arms. The only good thing about it is that it isn’t terribly visible unless you’re really looking for it but man is it uncomfortable.

Rows and Rows of Teeth

Sharks season starts tonight. We’re heading over to HB‘s place after work to catch the game in glorious High Definition on his snazzy new TV. After spending the last couple of months watching the Giants slide into oblivion and the misery that is being a 49ers fan in the 21st century, I’m so happy that hockey season has started again. The difference I think is that I watch baseball for the Giants. I watch football for the Niners (and fantasy football I guess) but I watch hockey for hockey.

Sure I love it when the Sharks are doing well, but I’ll watch any hockey because I just really enjoy the game. Blue Jackets versus Blackhawks in a 0-1 snoozer? Fine by me, it’s not like the rest of TV has a lot going for it.

On the Telly

I haven’t watched as much of the new season of TV this year as I did last year. That’s probably a good thing. So far I’m really, really liking Heroes (anyone else thinking that Sylar is Niki Sanders’ mirror-ego?) and Shark, although I’ve given up on Smith already. I did catch the beginning of Kidnapped and so far it’s pretty good. I’m not sure that there is a whole show in the premise, but I’ll watch it until it gets ludicrous. I also caught the second episode of Studio 60 and… well, I still can’t decide what I think of it. On one hand, it’s entertaining enough that I watched the whole thing but on the other hand it’s kind of stupid. I guess I’ll give it until the first stinker and then cancel my Season Pass.

Lost last night was pretty fantastic despite a general absence of main cast members (no Hurley? No Sayid?). The opening was one of those things that Lost loves to do just to tweak with viewers’ heads and we all love it and the hints about the shark with the Dahrma logo (“It’s an aquarium. For sharks?” “Dolphins, too.”) and Henry Gale’s continued creepy presence were all good. I did feel like the scenes with Sawyer and his fellow captive were either filler-ish or laying the groundwork for something to come later but either way I just wanted to get back to the good stuff.

Veronica Mars’ premiere was darn good as well, with plenty of the familair snark and cleverness alongside some genuinely intense moments. I do think that the whole Keith-Mars-is-in-jeopardy-again schtick is getting a bit old and the Dick Casablancas subplot was… well, I think it was all a set up so he can be the red herring in the campus rapist case but I thought his character was utterly disposable from the very beginning so anytime he gets screentime over, say, Weevil or Keith/Veronica is something of a drag to me. Still, the new characters (Piz and Parker) are interesting enough (I’m seeing another love triangle with Piz/Veronica/Logan forming) and so far the move to college hasn’t dampened the spirit of the show so I’m pretty hopeful for this season.

I did manage to miss The Nine though so that was kind of a bummer.

Tunes

A couple of new albums have come out that I was waiting for: The Decemberists finally released their follow-up to the brilliant Picaresque, entitled The Crane Wife. I picked it up today at lunch and listened to it as I ate in my car. I usually don’t trust first listens of albums because I rarely like anything the first time I hear it, but this album is different. I already love at least two of the six or so songs I heard and like the rest of them quite a bit. I’m thinking this may be my favorite album of the year unless something comes along that is really spectacular in the next twleve weeks.

The Killers also released a much-anticipated follow-up album this week called Sam’s Town which Nik and I listened to on the way to work today. She actually bought it last night and listened to it on the way home while I was still sick. Her initial impression was less than favorable and I think she’s still unhappy at what a departure it is from Hot Fuss even after a second listen. My first time through I thought the first few tracks were pretty mediocre but it picked up steam toward the middle and I heard a couple of songs in there I liked quite a bit so I’m interested to give it a few more listens.

I also decided to get Nik some audio gear as a birthday present for her car including a new head unit, Sirius satellite radio (which, as a digression, I’m not-so-secretly pretty excited about myself, primarily because of the NHL network which, as I understand it, broadcasts pretty much any hockey game you could ever want to hear) and an iPod connector so that she can plug in her Nano (or my 4g iPod I suppose) and control it through the head unit instead of having to resort to some clunky mounted solution or something. I got all that from a mail-order place called Crutchfield and I was very impressed all around with that place. Not only did I get a lot of gear for about $70-75 cheaper than it would have cost me to get from a place like Best Buy, but they threw in a free mounting bracket specific to our car model and included free installation instructions also specific to our car model in—get this—plain English.

The installation is happening on Saturday I believe over at HB‘s place to be followed by a trip to the newly opened Texas Roadhouse restaurant here in town and then back to our place for some games. It should be fun birthday for her, even if a little low-key (although we did invite quite a few folks to dinner/game night so we’ll see how many show up). I figure we can go all out next year when she does the 30 year old thing.

An Assortment, You See

Thursday, August 3rd, 2006
  • If you haven’t seen the video of Darth Vader being a jerk, you should. As a co-worker pointed out, it’s random but hilarious.
  • I’d like to post a snippet of an email I received from Bosslady:

    On the Nintendo DS Lite…I actually bought one. I saw it on TV and thought it was cool. It was the commercial with the Brain Age game. I guess they should hire that marketing firm again, since I have never wanted a video game in my life.

    Does this suggest that Nintendo’s plan to expand gaming to non-gamers might be working? As a note, the link to the commercial video is a guess; she didn’t specify anything more descriptive about the ad and that was the best I could find.

  • I started working a sort of strange shift at work: They needed someone to help with the early morning coverage while one of our team members is out on personal leave. But I’ve been commuting to work with Nik since she started expanding her hours at her job. So as a compromise I log in from home at 5:00 am and watch the phones, take new tickets and follow up on things until 7:00 when Nik is ready to leave. Then I pack it up and head in to the office like normal only I get off of work sometime around 3:00 pm instead of 5:00. Unfortunately with the two hours of work-time spent doing other things (commuting and lunching) that makes for pretty lengthy days although they’re talking about doing four ten-hour days instead of five eight hour days anyway so maybe I’m just ahead of the game. The weird part is when I’m off at 3:00 Nik still works until 5:00 so I have to figure out a way to fill the time. I’m sure I’ll come up with something.
  • If you’re using Netvibes (and you really should be), check out Netvibes Ecosystem. The Sudoku module is really cool.
  • If you’ve voted in the poll, you probably noticed that the results looks pretty screwy. Apparently the polling software doesn’t care too much for links in the answers (which is really dumb, by the way). Sorry about that. I could pull the links but it would ruin the effect. Such that it is.
  • So the Giants finally snapped their nine-game skid. It’s funny because when baseball season starts I’m in full hockey mode (usually). In a few weeks I’ll be all hyped on football and in a couple of months it will be back to hockey as well. So late July and early August are pretty much the only times I actively follow baseball (I pick it up again in the fall if the Giants or the A’s are in the playoffs). A couple weeks ago I started catching a few Giants games and they beat up on the Padres enough to earn their way to first place in the National League West. Two weeks later they’re in dead last, 3.5 games out. Funny what losing nine games in a row will do to you. I’d suggest that they started losing just because I started watching, but I know that isn’t true. The Giants lose regardless. They lose the way the Red Sox used to lose. Forget the Cubs, the Giants are the new Red Sox. Perpetual losers, revelling in their ability to choke at the last minute, to fall apart right when they need to step it up. Why not? They’re my team, after all.
  • A lot of modern pop music is pretty crass, in the way that it is lowest-denominator, self-referential drivel with little redeeming value. But I like pop music in the sense that I like artists who can craft an accessible song provided they can do it in an original way or present within it original ideas. Maybe “original” isn’t even the word since nothing’s original; I can settle for unconventional. If you’re like me, you might want to check out Jem‘s Finally Woken album. It’s good, unconventional pop music and the whole album is solid. I knew it was something worth trying when perpetual death metal advocate HB recommended it to me.

Assorted Silliness

Friday, July 21st, 2006

An Open Letter to General Mills

Dear General Mills,

I want to start by thanking you for providing my mornings with tasty breakfast cereal delights for almost 30 years. As I sat at my dining room table this morning, blearily enjoying a bowl of Cocoa Puffs, I began to rehash a theory I concocted back when I was but a wee lad. The theory concerns the familial relationship between several of your popular cereals, specifically Kix, Cocoa Puffs and Trix. As a young boy I figured that Kix were the base cereal: The healthy, slightly sweet but mostly mild tasting parental unit of the “round corn puff” family. From there the offspring went either to the rich chocolate side with Cocoa Puffs or to the tangy fruit side with Trix. It isn’t much of a theory, really, but it seemed very clever when I was six and I haven’t quite been able to push it from my mind in the years since.

But as I reflected over my silly little theory, I was struck with a sense of—not sadness really, but more of a mild melancholy (this is only cereal we’re talking about here). The melancholy was wrought from the evolution of the Trix brand.

Compared to its family members, Trix is a vastly different foodstuff than it was in my childhood. Cocoa Puffs and Kix have retained their same basic shape and taste through the years, earning a kind of classic elegance in their stalwart consistency. Sure, you have improved the texture and added extra chocolate flavor to the Cocoa Puffs and have slightly sweetened the Kix as well as give them a heftier crunch, but the same basic structure and flavor has remained steady.

Not so the Trix. My memory of Trix is of a tri-colored bowl filled with tasty, fruity orbs floating in a pool of icy milk that turned ever so slightly pink near the end of the breakfast. The biggest alteration to the formula was introducing the purple (grape) spheres to the formula, a welcome addition. By the time I began to enter high school, a few more changes—not so welcome—had materialized: Green (lime?) colored orbs and blue (flavor uncertain) were making their way into the cereal. I went through a period where “kiddie” cereal was not an acceptable breakfast choice and drifted away from Trix for a few years. When I returned after learning how not to take myself quite so seriously, I found a Trix cereal that I didn’t even recognize.

Gone were the simple round puffs with such perfect texture and mouth-feel. In were bizarre fruit approximations, which not only altered the visual appeal of a bowl of evenly-spaced cereal pieces, but changed the overall texture of the cereal and impacted the taste as well. Or perhaps it was the “new fruitier flavors” that had crept in during my brief hiatus from the cereal. More disturbing was not just the changed flavors but the additional flavors of mysterious origin. The sum was a cereal that held practically nothing in common with the food that had once ranked in my top five breakfast choices.

It was as if Trix had abandoned its family in search of a new experience but in the process had lost its entire identity. How could this cereal that bore no flavor similarities or physical likeness to what I had once so enjoyed still continue to be called “Trix”?

I don’t denounce your choices regarding the Trix brand. Hopefully it has brought you many additional sales and continued prosperity. But I hoped I could offer a modest suggestion, to appeal more to the old school cereal lovers like myself: Classic Trix.

Please imagine with me a cereal with the added heft and robust crunch of modern Cocoa Puffs but with the classic three (or four) colored fruit flavors of Trix from twenty years ago. Add a bit of nostalgic artwork to the box (hopefully you still have the printing plates around!) and advertise them as “Limited Edition” for extra marketing punch. However you were to handle it, introducing a product of this type would guarantee an order for a full case from one lone consumer. I can’t be positive, but I would wager that I would not be alone.

Thank you for your consideration,
Paul A. Hamilton

Experience Music Project: A Homework Assignment

The Experience Music Project building is something you literally have to see in person. Pictures, descriptions and prose do it absolutely zero justice. At best you can try to think of the most bizzare architectural design a drunken Dr. Suess would have crafted as an elaborate joke and then cover half of it with arbitrarily sized metal sheets. The artistry is amazing in its ridiculousness yet somehow compelling. It certainly invokes a strong desire to see the insides which, perhaps, is the whole point.

Inside the modern hipster vibe thrusts out of every Ikea-inspired accessory and display. A series of winding staircases wrap the main lobby in tentacle-like claustrophobia leading to various attractions or locales within the building. Signs with sans-serif fonts point the way to the upstairs bar (The Liquid Lounge) or the art gallery currently showing some sort of educational mashup between classic and modern artists, described in the adversarial parlance of hip hop remixes: Monet vs. de Kooning.

After paying a pricey entry fee, a staircase winds past the strangely shaped interior wall, covered with some sort of spray-on coating that looks vaguely like congealed oatmeal and harshly detracts from the intrigue of the same wall’s opposing surface. On the way up the stairs, a uniformed guide questions visitors about their cameras, confiscating them if they choose to reveal that they are indeed carrying. Pictures of any kind are not allowed in the EMP, although no explanation for why that might be so is offered. It is simply so.

The second floor of the EMP building is the central hub of the Project’s exhibits. Centerpieced by a towering sculpture made of dozens if not hundreds of assorted instruments (mostly guitars), it stretches above in a conical shape toward the third floor. Several listening stations and conservative signage suggest that some of the mechanical contraptions strapped to several of the instruments allow them to be played automatically by computer and suggest that by navigating the touchscreen stations a visitor may be able to influence what the sculpture sounds like. Why this is significant considering that the sound of the self-playing art/instruments is audible only at the very listening stations ostensibly controlling it is never made clear.

The exhibits of the EMP all try to toe the line between complete hipster aloofness (witness the brilliant History of the Guitar feature which includes a guitar-geek’s barrage of ancient or classic guitars, placard-mounted dissertations on the various styles and influences particular brands or models made on music history and smug references to how rare some of the specimen are) and drab historical or cultural fact-reporting. The ambience is medium-high tech with occasionally placed media stations or expensive-looking effects screens while most of the relics and exhibits are standard museum fare. The Music of the Northwest hall struggles with this dichotomy as it tries to inject some relevance to the Seattle area outside of the early 90s grunge fad but lacks the visual flair or self-assuredness of the Guitar exhibit so boils down to little more than a history of Heart, Nirvana and Pearl Jam. Hardly worthy of the real estate it is given, the lack of air-quoted innovations in the side passage speaks volumes to the truth behind the gushing hyperbole of the textual accompaniments to such noteworthy artifacts as the original lyric sheet to Soundgarden’s “Buden in My Hand” and a Metal Church leather tour jacket.

The third floor of the EMP is perhaps the best example of what the Project’s ambitions could realize. There are a dozen or so “sample studios,” little booths with specially designed instruments or musical equipment accompanied by a touchscreen interface. You can choose to either simply play or to follow a short tutorial on the basics of the instrument. There are drums, guitars, basses, keyboards and even samplers, mixing boards and turntables. Each is restricted to prevent excessive maintenance (no de-tuning the guitars, thanks!) and the tutorials are instructional and high level so even the least musically inclined guest can still have some fun. In additon to the mini-booths there are a series of soundproofed micro-studio rooms with instruments set up and automated timers that allow visitors to engage in free jam sessions. The rooms even record the ten-minute sessions digitally and allow you to purchase the results on a burned CD for a nominal fee afterward. It’s quite engaging and there were more than a few families that seemed to be truly bonding over the experience, which is what music is exceptionally good at encouraging.

The paradox of EMP lies in its strained efforts to be cool and relevant. There is a certain stoic stodginess to the whole proceedings, almost like a traditional museum framework that the EMP group wished to sweep away with fancy high tech replacements but ran out of inspiration or funding. The result is a hybrid of old and new that has a hard time truly gelling into something different and instead feels more like a terrific amount of money thrown at an otherwise average enterprise.

Of course there is the whole oil and water sensation of celebrating the rebellious and the raucous with a somber and mostly traditional business venture. In some ways the EMP’s ultimate failure is its lack of ability to hide the suits that stand behind the longhairs: Popular music (or perhaps popular rock n’ roll) has always been a sort of strained balancing act between the Man and his “rebellious” avatar whom is always allowed to push the envelope so long as the envelope comes back stuffed with cash. In many cases it works since the important parts come through in the product everyone is trading in: The music. But here among the deep-voiced narrators and the precisely framed concert posters and the carefully placed graffiti wall there is less real music to be found and more celebration of the marketing hype that surrounds the music. The veneer between the nebulous image projected by the artist and the hype created by the marketing departments is thinner here and without the music itself (references alone hold no artistic merit) to pad the barrier, it is gossamer and the puppet strings start to show.

But cynicism aside there is enough about EMP to warrant a visit, at least once. If nothing else the third floor alone is a pretty good way to kill a few hours on a Saturday afternoon. But you may want to avoid the $50+ “Membership” packages.

Writing, Redux

After yesterday’s gripe about Chris Buffa’s rant on why gaming journalism sucks was discovered (by me, at least) just before his follow-up piece hit.

Now I don’t want to beat a dead horse here, but the guy keeps putting this out so I’m going to keep having to reveal why he’s missing the point. Go ahead and read the article… or just skim it so you get the gist. It’s cool, I can wait.

All done? Didja notice anything? Like, for example, it’s the same stupid article as before? Subtract some of the mindless griping and add in a bit more explanation for why his talking points matter (or I suppose how they can be fixed although his ideas are so simple I wonder if his four-year-old niece helped him out). To wit, Buffa’s brilliant plan for improving games journalism is:

  1. Learn to write better.
  2. Be more original.
  3. Don’t let PR people dictate content.
  4. Actually play or critically analyze games being reviewed.
  5. Challenge conventions.
  6. Step up the quality control.

You will note that I have summarized his (needlessly) two page article into 28 words. I can do it even better, though. Check this out:

  1. Increase professionalism.
  2. Display journalistic integrity.

So Buffa spends like 30 paragraphs saying what he could have said in five words. But I digress because people in glass houses, you know?

Anyway, the point here is that he’s stating the obvious like it was some grand revelation when it should be… well, obvious. More professionalism? Gee, you sure that will really work? But again, the problem is that the audience isn’t impressed by professionalism: Gamers don’t care about that, generally speaking. I wonder after reading this who Buffa is trying to impress—the audience or other journalists. Does he wish he could sit in on White House press conferences and ask hard-hitting questions of President Bush about whether he likes the DS Nintendo sent to him and be taken seriously? Because honestly if he’s looking to make his current profession more impressive on the ol’ resume for his “serious journalism” gambit a few years down the road then he’s going to be sorely disappointed.

But on the other hand I do agree that games journalism is lacking in originality and the PR issue is legit. Of course as in my summary this is easily rectified by applying some journalistic integrity (which is why this really comes down to a management/hiring issue and not some inherent problem with people who want to write about video games). Still, let’s assume that the only people who want to cover videogames are those to whom journalistic integrity is a really long word they don’t want to bother looking up. The root problem here? Buffa is reading the wrong publications and going into them with the wrong expectations.

Sad that it may be, big gaming rags like EGM, GameSpot and GamePro are full of yes-men (not all contributors are, but each seems to have some) who succumb to the PR machine. If you want some proof, take a look at the game scores: A game has to practically rend your hardware in half or reduce it to a smoldering hunk of charcoal in order to get a 50% score on the scale. A game that is half as good as the maximum should be a mediocre game in a reasonable scale system, but game publications would rather give scores like 7.9 for mediocre games because it sounds better that way and they don’t have to explain to irate PR reps why they trashed a game with a lousy score. Granted 7.9 is a lousy score and the review text itself may indicate the game is best used post-bowel movement to clean one’s backside, but at least they can say “Hey, it still got a 79% out of 100, right?”

The solution is not to whine and moan about how broken those publications are but to either not read them or to learn some critical thinking skills and accept that reviews should come from trusted sources, not just anyone with a half-dozen spare decimal places and a copy of Microsoft Word. And of course when it comes to reviews you have to acknowledge that they are at best one man’s opinion and at worst they are one man’s misinformed opinion. What score someone gives a game is mostly irrelevant if a second individual holds a different perspective. If you really want to know if a game is likely to appeal to you the only reliable methods are something like MetaCritic or reading reviews from someone you know has similar taste as you.

I’d agree that more “features” should have original premises except that coming from a guy who’s writing Yet Another Article On Why Game Journalism is Poop, it just doesn’t really resonate that well.

Well, I Asked For It

So the Sharks finally traded Nils Ekman. About time! I’ve been asking for this for… uh… wait. What? They got what for him?

A second round draft pick from the Penguins.

Next year.

Well, that was worth it.

Anyway, the Sharks farm system has been firing out a lot of pretty good prospects lately so hopefully that was the strategy. Meanwhile they lost Scott Thornton and Alyn McCauley (no great loss on either front) but looted bottom dweller Chicago Blackhawks for Mark Bell and Curtis Brown, both acceptable acquisitions. Hopefully Bell will deepen the attack from the Sharks top line next year (he’s reportedly going to play LW on the Thornton-Cheechoo line) where Ekman could not and I’d not mind seeing Brown on a grinder line with Nieminen.

You know how I know when I’m ready for hockey to start again? I’m no longer so bitter with the end of the Sharks season that I refuse to check the news to see what they’re up to in the offseason.

Doggedly Updating

Wednesday, July 19th, 2006

I have much that I want to write about but I’ve been really tired the last week or so. The best I can muster is a few bullet points for now, begging your pardon.

  • So according to my poll (a new one is now up) I have (drumroll please…) eleven readers. Discounting those who are related to me and therefore read out of a sense of obligation, that means that I have attracted the attention of four whole people. Look out, syndicated columnists! Your time is nigh!
  • I went up to Seattle for a few days last week to hang out a bit with Fast Track. Seattle is a really cool place and I had a great time. A little advice for you, though: In Seattle, wait by the curb for a cab because those guys won’t call when they get to your place if they don’t see you standing around out there. I’m not sure why that is.
  • There is an interesting article on RPG.net about not forcing players into your plots. It was eye-opening because I know that as a GM I tend to really work hard to get a super sweet story rolling when I finally sit down to design and build a campaign or adventure. I don’t want players to miss out on the totally rad scenarios I have cooked up so when they start misinterpreting clues or roughing up characters that were supposed to be allies, it is really easy for me to get frustrated and try to start the railroading process. My most recent foray into GMing was a good example because as the players went a bit off-track my descriptions started getting more and more vague until they followed the breadcrumbs back to the path where I could read from my pre-written exposition again. For me part of the problem is that I love to tell stories but I’m really very lazy so designing a role-playing game is a good way to tell stories like that because I only need to do the fun stuff which is come up with the general plot and a few key characters and then I get to both tell the story and get other people to help me with the details (the hard part) at the same time. But I like what the article has to say so for my upcoming Shadowrun 4th Edition campaign I’m going to try and make a conscious effort to roll with it a little more and be less tunnel-visioned when it comes to keeping the players on the rails.
  • Nik and I have been playing an obscene amount of Catan Card Game, specifically the tournament-style game from the Expansion Set. In a way the game plays like Magic-lite because you need two full copies of the game and the expansion so that each player builds their own custom 33-card deck. There are combos, strategies and all sorts of unique things to try in this variant and I like it quite a bit. The game’s mechanics are pretty well balanced to begin with (nevermind the 5th Settlement naysayers, we’ve had games recently that demonstrate this is not true including me winning soundly with only one additional settlement and Nik winning after falling behind 6:3 settlement-wise) and having to come up with clever ways to work the cards you have in your deck to your advantage works in some cases even better than Magic. I’ve always thought Magic worked best in closed-system style games (hence my propensity for Type-P or sealed deck style games of Magic) and since Catan is a closed-system, it’s neatly sidesteps a lot of the potential balance issues Magic runs into regularly. Of course Nik and I are only able to play this way because we borrowed Lister and Whimsy‘s copies of the game sets and we need to give those back at some point so we’re probably going to have to buy new copies of the game and expansion… I don’t see going back to the old style very often now that we’ve experienced the wonder of tournament style.
  • There is a pretty interesting article over on the Wall Street Journal about abundance paradox with Netflix movies. I’ve noticed this myself because Netflix gives me a greater chance to watch movies that I might otherwise only see if they A) happened to be on TV or B) someone else sat me down to watch. The article’s mention of weightier fare being common bottlenecks in queues is absolutely true: I see lots of the movies I put on my list because they earned high praise from a lot of critics or because they were nominated for awards (stuff like “The Constant Gardener” and “Millions”). But when it comes to seeing movies in the theater I tend to stick to mainstream stuff, mostly action and Science Fiction (at least when it’s up to me). But watching movies that are designed to make you think or that are more artistic for art’s sake requires a certain frame of mind: One that I don’t necessarily attain all that readily when I get home from work. The only thing I’ve been able to do is finally decide that I’ll give a movie two chances: If I fall asleep twice or if I just can’t make myself sit through it after a couple of attempts, I’ll send it back. I may re-queue it for later, but I’d rather try something else (considering there is essentially no drawback to returning it unwatched and in fact it is less economical to hang on to something you aren’t watching—an interesting reversal from the regular video store) now and see if I’m not more in the mood at a later date. This works pretty well but doesn’t address the real problem which is trying to get two people to find the right frame of mind concurrently to allow them to watch a movie they both want to see. Oddly enough Netflix works best as a solo venture and Nik and I have a lot better luck finding stuff to watch together when we hit the video store and can take advantage of the instant gratification factor.
  • So it sounds like my brother didn’t care for a lot of the music I sent him. It’s not a big deal, but it kind of surprised me how opinionated he was with some of the stuff. Back in high school he’d pretty much listen to whatever I handed to him and nod along thoughtfully without really saying much about it one way or the other. The only way I knew he actually liked anything was if he actively listened to it on his own accord. To hear him go out of his way to bash on Interpol and Wilco was somewhat unexpected not because the bands are that wonderful (though I happen to like them both quite a bit) but because it seemed somewhat out of character for Scott. I suppose this just means he’s got a bit of a curmudgeonly streak in him as well (not nearly as wide or as thick as my own of course). In his comments to me about the music he noted that he missed some of the rocking that indie bands aren’t necessarily as prone to do as mainstream rock acts; I realized that I missed the boat by passing over Muse as a possibility. Those guys totally know how to rock and do it all the time. He might have dug them even more than The Decemberists.
  • Speaking of music, I was on a roll there for a while keeping my library of songs growing at a steady but manageable clip. Then I ran across a co-worker who hooked me up with a veritable bounty of new stuff and it steamrolled my playlists with new and unfamiliar tracks. I’ve finally gotten to where I recognize a lot of what he gave me when it pops up on shuffle but I haven’t gotten back to expanding and exploring again. Sad, too, since Thom Yorke just put out a solo album I have yet to pick up and the List of Bands to Check Out When I Have Time that sits on my Netvibes home page has swollen to somewhere in the neighborhood of 22. I’m thinking of re-titling it “List of Bands to Check Out Many Years From Now When They’ve All Broken Up and I Don’t Have to Worry About Them Putting Out New Albums.” Doesn’t quite roll off the tongue so well.
  • There has been a lot of talk about TVs lately. This stems primarily from a new HD LCD set purchased by my friend Foster and the subsequent contemplation it initiated in HB about his own television situation. Then I went to visit Fast-Track and noted his jamma wall-mounted HD plasma TV and felt the twinge of jealousy begin to grow within myself. The problem with a new TV purchase at the moment was well summarized by HB last night when he noted that the real problem is that the technology is advancing at a rate comparable to that of regular PCs so that anything you buy now is going to seem positively ancient in three or four years. And the real rub is that for all the sweet potential of a snazzy new HD flatscreen, it isn’t just the cost of the device you have to consider it also has a lot to do with your signal inputs since without an HD signal to take advantage of the monitor’s capability, you might as well not even bother. The cable situation in our apartment is so abysmal that it hardly seems worth the effort to try and get anything fancier than what we already have. Then again, raw real estate would be an unparalleled delight since I’ve been tolerating a mere 30″ screen (at most!) for the last six years or so.
  • I fiddled ever so briefly with Fast-Track’s PC playing Battlefield 2… I should know better by now than to mess with gaming PCs. Every time I do so I start getting all these wild machinations about being able to play PC games (Half-Life 2 beckons…) which is probably not so great considering my specs for a gaming PC tend to run in the range of $900+. I did see an ad in Electronic Gaming Monthly that I picked up at the airport to flip through while I was waiting for my flight to board that had a pre-built machine of reasonable specs for about $400. The problem with that is the price there is identical to that of an XBox 360. I keep telling myself I’m going to hold out on any more consoles until the price drops but if I was willing to spend $400 for a PC, how much more of a stretch is it for the 360? Granted there could be (potentially) other uses for the PC besides just gaming where the 360 would be little more than another bit of clutter in the ol’ entertainment center, but you have to understand that logic such as this plays no part in my decision-making processes. I fear that at some point it may come down to “$400 for a PC, $400 for an XBox or horde the $400 away like a squirrel collecting acorns?” Those are the kinds of decisions that usually lead to buyer’s remorse because I have very little in common with squirrels.
  • Except cheek capacity. I can hold a surprising amount of matter (typically food) in my cheeks. I don’t usually use this ability as a storage mechanism, but I could.

Life as a Soundtrack

Friday, May 26th, 2006

There’s a meme floating around Livejournal (maybe you don’t ask what I was doing over there, kay?) that I can’t track down the original source of since the attribution stops at a “friends only” page, but whatever. It’s clever so I’m jacking it.

I’m also adapting it a bit for my purposes, because I’m like that. A tinkerer. Anyway it works like this, you have eighteen “scenes” in your movie. Set up an iTunes playlist that has no unplayed tracks (you could use something other than iTunes but, I mean, why?) and make sure it’s on shuffle. Hit play and for each song that comes up, associate it with that scene. Then hit next and the next random song gets associated with the next scene and so on. The rules are that you only get one skip for the whole list (so use it wisely!) unless you get an artist repeat in which case you can skip again. I suppose if you don’t mind having more than one song from the same band you can ignore that rule, but I like having a big mix. Personal preference. The last rule is that you can swap two scenes at the end if you like, but no more. No cheating. The scenes are identical to the ones in my list below. Ready? Here goes:

Opening Credits: Too Little, Too Late – Barenaked Ladies (meh, not what I would have prefered but could have been worse… this is more of an near-the-end-of-the-movie track)

Waking Up: The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy) – Simon and Garfunkel (a decent fit here I think, but would have been much better for Life’s Okay scene)

Average Day: Crosstown Traffic – Jimi Hendrix (I can see this totally working here)

First Date: Help! – The Beatles (this was my switch, I had I Get a Kick Out of You here first and this one below… this way is so much better)

Falling in Love: I Get a Kick Out of You – Frank Sinatra (not bad considering that my switch was only one slot off)

Fight Scene: Secretarial – A.C. Newman (one of my bigger disappointments; I have a lot of heavy stuff in my list and this doesn’t quite work, even on an ironic level)

Breaking Up: Escape – Metallica (heh, I skipped over Jerry Was a Race Car Driver by Primus to get to this one. A good use of the skip I think)

Getting Back Together: My Favorite Mistake – Sheryl Crow (almost couldn’t have picked a better song here)

Life’s Okay: Transparent – In Flames (clearly the worst of the bunch since this song is basically about the opposite of life being okay)

Mental Breakdown: Welcome to This World – Primus (you know, this works)

Driving: Riders on the Storm – The Doors (I swear I didn’t cheat to get this one here)

Flashback: Disillusion – Badly Drawn Boy (sorta okay, more of breakup song really but it doesn’t say what the flashback has to be about so I guess it’s acceptable)

Partying: Unsung – Helmet (could be better, could be worse)

Dance Sequence: Cave – Muse (far from the greatest dance song in my list)

Regretting: The Good Times are Killing Me – Modest Mouse (appropriate)

Long Night Alone: Pretty Babies – Dishwalla (this one sucks not just because it doesn’t really work but also because I hate this song, by far the worst from the Pet Your Friends album; can you think of a worse lyric than “Why the need to eroticize our children”? Gah)

Death Scene: No More Tears – Ozzy Osbourne (I was kinda disappointed by this one at first but the more I think about it, it’s actually pretty good here)

End Credits: Go – Pearl Jam (ill-fitting if you try to sort of loosely visualize the movie; a better opening credits or fight scene song, but I was out of swaps… in fact, had I one more exchange to make I would switch the Opening Credits track with this one)

Overall not too bad. The playlist with unplayed tracks is because you don’t want to put something on there you’ve never heard before as I learned when trying to do this with my iPod. Also I should maybe point out that the playlist my iPod pulls from when updating is focused on having more unplayed or infrequently played stuff on it rather than songs I listen to all the time, so I did a lot of skipping over assorted techno tracks I’ve never heard and rare deep album tracks that I couldn’t place. This might have been better (or at least quite a bit different) if I was doing it from home with my actual iTunes Library. Still, a fun way to waste five minutes.

Try it. It’s fun.

False Though it May Be, One Can’t Hear ‘You’re a Genius’ Too Often

Monday, May 8th, 2006

Weekend Bulletin:

  • I went ahead and put in a pre-order for my DS Lite. I don’t care what you say, that thing is smooth and I mean, c’mon: New Super Mario Brothers and new Secret of Mana game? You just don’t know.
  • As a matter of fact, for a system I once derided as something I didn’t really see the point of there are just so many games I want to play for it, I’m not sure where to begin. Aside from the above mentioned Mario Bros. and Children of Mana, there’s also the new 3D-ized Final Fantasy III (no, not FFVI, the real III); some sort of Dragon Warrior (Dragon Quest, whatever) where you play as a blue slime (I know, right?); the non-optional Mario Kart DS; Metroid Prime: Hunters; Age of Empires (turn-based!); Advance Wars: Dual Strike (more turn-based strategy joy!); Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow… that’s not even talking about my weird desire to check out the girl-targeted Princess Peach platformer nor the Resident Evil remake and oh hey, did I forget to mention the puzzle games? Yeah, Tetris DS, Meteos, Puyo Pop Fever and Bust-a-Move DS. Considering how hard it has been to come up with games I want to play for the systems I have at the moment (recall that I went back and played an old game over again because pickin’s have been so slim) a wealth of options is a blessing.
  • The Sharks won last night and for some weird reason they play again tonight for game two. I also caught some of the Ducks/Avalanche game yesterday afternoon and I have to say that Bryzgalov isn’t some lucky Duck. I mean, he’s pretty impressive. The side-to-side glove stop robbery on Alex Tanguay’s open net gambit was flat out brilliant. But the Ducks in general made the Avs look silly. In fact, considering how much the Sharks owned the Oilers in the second period, making them look pretty silly for not even coming up with a shot on goal for over ten minutes, I’m just about set to see a Ducks/Sharks Western Conferenece Finals.
  • Also? They play Pennywise at the Pond when the Ducks score a goal. That’s just cool. I mean, I don’t like the Ducks (I’m not allowed, see… I’m a Sharks fan), but I’m only saying they impressed me and I want to see the Sharks beat them to make it to the Cup series.
  • First things first, the Sharks need to finish off Edmonton. I liked that Marleau’s line was still cookin’ and the top line played well, but I need to see Cheechoo beat some of these chump goalies. I mean, Roloson? Seriously? Seriously?
  • Gin and HB picked up RAZRs over the weekend and after stuffing ourselves with barbequed ribs and chicken while cheering the Sharks to victory yesterday evening I showed them how to transfer files from their iMac to their phones via bluetooth. They expressed that I might be a genius which is patently and provably false but I had to forgive them because the beauty of bluetooth has been known to spawn uncontrollable fits of hyperbole in the past.
  • I caught an episode of a show I’ve been meaning to watch for weeks now called Deadliest Catch about Alaskan Crab fishermen. It’s pretty much as good as I had hoped and if you have a chance you might want to check it out. Those dudes are pretty hardcore. What else are you going to watch? Desperate Housewives?
  • What I wonder is whether the camera crews have to be as crazy as the fishermen to stand out there on those boats filming while they haul in those big crab traps. I guess it isn’t as bad as having to do the work but I still don’t think I’d be too cool with waiting for a wall of freezing Alaskan water to hit me in the face so I can get a shot of freezing Alaskan water hitting someone else, just in case the footage might make it in the show.
  • My iPod is starting to go south on me. The headphone jack is dirty and has poor connections now so it hisses, gets quiet and crackles when the jack gets twisted around or even nuged the wrong way. Plus it resets itself probably once every two or three hours of use and holds about half the battery charge it once did. Granted I’ve used and abused the heck out of the thing for two years so I’m not making any quality comments here, I’m just saying it may be time to start saving up for a new one.
  • So we’re going shopping tonight before the game to look for a new couch and possibly some sort of book storage unit. Our old couch was one of the first things we bought when we got married six and a half years ago and it was a cool couch back then: Two reclining seats, leather, pull-down center console with built-in heat and massage features plus cup holders and flip-up armrests with remote control storage. Fast forward to the present. As a state-of-the-art sofa it fails. As a comfrotable place to sit, it fails. As an attractive centerpiece to our living room, it fails on about sixteen levels. So it’s gotta go. I’d rather be spending the money on, say, an HD TV set, but even I can see the logic that having a super sweet TV wouldn’t matter if you didn’t want to sit in front of it.
  • The bookcase situation has gotten pretty dire, itself. Nik and I are both readers and, perhaps more pointedly, avid book collectors. We have about six bookshelves already stacked and stuffed with hundreds of books plus there are about six or seven other places around the house where books sit piled on top of each other. I originally thought I could just put some cinder blocks and plywood together but then I remembered that our apartment floor is not level and slanted surfaces and cinder blocks on the second floor… I mean, what could go wrong? Also, I remembered that I’m married and not living in a fraternity house so, you know, yeah, right.

Rap is Dead

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2006

I can’t exactly recall how I got that Nelly song about those puerile teeth coverings made of hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of precious metals and gemstones got stuck in my head. I’m fairly certain I don’t want to know because if it was the result of some direct action by another human I might be forced to hunt them down and pummel them around the head, neck, chest and shoulder region. I’ll assume it was an annoymous car stereo that was playing at a reasonable volume and just happened to penetrate my rolled-up windows and blaring music of quality at a stop light during a moment of intermission zen between Rush’s “2112″ and The Replacements’ “Unsatisfied.” It makes the world safer that way, trust me.

I don’t want to be accused of painting too broad of strokes but I don’t find a lot of use in my life for jewlery of any kind. I wear a wedding band of simple metals and minimalist design and that’s it. I suppose I could be persuaded to wear a watch on occasion but my wife has presented me with roughly 47 watches—many of which were nice/expensive and I wore them each for about a week and a half before I realized that wearing timekeeping devices set an expectation for promptness that I just was not comfortable with.

To a small degree I accept men who wear necklaces as reasonably harmless as well, so long as they remain consistent with the rest of their accoutrements (shell-bead necklaces and power ties don’t match, nor does a thick silver cuban chain with a polo shirt) and aren’t worn to excess. Earrings are fine, but stretchy earlobes are just gross. Anything else is cause for suspicion: Bracelets, bands, extra rings, facial peircings, and anything that is large enough to be considered “bling.”

And other than wedding bands and watches I have to question the necessity of anything else. They serve no purpose. I suppose there is no harm in a hemp necklace purchased in Hawaii or a leather wrist cuff since they are cheap and purposeless, but expensive jewelery on a guy? I don’t even understand spending a lot of money on jewelery for girls who may actively demand that they receive pointlessly pricey rocks and human tinsel. Why would any guy buy an expensive fashion accessory?

To then take that question and try to comprehend the idea behind making teeth covers of supposed high value is like trying to make scientific and rational sense of the plot of the Back to the Future trilogy. One can reasonably assume that covering ones teeth with jeweled mouthguards requires said item to be placed in ones mouth. Once there it will necessarily be covered with saliva and hidden, unless unfortunately disfigured by some tragic accident, by ones lips.

To summarize, these “Grillz:”

  • Are expensive jewlery.
  • Designed to go in one’s mouth.
  • To be covered with spit.
  • Hidden by lips.
  • Unless one makes a comical facial expression in order to reveal them.

It was in thinking about all of this that I realized unequivocably that Rap is Dead.

If that is a shocking statement (and it was for me at first), I should tell you that we should have seen it coming. I mean, the warning post was set right there in front of us in 1998 and we missed it. In retrospect it was clearly obvious.

The end of Rap was heralded by Jay-Z’s sampling of the song—nay the Show Tune—”Hard Knock Life” from the broadway production of Annie.

I’ll let that sink in for a moment.

Annie.

Little orphan Annie.

You will note that the play also contains the song “(The Sun Will Come Out) Tomorrow,” a contender for the schmaltziest, most saccharine song ever written. And Jay-Z chooses this pop culture divide between his thug life image and uplifting children’s tale as a chasm he’d like to cross. And people liked it. It was a legitimate hit for Mr. Z.

I want to make sure my point is clear here: It is not okay to try and repurpose anything related to or even in the same spiritual meme as Annie with growin’ up on the mean streets of Compton. Word. It simply cannot be done; not with irony, not straight, not even in satirical contexts. It just doesn’t work.

It’s not like Jay-Z decided to try and use the phrase “Hard Knock Life” as a description of what it was like to live as a gangsta. Nope. He sampled the chorus. With the original cast recording using children’s voices. And he raps about violence and struggles in the verses, again with no irony. Observe a snippet of lyrics:

Sleeping on foutons and cots, the king size, dream machines, the green fives
I’ve seen pies let the thing between my eyes analyze life’s ills
Then I put it down tight grill
I’m tight grill with the phony rappers you might feel we homeys
I’m like still you don’t know me,
I’m tight grill when my situation ain’t improving
I’m trying to murder everything moving, Feel Me!!

Trying to murder everything moving? How do you find time to listen to the Annie soundtrack, then Jay? How do you find the time? So no, I don’t “Feel” you. Sorry. Maybe those adorable little abused and neglected children feel you? You seem to feel you have much in common with them. I’m thinking suddenly that the parallels between the black urban experience dealing with the police and oppression can be plainly seen in the interaction between the lovable rascals that are the orphans and Miss Hannigan. The juxtaposition is simply chilling.

So I really shouldn’t be surprised that Nelly is rapping about obscenely priced tooth covers and other artists have resorted to singing about dancing whilst wearing clown make-up and fabricating words to describe this revolutionary activity; it’s clear that rap ran out of stuff to talk about eight years ago. I’m just surprised it took me this long to realize that rap had succumbed to the same fate as rock n’ roll, but then again, I’m not really hip with the scene.

But if rap is ready to start branching into more of this kind of territory, what with the clowns and funny teeth masks and Broadway shows, I’d love to see a DMX/Sound of Music/Ringling Brothers mashup. I’m thinking “So Long, Clown, Farewell (Popped a Cap).” It’ll be brilliant.

“Devious movements in your eyes / Moved me from relief” – Opeth