Monday, September 29, 2008

My Thoughts on the Current Financial Markets

Yeah, not such a good day on Wall Street today... or on any street for that matter. Failed US bailout plan, global market pullback, international bank bailouts, and financial failures left and right. Gotta love watching my brokerage accounts dive further and further into the red each day.

Failing Hardware

I really love my Xbox 360... when it is working. Over the weekend I had my second 360 fail. It was really odd too, since there was no real hints that anything was wrong. I didn't have any problems with the console, hadn't been using it excessively, and really had only been using it lately as a DVD player and for playing arcade games. Sunday morning I watched an episode of the X-Files (just finishing up the 7th season) before breakfast and turned the unit off. When I came back after breakfast to play a game of Scene It with Kristi, the thing gave me the red rings of death.

This is the second time I've had to have my 360 replaced. I had to have my 360 replaced last year because of the same problem. I also had to have my power cord replaced last year. On top of those repairs, I also had both the guitar and drum set that came with Rock Band get replaced since they had broken. The 360 is, in my opinion, an amazing platform that does it all--games, a great online experience, DVD player, media streamer, and entertainment center--but the console and peripherals have such a high fail rate it's ridiculous.

I've had two 360's replaced. My brother has had to have one replaced. That's three broken consoles between the two of us. Not a great statistic if you ask me. Thankfully, Microsoft is pretty good about repairing or replacing broken machines. Oddly when I called to have this 360 fixed, it came up as out of warranty for over a year, which is odd since Microsoft has a 3 year warranty on all of their consoles. It must have somehow got screwed up in their system that I no longer had my original system, but a replacement unit. I didn't have to dick around with them, however, to get it classified as under warranty. All I did was tell them their records were wrong and they took me at my word, emailed a shipping label, and set me up to have it serviced free of charge.

It's stuff like that which keeps me so torn on the 360 and Microsoft. Their service is great. I love it, but I hate that I have to take advantage of it because of their crappy hardware. Oh well, I'll deal for now. Thankfully I've never had any issues with my Zune. I beat the crap out of that thing and it's still ticking.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Seriously Frustrating

It's pretty apparent that I haven't written much the last couple of months. Obviously the biggest reason is simply that I haven't gotten around to it or felt the urge. However, lately now that all of my travels are done for the year, the summer is winding down, and I'm back in my routine, I do have that itch to do some writing again. But wouldn't you know it, life has conspired against me.

Recently the company I work for re-tooled all of their web filtering tools, their wide area network setup, and their proxy servers. In doing so, they blocked many sites I use and also screwed up and/or blocked the ftp usage for my office. In essence, even though I do now want to take a minute or two to write something during lunch or a break, I have a hard time doing so.

I'll just have to figure something out...

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Where's My Money Going?

Everyone knows right now that we're in the middle of a financial crisis here in the US. And truthfully, it's not just a US issue, it's affecting the entire global economy, but the US seems to be at the center of it. I find myself more and more fascinated by the financial news each day, but not because the topics are necessarily interesting or because I have lots of vested interest (I do hold a relatively moderate number of stocks and funds so I would like them to turn around), but more so because of the "car crash" effect of it all. Just like when everyone slows down on the highway to gawk at a really bad car wreck, I find myself doing just that with the financial news.

I don't really have anything to add that many people haven't already said. I found Ryan's digging up of an old article from 1999 interesting in how, looking back, you can really see how this all went wrong. I'm also a big fan of Obama's speech on the bailout plans. Then there's the analysis left and right about Paulson's and Bernanke's plans, the ups, the downs, the big questions marks, and everything in between. Regardless of what eventually does happen, this is a monumental time and I hope everyone is paying attention to the situation that's around them. This isn't going to affect just the fat cats on Wall Street, the oil barons, rich people, and the politicians. If everything goes according to the proposed plans, the everyday taxpayer is going to be on the hook for a lot of government spent money on failed investments and companies. I can't say I'm a fan of it, but I also can't say that if we let everything fail we'd be in a better position.

All I do know is that I'm tired of seeing red in my portfolio and I'm tired of sitting on the sidelines of the investing game because of all the uncertainty, corruption, greed, and toxicity that has invaded the markets. It would be nice to see some regulation, some stability, and a little less dumbass investments made available, but as we all know greed is too big of a motivator to keep things simple. What's the next crazy derivative that's going to be designed that'll make a chunk of people rich while others get ripped off? I wish I knew, so I could get in on some of that action at the ground level and then let taxpayers worry about the aftermath.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Johnny Truant - No Tears for the Creatures CD Review

It looks like Johnny Truant have finally broken through to the (relatively speaking) big leagues, releasing their third album on Ferret Records. Having been in existence for 8 years already, most people will probably only be hearing of this band now, which is both wonderful and, at the same time, disheartening. Johnny Truant definitely deserve to be on the larger stage that Ferret presents them with, but it’s some of their past work that is somewhat more interesting in comparison to the somewhat safe No Tears for the Creatures.

Johnny Truant’s debut, The Repercussions of a Badly Planned Suicide, although suffering from some underwhelming production, was an album that showed the band could put together some grand metalcore songs. With the shortest song on that album clocking in at just under 5 minutes, there were a lot of ideas explored in their long form experiments — two tracks even neared the 10 minute mark. The toying around with progressive metalcore and some spacier moments showed a lot of promise which, unfortunately, wasn’t capitalized on with their sophomore effort, In the Library of Horrific Events. This album focused more on truncating song length, neutering some of the experimentation, and adding in some melody here and there which, essentially, generalized them to some extent. It was still a very solid album, but didn’t expand on the room for growth that was hinted at on their debut.

Now we have No Tears for the Creatures, which shows the band again making some changes to their approach. The first thing that you’ll notice is the huge sound of the album. Every song feels large and in charge with thick, meaty grooves and equally visceral vocals, even if they are at times mixed in a bit low. It’s also very noticeable that the band has tried to streamline their sound even further, creating a lean metalcore machine, but in doing so have also sacrificed even further the few things they did differently from some of their peers. Thankfully they didn’t make these sacrifices throughout entire album.

Even without a lot of the experimentation of their debut and the spacey moments of their last album, this is still a relatively solid album. It’s possible to hear the remnants of their past work as there are some melodic guitar lines sparsely spaced out on the first half of the album, and the final two tracks show a little of the longer form song-writing they previously employed. Still, the main focus of the first 2/3 of this album is to be ferocious and aggressive, which they have definitely accomplished. One of the keys to their heavy sound is the well placed, thunderous drumming during breakdowns and key moments. It may simply be due to the production or mixing, but the bass drum rolls are pummeling.

Mention should be made of the final two tracks, as well as “Dead Ships Sinking”, since they are definitely much different than the other 7 tracks of the album. As I mentioned before they employ a very progressive style, much in the same manner as Misery Signals, on these compositions. The aggressive vocals are screamed out over well choreographed, growing progressions of heaviness that churn in a slow-burn fashion. These 3 songs are definitely the best portion of the album and are, unfortunately, buried at the end of the release.

Identity crisis aside, Johnny Truant are proving that Ferret did indeed pick up a solid band, but there is still room for growth. With three albums now under their belt, it’s time for Johnny Truant to sit down and decide exactly what kind of band they want to be because modern fans are fickle and might not create an attachment to a band that is constantly going in different directions on each album, and even on different songs within a single album.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Yes, There Are Zune Users Out There... And I am One of Them!

For any of you Zune owners, the latest 3.0 software and firmware has recently dropped. I must say, I liked my Zune before 3.0 was released, but there were things that could be better. Now, with 3.0, a few of my issue have been resolved and I am now more in love with my Zune then ever. Some of the updates that really made my day are below:

--Audible Support: This one is huge. I had a lot of Audible audiobooks that I bought when I had my previous MP3 player (which had Audible support), but when it died and I upgraded to my Zune, I couldn't listen to them. They've been sitting in my Audible account forever and now, finally, I can listen to them and not feel like I totally wasted a bunch of money.

--A Clock: It may seem trivial, but I thought it was really stupid how there was no clock on the Zune anywhere. Now I can time my runs and better manage my pace, as well as not have to pull my blackberry out of my other pocket just to check the time (if I'm for some reason not wearing my watch).

--Games: I really didn't seem to think this would be that cool, but after having played a little Hexic while listening to a podcast, I can see how games will be a stellar addition. As long as they don't take up too much space, I'll probably buy a few for when I'm on the go.

--Better Video Support: Some video podcasts that I subscribed to wouldn't be watchable on my Zune because the format wasn't quite right, even though they were in MP4 format. It seems that this has been addressed as those podcasts are now watchable.

--Mixview: This is a part of the Zune software that is loaded onto your PC that mimics iTunes in giving you a neato way to see similar artists to what you listen to and such. It's neat, but I won't use it.

There are a few new features that I really could care less about, like buying things from the marketplace wirelessly, buying songs you listend to on the radio, Zune channels, and the added social integration stuff, but I'm sure they have their uses for some users. Now if only Microsoft could get a little more market share. For what it's worth, I feel like my Zune is a much better product than an iPod, especially when it comes to the wireless syncing, better video screen, and moderately less bloated software.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

I Have Returned!

I'm back from Europe! Well, I have been since Saturday night, but I'm still getting readjusted. Lots of work built up while I was out, and not just work for my daily job, but other odds and ends work. The first piece of work that I'm working on is getting back to a normal sleep schedule. It took me a few days to get adjusted to the 7 hour difference while I was in Italy and the Czech Republic, but once I was adjusted (with the help of some sleeping pills and strong espresso), my body took to the new time. Now, back in my normal time zone, my body isn't so keen on making the switch back.

I've found the last couple of nights that once 5 or 6 pm rolls around, I'm dog tired and have to force myself to really work to stay up. I can't read a book because it'll just put me right to sleep. Watching TV is tough, because if the show is boring at all I'm nappy. I pretty much have to be doing something to keep my body moving along until at least 9 or 10 before I crash. But then my body is keyed to wake up in the middle of the night, wide awake, because it is still convinced it is morning time. Stupid body. It's a little better this morning. I got up at around 5:20 am instead of 3 am. So maybe tomorrow I'll get up at my usual 6:30 am.

Beyond adjusting my sleep patterns, I had tons of mail to go through. Two weeks leads to lots of junk mail, magazines, Decoy Music review submissions, and bills. Sorting that took some time. And I also will have to clean the house sometime this week since nothing appears to have been vacuumed or cleaned while I was away (and my plant was on death's door since it hadn't been watered... sad). So that'll no doubt be a task, one that I had hoped I wouldn't have to undertake.

Then there's the matter of just getting back into my routine. Having not done any physical activity on vacation other than walking, ultimate was rough on Sunday and I felt like I could hardly jump at volleyball last night. Time to whip this lazy ass body back into shape! All in all, I've proven once again to myself that vacation is fun, but also a hassle. The week after getting back just kind of sucks because of the readjusting that needs to be done, but it's a sacrifice we're forced to make to be able to have our vacation time.

Oh, before I forget, Kristi put up some of our pictures from vacation here. I should have mine up sometime in the next week or so (I hope). Enjoy!