Friday, September 29, 2006

My Friday Salute: Taquitos

Today I would like to introduce you to one of my wonderful friends that I like to keep in the freezer for times when I'm too damn lazy to cook, which is more often than you'd think. Say hello to my taquitos!

They're beef or chicken rolled in a crunchy tortilla that you can pop into a microwave at any time to snack on. Rolling a meat taco into a non-messy, snackable form is something of genius. Whoever created the taquito deserves a handshake or pat on the back or check for a billion million trillion dollars because, gosh darn it, they're really good.

I usually buy my taquitos by the 60 count box at Sam's Club. Hey, you can never have too many taquitos if you ask me. Unfortunately, the downside to having 60 taquitos at your disposal is that I'm often tempted to cook ungodly amounts of them all at once because they're so snackalicious. Like right now. I just make 14 of them for lunch. You can't deny the power of the taquito. It's like the Chuck Norris of Mexican cuisine.

Dream Theater - Score CD Review

Anyone who follows Dream Theater, even in the least, knows that they are one hell of a live band. In fact, Dream Theater like their live performances so much so that out of their 14 releases from 1989 until now, 5 of them have been live albums, the latest being Score. With their last live album being Live at Budokan, which was released in 2004, and having only one new album under their belts (Octivarium) between that live album and this one, there is one big question that is just begging to be answered: Is this triple album really necessary?

If you listen to only the first disc of this 3 CD set, then the answer would be “Maybe”. Containing only 2 songs (out of the 8 on it) from Octivarium, the other songs you would think would have been played on past live releases (both CD and DVD), but only the overplayed “Innocence Faded” will seem familiar. Instead of the usual songs, Dream Theater play some older material along with two songs that were never released — “Another Won” and “Raise the Knife”.

The two new songs are both interesting pieces, with “Another Won” originally being written in 1985 (it shows its age a little) and “Raise the Knife” being from their 1996 sessions. Even with these new songs and the positives of hearing some Octivarian tracks played on the first disc, “The Spirit Carries On” is an overpoweringly weak song, but the crowd seems to eat it up nonetheless. Dream Theater has never been good at being a ballad band and their attempt here is almost to the point of being laughable, especially when James LaBrie implores the crowd to “Sing it!”.

The remaining highlight on the first disc is the performance of “The Root of All Evil”, which was probably the best track from Octivarium, and it started the set off perfectly. In place of some of the songs on disc one, or potentially in augmentation of the set, I would have killed to hear something from Train of Thought, as the songs from that album seem to be very conducive to a live environment, as heard on Live at Budokan.

Once you’ve finished blowing through the first disc and pop in the second, the answer to the question posed in the first paragraph will go from that “Maybe” to a hearty “Yes!” Hearing the band playing alongside an orchestra is something that any Dream Theater fan, and many prog rock fans in general, will cherish. If you’re thinking that the collaboration sounds anything like the much publicized Metallica “collaboration” with an orchestra, then you’re in for a big surprise. Instead of using the orchestra for small finishing touches, like Metallica did, the Octavarium Orchestra complements Dream Theater perfectly, weaving in and out of the six songs they play on.

“Six songs is all?” you might be wondering, but remember who we are talking about here. The first collaboration is on the sprawling 40 plus minute epic “Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence”, which is started off with over seven minutes of the orchestra playing a derivation of the theme of the song before Dream Theater joins the fray. When they do, the interplay between the two groups is phenomenal. Instead of overpowering the orchestra, the band is mixed at the perfect level so that this feels like a unity between the two entities, as it should be, instead of a gimmick, as many bands would no doubt treat it.

“Vacant” is really unneeded, however, and “The Answer Lies Within” is done well enough, but again it is a ballad, which Dream Theater doesn’t exactly excel at. Thankfully the orchestra makes it a little more interesting than it would usually be. The final three pieces to be played on this effort are all amazing in their own right. The 10 minute “Sacrificed Sons” is a nice mid-tempo prog song that mixes with the orchestra wonderfully. “Octavarium”, clocking in at 27 minutes, mixes a long section of ambience during the first third of the song with mostly the band performing throughout the rest of the song with not as much of the orchestra chiming in until the end of the song for the build up faux finale that leads into the 10 minute “Metropolis”.

“Metropolis” shows a wonderful balance between the orchestra and Dream Theater near the opening. Being a heavier song to start, the smoothness of the orchestra takes some of the edge off while not neutering the song. As the song progresses the orchestra does take a back seat to the myriad of solos, but that is somewhat to be expected.

In the end, this is a wonderful performance put on by one of the most talented bands still playing today. And as is the case with almost every Dream Theater live release, you’ll definitely get your money’s worth, this time around by getting a set consisting of Dream Theater’s less played material, unreleased material, and an entire set consisting of a melding of orchestration and prog rock. This is essential listening for any prog rock fan.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Savage Chickens

Cartoons about chickens scribbled on post it notes. How does it get any better. Go see more Savage Chickens, you'll enjoy yourself. Trust me.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Fat Disease?

I don't know about you, but I sure as heck think metabolic syndrome is just totally a made up disease. I've been reading about it everywhere, most recently in the latest issue of Wired, and it just seems like a way to classify people that are fat and lazy into one mass category so that Pfizer and other big drug companies can peddle "get thin quick" drugs to the legions of people who suddenly have been diagnosed with a new disorder.

You don't have a syndrome because you don't exercise, watch 5 hours of television a day, eat McDonalds for lunch, Chipolte for supper, and snack on a bag of Cheetos a day. No, that's called being a lazy fat ass. If you look at the symptoms of metabolic syndrome, you see what are not symptoms of anything, they're effects of a crappy lifestyle.

Now I'm not some totally insensitive clod who thinks that all fat people are just big, dumb, and lazy because I know that there are people that do have hormone, enzyme, and chemical imbalances that lead to their size, but you can't be serious when 75 million of the 298 million people in the US fit the category of suffering from metabolic syndrome according to The National Istitutes for Health. That is a fourth of the US's population!

Instead of selling high price designer drugs to the overweight, why don't doctors just tell people what they need to hear--get off your ass, exercise, and stop eating so much crap! I know that I'd be fat as all get out if I didn't exercise because I eat terribly. I'm smart enough to know that when I have a double whopper or a half of a Domino's pizza that I need to go out and do something besides sit in front of my TV playing Xbox 360 or reading a book. I go to the gym, work off the extra calories, and guess what? I ward off "metabolic syndrome". I'm sure if I tried, I could give myself metabolic syndrome, but then is it really a syndrome? I thought that syndromes were things that we caught or were caused genetically... but don't tell big pharma that. Then they wouldn't be able to peddle drugs to fat people.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Destroy the Runner - Saints CD Review

Dear Destroy the Runner,

We have recently had the chance to listen to your debut CD, Saints, and upon doing so were overcome with a myriad of emotions. Going into our initial listening of your CD, we knew that there would definitely be similarities between your brand of melodic metalcore and what we have pioneered in the last few years, but we didn’t know that you would blatantly copy us as much as you did.

From the first song to the last song, we felt as if you took every riff we have put down on tape, from what we did on our debut full length, Beneath the Encasing of Ashes all the way up to our most recent offering, Shadows are Security, changed them around slightly, and claimed them as your own. Yes, some may call this copying the sincerest form of flattery, but we see it as a lack of creativity on your part.

It wouldn’t be that terrible if you were simply ripping off our riffs, much like Caliban did earlier this year on their release The Undying Darkness, but you also outright steal our vocal approach. Yes, we realize that the combination of heavy, guttural yelling interspersed with light, tenor singing is not something unique only to our band, but both your yells and your singing sound exactly like Tim and Clint’s vocal styles.

We are saddened to see Solid State Records resorting to signing bands that lack originality and ape already established bands' sounds outright without even attempting to put a unique spin on it. Signing bands just to cash in on a trend is not something we support.

Despite the above, however, we do feel you have some signs of talent, and if you try to find your own identity instead of merely copying us, we think you could do well in the melodic metalcore genre. We are sure you’ll sell plenty of records to kids looking to whet their appetites while they wait for us to put out a new disc, but please don’t plan on continuing to cash in by peddling your unoriginal music to our fanbase.

Signed collectively,
The members of As I Lay Dying

Monday, September 25, 2006

Some Great News (For Me At Least)

For the first time in 11 years existing homes prices and sales have fallen. For anyone trying to sell a house, that definitely sucks, but for anyone that is considering taking the plunge into home ownership within the next year's time frame, this is great news. Prices have been slowly leveling off over the last 6 months or so here in Minnesota, but they haven't been falling.

I'm hoping that this national average will trickle its way into the Minneapolis suburb area. I somehow don't think it will because there is always demand for housing in the inner suburbs of Minneapolis, which is where I most definitely want to live since I hate commuting, so I don't see there being any plummetting in prices, but it would be great to see everything stay flat for a while and let inflation outpace housing prices.

If you know of a great house in the St. Louis Park, Plymouth, Edina, Golden Valley, or New Hope area, let me know, especially if it is a good deal.

Me and My 360

I may not play video games nearly as much as I used to, but I still do. I enjoy popping in a game on my Xbox 360 every now and again to kill some time, blow off some frustrations, or get my ass kicked by a roommate. What's interesting about the 360 is that what games you play and what actions you take on your 360 are captured in an RSS feed that can be accessed on the internet if you so choose it to be.

Well, I let mine be accessed and I actually feed it into a service that I found called Xbox 360 Voice. This service takes what you've been doing on your 360 and turns it into a blog. That's right, my Xbox blogs, and does so more often than I do, actually, which is kind of sad. Here, check out what my Xbox has been up to.

My, haven't video games come so far? And I remember wanting to bash in my parents' television while trying to figure out what the hell was going on in E.T. for the Atari 2600. I still have nightmares about that game.

Friday, September 22, 2006

The Office Premier

There's one show that I've really really really really been waiting to start back up again--The Office. The first two seasons, well, if you call it that since one season was only 6 episodes long, but anyways, the first two seasons were comedic genius. Sure, tons of people say the UK version is better, but I haven't seen it yet, so to me the US version is ridiculous in its awesomeness.

Last season ended on a real high note with many plot lines coming to a head and a few new ones being introduced. With those things in mind, I went into the season premier to find myself... not quite as impressed as before. However, because of the big money payoffs at the end of last season and the situations that were set up because of them, I had a feeling the show was going to need to attempt to find a new identity. No longer did you have the Pam/Jim dynamic or the Jim/Dwight dynamic or Pam soon to be getting married. The show was definitely going to need to find its rhythm again, and I think it might be a rough few episodes until it does.

There were a lot of funny moments, don't get me wrong, but the season 3 premier also came off as if the writers were trying a little too hard. Michael seemed a little extra moronic and backwater. The other characters didn't quite have the timing and "character" that they previously did. Thankfully there was Dwight. His character was as hilarious as ever. Two scenes in particular had me in stitches. The first was his remorse of Jim's leaving and the second was his use of his newly acquired "gaydar". Genius stuff.

I'm still stoked that a new season of The Office is coming my way once a week, but I'm going to temper my expectations for a bit as it seems like the show is going to be going through a few growing pains to get back to the level it was previously at.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

What's the Big Deal?

I love my energy drinks. Usually it doesn't matter what kind of energy drink it is, I'll drink it. Some personal preferences are Monster, Red Bull, Donkey Kick, and Jolt (that's right, it has made a comeback!). Even though I prefer those, I'll drink just about anything from MDX to Rock Star to Bawls to Tab Energy.

They all have pretty funny names when you think about it. Bawls? Donkey Kick? Red Bull? All pretty out there names if you ask me. And now there's a new kid on the block--Cocaine. After reading up on some of the facts on the drink, I think it may now be my new favorite energy drink, regardless of how it tastes.

If you look at the charts in the link you'll see that it has a whopping 33.33 milligrams of caffeine per ounce. My current favorite, Monster, only has 8.75 milligrams per ounce. Cocaine packs in almost four times the concentration of caffeine per ounce! Holy crap pants is that nuts. It's almost like drinking straight espresso.

Unfortunately, it is getting a fair share of bad press because of the name. They claim it is going to promote drug use or make drug use look cool. Seriously? If an energy drink leads you doing hardcore drugs, then something is wrong with you in the first place. It's like saying Donkey Kick is promoting animal abuse or that Jolt is promoting electocution and shock therapy. Come on. It's a clever name. What they should have really named it, though, is Speed. That's probably a little more accurate.

Now I just have to figure out how to get my hands on this stuff...

Pretty Much Says It All


Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Strike Anywhere and Ignite Live

Small venue shows can be quite hit or miss. If the place ends up being packed to the gills and everyone gets into the bands, it can be a phenomenally awesome time. If the crowd is sparse and only a few people get into the performance, however, then you have a not-so-fun night staring you in the face. One of the things that can influence the crowd size, and often does, is the time of the show. Usually shows start around 7 or later at night so people have time to do things throughout the day before going out. Then there are the mid day shows that usually start around 5 because the venue is having another show later on starting around 9. Some clubs have to do this to stay afloat. Unfortunately, this is usually a big dampener on show attendance and I figure that is part of the reason the turnout for the Minneapolis stop of the Strike Anywhere and Ignite tour was small. The Triple Rock is a great venue, but only when it’s packed.

With only about 100 people or so in the venue, the Iowa originated Modern Life is War tried to get the place started. Being that they’re from the area, they had a rabid, tight group of fans there that were singing every word and trying to climb over one another in order to get to the mic and sing along. It was quite the sight and showcased how strong Modern Life is War’s fans are. As for the band’s performance, what wasn’t to like? They were extremely tight, used the crowd’s energy to fuel their songs, and played a strong half hour of hardcore. The only drawback of their set, which wasn’t really their fault anyways, was that the vocals were mixed so low you could hardly hear a word.

With the crowd juiced up, A Global Threat took the stage… and bored all but the die hard punks that were there. Their brand of gutter punk didn’t go over so hot with the crowd, or with me for that matter. Each and every song was about two minutes or less in length and sounded exactly the same. At least I could bask in the irony of the band’s image while they were playing. One guy had the chain studded jean jacket and wannabe punk garb on while the other three sported t-shirts and crotch squeezingly tight girl jeans. It also didn’t help the band’s cause that the lead singer seemed to be constantly upset with and/or angry at the crowd. I’m sorry, but these guys just aren’t very good.

Ignite, being the experienced band that they are, easily helped the crowd forget the bad taste that A Global Threat left lingering. Again, because there was a show on later, a damper was put on this show since it forced Ignite to cut down their set to a shorter setlist. Regardless, they destroyed. When the full band was playing, it was amazing. Even with Kevin’s amp going out for a couple of songs, the band still sounded pretty good. The guys may not have jumped all over and done crazy acrobatics like some bands do, but they gave off a sense of controlled energy throughout their set, which consisted of a healthy mix of classics and new material.

The final band for the evening was Strike Anywhere. Truth be told, I was there for Ignite so Strike Anywhere was simply desert, and boy were they yummy. Their live show reminded me of a mix between Rise Against and Anti-Flag performing. They are definitely a political band (if you didn't know that before going to their show, something is wrong), but they gently pushed their agendas on the crowd, and since it was a gentle push it was easier to swallow as opposed to the rampant “F*ck everything” manner of delivery used by Anti-Flag and bands of their ilk. Again, there was a ton of energy being exuded from the band even if there was no crazy antics to accompany it. The crowd was singing along and was into almost every song. Surprisingly, for a tour that is in support of their new disc, Dead FM, they only played a couple of songs from it, instead sticking mostly to the gems that everyone had heard.

It’s too bad that a solid show like this couldn’t pack even a small venue, but the combination of it being an early show in a city that doesn’t have a thriving political punk scene kept the place from being as full as it should have been. Given the chance, you should make time to see these bands… well, except for A Global Threat that is.

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Worst Way

So what do you think is the worst way you could have a baby die on you? Sure, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome sucks. It's unexplainable in most cases and can strike just about any baby. But it's really common, at least when you're talking in the realm of dead babies.

You could drop a baby down the stairs. That would suck. Or you could leave a baby in the car for hours on a really hot day with the windows completely rolled up. That would suck too. Wait, I got it, how about having your baby drown in a bucket full of vomit. Yeah, that's right. You can't top that. What's worst of all is that it actually happened. If that doesn't tell you something about the state of the human race, I don't know what does.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Movie Review Thread

Darren had a great idea -- keep track of all the movies watched in a year and do little blurbs about them. I figure I'm not all that great at keeping with long term writing commitments, so I'll try it out for the rest of 2006 and see what happens. So let's start it off.

The Last Kiss (8/10): Zach Braff is a wonderful actor... when playing the one type of role he is good at. And that is the lost, longing, and conflicted late 20's new millennium type of guy. He does it again here as he struggles to see his future with the woman he is having a baby with. Along with his heady emotional situation, the side plots of 4 other relationships around him going through changes as well, some cataclysmic, some small, open up a lot of perspectives on modern day relationships.

Ash Wednesday (5/10): A great cast can't save what is, ultimately, a very boring plot. Ed Burns, Frodo... err, I mean Elijah Wood, and Rosario Dawson all put on great performances, but the story of a brother trying to keep the secret of his brother being alive when thought to have been killed in a mob related killing is not exactly all that interesting.

The 40 Year Old Virgin (8/10): Steve Carell is one heck of a funny guy. From his start on The Daily Show to bit pieces in Anchorman and other modern comedies to his leading role on the TV show, The Office, he knows how to entertain. Sure, this movie has some schmaltz to it, but it doesn't keep this movie from being hilarious. If anything, see it for the "You know how I know you're gay..." scene.

Jackass Number Two (8.5/10): How can you not laugh your ass off at 90 minutes of guys doing ridiculous crap, beating the hell out of each other, and all in all just getting hurt in hilarious ways? I know I couldn't stop myself from constantly laughing... and laughing... and cringing... and then laughing some more. If this movie were graded simply on laughs per minute, it would be an 11 out of 10.

Steamboy (6/10): I had some really high hopes for this movie, but it was weighed down by an overly heavy-handed theme that was beaten into your head repeatedly. Yes, I get it, technology should be used to help mankind, not used for wars and conquest. The animation was phenomenal, however. There are some great battle scenes and lots of nice steampunk imagery.

Inside Man (8.5/10): What surprised me most about this movie is that it was a Spike Lee joint. Instead of having a heavy-handed race relations message, like most Spike Lee movies do, we're presented with a clever heist flick that has a few race related nuggets tossed in here and there. As a "how are they going to pull this off?" heist movie, I was definitely interested all the way through, however, there is one glaring flaw - you never know how the "criminals" know the information they do. The whole heist revolves around a secret piece of knowledge that only one man knows. How the criminals also know this information is never touched upon and leaves an empty hole that I wish were filled. If you ignore that one piece of lacking information, this was a supremely enjoyable heist movie.

V for Vendetta (8.5/10): The graphic novel was a phenomenal read so I was really worried the movie wouldn't hold up, but it did. With a focus more on mystery, contemplation, and mood than on action and explosions, you couldn't help but be drawn in to the discontent of the time, the political commentary on the current state of things, the struggles of Evey, and the ideological push of V. The only weak point of the movie is the climax, where things get a tad bit over the top, but beyond this, V for Vendetta is a superbly good movie.

Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit (8/10): What a wonderfully cute movie. I had never watched any Wallace & Gromit before seeing this, so I might have missed out on some of the inside jokes geared towards long time fans, but with being said, this was still funny as all get out, in that British dry humor sort of way. A lot of the comedy comes from quirks and oddities relating to particular situations throughout the movie as opposed to the usual set-up, delivery, punchline type of humor present in the majority of today's comedies. This is a great movie for all ages.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (7.5/10): I think I might have enjoyed this film even more than I already did if I were on some sort of mind altering drug. The imagery, the dialogue, and the scenes were all wonderfully drug induced, but the plot... well, was there really one? If it wasn't for Benicio Del Toro and Johnny Depp being as phenomenal as they were, I don't think this would have been that interesting of a movie. Yes, it gives a wonderful glimpse into Hunter S. Thompson's drug filled life, but beyond that there isn't much to take away from it. Still, a great flick to watch at least once.

Nacho Libre (5.5/10): You know, I thought for sure I'd get into this movie considering it's Jack Black and a Napoleon Dynamite styled script combined into one. However, there just weren't enough interesting and funny moments. Yes, there were some truly hilarious moments, but a lot of the movie was pretty middling and kept me at an arm's length from the characters since they were so stereotypical, even with Black injecting his patented humor into some of the scenes. I would only recommend this to die hard Black fans or people looking for a non-offensive comedy for the wee ones to watch.

Over the Hedge (6.5/10): For animated CGI fare, this movie wasn't that bad. The previews made it out to be a little more funny than it actually was, but I'm sure the target audience of kids didn't notice as there was plenty to keep them interested. The story is your run of the mill "evil character redeems himself after the people he tries to screw become his friends" plot, but there are enough clever one liners and colorful animation to keep you from nodding off. The voice work was pretty tame as I was expecting a lot more from the colorful cast (William Shatner, Steve Carell, Eugene Levy). Watch with your girlfriend or kids and you'll be fine.

Monster House (6.5/10): Another animated CGI movie, but this one had a slightly more adult tone to it. The animation also wasn't the standard CGI type, but instead had a definite claymation feel to it, which was refreshing. There were some definitely funny one-liners and some great tension building moments, but what brings this movie down is the ending. I found myself hoping for more creativity towards the end, especially since the house monster was so concerned with only being seen by kids that the tossing out of that convention at the end really turned me off. Otherwise, this was an acceptably done film that was entertaining enough.

Cold Creek Manor (3.5/10): Talk about a slow ass moving movie. I have no problem with slow paced, pot-boiling mysteries, but this movie went absolutely nowhere for the first 80 minutes. The "mystery" about Stephen Dorff's character also isn't that much of a mystery and even the most obtuse viewer will be able to pick out the end ages before it is revealed. There isn't really a good reason for anyone to watch this film as all of the performances are pretty average as well. Well, I suppose if you were having trouble falling asleep this would be a good movie to flip on, but that should be about it.

Waiting (8/10): I know that not many people will enjoy this movie since it is basically a very low budget, potty humor, stupid type of comedy, but Ryan Reynolds is just too hilarious. Combine that with the "penis showing game" and some pretty decently funny dialog and you have the ingredients for a cult classic comedy. Being that I've probably watching this movie 5 or 6 times now and haven't gotten sick of it says something. Watch it for the dumb humor. Watch it for Reynolds. Watch it if you've ever worked at a restaurant. Then you'll really enjoy it.

Casino Royale (9/10): Before seeing this movie, I considered Pierce Brosnan the epitome of James Bond. He was sly, sexy, smart, witty, and able to be violent when he needed to be. Seeing the trailers for Casino Royale had me fearing for the Bond property as I didn't think Daniel Craig could be a good James Bond. He'd been great in every movie I'd seen him in, but I couldn't picture him as Bond. Then I saw Casino Royale. I now wholeheartedly endorse his portrayal of Bond. Hearkening back to the Sean Connery days of Bond, we see Craig portraying a Bond that is ruthless, brutal, and even a little sloppy. Heck, he even shows some emotional attachment (which plays a definite role in the plot). To top off Craig's performance, the story was involving with only a little bit of a lull in the latter third of the movie. That and there were some great action set pieces. Do yourself a favor and toss out your preconceptions about Bond and just go see this.

The Jerk (5.5/10): I know, I know, everyone says this is a classic and is Steve Martin's best work and is hilarious and should be seen by everyone. Well, besides having a few great scenes and a couple of memorable lines, the rest of the movie just wasn't all that awesome. Maybe it is because I am the next generation looking back on one of the last generation's cult favorites, but as a comedy it was a little too slow and as a simple drama it wasn't very interesting. I would suggest having one of your friends who probably loves this movie to death quote some of the key lines to you instead of watching the whole movie. Or if you do have time, I suppose you could watch it as it is a classic, but don't get your hopes too high.

Deja Vu (3/10): Don't worry, I knew what I was getting into before I went to this movie. With it being a Jerry Bruckheimer movie, you can't expect too much, especially when it comes to having a plot that makes sense. My first beef with this movie is actually Denzel Washington. Does he ever change his character type? He's the exact same character in just about every movie he is in. Look at Man on Fire and Inside Job and Out of Time and Training Day and just about any other action movie he is in. It's lazy acting if you ask me. My second beef with the movie is the lame goose of a plot device in the time machine that lets the team solving the crime see into the past and then, with a little more juice, lets them send notes and people into the past. Lastly, there are way too many small details that are just annoying. For example, in one scene a woman is doused in some type of accelerate (probably gasoline or kerosene). When she is saved from an explosion the flames are all around her, but she doesn't start on fire. It's the small details like that which can kill an otherwise dumb, but enjoyable, movie.

School of Rock (6/10): Jack Black, I now firmly believe, works best in a supporting role as opposed to a leading role. In High Fidelity he was hilarious. In King Kong and Orange County he was pretty atrocious. Here, in School of Rock, he's merely ok. The movie felt like it was simply a vehicle for him to do his crazy "doodley dooto schmichticky walloo" make up crap and words on the spot schtick. I'm sure I'm not exactly the target demographic for this type of movie, which I realize, and even so it did have a few moments that were chuckle worthy. Overall, it's a movie that requires you to turn your brain off, give in to Black's patented combination of quirky improvisation and bad acting, and just watch.

Good Night, and Good Luck (9/10): Truthfully, I thought this film would be ok and nothing more. After seeing it, I can't help but be thankful that my preconceptions of the movie were extremely off target. What was most striking about the film was the relevancy of the material. If you substitute the word "communist" with "terrorist" and McCarthy with Bush (and his regime), you have a very potent similarity to today's political environment in the United States. The acting was also superb. George Clooney and David Strathairn was spot on. The only drawback that I felt was present in the movie was that the subplot involving Patricia Clarkson's and Robert Downey Jr.'s characters felt tacked on and superfluous. Beyond that, Good Night, and Good Luck was a masterpiece.

A Scanner Darkly (8/10): I really didn't know what to expect going in to this, but what little I did expect, I definitely didn't get, and that was a good thing. Instead of being a hard sci-fi type of film, this movie dealt more with drugs, the concept of reality, and the darkness that can be found on both the "good" and "bad" sides of any conflict. Admittedly, this is a movie that is hard to get a full experience from in one viewing, so my one time through I no doubt missed a few things. That being said, the underlying themes, as often disconnected as they seem, come together nicely in the end to give the viewer a full picture of what is actually going on in the larger scope of things. The performances from all involved were also quite good, especially Woody Harrelson and Robert Downey, Jr. Even Keanu Reeves was passable.

Friday, September 15, 2006

More MP3 Player Good News!

I found out that there was also a firmware upgrade for my RCA Lyra that I was going to use for audiobooks. With the firmware that is on it by default, there is no resume function so every time you turn it off and back on again, you have to start from a clean slate, and as I stated before fast forwarding through 3-8 hour audiobooks every time you start listening will get real old, real fast.

Not any longer. The new 4.0 firmware adds in a resume function. Now, as long as I pause my book and then turn off the player, as soon as I start it back up it will come back to where I was. No more fast forwarding! Today is looking quite good in the MP3 player department for me.

And with that, I again feel justified in thumbing my nose in Apple's direction. Who needs your stupid iPods? I know I don't. No one should have to pay the iPod tax... but if you don't, you might as well expect to scour the internet to upgrade the player you do buy to get it up to iPod firmware standards.

MP3 Updates

So I bitched a ton previously about my MP3 player troubles. Well, I may or may not have found a solution to the oddities that I was experiencing with my Gigabeat (my main MP3 player). Apparently, after reading through some forums and such, it looks like there was a firmware upgrade that was only sent out to users who called Toshiba and requested it. It took me a while to track down a downloadable version of the firmware that someone posted out in internet land, but I got it. And if you are curious and have a Toshiba 40GB Gigabeat, you can download it here. For how long, though, I do not know.

This new firmware cleans up the interface a lot and it appears, initially, to be more stable. I'm going to go running and to the gym with it this evening to see if it does the random reset that it was previously doing. I think it may have been resetting while it was trying to read the cover art for certain albums, but I'm not totally sure. Regardless, I'm hoping that the new firmware will correct a lot of the shortcomings that this player had. If not, Rockbox is working on a firmware rewrite that I'll probably upgrade to anyways once it is finished.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Labor Day Catch Up

It's been over a week since Labor Day weekend. Wow. That's nuts. Where did the last week and a half go? On a related note, how the hell are we already half way through September? I swear there has to be some sort of crazy time vortex swirling around here in Minnesota because my brain is still stuck thinking it is the end of August. Pretty soon snow will be covering the ground and I'll be blowing any extra money I have on Christmas presents for people.

Since time is going so fast, I'm going to adamantly pretend it is still Labor Day weekend and post a couple of pictures from that weekend. The first is the family, the second is Gadget the wonder dog, and the last is... me... looking like I just woke up.

The Family



First Blood - Killafornia CD Review

Terror are a powerhouse in the hardcore genre, and rightfully so, but coming along with the status of being a powerhouse is the knowledge that your band’s name is going to be attached to anything and everything even remotely related in an attempt to get exposure. This happens to be the case with First Blood, the new home of Terror’s former bassist Carl Schwartz (who also happened to be in Sworn Vengeance back in the day as well). Unlike most Victory and Trustkill stickers, the comparison to Terror is actually a very justified one, as there is more than a passing resemblance between the two bands.

Coming off as a much more metalcore oriented hardcore band than a traditional hardcore band, First Blood doesn’t lose one ounce of the hardcore attitude, gang vocals, or breakdowns that may come from the metalcore influence. Being much more concerned with rock solid riffs (see the amazing “Conspiracy”) and a visceral vocal attack than hitting the standard hardcore staple of build-up, breakdown, build-up, breakdown, First Blood actually swims up to the upper echelon of the hardcore world. True, it might be hard to pick out the cream of the crop at times because of the striking similarities between most of the bands in the hardcore genre, so it is possible I may be off in my assessment, but there is no denying that there is aggression to spare throughout Killafornia.

What makes this CD really interesting is the fact that, on disc, this is almost an entirely one man show as Carl played all of the guitars and bass on the disc, as well as doing the vocals. This guy knows how to write a hardcore song from just about every angle and it shows on this effort. Again, this comes with the caveat that hardcore isn’t exactly the most revolutionary genre and writing a hardcore song is not exactly the same as writing the next Explosions in the Sky epic.

For hardcore enthusiasts, you owe it to yourself to pick up this CD if for no other reason than to hear the one minute and fifteen second long instrumental breakdown-a-thon “Armageddon”. Seriously, this track should be the blueprint for every tough-guy hardcore song to come out in the next decade. Just add vocals to the top of the mix and you’re totally set. The other songs on here are good too, but “Armageddon” is ridiculous in its goodness. Now get your girl pants on and start spin kicking!

Monday, September 11, 2006


I'm in Iowa for work for the next few days. Sucktastic, I know. I'm in Mason City, which is totally not near anything even close to civilization. Sure, there's a Walmart and a Best Buy and a Starbucks here, but it's all been built here in vain. There is no fooling anyone into believing that there is anything even close to interesting that will ever happen here. So I'll be in all day meetings and then, no doubt, at business dinners until later this week so posting will be light to non-existent. Deal with it. If I have to suffer through Iowa, you can suffer without anything new and lame to read.

Saturday, September 09, 2006


I like Star Trek. I like Nine Inch Nails. I found this video, which combines the two, to be disturbing, hilarious, and artistic all at once. Go see it for yourself, especially if you were ever curious as to if there was ever some not so slightly homoerotic overtones to Kirk and Spock's interactions.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Terrible MP3 Player Luck

Lately I've gone through a little bit of an MP3 player fiasco and I've managed to come out the other side losing one MP3 player, having one old one (that's the size of a small house) sitting around unused (maybe not for long), and spending $200 on two MP3 players that are frustrating the hell out of me.

If you look over to your right, you will see the Toshiba 40 GB Gigabeat MP3 player that I recently purchased to replace my old RCA Lyra 40 GB which was getting a little long in the tooth and I was getting sick of running with a 2 pound, oversized brick in my hands. The Gigabeat is about the size of a 30 GB iPod and about as light, but it only cost me $160, which is about half of what a 30 gig iPod would have cost me.

The interface is intuitive. The shuffle algorithm is decent. The screen is great. The dock works perfectly. The battery life is so-so (about 4-6 hours on a full charge). All in all I thought it was a wonderful MP3 player... except for one small snag--it resets all the time.

Without fail, about once a run the Gigabeat stops playing and resets itself. In doing so, all of my settings (backlight time off, the time, play mode, volume, equalizer, etc.) are lost. I'm stuck waiting for it to boot back up, then I go through the setup screens (quickly), set the play mode to shuffle, and get back to listening. It is utterly frustrating to hear the music cut out and then go through this stupid process at least once a run.

I don't know if it is because it doesn't like how my MP3s are ripped or if somehow there's something corrupted or what, but there seems to be no rhyme or reason as to when it'll quit. I've been toying about going back to the old MP3 player, but I don't want to haul that huge thing around. But then I'm stuck with the Gigabeat that randomly quits on me. It's a lose-lose situation.

Now besides listening to music I also listen to audiobooks and have had a separate MP3 player dedicated to listening to audiobooks. I used a small Creative Zen 128 MB player in the past and it worked ok. It doesn't support Audible format so I'd have to convert the Audible files to MP3 first, but it worked out ok. Somehow, however, I lost it so I needed to get a new player. Being cheap and knowing I'd only use this MP3 player for audiobooks, I just looked for the cheapest Audible compatible player and picked up the RCA Lyra you see to the left.

When I got it and put on my first audiobook, I sadly found out that it doesn't have a resume feature. Considering audiobooks are anywhere from 3 to 8 hours long in most cases, or at least the pieces you get from Audible are, it's totally inconvenient to start playing from the beginning each time you turn it on. I'll have to get used to the fast forward button and remembering exactly what time I was at because I'm going to be doing a lot of it. Lame.

I suppose since most Audible books are broken into 3-10 pieces, I could just block out big time chunks for listening to books instead of the usual 15-20 minutes that I would on the bus or walking. It's just so damn frustrating, but I guess that's what I get for picking up a $30 MP3 player for this.

It makes me wonder a little bit as to if I should have just spent the extra money and bought an iPod despite my hate for them. I despise iTunes. I hate the fact that iPods keep their firmware on the hard drive instead of a separate chip. The iPod shuffle algorithm blows. Despite these things, however, from what I've seen iPods at least work and have the features I want. I guess maybe this is what I deserve for trying to buck the mainstream. Stupid Rick, I know.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The Static Age - Blank Screens CD Review

You know all of those Joy Division, Depeche Mode, The Police and mid-career David Bowie albums you have sitting around your house? You know how you love them to death, but you wished that the songs didn’t sound quite so cheesy at times? Yeah, admit it, you know the songs are great, but at times the cheese factor of the 80’s ended up overriding the positive qualities of some of the songs. Wouldn’t it be nice if, somehow, you could get those albums de-cheese-ified so that they sounded a lot more modern? The kick ass songs would be so much more kick ass and the blah songs would actually be good. Obviously this isn’t going to ever happen, but in place of cheese-less reissues, you can listen to Blank Screens, the sophomore effort from The Static Age.

Listening to the beautiful, yet melancholy, first three tracks of the album will bring back all of the feelings you had when you first started listening to New Order and The Cure back when you were a kid. And if you’re too young to remember who the heck they are, imagine the glam oriented songs from AFI’s Decemberunderground slowed down to a crawl and the volume turned from 10 to 7. Or, hell, I’d hope you’d have heard of The Killers and can imagine them with more synth, less tempo, and five times more talent in the songwriting department.

The album loses a little steam in the middle, however, as the pace starts to pick up, but thankfully the lyrics still deal with longing for love, failed romantic endeavors, and pining for meaning in this horrible world so you won’t feel bad lying on your bed, alone in your room, crying about how your friends don’t understand you and how you wish that cute goth chick from bio class would just give you a chance because you know you’d treat her like a queen.

Actually, it’s probably a good thing that “Trauma” and “Cherry Red” have a more post-dance-punk (yeah, that's right, I just said post-dance-punk) with a synth feel to them so that there is at least a little upbeat energy to be found on this album, or else you'd feel overwhelmingly suicidal by the time you’re done listening to the entire album. Truth be told, though, that ability to make you feel good about suicide is the beauty of this CD -– much like modern melancholic pseudo-indie movies such as Garden State, Closer, or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind you find yourself feeling tragically good about the characters. It is this sense of tragic happiness that you feel emanating in waves from Blank Screens.

How often do you find a good new wave, post-punk, emotionally charged band in today’s metalcore and pop-punk dominated scene? Not very often, if at all, which makes this release so much more important than your usual run of the mill garbage being churned out on a daily basis. So go grab your mascara and get into the mellow beauty of The Static Age.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

I'm Moving to Vermont

You want to know how you can get more people to move to your state? Just let people run around naked. Vermont just recently shot down a ban on public nudity which continues to make it just fine to be topless, bottomless, or just plain ol' nekkid wherever and whenever you want. Sure, some towns may have banned nudity, but you just don't go visit those towns.

So who wants to take a trip to Vermont with me?

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

I Need Another Long Weekend

Four day work weeks totally rule!  

Well, unless you work for an international company and the people you work with on a daily basis are internationally based and the reason you have a four day work week is because of a US specific holiday... then you just have double the amount of work to do on Tuesday.  You pretty much get everything that came in on Monday along with whatever comes in on Tuesday all to do in the 8 or so hours of Tuesday.  So, yes, today has been busy, but not too busy to take a quick break to type away at something not work related (I needed a break lest my brain explode and cover my office's pristine walls with sticky, goopy brain matter).

At least my weekend was a good one.  Like most people it was time to spend with family, so I headed home to my parents' place to spend Saturday and Sunday.  Unfortunately Mother Nature decided to let the rain flow on Saturday making for a somewhat uneventful day.  Although my family did discover the awesomeness of the game Apples to Apples.  We successfully blew away countless hours playing it and sharing countless laughs, mostly at our ability to find totally offensive or totally mismatched adjective and noun combinations.

There was also a bon fire and fireworks on Sunday night to celebrate having the family all together.  It doesn't happen as often any more with my living in the Minneapolis area, my brother Randy being in Boise for his internship, now going to Ames for his final college semester, and then moving back out to Boise for a job, and then there's little (or not so little) Ryan heading into his senior year of high school so he'll be heading out of my parents' house before they know it as well.  

So I hope everyone else out there in cyberspace-land that somehow stumbled across, or routinely stumble across, this site had a good long weekend.  I'm playing catch up today, but it sure was good to have that extra time off.

Friday, September 01, 2006

See Ya Later, Fourth Rail

One of the few comics reviews sites that I read... well, actually come to think of it, the only comics reviews site I read, has decided to close up shop after a solid five year run. The Fourth Rail was alwasy an interesting place to visit as I found that my tastes often times lined up with both reviewers there. Sadly, their reviews never really made me go out to buy a new series, since I pre-order everything, but it would often validate some of my picks that I'd make on a whim, usually based on nothing more than looking at a quick preview, noting the artist or writer on a title, or wanting to give a certain concept a chance.

The thing I enjoyed about The Fourth Rail most, however, was their overview of each month's Previews catalog. For those outside of the comics world, this was a massive 500+ page catalog that came out monthly that listed everything that would be coming out in 2 months time. I would then pre-order from this catalog, using DCBService, to save myself on average about 35% off of what cover price.

The Fourth Rail would go through the catalog and point out things that should be of notice. Many times, these would be graphic novels or comic series that I would have passed over if nothing would have been mentioned. It helped turn me onto a lot of interesting books so it'll be sad to see it go.

So if you know of any good comics reviews sites or anyone else that does a Previews overview type thing each month, let me know because I have an open bookmarks slot in Opera (that's right, I switched from Firefox to Opera - go me!)