Friday, July 29, 2005

An RPG's Main Downfall

I am a D&D geek. Not a gigantic one, but one nonetheless. I didn't play the pen and paper D&D as a kid, but I did play Battletech which was basically the same thing but with more gigantic robots and less role playing. My D&D geekiness came in playing the original Gold box AD&D computer games, reading the AD&D novels, and playing Spellfire (AD&D's version of Magic: The Gathering).

As I went into college I seemingly grew out of my D&D phase. I still played Spellfire with my brother every now and again, but that was about it. I did, however, start playing more RPG video games. I loved Baldur's Gate, Nox, Fallout, and whatever other RPG's came out for computer. Once I got an Xbox I started playing console RPG's as well such as D&D: Heroes and Knights of the Old Republic.

I loved almost all of the RPG's that I played, but I rarely finished them all the way through. For me they were just too long and suffered from being either repetitive or just pretty level-grinding styled games. I would just get sick of doing the same thing over and over again, no matter what the small derivations of the tasks might be. Basically they all boiled down to the same thing repeated with a different, shiny coat.

I bring this up because I stumbled across this image at Gamespy that pretty much describes my feelings about RPG's. 95% of all RPG's can, at their essence, be boiled down to that one graphic. Because of that, I have decided that in the future I will only play RPG's that can be completed in 10 hours or less or are somehow revolutionary (which is pretty rare). I just can't dedicate a ton of time to doing repetitive tasks over and over again.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Staring Down a Highway

In the last five days I think it wouldn’t be too much of an over exaggeration to say that I’ve spent a good majority of my time within the confines of an automobile. For me, one of the places I most hate to be is inside a car, so there is little need for me to explain to you that being in a car usually causes me to be grouchy, overly snappy, and sometimes worse, depending upon if I get a headache while driving, which has been known to happen.

Saturday afternoon, after a quite lazy and introspective morning, I left Rochester for the Twin Cities to meet up at the Mall of America with Kristin as she was already in the area since she was at a friend’s birthday bash the night before. We met up, slogged through the crowds, I picked up some cleats & dress shoes, we both got some Dairy Queen, and then we headed out to Jared’s place for the evening. Oh, side note, did you know that Dairy Queen no longer has the brownie batter blizzard? Well, they don’t.

The next day Kristin, myself, Andy, his little brother, and another friend all drove over to the Metrodome parking lot for this year’s iteration of the Warped Tour. It was a good time, but extremely warm. You’ll get a more detailed look at this year’s tour when I finish my writeup for Decoy. After the show we all returned to Andy’s place, from which Kristin and I took off for St. Cloud.

Monday I had to return to Rochester, which was a wonderfully dreadful drive thanks to the pouring rain the entire day. It took nearly 3 and a half hours to get home. Once home, I pack for my Chicago trip, tossed it all by the stairs so I didn’t forget it, and nodded off for the night.

Tuesday I left for a business trip to Chicago. It took almost seven and a half hours to get to downtown Chi-town at which time we had enough time for supper, checking in, and a little bit of relaxation time. The next morning we had a five hour business meeting with a client and then hit the road to return home. I pulled into my driveway at a little under 10:30 pm.

Now it’s Thursday and it feels like it’s been ages since I was not confined by the borders imposed by a motor vehicle. Who would have guessed that I would be thankful for the spaciousness of my cubicle at work? After so much time in a car, though, it sure is nice. Now I just have to get caught back up and get back on my normal schedule. That should be a fun task, and short lived since I’ll be heading to St. Cloud this weekend and house sitting all next week. I want off of this ride. I’m starting to get woozy…

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

And I'm Off

Man, life is terribly busy right now. This weekend, despite my last post claiming I was bored and felt as if my life was slowly wasting away in front of me, actually picked up shortly thereafter. I headed to the cities for some shopping at the Mall of America with Kristin, then went to visit some friends in the cities, then went to Warped Tour all day Sunday, spent a stormy day in St. Cloud on Monday, and today I’m off to Chicago on business for a couple of days. I’ll be back late Wednesday. Go me.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Weekends Shouldn't Suck

Thank God for weekends, right? You don’t have to worry about work. You can chill out if you want. You can stay up late and sleep in even later. You’ve got two solid days to yourself to do whatever the heck you please. How can that not be unbelievably awesome? It can’t be, right?

I used to always think so, and still do most of the time, but I’ve also found that the weekends are the times at which I find myself feeling most alone. During the week everything I do is structured and I know I’ve always got things to do and stuff to try and accomplish. Every hour of the day I feel like I’m working towards something or that at least I should be doing something towards a purpose.

Monday through Friday I have work for eight hours a day. Monday nights I have my softball league. At least one of the nights I usually end up going out with friends. Every afternoon I go for a run and exercise. At night I have my “relax time” that I use to unwind from the day by watching tv, a movie, or doing some reading. Then I get up and do it the next day. I don’t have time to feel lonely.

Weekends are a different story altogether. I don’t have work. I exercise quick in the morning or early afternoon. I try to do any chores I have to Saturday morning to get them out of the way. Sometimes I’ll get together with friends or my family or Kristin, but when I don’t I really feel aimless.

When left to my own devices I have such a hard time trying to figure out what to do with my day. I’ll sometimes try to amuse myself with video games, but usually I feel like I’m wasting my time. It’s different when I have someone to play games with, but when it’s just me sitting in the basement by myself I feel like I should be doing something more substantial with my time.

So then I try something else. I’ll read or send emails to people or tidy up my room or do other little tasks, but I still have that empty feeling. Compounding that, I hate being alone and I think that’s part of the reason I feel so listless when I’m trying to entertain myself—I crave someone else’s company.

Which makes weekends that I spend with Kristin or weekends where I have something planned, such as the camping trip I went on a couple of weeks back, feel worthwhile. That and I just enjoy being with Kristin and being in the company of friends.

I’ve noticed, though, that as I grow older it’s so much harder to get friends together. So many of them are getting married or already are. Others move away. Others have become secluded or are simply content to doing nothing. It’s not like college where there were a ton of people around to do stuff with at any hour of the day. I HAVE to entertain myself at times simply because everyone I know is doing something else, and it really, really sucks. I hate being alone and doing things on my own. I had enough of that throughout elementary, middle, and high school.

What really drove this home is the fact that I was happy to have to come in to work today, a Saturday, to get some work done. It made my day, or at least part of it, feel worthwhile. I’ll be heading to the Twin Cities later to visit with Kristin and then to go to Warped Tour tomorrow, so it really shouldn’t have been too bad of a morning for me since it was just a part of a day that I had to try to entertain myself, but before I came into the office, it was terrible.

I’m trying to figure out what this has to say about me and my personality. Some might call it a dependency problem. Others might call it a dumb fixation that I manufacture myself in order to force myself to do something. Another way of looking at it is that I might be searching for something “more” in my life right now. I’m not sure. I really don’t think it’s any of those things. I just want to spend time with friends and loved ones whenever I can. I don’t want to do things alone. Life, for me, is something to be shared and I want to share mine.

Nural - Weight of the World CD Review

Everyone grows old, and in that process of growing older people usually tend to grow more mature, become a little more tempered, and express themselves in less volatile of manners. People calm down as they grow older—it’s just the nature of the game. Youth and adolescents usually don’t examine their feelings, their state in life, or the nature of the things around them like adults—they live awash in their emotions, expressing them with what little ability they’ve managed develop in their short experience with them. There’s a certain rawness and uncertainty, as well as some overzealousness, that comes with how you express yourself while growing up. You don’t really know how to properly express yourself, but you know you have something to express. It’s this urgent expression of emotion that is evidently on display throughout Nural’s debut full length, The Weight of the World. They’ve got emotion to share, but they might not always know how to do it.

It will be quite apparent upon first listen that this young fivesome (no member is older than 20 years old) are putting their heart on their sleeve and trying to make themselves heard, something you don’t always get from a band that’s older and a little more weathered to this world. At times this youthful exuberance will lead to songs that feel slightly forced or unoriginal, but would you rather have raw, emotion playing that could use a little fine tuning or perfectly polished, yet hollow, songs?

Along with their hearts, Nural also wear their influences on their sleeve. Their brand of emotional hard rock is far from original, but they somehow manage to take influences from across the modern rock landscape and shape them into a very authentic and genuine sounding mesh that feels familiar as well as refreshing.

The leadoff track has a very big and deep hard rock sound to it, something you might hear from Finger Eleven, minus the screaming. Many songs manage to mix a fine balance of older Nickelback flavored song structures with heavier guitar textures (a la Smeer or Strata) to create a thick, exuberant sound. There’s even the occasional quick guitar solo thrown in every now and again. Nothing like what you’d hear on a Van Halen album of course, but just having solos on rock albums is rare in today’s radio friendly rock market. Complementing the music, the very mature sounding vocals feel like a younger version of Brad Arnold from 3 Doors Down but with a little more pliability to them.

Now as much youthful fun as most of this cd is there are a few songs that really fall flat. “Sign of Life” screams out for modern rock radio play in its cliché ridden structure. The first two minutes are made up of acoustic rock with slow, mellow vocals followed by a booming, radio rock passage only to return to acoustics at the end of the song. This type of song has been done a million times before and this version is no different than any of the others. “I Told You So” is also, unfortunately, pigeonholed into the modern radio rock template that’s been done to death as well.

In the end, though, this cd is actually a breath of fresh air from a very stale genre. Leave it to a bunch of kids to show all of the veterans how to make an album that feels genuine and heartfelt. Now let’s hope that as these boys grow older that they don’t grow up and lose the youthful enthusiasm that makes this release the fun listen that it is.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Movie Theaters Used to be Cool

I stumbled across this blog entry over at The Big Picture talking about how it’s not piracy that will kill the movie industry, it’s movie theaters. From the article:
5 factors are hurting theater revenue:
1) Social factors eroding theater environment (talking, cell phones, babies crying, etc.)
2) Sacrificing long term relationships with theater-goers for the increase in short term profitability (commercials, no ushers, etc.)
3) Higher quality experience elsewhere (Home theater)
4) Declining quality of mainstream movies
5) Easily available Long Tail content alternatives (Netflix, Amazon)

I agree so completely that it’s almost uncanny. I really love movies and I’ve been watching a lot of them recently as I’m on a movie kick again, but I find myself more apt to rent a movie and kick back at home than go to a theater.

The first reason provided is the one I agree with least. Here in Rochester or Austin, I haven’t noticed more unruly movie goers than I used to recall when I was younger. The one thing that is more prevalent, though, is people who don’t turn their cell phones off. It’s annoying, but I notice most people will quickly turn off their cell if it starts ringing so I assume it’s usually just a slip of the mind.

The second reason is also not as prevalent here in Rochester but it is starting to get to the point of a larger annoyance than it should be. We have probably anywhere from 1-5 minutes of ads before a movie, which isn’t too bad, but we also have the annoying slide reel thing that plays all the way up to the movie’s start time on the screen. It’s always the same local ads and the same boring movie trivia. I wish they’d just go back to the good ol’ days when they’d just have the radio on. If there gets to be too many more actual advertisements that are shown before a movie, I’ll probably be a little more miffed.

Reason number three is a biggie with me. See I have my own home theater at my house. 57” widescreen high def television. 300 watt dolby surround sound. A nicely broken in and comfortable couch. Convenience. No one to bother me. I love watching movies at home with that setup. The only movies that I really feel I have to see in theaters any more are the special effects laden sci-fi flicks that come out, like War of the Worlds or the upcoming Serenity. Any other movie that I don’t have a real strong urge to see I’ll just wait until they come out on DVD and watch them at home.

Number four is a problem. A big one. Over the last few years it seems that moviegoers have been content to watch movies that sucked as long as there was action, sweet special effects, or fart jokes in them to spice it up. Personally, I find myself more and more disappointed by every big budget movie I see. More often than not, I’ll find myself fascinated by smaller indie pictures that never hit theaters, like The Machinist or Primer or Mean Creek for example, rather than the latest blockbuster, such as Fantastic Four or Stealth.

I will admit, I have been impressed by a few of the movies I’ve seen in the theaters lately (Batman Begins, War of the Worlds, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), but I find there’s a much higher crap to masterpiece ratio when going to see Hollywood blockbusters that are in theaters in comparison to smaller indie studio productions.

Reason five might be the one that eventually kills movie going as we know it. It costs me $5 to go to a matinee or $7 to see a regular showing of a movie in the theater, which is relatively cheap in comparison to other venues in the US, but still seems a little spendy, especially if you get pop, popcorn, or candy. For the same price as a regular movie and refreshments you could rent like 3 movies from Hollywood Video (I hate Blockbuster, by the way, and try to avoid them). When you think about it, for the same price you could often BUY a dvd. Maybe not a new release, but you could easily find a dvd you’d like to watch to buy for that price and with most dvd’s you’ll get way cool extras (or at least just some ok extras).

With the used dvd market in full swing as well, it’s pretty darn easy to find movies you want to own for cheap. I do a lot of movie trading on and I’ve recently been scoping out used dvd’s at Gamestop since they’ve had tons for $5 and also have buy 2 get 1 free sales. It’s just so much more cost effective to buy or rent dvd’s than it is to go to movies. There’s also a much higher variety of movies on dvd than there are in the theater. I see this as being a monstrous problem for theaters. Let’s just hope that the MPAA can change their business model a little quicker and friendlier than the RIAA is changing their business model.

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Thursday, July 21, 2005

A Very Furry Housemate

For the last month or so, and for the forseeable future, I've been renting out the basement of a house that a friend of mine lives in. His house is only four miles away from work and is much, much closer than the 38 my parents' place was. I also felt the need to get into town instead of being out in the boondocks. It was just so hard to do things with people that lived in Rochester when I lived so far away. Anyhow, this doesn't really matter so much for what I was actually going to talk about--an addition to the household, Mori the dog.

Mori the dog is a Soft Furred Wheaton Terrier (or something of that nature). I'm horrible at remembering breed names. Anyways, she's about eight weeks old and weight probably six or seven pounds right now. Since she's a puppy she's plenty playful, likes to bite things, and doesn't always remember to go to the bathroom outside. Beyond that she's been a lot of fun.

Yeah, I don't really have much else to say about her so here, look at a picture of her:


Wednesday, July 20, 2005

His Final Beam Up

Sadly, our beloved Scotty has passed on to the next life early this morning. Being a closet Star Trek nerd, it hurts a little each time one of the original crew passes away. It's obviously impossible that they'd somehow live forever, but seeing some of the actors who portrayed characters in tv shows and movies that I admired, and even worshiped, as a child puts into perspective how time is moving along unphased and how it keeps aging me, slowly but surely. I don't recall ever giving Father Time my express written consent to make me older without my permission, but I don't think he'll stop any time soon.

Star Trek has sadly taken another blow with the loss of James Doohan. I know I'll definitely miss the man who played the best damn Scottish engineer in a sci-fi television show ever, if anything just for his candor about how much of a self-absorbed prick William Shatner is.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Playing It Safe

In most sports I’m unbelievably competitive. I will give everything I can to win. I’ll take chances. I’ll push myself. I’ll trust my instincts. I’ll try as hard as I can. I’ll do all of this because I want to be the best and I want to win. That is, unless I’m playing softball or baseball. For some odd psychological reason I am always playing it safe when it comes to this sport. I never really thought about it much until after my softball team’s league game last night.

We won the game to bolster our record to 7-2, but I felt like I had lost. There were three key moments that made me realize I play this sport way too safe and that I’m afraid to take chances on the field.

The first was a play I made from the outfield. The other team had a baserunner on first and the batter hit a blooper out in my direction. After I closed on the ball and scooped it up on two bounces, I saw the runner from first making his way to third. I had an urge to gun it to the third baseman to try and throw him out, but instead I held off and hit the cutoff man at second. I might have been able to get him at third, but I was afraid of making a bad throw and potentially allowing a run in. Luckily we got out of the inning without the runner scoring.

The second two moments were baserunning instances. I was on first with no one in front of me when the batter jacked one down the left field line. I made third easily and I could have possibly made home but I held up not wanting to get gunned down at the plate, losing us a run. I’m fast enough where I think I could have made it, but I held up wanting to stay with a safe thing—sitting on third.

The next batter came up with me still standing on third, anxiously wanting to get home as the game was tied at 5 apiece, and a runner behind me on second. Our guy cracked one to the shortstop and since the ball was on my side of the field I didn’t move too far towards home like I probably should have. After eyeing me up, the throw was made to first for the out. If I would have been daring, I would have made a solid 4-5 step start towards home and then jetted at the plate to score, but instead I held back not wanting to take the chance that the shortstop would fire the ball back at third instead of to first, even though the odds of that happening were pretty low.

I eventually scored on the next play on a single, but I couldn’t help but think that I almost stranded myself there without scoring. If the next batter would have gotten out I would have kept us from getting a run.

It kind of makes me wonder, why I play it so safe in softball but not other sports? Does it say something profound about my personality type? Probably not, but I think part of the reason is that baseball was the first sport I started playing when I was young and I was always so afraid of messing up that ended up overthinking everything. Every at-bat, every time I was in the field, every time I was running the bases, it didn’t matter. I was always trying to do the right thing.

Of course you can’t always do the right thing, but back then I was looking so hard for the approval of my teammates and my coach that any error or mistake I would take very personally and often I’d let it guide my future behavior. If I screwed up a stolen base attempt I’d be less likely to take off the next time. If I got burned by a long fly over my head I’d start playing extra deep. I was always trying to overcorrect for the mistakes I made, which many times weren’t even mistakes but just the breaks in the game.

It’s crazy how that type of mentality has managed to carry over into my adult softball playing career. Sure, I don’t play this way when I’m just goofing around with friends or playing a pickup game, but as soon as you put me in a game that counts for something my brain is on overdrive trying to outsmart itself and outsmart the game itself. What’s sad is that I can’t outsmart the game and mistakes are still going to happen, but I continually let them get to me. If this isn’t an argument to prove that environment helps shape a personality, I don’t know what is.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Rochester Controlled Fire

There was a fire in Rochester today at about 12 or 12:30. It happened out on the north side of town where the KTTC and KXLT building is at. After I got back from lunch today one of my coworkers asked me if I wanted to see something cool. Of course I did, so I followed him outside and he showed me the plumes of smoke billowing from a fire a little ways off.

Since we really didn't want to be at work and because we were curious about the fire, three coworkers and myself saddled up into a car and drove out to the area where the fire was. It turns out that it was a farm house that was burning to the ground. It also turns out that it was a controlled burn being watched by the local fire department. It was still pretty fun to watch as a house burned to the ground. I've got a few pictures to go with the video as well:

Fire Fire

Attitude Differences

You want to know what the worst part about living in suburbia in Rochester is? Being surrounded by people, yet never having anyone to do things with. It’s been quite an adjustment for me moving from the country to a Rochester subdivision. Actually, I don’t even think I’m close to actually adjusting yet. Almost daily I find myself feeling out of place, like I don’t really belong here, kind of like that awkward uncle that shows up for family reunions that everyone looks at funny and doesn’t want to talk to.

The biggest shock for me has been how much different the people are. In the country everyone knew everyone and whenever you saw someone from the community you could expect to talk with them for at least a few minutes, if not burn an hour or two just talking crap. In town here I’d be lucky to get more than a hello or head nod from many of the people I see.

Every day I go running throughout our subdivision and every day I see some new faces. When I run by them I always make sure to smile and say hello but more often that not it’s completely lost on whoever I’m running past because they’ve averted their eyes from me or they’re pretending that I don’t exist. There have actually been a few surprised double takes from people as I said hello, making it seem like I just told them their father died instead of simply saying hi. It’s just that unexpected to them.

So how am I supposed to actually meet and talk to people and, God forbid, maybe make some friends in my community? I’m clueless. I’m not naturally an overly extroverted person, but I’m also not a complete recluse. I’ll try to spark conversations with people, but usually only when I feel comfortable doing it. If anything being confronted by suburban life, I’ve tried to become more outgoing, but have utterly failed to make any connections with people.

It’s not any better at the bars either. If you go during the week people pretty much stick to their groups that they arrived at the bar with. If you go during the weekend people are only out to get dates, not hang out and possibly make a friend. Where’s the happy medium?

Usually a lot of people, when they arrive in a new place, will turn to work to find friends. I’ve already been working at my workplace for almost three years if you count my internships so I know everyone already. Considering it’s a really small company, about 15 people large at our office, it’s not that hard to get to know everyone.

Unfortunately most of the people at work, and by most I mean everyone but myself, a guy living with his girlfriend, a guy who’s divorced, a girl who’s been engaged for like 15 years, and one of my college classmates are all married. This means that almost everyone has kids or a wife to go home to so they aren’t too keen on hanging out, or even if they are they have to run it by their spouse (or girlfriend). There’s also very little turnover in our company since it is so small that there is rarely an influx of new people to meet.

So what’s a guy who only has a few friends in town to do? Well, first of all complain. I’m really good at that. Beyond that I’ve now started to seriously consider joining some clubs here in town—possibly trying martial arts or maybe taking dance classes, although both are relatively expensive, but then again I haven’t looked extensively at either.

Another thing I’m seriously thinking about is volunteering. Why not help out my community? There’s always more work to be done than there are workers to do it, and if there’s one thing that’s really rubbed off from my time with Kristin it’s that volunteering is important. I might not be doing some grand mission trip to another country or dedicating 40 hours a week to it, but I’d be helping out and if that doesn’t help me feel a little bit better about myself, I don’t know what possibly can.

Who knew it would be this hard just to meet people and find people to hang out with? There really is no replacing a college atmosphere for meeting people. Here in suburbia, it’s a different story altogether.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

See You Later, Face

There are some days where being in the office just makes want to utterly spaz out and totally wreck my computer, my cube, my co-workers, myself, and the rest of the freakin' world. Sometimes I'm just about ready to explode and start beating the living hell out of the closest carbon based life form when I see something really, really hilarious that calms me down. You know, something like this:

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Camping with the Guys

This last weekend one of my high school friends was back home in the state for a couple of weeks on leave from serving in Afghanistan. While he was home a group consisting of me, him, and six other guys from high school got together and went camping at the Old Barn in Lanesboro. Traditionally this group of guys, minus me, go there every year. This last weekend was only the second time I’ve ever made it and they’d been going every year since we graduated high school. I would have liked to have gone all of the other times, but usually whoever decided to put it together each year would only tell me about it a couple of days before it happened and I would usually already have plans.

But this year I made it! We were able to schedule it better since there was only a two week window that Adam, my friend serving in Afghanistan, would be home. I got there Friday night about an hour after they said they’d be there, but there was no one at our campsite. I drove around then entire campground wondering if they’d somehow given me the wrong campsite number, but I didn’t see them anywhere. Turns out that the guy driving didn’t leave until after an hour past his scheduled departure time since he had to mow some of the lawn so his wife didn’t have so much to do on her own.

…Wow, that last sentence kind of scares me for two reasons. First, he’s letting lame-ass yard work get in the way of coming out camping with the guys and second, he’s letting his wife regulate his life, even if it is somewhat indirectly.

Anyhow, once everyone got there we started up a fire and cooked ourselves some supper before spending the entire evening just sitting around, burning logs, talking, reacquainting each other with what’s been happening in our varied lives, and trying to light our farts on fire. It was an all guys camping trip after all…

The next morning we all groggily woke up after the sun started baking us in our tents. Camping companies should seriously look into making tents that don’t turn into pressure cookers at the first sign of sunlight. We all grabbed some food in Lanesboro and then headed out kayaking on Root River for about four and a half hours.

Root River is an interesting “river” for kayaking, mostly for the fact that in many places there are lots of very shallow passes where your kayak can get hung up. I’m pretty sure each of us ended up having to maneuver ourselves off of a bed of rocks at least once or twice. What was really fun, though, was watching a couple of the guys totally dump their kayaks when they came to a couple of spots where the river narrowed and pretended that it had rapids.

Besides watching the guys dump their kayaks, we were also treated to some choice heckling from a few old guys that were just hanging out on the banks of the river. For the most part you couldn’t decipher what they were saying, but I did catch one phrase and it had me in stitches for a few minutes. He was yelling at us about some rock in the middle of the river which he said, “Would leave us deader than corned beef if we hit it.” That’s right folks, deader than corned beef.

After our kayaking adventures we spent the rest of the night grocery shopping, burning things, cooking, and trying to light more farts on fire. In between those events we did manage to get some volleyball and pool time in, which was nice, but since we’d all seen plenty of sun out on the river it was nice to sit in the shade by our campsite.

In the morning we all went our separate ways with a few more memories lodged in our brains, a few more things to talk about and reminisce over in a couple of years when we all get together again. I miss those guys and wish that we all weren’t so far apart. At least we have these annual trips, right?

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Fear My Thoughts - Hell Sweet Hell CD Review

Before I even get into the actual review I would just like to take this moment to make a public service announcement to the entire metal and metalcore scene:

We don’t need any more stupid ass, completely pointless, time wasting intros at the beginning of your albums. Sure, you think you’re “setting the tone” or “building up to the first song” or something along those lines but, in fact, all you manage to do is annoy listeners and make them immediately hit the next button every time they turn on your cd. So kill those intros. Thank you.

After you wade through the 56 second intro of random ambient noise and muted whispers, Fear My Thoughts jump right into “Windows for the Dead”, the opening track for their Lifeforce debut, Hell Sweet Hell. It was a quality choice to put as the opening track since it showcases everything that Fear My Thoughts will be doing throughout the rest of the album, mainly pounding out heavily European influenced, double bass pounding, melodic metal.

Throughout the course of the album, Fear My Thoughts vary their musical attack between a balanced combination of the aforementioned styles, strong Euro-metal tracks, straight ahead metal songs, and crunchy metalcore. They’re easily at their best when combining all of these aspects into one song, but when they focus primarily on only one of their varied influences, things start to break down.

The weakest songs are those that heavily embody their Euro-metal side, simply because they don’t know how to vary that type of approach from song to song. Each strong Euro-metal passage feels extremely similar to every other one on the album, much like many of the moments where an attempt is made at traditional metal guitar licking—-there just isn’t enough variation.

When Fear My Thoughts start to let their sound expand to encompass small additions to their core sound, such as the electronics on “Ghosts of Time” and “Dying Eyes”, the groove-oriented approach on “The Fighting”, or the brooding, slow-paced structure of “Trying to Feel” the band comes off highly listenable. Each of these songs highlights some of the band’s finer moments on Hell Sweet Hell. The unfortunate part about this is that it makes the other songs on the disc feel subpar, or pedestrian, in comparison. Regardless, this is still a fine European influenced metal release that will delight many fans of the genre.

Rosco Coltrane is a Dirty Old Man

Now you can see why he's a collector's item!

[Edit: The image won't hotlink so click here to see what I'm talking about.]

What Would We Do Without Google?

Is it just me or is almost every new and wonderful innovation found on the internet being done by Google (or being bought out by Google)? First their search algorithms are some of the best out there. Gmail is one of the best webmail services. Google Maps are head and shoulders above Mapquest or Yahoo Maps (both of which I will never use again as each has given me bogus directions at least once). Google Earth has the potential to be an amazing tool for exploring the world from your desktop. Google's Desktop search is freakishly good. I can't really think of a project that they've undertaken that hasn't been cool.

Now with the opening of some of their API's, the ability for people to make custom tools using Google's robust projects has been blown wide open and I've recently stumbled upon one such tool that I think is pretty neat--Google Maps Transparencies. What this site does is takes Google's road maps and superimposes them on top of the satellite image of the area. This way you can see the lay of the land as well as the roads that run through the area. It might not be any more useful than straight up Google Maps, but it sure is neat. I look forward to seeing what other tools people can come up with.

Monday, July 11, 2005

About Freakin' Time

As you may have noticed over the past couple of weeks the formatting of my site has been... less than desirable. There would often be spaces between posts and the comments link or other big spaces in posts for no reason. Well, actually there was a reason, but it wasn't my fault. It was our wonderful friend, Blogger's, problem.

Because of some changes that Blogger made to how posts are published, all of my posts were being wrapped in div clear:both tags. What this did is clear all of my floating formatting, which is how I define a lot of the layout on my site. There was no way to keep blogger from adding those tags to each post so I just had to live with the formatting issues and continually complain to Blogger.

Thankfully this affected enough blogs that they finally released a fix for it. So, barring any other screwups from our friends at Blogger my site should be back to looking normal, at least when it comes to formatting.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Thinking About the Future

Last weekend, along with watching lots of movies and hanging out with Kristin, I also managed to travel up to Virginia, MN to see one of my friends get married. It was only the fourth wedding I’d been to in my life and one of the other three was for one of Kristin’s friends while another was when I was about 12 or so.

I suppose now that I’m at the age of 24, I’m entering into that age range where all of my friends will probably start tying the knot. It’s already weird having two of my friends married and another getting married this fall. It’s also a little disconcerting to see so many people in my age range married or engaged since I’m at neither of those stages in my life. It’s almost like there’s some sort of indirect pressure on me to move on to that stage of my life as well just because everyone else has or is in the process.

In high school I always imagined myself married right after I got out of college. I would have found my special someone in my four years of school, established a strong relationship, and entered into the engagement phase of the relationship. Later, in college I imagined things a little differently, especially as I approached my senior year. I still wanted to have that strong relationship with someone established, but I didn’t want to get married right out of college, but maybe a year or two afterwards.

Now, I’m here a year and a half after graduating and not even close to being married. Does this trouble me? Honestly, a little, but it’s not something that’ll keep me up every night. I’m starting to realize more and more that things don’t always work out how you imagine them or how you plan them to happen. Life happens and when it does, even the best laid plans can and will change. That’s just the nature of the game.

So what do I now see in my future pertaining to marriage? Well, I really don’t know. I wish I knew for sure when it would happen because that would make things easy, but as it is now, I really have no idea when I’ll get married. Some days I even have a hard time seeing myself getting married at all, not because I don’t want to—far from it—but because I sometimes think that it just might never happen. Every time I imagine myself getting married, or simply engaged for that matter, it keeps getting pushed back further and further into the future that sometimes I wonder if I’ll be dead before I’m married :-) Who knows, though, maybe it's a good thing I'm not married yet because what if I suddenly realized I didn't want to be right now. I'd already be married so I'd just end up being a lot grumpier whereas now I could just put it off a little longer.

Seriously, though, if somehow things don’t work out with Kristin, I don’t know if I’d have it in me to get that emotionally invested again. I don’t think there would be any way that I’d be able to completely give myself to a relationship again. I’d always have the feeling of previous failure hanging over me, keeping me from being able to truly invest myself. I’d be too afraid of giving up even more of myself and potentially having it not work out.

Anyways, this is all pretty much just a bunch of hypothetical, aimless thinking and is a very roundabout way of segueing into telling everyone that I have some pictures up from Andy and Amanda’s wedding that I was at last weekend. Just click on the picture below to be taken to the gallery. There’s not many pictures there yet, but I should have more later.

Friday, July 08, 2005

I Need Cartoon Network

At the house I live in here in Rochester, we don't get cable. Well, that's not completely true... we get the most basic of the basic cable which means we get the local channels, some news channels, some foreign language channels, a couple of shopping channels, and MTV2. It's more channels than what I used to get living in the country, but I'm starting to want to have more channels at my fingertips, especially after watching this click of Voltron getting served from an episode of Robot Chicken (which is on Cartoon Network).

Cartoon Network's Adult Swim consistently puts out shows that I really, really enjoy which is something that network tv rarely does. I think it's something about how completely off the wall most of the comedy is. Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Harvey Birdman, Sealab 2021, Space Ghost, and now Robot Chicken are all money shows. Combine that with the shows they picked up from other networks, such as Family Guy and Futurama, and you have a killer lineup.

The other channel I really miss is Comedy Central, mainly just for the Daily Show with John Stewart. I picked up the Daily Show Indecision 2004 box set that just came out to tide me over until I pony up some money to actually order cable. In the summer right now it's not all that bad since I have the nice weather to enjoy, but once winter rolls around I think cable is going to have to be a must.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Haste the Day - When Everything Falls CD Review

Does every moderately successful metalcore band have to water down their “breakout” albums in order to appeal more to the Hot Topic, teenie-bopper crowd? Atreyu did it with The Curse. Norma Jean did it with O God, the Aftermath. Every Time I Die sounds like they’re going to do it with Gutter Phenomenon. Really it should be no surprise that Haste the Day would follow the trend and mellow out on When Everything Falls.

Sure, Haste the Day still sound like Zao, Atreyu, The Agony Scene, and Evergreen Terrace in a blender on liquefy, but instead of that being a good thing, as it has in the past, it doesn’t come out quite as well this time, probably because of the lack of Zao and The Agony Scene influence and a lot more Atreyu copycatting. There are moments on this cd when you can almost swear that you are listening to something from Atreyu’s current musical output or that you are hearing a bizarre version of Underoath that uses death metal growls in place of screams. Listen to “If I Could See” or “Fallen” and try to tell me that you can’t hear the influences.

Even with the newfound focus on melody and trendy, over-produced guitar licks, these guys can still rip shit up with the best of them. Listening to the pummeling breakdown choruses on “Walls & Fear” or the bridge on “This Time It’s Real” will reassure longtime fans that the old Haste the Day that was more concerned with brutality and making your ears bleed is still there, just in a new glossy form.

Now getting back on track about why this album isn’t as good as it could be… there is definitely a lack of quality guitar solo riffs like those found on Burning Bridges. Along with that, another thing that has been missing, since even before then, is the intricate song structures that were a staple on their debut EP, That They May Know You, which was easily their best work with everything since having been on a downhill progression and coming off as too streamlined.

Interestingly enough, one thing that will probably get Haste the Day a lot of attention is the inclusion of a cover of the Goo Goo Dolls’ “Long Way Down”. When I saw it in the tracklisting, I couldn’t wait to see how they would turn a mediocre pop-rock song into a metalcore anthem. Well, I’m still waiting. They hardly give the song a makeover other than by adding a few background screams which, by the way, are mixed in so low they’re almost inaudible. Other than those few screams, it’s a pretty basic cover of the song, which is just unacceptable.

Yet once again, a metalcore band has found themselves polishing up their sound, mellowing out, and leaving behind their strengths in order to try to make a splash into the mainstream of the genre. That doesn’t necessarily make this a bad cd, but in comparison to Haste the Day’s previous output, this disc definitely falls short.

Death Metal is so Funny

First, I'd just like to let everyone know that the newly recoded, reworked, and resexified version of Decoy Music has just launched this last weekend so please check it out. Hopefully you'll come back often for your fix of new music, news, cd reviews, and more. If not, I'll hunt you down and kill you.

Anyways, as I was posting some news articles to the site the other day, I noticed that Relapse Records was having a gigantic catalog clearing sale. I decided to look to see what there was. Who knows, maybe I'd find some cds I missed when they first came out. What I forgot is that Relapse is predominantly a death metal record label and I don't really dig all that much in that genre, however, I am glad that I checked out the sale for one reason--the band names. Death metal bands have the funniest names ever and what's even funnier is that most of the time they actually take themselves seriously when their name is obviously downright comical. How many people are going to take bands with names like Hammerfall or Longsword or Nightwish seriously? I sure can't. Here are some of my favorites that I stumbled upon along with what I initially thought when I read their name:

Abortion (so they're liberal?)
Agony Conscience (It hurts to think?)
Angel Crew (Gabriel and his posse of rap stars!)
Black League (It's like the Ivy League... except for demons)
Blood Vomit (Is there really any other way to puke?)
Bloody Gore (As opposed to happy, clean, fun gore)
Cryptic Carnage (You never know how bad they're really going to be)
Falling Over Drunk (At least they're honest)
Disgorged Foetus (Ummm... wow)
Eat My Fuk (They ate a few too many paint chips as kids)
Exploding Zombies (My favorite so far)
Extreme Noise Terror (Ok, now you're just throwing words together)
Forced to Decay (Because, well, it won't happen on its own)
Gutrix (What a name)
Hellacopters (The devil's air brigade)
Jesuslaceration (Yes, that is one word, and yes, it is a stupid name)
Mushroom's Patience (Didn't know they were that patient)

Ok, I've only made it through to the end of the M's, but I seriously can't go any further without feeling bad for most of the bands. Death metal bands need to stop taking themselves so seriously, or if they are going to be serious they need to be more intelligent about it.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Recent Movies

Over the last week and a half or two I've actually managed to watch a bunch of movies. I go in spurts where I will watch a ton of movies and then I'll go for a while without watching any. I'm very spurty like that when it comes to entertainment in general. Some weeks I'll spend just watching tv shows, others I'll focus only on reading, others it's movies, and yet others video games. These last couple weeks have been a combination of tv show watching and movies. Happily, most of the movies I watched were pretty good.

On a suggestion from a friend/co-worker I watched both I Heart Huckabees and What the Bleep Do We Know a little while back. Both were good and very philosophically oriented, which is always a surefire way to get me to like a movie. Huckabees story of rival existential detectives trying to help three men find the meaning of life is, well, something I definitely didn't expect. The previews made it seem like it was a somewhat semi-intelligent comedy that would rely mostly on off-the-wall situations and odd transitions. Thank God it was so much more.

At its most basic, Huckabees basically pits the nihilistic existential outlook against the interconnected, Spinozistic metaphysical model. A lot of the comedic moments arise from the complete disconnect between the two philosophies. Mark Wahlberg plays the perfect aspiring intellectual that feels like he has a grip on reality's underpinnings, yet is completely clueless. Jason Schwarzman's confused, edgy character is a hoot. I would imagine that anyone not philosophically educated or inclined would relate most with his character as I'm sure many of the topics covered wouldn't exactly resonate too well with the majority of everyday moviegoers.

Jude Law's portrayal of the empty, corporate stereotype who defines his meaning in the world by his successes, yet wonders if there really is more out there, is easy to sympathize. So many of the people I know fall into this category of being. They define themselves by what they've managed to do in their lives so far and by what they have. Consumerism at its finest.

Anyone who has any philosophical inclinations, or is even moderately intelligent should go out and pick up I Heart Huckabees at your next convenience and give it a screening. It's a movie that is rarer and rarer in today's movie industy, an industry obsessed with explosions, comic book adaptations, fart humor, and sappy romantic comedies.

What the Bleep Do We Know is a combination of a documentary, a new age recruitment video, and a narrative story of self exploration. It's another intelligent movie, but at times it gets bogged down in its new age existential ramblings. Often these ramblings aren't explained very well and come across as ideas that are just being thrown out there for random consideration instead of actual deep debate. There are some very interesting bits that deal with quantum physics, which I found educational, and some interesting bits that discuss God and the big picture which are thought provoking, but other parts of the movie, such as the overarching thread of creator/observer philosophy in the latter half of the film left a lot of open holes that could have used some more time to be explained.

Over the weekend I finally took in the extended version of Return of the King with Kristin. We'd both been waiting to watch it and finally found a solid 4+ hours to dedicate to it. I have definitely enjoyed the extended versions much more than theatrical releases. Some of the scenes that were added to RotK I felt really should have been in the original movie, but considering how long it already was something had to get cut. If you ask me, they should have cut down the ending a little, or lost a couple of them. Anyhow, the scene where Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli hijack the pirate ships with the ghost army was a great addition.

Another scene that I couldn't believe they left out of the original version was the resolution of the Saruman plotline. Watching RotK in the theaters by the time the battle of Minas Tirith started I was wondering, "What the hell happened to Saruman? Is he going to somehow come help the orc forces? Does he play a role here soon? Are we to assume he's dead?" I just didn't know what happened to him.

The last additional scene that I thought was needed was Sam and Frodo donning orc armor and travelling with the pack. In the original version of the film it seemed like they just magically teleported across a vast expanse of land, but this scene helps to show why they're so tired at the end and how they crossed the sprawling expanse of orc land on their way to the mountain.

Now, like any good comic book fan and like any Batman fanatic, I went to see Batman Begins last week. It is easily the best Batman film, which is not necessarily an easy thing to become considering how good I thought the first two were (and in case you don't know, I thought the first two were freakin' sweet). I'll also go out on a limb and say that this is probably the best superhero film outside of X2. If you haven't seen it yet, you really should check it out.

Lastly, I also caught Land of the Dead in the theater with my family. Odd family movie, I know, but there wasn't much else playing that we all hadn't seen. As I somewhat expected I was the only one of our family to enjoy it. I'm a sucker for zombie movies and as long as they're done decent, I'll enjoy them. When they're done crappily, I'll hate them (I'm looking at you Resident Evil movies). I guess the best way to classify this movie for casual zombie moviegoers would be to say it's a nice combination of the horror/gore of the recent remake of Dawn of the Dead and some of the more morbid comedic moments of Sean of the Dead. If you don't mind seeing blood & guts up on the movie screen, like a little political commentary with your horror, and dig zombies go see it.