Wednesday, October 31, 2007

It's Halloween!

Halloween is one of those under appreciated holidays, at least in my mind. Sure, you don't get any days off for Halloween and the traditions seem aimed at younger kids, but it's still a fun holiday. If anything it should lighten up the day a little bit and make things a bit more fun.

For example, when I went to visit Caribou this morning for my coffee fix, all of the employees were dressed up in different costumes. It was neat and they seemed to be having fun! Kristi was having a Wizard of Oz theme at her work. They decorated their cubicle area and turned the place into a veritable corporate Oz. I can only imagine that it kept things a little more light hearted for the day.

And then there's my workplace. I work for an accounting firm and, as the fates would have it, accountants are allergic to fun. As I get in to work today the only thing different than any other day is the candy dish at the front desk has more candy in it than usual. Everyone is still dressed in suits and business attire. There are no decorations anywhere. It's the same drab environment we're always in.

The same will go for other holidays. When Christmas comes, there are no decorations or Christmas cheer--it's just business as usual. It really shows the difference between the uptight corporate work atmosphere and the atmosphere of companies where fun has not been banned. I want to have that cheesy Halloween crap, as odd as it sounds.

Hopefully I can at least bring some cheer to some kids this evening handing out candy to trick or treaters...

...oh crap, I need to buy candy!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Work... killing me. The last few weeks have been filled to the brim and, more often than not, overflowing with stuff to do and stuff to do NOW. So many little things have been snowballing and building up into piles of junk. And considering that the end of the year is coming up, there are a lot of projects that we have slated to have complete by that magical December 31st date. So, really, that's why I don't write anything lately.

I've got some reviews to write for Decoy yet that I haven't gotten to. I picked up a PMP Certification study book that I'd like to get started on. November is here so I need to organize broomball teams and winter ultimate frisbee teams. I also need to get my ass outside and get some more running in before I get too fat. In the last month and a half I've put on nearly 10 pounds. Not good.

And to top it all off, where the hell did October go? Are there seriously only two days left? When did that happen? I didn't even get around to making a jack-o-lantern or anything. Before I know it I'll be home for Thanksgiving and trying to figure out what to get everyone for Christmas. Oh, and side note, stores should NOT be allowed to put out Christmas stuff until after Thanksgiving. Having Christmas crap out on the shelves before it is even Halloween is ridiculous.

Oh, and my car died. Awesome.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Oink Shut Down

In case you haven't heard, Oink has been shut down. If you have no clue what I'm talking about, then don't worry about anything. If you do know the website I'm talking about, and you were an uber-user, well then that kind of sucks. Hopefully nothing comes of it beyond the website getting shut down, but I could see a lot of problems for some of the super users on that site.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Is It Time to Go HD-DVD?

I'm wondering this myself right now, mostly because of the special Best Buy has this week. I can get the HD-DVD drive for my Xbox 360, which is the cheapest HD-DVD player out there right now, and it comes with the first season of Heroes on HD-DVD. On top of that, I can mail away for 5 free HD-DVDs. They're movies that I'm at least interested in and Heroes I haven't watched yet but am anxious to.

There are a couple of things holding be back, however. First, this who Bluray vs. HD-DVD battle is far from settled and it seems like either format still could come out on top. Ideally I would like to go with a dual format player, but they're pretty expensive still. Getting locked into a losing format would really suck.

And speaking of locked in, I'd be starting off my Heroes DVD run in HD, which is expensive as all get out. The standard DVD set of the first season is like $40 but the HD set is between $60 and $100. So I'd be throwing down at least that much for each subsequent season. Also, HD movies are far from cheap in comparison to standard DVDs.

But man, do I ever want to watch HD movies on my 57" HD TV. Sure, my Xbox 360 upconverts my standard DVDs to look better than they should, but the pure clarity of straight HD would be so amazing. I'm so on the fence right now...

Friday, October 19, 2007

This is Really Getting Old

Hey Mother Nature... I don't ask for much, maybe a clear day here and there when I have ultimate frisbee games, but I have a pretty pressing request for you today. Please, please, please can you let the sun come out and have this rain stop? It's been about two weeks of constant rain, mist, and overcast skies. We had one day where the sun peaked through (last Saturday) and it was amazing.

I don't know how much longer I can take such dark and dreary weather. Fall is one of my favorite seasons, and I do usually end up a little melancholy during the season (which isn't all that bad) but this year I'm starting to feel downright depressed.

There's been no time to enjoy the fall colors since I can't get out because it is raining. There have been no cool evening runs because it is freakin' raining. I'm moody, needy, sad, and mopey and I can't seem to get out of it when every time I look out a window the weather only reinforces my mood. I'm sure the people close to me are sick of my down mood. I know I am. But I just can't get over it.

It's weeks like these that make me realize I could never live anywhere that was in a perpetual state of dreariness. I'm just too moody. Anyone have any cures for getting over this? Other than praying the weather changes sometime soon?

I'm done with this weather. I f'ing hate it. It needs to change like right now...

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Sponsored Post: Online Casino Bluebook Review

This is a review paid for by ReviewMe.

Now, with that out of the way... I like cards, I like doing some gambling, and games of chance are fun. However, I tend to enjoy playing cards and gambling with actual people. That's why I host a poker game at my house every week. It's a nice excuse to get a group of friends together to come play and hang out. Some people, however, prefer to do their gambling online.

Now there are a ton of online gambling websites out there, each with its own idea for how to get you to spend your money there. Online Casino Bluebook is a website that tries to pull together some of the best online casinos to try out.

The first thing I noticed when I went to their website is how dated it looks. Seriously, it's like the site crawled out of the early 00's. In a day and age of CSS, Ajax, and Flash it is really weird to see a website done totally in tables and seemingly not very interactive. So barring this, does the website do anything for you?

Well... I guess. You can find a lot of listed online gambling establishments and information about them, but I'm not seeing a lot of added value. Sure, you get a little info about each site, but it's nothing more in depth than you'd get when looking at the site's front page.

Another thing that gets to me is that all of the links to the different websites contain referrer variables which leads me to believe that this consolidation of online gambling information is nothing more than a scheme to get referral bonuses. This leads to my wondering whether the "best" online casinos to go to aren't simply the ones that pay out the biggest referral fee.

In the end, I doubt I would use this site, but if you want a lot of online gambling website links at your fingertips (and don't mind that the owner of this website gets a kickback for every new site you try) then you might want to visit it once and give it a look.

Adonis Decay - Messenger CD Review

When I was younger and living at home with my parents, my brother and I had rooms right across from each other. My room was pretty cluttered, but very organized. There was a lot of crap everywhere, but it was all arranged in patterns that made sense. Walk across the hall into my brother’s room and you’d see a gigantic mess. There was stuff everywhere and no real rhyme or reason as to why anything was anywhere. We both had tons of stuff, but in one room it was strewn everywhere while in the other everything had its place.

Messenger, by Adonis Decay, is a lot like my brother’s room – it’s a mess. It’s apparent that they were going for a very scatological approach to how they wrote their songs, trying to incorporate many different elements of heavy music into a cohesive whole, but cohesive this is not. There are random pig squeals tossed around, some melody every now and then, and then there are some grind moments followed by a thrash solo, only to be tossed aside for some melodic rock strumming and a couple of double bass fills. In some cases, this is a recipe for success, but when the elements aren't put together all that well, it just doesn't work.

Take the second track, “The Red Beyond”, for example. It starts off with melodic singing and some metal riffing, obviously trying to emulate some of Between the Buried and Me’s more constrained moments. After about two minutes of this, the screaming and growling comes out with some double bass only to be followed at the three minute mark by a guitars solo and muted, ambient passage. And of course the vocals need to make a reappearance along with some sort of guitar build up before the song closes on a quite outro. This is not necessarily bad in and of itself, but the flow wasn't very smooth. And on top of things, this is the most cohesive track to be found on this album.

With “The Red Beyond” things at least felt like they worked for the most part. At many other points in the album, the transitions from one style to another, as well as the combinations of elements, feels unnatural and forced. Focus is a virtue, not a vice. Considering this is only an EP, I’d be afraid to hear what the band would have done on a full length. No doubt it was good for the band to get this out of their system and to put to tape what they felt was a set of crazy good metalcore songs, but hopefully upon reflection they’ll see that they need to reign themselves in and focus on songwriting going forward. There’s a lot of talent here that could be molded into something great if allowed to mature. Let’s hope that’s what happens.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Machine Head / Arch Enemy / Throwdown / Sanctity

Before I start, I’d like to take a moment to make an appeal to club owners and, to an extent, opening bands. When you schedule a show to start at a certain time, please start the show at that time. Some of us have to leave work early to get to shows that supposedly start at 6:00, so think of those of us who are taking extra time out of our day so that we can come patronize your club and give the opening bands a chance.

Once again I found myself down at the famous First Avenue in Minneapolis on a weekday for a show. As is usually the case for weekday shows, it had to get started early, or at least was supposed to. Eventually the show openers, Trivium, hit the stage. Errr, wait, I mean Sanctity. For all intents and purposes, though, it was like watching Trivium. They sounded like Trivium, looked like Trivium (the lead singer of Sanctity even wore a Sanctity t-shirt much like the lead singer of Trivium does with their band’s shirts), and were merely passable like Trivium. Oh, and just to make sure we’re on the same page, when I make the comparison to Trivium, I am talking about pre-Crusade Trivium. From Crusade onward the band has just been one big, steaming pile of unlistenable crap.

There were a couple of interesting parts to Sanctity’s set, however, such as their dedicating songs to women’s periods (not so much interesting as lame, I guess) and having crowd members come up to sing their final song. Now that was funny as hell. The two long-haired, girlfriendless, 30 year old dudes took the stage and proceeded to head bang and air guitar for 4 minutes. The awesomest part was when it came time for the lead guitarist’s solo. As he stepped up to do his rock star thing, one of the two moron brothers that were on stage jumped in front of him and air guitared the solo to the crowd. I was in stitches it was so hilarious.

Anyways, after the comedy troupe finished up their act, a reunited Pantera stormed the stage playing some dirty, southern metal. Wait… what I meant to say was Throwdown came out to play. Seriously, talk about a complete overhaul in sound. Their first couple of songs were from Venom & Tears and sounded uncannily like Pantera b-sides. Truth be told the songs sound a heck of a lot better live than they did on disc, probably because you can feel the band’s energy and passion whereas on the album it felt like hollow hero worship of their influences.

In the middle of their set, Throwdown did toss in some classic tunes to get the meatheads in the pit slamming around. Listening to their older tunes, however, did leave me pining for their old sound and the interest I was garnering in their new songs lost some luster. I’m glad they went in the direction that they wanted to as musicians, but with two completely different sounds as a part of their catalog noticing the disparity is unavoidable. Still, they put on a very good performance in front of a predominantly metal crowd.

The first co-headliner to take the stage after Throwdown was Arch Enemy. The first thing that I noticed was the mixing of the band. Whereas Throwdown’s sound was very full and balanced, Arch Enemy had the vocals extremely low in the mix and the guitars were a little empty sounding. This didn’t necessarily hurt their performance, but it led to their set feeling weak in comparison.

While watching Arch Enemy, I noticed that they seem to have weak stage presence. Their ability to play is spot on, but they just sort of wandered around as they played. Sure, their brand of metal doesn’t necessarily lend itself to having an aggressive stage presence, but when you take into account much of their music sounds very similar in nature, their 50 minute performance felt overly long and drawn out.

And while we’re speaking of long and drawn out, the set change time between Arch Enemy and Machine Head was abysmal. It was around 35 minutes between the two bands whereas the first couple of set changes took 10 minutes each. You can’t complain too much since Machine Head’s set was impeccable, but that’s nothing new, is it? Every time I’ve seen Machine Head play they have been a treat. Even when they were opening for Heaven & Hell, playing with crappily mixed monitors, and getting no more than 25 minutes to play they were solid and commanding.

Once again, Machine Head was thundering and brutal. Only playing songs off of The Blackening, From Ashes to Empire, and Burn My Eyes they focused on the heaviest and most intense material in their catalog. There’s nothing like having a crowd totally go off as “Imperium” hits. Of course, it helps to have a band made up of musicians who play aggressive as all get out. Seriously, as much as people probably doubted it during the early 2000s, Rob Flynn is a commanding frontman. The entire set you can see that he’s playing his heart out, singing his ass off, truly enjoying what he’s doing, and able to appreciate the energy of his fans.

Playing for a solid hour, the band hit on many of their strongest songs such as “Old”, “Block”, and the more recent “Halo”. The three opening bands were simply appetizers that couldn’t even compare to the massive meal of metal that Machine Head served up.

The moral of the story, in case you haven’t noticed, is that you really need to go see Machine Head if you get the chance, regardless of who they are with. If the other bands are good, well, that’s just gravy.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

That Fall Funk is Here Again

No I'm not sad about it
No I'm not mad about it
Sort of getting used to it
Everybody leaves sooner or later

No I'm not hurt about it
No I'm not sure about it
Must be good at chasing away
Everyone I love sooner or later

Now I always think about it
Yeah I always think about it
There's never nothing left to say
Everybody does sooner or later

I don't know what it is about me
That magnifies my self conscience
Operation numb the pain
Gonna take you higher sooner or later

Gonna keep on trying
Gonna stop this crying
It's just another day
It's just the way

No I'm not mad about it
No I'm not sad about it
Sort of getting used to it
Everybody leaves sooner or later

--From "Sooner or Later" by King's X

Depressing, isn't it? The song came up on random while I was working and I must not have been concentrating too hard on what I was doing because the lyrics really caught my ear (that and the song is a great psychedelic and bluesy tune). It brings back memories of that first fall after college, when most of my friends were heading back to school for another year and I was hitting up the real world.

Most of the friends I had during my senior year of college were from the class below me or younger. I just seemed to mesh a little better with those years. And since I had gone back for an extra semester after graduating, the feeling of graduation never actually seemed to set in. That is, until that fall.

At the time I was living with my parents and commuting to Rochester for work. I liked living with my parents (and it was free rent and food--what's not to love?) and although the commute sucked, I managed to make it through. My job wasn't that tough, but there also wasn't many people my age or that shared common interests with me. That wasn't that much of a big deal during the summer when everyone was home from college, and the spring semester before the summer, when I was working, I felt like it was an internship type of thing. School wasn't too far off, I'd be going back soon... but I actually wouldn't.

Emotionally, I was depressed as all get out that fall since my social circle shrunk to nearly no one, work wasn't all that stimulating, and I had this longing to be doing something but I didn't know what. I simply wasn't happy. Eventually the feeling passed and I worked out of the funk I was in, but for a few months there I struggled with the feeling of everyone leaving and, illogically, thinking it was somehow my fault.

It's been more than a few years now since I've been in school and everyone I knew in college has now also graduated, but I still experience some pangs of loneliness and abandonment when fall rolls through. It's crazy how much that change from college to the real world affected me, and how it left such a lasting impression. I can't believe I still miss college. Or maybe I just hate knowing that I'm getting older.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Everyone Celebrate!

The Yankees are done! Thank God. I can't stand that freakin' team. Nothing more than a bunch of whiney, overpaid, underperforming players. It's always a riot watching them play because they play like a group of individuals thrown together because they're paid to instead of actually playing as a team. That's how you win games. You can't simply buy championships.

What would have made this year even better for baseball is if somehow the Minnesota Twins wouldn't have self destructed in the second half of the year and made the playoffs... and Barry Bonds would have left the sport of baseball for good. Man, I can't stand that guy. The only thing I can't stand more than him is the Yankees, and their season is done!

Monday, October 08, 2007

A Win for the Bad Guys

Looks like the RIAA finally has some good news to latch on to -- they managed to get a Minnesota woman convicted of music piracy. No doubt this will only embolden the RIAA into making more and more senseless suites against music sharers instead of trying to adapt their business model to accommodate the internet and all of the avenues available for creating new revenue streams.

The case itself was probably one of the worse ones to go to court. It would have been interesting to see some of the 80-year old grandmas and pre-adolescent children going toe-to-toe with the RIAA, but in this case it was a 30 year old woman taking on the RIAA after sharing obviously RIAA supported artists such as Aerosmith and Green Day. Still, I'm somewhat upset by the jury's decision to award the RIAA $220,000. From the article, I found this most perplexing:
In proving liability, the industry did not have to demonstrate that the defendant's computer had a file-sharing program installed at the time that they inspected her hard drive. And the RIAA did not have to show that the defendant was at the keyboard when RIAA investigators accessed Thomas' share folder.
Also, the judge in the case ruled that jurors may find copyright infringement liability against somebody solely for sharing files on the internet. The RIAA did not have to prove that others downloaded the files.

So just making something available is piracy? I don't know if I can get behind that. So if I leave my CD collection on the sidewalk outside of my house (from which anyone can come by and make a copy), I am conducting piracy? And there wouldn't even have to be proof that someone copied my music -- just by having it there I'd be conducting piracy. That seems a little wonky to me.

On top of that, the RIAA didn't have to prove that a program capable of sharing these files was on the woman's computer when the scanned her drive... so how do they know definitively that she was able to share the songs and was, in fact, doing so? I am pretty sure she was sharing them, but I thought the point of a trial was to prove that you did something, not to just be pretty sure someone did it.

It'll be interesting going forward now that this precedent has been set. I expect to see the RIAA getting sue-happy over the next 6 months.

Friday, October 05, 2007

I Took the Zune Plunge

My MP3 player that I use most of the time is a 40GB Lyra something-or-other and it is starting to get to the point where it is really beat up and at times likes to reset itself. It's been durable as hell, surviving many drops, tosses, and miles upon miles of running, but it doesn't have a lot of features that I'd like to see it have when using it to entertain myself on my bus rides. I know, I just bought an Audible compatible MP3 player to listen to my audio books, but what if I wanted to watch the latest episode of the Office I downloaded? And how about syncing? That's the biggest pain in the ass with my current Lyra--the software it uses takes forever to load anything. The Zune software is relatively easy to use (I use it already for streaming music to my Xbox 360).

With that, I've been eying up the 30GB Zune. With the announcement of the Zune 2 and the recent price drops on the Zune 1, I was really tempted. They were $130 on Woot one day and you can find them at about $150 online all over. I still couldn't make up my mind. But then a huge one-two combo hit and I am now going to be the proud owner of a black 30GB Zune 1.

The first punch came in the form of finding out that Microsoft is upgrading first gen Zunes to have all of the features of the Zune 2, which means MPEG4 support and wireless syncing. Two things that I've always thought MP3 players needed. No more plugging into my computer to get files onto it. All I have to do is plug the baby into its charger and it'll do it all automatically over the wireless network.

The second thing that dropped on me, as if the first wasn't enough to think about diving into the Zune pond, was Woot had a special, offering up Zune 1's for $100. I couldn't resist. And I still had $80 in my paypal account that had been sitting there from some comics I sold a while back. Now I just have to wait for it to get here... and pray the firmware upgrade Microsoft promises works as awesomely as it sounds like it will.

I can't wait to watch recorded TV shows on the bus instead of only being able to listen to audio books or music. Sweet...

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The Story Changes - The Way of the Dinosaur CD Review

There was a time, not that long ago, where emo and hard rock bands didn’t need to scream on their albums. Really, there was such a time, as hard as it is to believe. Today, just about every band signed to any decent sized indie label that plays within the realm of “emo” has to toss in some screams every now and again so that they can show how “emotional” they are about something. Come on, you don’t need to scream to show strong emotion. When did that become a rule? Don’t people remember the early Tooth and Nail days when Further Seems Forever and The Juliana Theory were starting out? Or how about the early Jade Tree years? Heck, remember that band called Jimmy Eat World? It seems like hardly any emo or “emo-core” bands remember any of that nowadays. Instead they try to ape Senses Fail and the flavor of the week screaming emo style that’s recently caught on.

Thank goodness there is occasionally a band that isn’t afraid to break away from the trends and just plays good music. It’s true that you’ll hear a lot of Clarity era Jimmy Eat World throughout The Way of the Dinosaur, but it could be worse. Think about it, what does the music scene need more of right now -- more copycat bands that either whine way too much (The Spill Canvas, My American Heart, etc.) and lamely toss screams around while they're whining (Emery, Taking Back Sunday, and the like) or more bands that remember when Saves the Day and The Get Up Kids were trend setters? If you didn’t say the former, stop reading and go listen to your Fall Out Boy mp3s for the bazillionth time.

Honestly, as nice as it is to hear some throwback styled songwriting, after listening to “Needle”, “You Run Away”, and a few of the other great songs on this album, a sense of sad nostalgia passes through the air reminding us all that bands such as The Juliana Theory and Further Seems Forever are no longer making music. Even though they aren’t, and even though that style of music is no longer popular with the scene kids, bands such as The Story Changes are keeping the sound alive.

While they are keeping the blood pumping in this dying genre while everyone anticipates the next Jimmy Eat World record, it would also be nice to hear them keeping some of the diversity of the sound alive. Throughout the 10 tracks on this album, all of the songs keep the same mid-tempo, established emo structure. There are a couple of small derivations, such as the moody “Caught Up in Chemicals” or the slightly up-tempo chorus of “Your Own Design”, but for the vast majority of the album, there is almost no differentiation from song to song.

The Way of the Dinosaur functions well as a reminder, nudging those of us who are old enough to remember music in the mid-90’s to early 00’s to go pull out some of our old favorites and give them a couple of spins. It’s also an album that is great for a few listens, but lacks staying power. Still, we need more albums like this that break slightly outside of the mold of what is currently popular in the scene, simply to provide some diversity for those people who actually do want something different.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Get Restarted

Ever get that mid-afternoon dragging feeling? All you want to do is curl up in your office and sleep for hours? Heck, I know I do. Most days, even weekends, I have a hard time soldiering through the afternoons. What I discovered in college, and still practice to this day, is something Lifehacker is just pointing out to everyone now -- take a caffeine nap.

I don't usually get to take a standard caffeine nap, really, because I have already had either 10 cups of coffee or about 24 ounces of energy drink in me throughout the morning, but what I will often to do get my juices flowing again is zone everything out, set my blackberry to go off in 10-20 minutes, and close my eyes. Sometimes I get to sleep, but most often I float in that weird zone of just lazily thinking and walking along the borders of sleep. Sometimes it feels like a dream, sometimes I just end up thinking about stupid junk. Either way, I make sure not to think about work or anything stressful at all.

Once I wake up in 15 minutes or when my blackberry goes off, in about 30 seconds I'm back into full wakefulness and ready to go. And I feel energized. The grogginess is completely gone. Seriously, it works wonders and helps keep me focused on getting things done when I would otherwise just lazily plod through things.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Sleep? What's That?

Could it be that fall is here? Could it be that I drink way too much coffee and Monster? Might it be that I've been getting through a behemoth cold? Maybe it's because I've been uber-busy at work and want to make sure I get enough non-work activities in each day? Heck, maybe it's just a freakin' chemical imbalance. Any way you look at it, though, sleep just hasn't been something I've been getting much of lately.

Ever since I took the red eye home from Seattle last Monday morning which left me with only a couple of hours of sleep to go on, I've been only getting 6 hours of sleep a night--tops! Last night, for example, I was up until after 1:00 am and then I woke up naturally at around 6:10 am. And it's been like that all last week.

I'm not going to complain too much because who really wants to waste time on sleeping anyways? Well, yeah, I know dreams are cool and waking up after a great night's rest kicks ass and falling asleep soundly after a long day pretty much rules... but beyond that, I think I'd rather do other things. So I have been. Mostly reading and reading and reading.

It's just so weird to go from having a sleep schedule where I'd be getting around 7-8 hours a night to being able to survive just fine on 6 or so. It's like I got my college energy levels back all of the sudden.