Monday, July 31, 2006

The Road to Milton is Paved With Suck

Before we get started, I should point out that I stole this post's title from Bill Harris's hilarious post "The Road to Shreveport Is Paved With Suck", an article about his family's annual trip to Louisiana to visit his wife's family. At the time, it was hosted on, but Gone Gold has since evaporated. I tried looking at Bill's personal site, Dubious Quality, but alas, I could not find it. Perhaps if we all email him, he'll post it again. On that note, happy birthday to Bill's son Eli, who has just completed an upgrade to version 5.0.

One tick after midnight on December 1st, 2006 the missus and I will no longer live in unincorporated Fulton County, GA and will instead live in the newly formed town of Milton. In the July 18th elections, in which a) about 4 people showed up and b) 3 of them did not vote for Ralph Reed, a referendum was voted on to further carve up Fulton County and make part of it, the part we live in, the city of Milton. Linda is not happy.

Allow me to explain. When we first started researching where in Atlanta we wanted to live, she came upon the glorious town of Alpharetta. The houses looked so nice, there were parks and shopping places, and a general rosy sense of goodwill and peace on Earth. When we visited the area, to determine if we wanted to live here, we found that the streets of Alpharetta were paved with gold, that bluebirds sang and rainbows cascaded from on high. OK, that's an exaggeration, but we did very much like the town and wanted to live in it. How fortuitous that when we found a house, we found one in Alpharetta. Or did we? Bum-bum-bum!

As it turns out, we did not. We found a house in unincorporated Fulton County that just happened to be close enough to Alpharetta to have Alpharetta as the city for postal purposes. Note I said postal purposes. For any and all other governmental services we're either serviced by the county or the state. No city government for us. This idea apparantly bothered people so they rallied together to get our little neck of the woods made into a city, the city of Milton.

According to the referendum's supporters, Fulton County sucks and because it's so damn long (70+ miles long) there's no guarantee that the money collected by taxes in our area is actually spent in our area. Instead, there's a high chance that it's spent in South Fulton county, a noticeably less affluent area. Add to this the comments made after the referendum was passed that the Republicans in our neck of the woods were annoyed with being constantly ignored by the mostly Democratic members of the county government and my bullshitometer starts blaring.

Linda was opposed to this new city from the get-go, mostly because of the name, a fact that I mock her about at any given opportunity. According to her, no one will know about the city of Milton, but people know what Alpharetta is, and associate it with nice houses, so a name change will only bring our property values down. I find this reasoning somewhat flawed as she forgets the fact that all of the time we lived in Ashburn, our property values only went up and for most of that time, there was a step in the directions to our house that directed travelers to "Take a left at the burned out bank." When we first moved to Ashburn, no one knew where it was. When we left, maybe 3 people knew where it was, and 2 of them (us) were leaving, yet we sold our house for more than double what we paid for. It won't take time for people to learn that we live in a nice place, and there are plenty of nice places around us. Plus, Milton is already talked about as a "rural" area and rural = land, which should attract some cashola.

Her other reason for not wanting us to become Milton, and I agree with her on this one, was that the referendum supporters never gave a good reason for turning us into a new city. Basically, their talking points were something like "Fulton County sucks" and "If we're our own city, you'll have a local government to represent you." My take on this is that a) I haven't seen anything indicating that Fulton County is any worse or better than any other county I've lived in since emerging on this fine planet and b) just because you have a local government to represent you, it doesn't mean it's going to be any good. The city government may end up being just as useless and impotent as the county government. In fact, me being a Democrat, I'd say we just took a step backwards. I also find it odd that this was a push from Republicans, which has traditionally been the party of less, not more, government. Oh well, I guess if you don't like how things are done, rather than try and mobilize voters and getting your own people elected, you can just create your own layer of government to deal with things. If this new government starts making shitty decisions I'm going to become my own town of Brandonia Heights, population 4.

Add to this the fact that once the county isn't on the hook to provide us with services like police and fire protection, we'll all have to pay for it. And how do you think they'll do that? Certainly not with bake sales and raffles, but with higher taxes. I guess it's ok to spend more money on taxes as long as that money isn't going to those filthy, filthy poor people. Curse them and their shitty roads! Personally, I hope to never use the services of either the police or the fire brigade so I was fine with paying less for them to deal with my neighbors to the south.

In the long run, I'm sure it won't make much of a difference to us, other than having to get new address labels and checks, something that also bothers Linda to no end. Sure, our taxes will go up, but I'm sure they would have gone up for something else at some point anyway. What this does do is give me the opportunity to do something I've always wanted to do, namely run for public office. This new town is going to need someone to run it and I'm just the man to do it. I'm thinking Sherrif, but only if I can beat people up in the thoroughfare and/or shoot them. I'm also thinking of running for the office of Commisioner of Personal Transportation. People in my neighborhood use golf carts to get around the neighborhood, despite the fact that you can walk from one end of the development to the other in less than 20 minutes. My first act as Commissioner would be to ban all golf carts for personal, non-golfing use. Then we'll see how they like their new government. Granted this would be an entirely new appointment, of my own creation, but as this whole exercise has shown us, if your government isn't doing what you want it to do, simply create a new level and use it to get things done. My slogan can be "Cackowski-Schnell for Commissioner, Because You Need a Democrat Somewhere Around Here". Remember, a vote for Cackowsk-Schnell is a vote for sausage!

Friday, July 28, 2006

More Fun with Oblivion

Seeing how it's Friday, I feel obligated to speak of gaming, and I will, however I hope you would allow me some latitude to discuss other topics. Yes? Excellent.

I purchased the new Tom Petty cd on Tuesday. It is an excellent piece of musical craftmanship, as usual. Mr. Petty does fine, fine work with the Heartbreakers, however with the exception of the "She's the One" soundtrack, I prefer his solo stuff. It is easy to dismiss his personal music as sounding like his work with the Heartbreakers, due to the distinctive nature of his voice, but I can assure you, it is quite different. More mellow, more layered, a more personal approach to music. Good stuff.

All week I've been reading the transcripts from the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District case, which was when some parents sued the Dover school district after the Board voted to allow the entry of Intelligent Design into the high school biology curriculum. Now, I have absolutely no intention of getting into a discussion about Intelligent Design here. I will certainly share my opinion on the subject with you should you want to contact me directly (suburbanjoe at gmail dot com) however I like to keep things casual and jokey here and a discussion of that nature can very easily turn into so very not casual and so very not jokey. Anyway, the court transcripts are very, very interesting and make for good reading and showcase, as the presiding judge mentioned, excellent lawyering. The amount of research done and the level of preparedness of the counsel on both sides was amazing.

We have new furniture in our family room. Well, not all of it, as the couch is MIA. We hope to have this remedied tomorrow. This has been an interesting experience, fraught with peril and at many points we have been waylaid with problems. My wife and I have taken to calling them "Diamond Shoe Problems" as in, my diamond shoes are too tight. She ultimately coined the phrase from my extensive blatherings. As we all know, I have a tendency to go on, and her profession as a Technical Writer requires her to take long winded explanations and boil them down to their raw, instructional essence. I have taken this phrase and entered it into the official SuburbanJoe lexicon and would recommend you do the same, lest you find yourself worrying about things that really don't fucking matter. At some point, I would like to overhear it in casual conversation, or even better, have me quoted to me as in some sort of "When Harry Met Sally" moment. Either that or I would like someone to fake an orgasm in front of me in a deli.

OK, so back to Oblivion. It had been quite some time since I visited fair Tamriel what with putting a whupping on the God of War, and rocking out. In fact, it had been so long since I played, that I couldn't remember how to cast spells. This is fine if you're just bouncing around the countryside and you want a little light, but I was being hit with a very large sword at the time. It hurt, and I needed to heal myself. That is not the time to forget how to twist majiks to your foul purposes. I have since remembered and now heal myself with aplomb. I also learned a spell that allows me to heal others, which my horse very much appreciates as I repeatedly ride him off of mountains, an act he rebels against with a disgusted whinny. Well, not so much disgusted as pained. This would explain why, everytime I de-horse, he attempts to walk away from me. That and I tend to ride places that get him beset by minotaurs and crabmen. Now that I can heal him, he tolerates my presence, but I can tell that had he the choice, he would let fly with an iron toe, and kick me back to Buff-a-lo.

I have decided to focus exclusively on the main quest, to get that out of the way, as I keep riding past Oblivion gates, portals into an alternate, malevolent dimension, as I move around the countryside. These portals, and the creatures they disgorge, are an annoyance to me, as I can't fast travel when enemies are about, and those Oblivion fuckers are a tenacious lot, choosing to chase me and my horse halfway across the goddamn continent. That and they represent an unspeakable evil set to crush all who would oppose them. There's only room for one unspeakable evil in Tamriel, and you're looking at him so I need to wrap this up toot suite so that my infamy can continue, unrivaled.

To do this, I have to go through these gates, make my way through the hellish landscape, ultimately make it to the top of some spire and steal a sigil stone. Doing so will close the gate and give me a handy magical doo-dad that I can combine with a weapon or a piece of armor/clothing with magically delicious results. When I first started the game, I was up for whatever these Oblivioids threw at me, swinging steel and letting arrow fly as I mowed them down. Now that I've done that, and have revelled in that unique experience, I have a new strategy. Now I enter the gate and run. I run, I run so far away. Sometimes I hide. Sometimes I run and hide. It's a varied approach, and one that I found can easily be changed to suit your needs, as long as you stick to a) running b) hiding or c) some combination of the two. Finally, when all running and hiding has gotten me to the room with the sigil stone, I drink an invisibility potion, thereby rendering me, you guessed it, invisible. I can then steal the stone unimpeded. When I steal the stone, the invisibility potion wears off and the beasties can hurt me before the gate closes completely. To get around this, I hurl myself off of the top level of the spire and then just run around and hope that no one hurts me too much before the gate closes. It is a well tested strategy, and one that I hope you can use to your own advantage in other areas of your life.

When I have to actually fight something, I pull my trusted Ebony Blade, it of the absorb health enchantment, and I just wade in there swinging all willy-nilly. If I get hit, it's OK, as my sword will suck the life from my target and replenish my dwindling store. This is an excellent strategy, except for the fact that my armor takes a wicked beating and I have to continually head to town to get it repaired. Currently, it is completely broken, leading your's truly to either go back to town yet again, or continue adventuring in the nude. I find neither option palatable, however naked dungeoning is an easy path to certain doom. Perhaps I need to find sturdier armor. Either that or somehow manipulate the large, round, metal blocking object currently attached to my left forearm. I think they call it a shield.

Once the main quest is finished, I wonder if I'll still care as much about the game as I do now. On the one hand, I put 60 hours into the game not caring one bit about the main quest, so I'm not sure why I'd miss it when I was gone. On the other hand, once the main quest is done, the story turns into the smaller, stories of the individual quests. I think I'll be OK with that, as when I wasn't doing the main quest, and kept taking on other quests, there was always this little, nagging voice telling me to do the main quest instead of flitting around and assassinating people. Once I get this done, that voice will be silenced and I can move on to important things like riding my horse off of cliffs and nude dungeoning. 'Tis the adventuring life for me!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Note to self

Do the Wednesday science post prior to Wednesday night, so that you can, you know, actually do it. Otherwise you end up tired and can't write anything coherent because you can barely understand your own name at this point in the evening, much less the basics of quantum computing.

I will do my best to do a science post this week, but the topics I have to cover are pretty heavy, and they may require more research than usual. Then again, they may be extremely easy to understand and I'm just tired.

Many apologies Squaddies. I know I've been less than 100% with regular science posts of late. I'm working on a schedule that will allow me to put an end to my poor attendance record.

Monday, July 24, 2006

The Rock Show

Friday night I ventured out of my cave, into the July Atlanta heat so that I might enjoy the song stylings of Guster, live at the Chastain Park Ampitheater. It was an interesting experience which I will now recount for you, my cherished audience.

First things first. The band rocked and the new material fit nicely with their previous stuff. They made some nice little changes to some of the songs that worked well in the live setting and helped to differentiate the songs from the studio versions. Nothing is worse than going to a live show and having the songs sound exactly like the studio versions, only with a little reverb. The band had a great rapport with the crowd and they were genuinely happy to be there. All in all, a great show and should you have the opportunity to see Guster live, you should grab it with both hands and ride that fucker all the way to the local TicketMaster outlet. Convenience charges be damned.

Chastain is, by far, the strangest place I've ever seen a show at. The whole thing is outdoors, and it's set up to encourage people to bring food, beverages, what have you to consume during the show. There are actual tables closer up to the stage, and you can either bring food or have catered food brought right to you. It is not an arena that screams "rock!" but given the price of the ticket, I think they're catering to people who care more about a good merlot than about rocking out. Unfortunately, I could give a fuck about merlot and live only to rock, so I felt a wee bit out of place.

Also, I was alone, and going to a rock show alone requires you to rock out a little less than you usually would, lest you be That Guy. You know That Guy. He's the one at the show who is waaaaaay to enthusiastic about the show and who hoots and hollers, possibly removing his shirt in the process, and will, while shirtlessly hooting and hollering, turn back to face the crowd to see if they are enjoying the show as much as he is. He also dances, although it looks more like he's having a seizure, which he may be, as he is, most likely, stoned out of his fucking mind. I am happy to report, I did not become That Guy, so no worries there.

The cast of characters around me provided as much entertainment as the show itself, so before we get any farther along, allow me to make some introductions. To my left was The Foursome, as I never learned their names and there were four of them. To my right was Kyle and Meagan. In front of me was Dancing Mike and his girlfriend, NoName Lady. They were joined by Candle Man and his girlfriend NoName Lady #2. I don't know who was behind me but that chick could scream.

Kyle, Meagan, NNL, Dancing Mike, Candle Man and NNL#2 attended the concert together and as such, there was much conversationing between the parties. Meagan, in particular, enjoyed talking a fair amount. I heard all about the flowers that Kyle sent for her birthday (it was this past Saturday, the day after the concert). I heard how her birthday was going to be celebrated with an event called MeaganFest, a play on the MegaFest name of the popular Christian festival Atlanta just played host to. I heard where she wanted to go for MeaganFest, where she didn't want to go, yadda, yadda, yadda. I'm not sure what the draw of the concert was, as she talked through the entire fucking thing, but she seemed to have a good time, so good for her.

Kyle was about 9 feet tall, with massive feet and all the grace of a drunk giraffe. This came into play later when the dancing began. As the night turned darker, before the music started, Kyle and Candle Man produced these big ol' glass votives with candles in them, lit them and placed them on the concrete at their feet. Now, there weren't any bugs out, and these certainly weren't citronella candles, so I was confused as to their purpose. I asked Kyle what the candles were for, and he responded "Oh, just a little ambience." Now, I don't want to paint myself as some rock veteran who followed Judas Priest around the country in some shitty ass van, but I can also say that I've been to plenty of concerts in my day and I can honestly say that pretty much every damn one of them would have resulted in a beating were you to bring out lit candles under the pretense of adding ambience. I mean, Jesus, it's ROCK SHOW. Who the fuck brings candles to a rock show, even a somewhat poppy, mellow rock show as Guster? Have you ever seen mood altering candles in the seats at Ozzfest? I doubt it.

Apparantly, they were not only for ambience but for Candle man to use in some sort of musical ritual, designed, no doubt, to invoke the favor of the gods. Once the group started getting up to dance, an event that took way longer than it should have, given the quality of the music being played, Candle Man took a votive in each hand and started waving them around and dancing like some sort of Polynesian fire dancer. This dude, as a kid, accidentally burned his shed down, I'm sure of it.

Candle Man also had this way of announcing the name of the song after the song was played, which does no one any good, as if they weren't paying attention, perhaps because Meagan was explaining what shoes she did and didn't want to wear to MeaganFest, they wouldn't know the song was being played until after it was over. Guster has this great song called "Airport Song" that's basically about a cult, with the last line being "you'll be selling books at the airport". They chose this show to do an extended rock mix of the song and basically dragged it out for about 6 or 7 minutes, quite impressively, might I add. It's a very distinct song, and a fan of the band, as presumably we all were, were to hear it, even after the lyrics were finished, they would immediately recognize it. Once it was finished, Candle Man said the same thing to every person in the group, including the ladies, "Dude! Airport song!" High fives were also exchanged. The funny thing was that Kyle, still in the steely grip of Meagan's conversational trap, did not respond immediately prompting a conversation that went something like this:

CM: Kyle! Dude! Airport Song!
K: (nothing)
CM: Kyle!
K: (nothing)
CM: Kyle!
K: (nothing)
K: What?
CM: Dude! Airport Song!

Ok, Candle Man, we get it. As I say to my 3 year old who is similarly annoying in his repetition of the events that just transpired in front of all of us, "We're all here." Granted, he's like a tenth of your age, so him I cut slack. You, not so much. Candle Man also had this way of dancing/singing where he'd kind of point in your face and sing, accentuating the lyrics with finger jabs. I wanted to ask him if he new he wasn't at a NWA show, but I was afraid he'd throw down and start jabbing votives in my face while rapping "Still DRE". Candle Man is the guy who people have a good time with, however once in a while you'll turn down an invitation to go out and remark to your other friends that you just weren't in the mood for Candle Man. Every group has one of these people. If you can't identify that person in your group, chances are it's you, so please, fucking dial it back a notch.

So, Candle Man is invoking the fire god with his dancing, NNL and NNL#2 are also dancing and Meagan is dancing and trying to get Kyle to dance. At this point, I think Meagan was pretty fucked up, and apparantly, liquor makes young Meagan horny as she was all rubbing on Kyle like he was made out of sex magic. Kyle didn't want to dance, nor did Mike. Kyle I can understand, because he had all the coordination of someone 9 feet tall, and his feet were undeniably huge. Were he to slam one of those fuckers down to the rhythm, down down to the rhyme, he might split the world asunder like that dude in the Inhumans. Eventually Meagan got Kyle dancing and she looked like she was getting ready to rip his clothes on. They ending up leaving during the first encore because they wanted to "load the car". Right. So that's what they're calling it nowadays.

Dancing Mike also resisted the requests to dance. Dancing Mike was the joker of the group and like your stereotypical group joker, he's making up for some shortcoming (I have self esteem issues, if you're wondering what my problem is) with his jokiness. I assumed it was a lack of dancing ability. Not so. Dancing Mike had some moves, and with his spiky hair and lanky build, he looked like a young Kevin Bacon. He would not have looked out of place gyrating in a barn, away from the reproachful eyes of John Lithgow.

While all of the flame dancing, pop locking and drunken groping was taking place, The Foursome, or at least the menfolk half, were taking turns making fun of the activities to my right and in front of me. Now, as my wife will attest, I enjoy making fun of complete strangers just as much as the next person, but these people really had no basis for mockery. For one, they each probably spent more on their outfit than I did on my entire work wardrobe. Secondly, the one dude was wearing Skechers flip-flops. Anyone who wears designer, or, in this case, alternative designer flip-flops needs a good beating. Flip flops are throw away pieces of crap you buy in the bin at Target for like a dollar. You don't pay 34 bucks on a pair of fucking flip-flops. Plus, this dude has some gnarly ass jacked up feet which really shouldn't have been available for all to see. Not without first spending some time with a piece of pumace. Dude, moisturize. Seriously.

So, after all the dancing was done, the house lights were up, Candle Man's candles were burnt out and Meagan and Kyle were off fucking in the car, The Foursome left and the folks in front of me started leaving. I noticed that they hadn't picked up their votives, so I picked them up, got their attention and mentioned that they had forgotten their candles. At this point, Candle Man looks at me like I had just rummaged through their garbage and asked them if they were going to finish their discarded sandwiches. He then says "Um, I think those are burnt out. But thanks." Now, again, I don't want to paint myself incorrectly, as someone who lived a hardscrabble existence as a child and we were using jelly jars as glasses or ironing and reusing tin foil, but these were pretty big votives, and last I checked, you can just put another candle in them. You just scrape the wax out with a butter knife, drop in a new candle and voila, you're back in business for the upcoming Fiona Apple show. Even if they only paid like a buck a votive, that's still 4 bucks they're just throwing away on votives that they really should have gotten their ass kicked for bringing to a rock show in the first place.

All this has led me to come up with the idea that when a concert venue sells a single ticket, it should put all of those single ticket holders into the same section. This would allow for some camaraderie for all of the lonely losers, allow said lonely losers to feel like they could talk to the people around them and not feel like they're crashing a party, and cut down on rock show pretentious bullshit like votive candles and designer flip flops. The best conversation I had all night was with the kid selling t-shirts. He was regaling me with tales of when he toured with Bon Jovi selling band merchandise. Think Richie or Jon Bon Jovi would have stood for votive candles and ambience? I can tell from experience that they most certainly would not. Maybe Tico. He was always a little funny that way.

This is Not the Monday Post

MQ "tagged" me today on her site, so if I'm reading things correctly, I'm supposed to answer the same questions and then tag others. I think I can do that. However, I don't want you to think that this takes the place of the usual Monday post. It doesn't. Now, without further ado:

Five things in my purse wallet
1. Driver's license
2. Picture of my wife
3. Picture of my kids
4. Prayer card from my grandfather's funeral
5. Email address of couple we met in Russia when adopting Abby. I have never emailed them.

Five things in my refrigerator
1. Milk
2. Blueberries for cereal
3. Pickled jalapenos
4. Pickled banana peppers
5. Pickled cherry peppers. We like peppers at my house.

Five things in my closet
1. Clothes
2. Washington Post from Sept 12, 2001
3. Every letter Linda and I exchanged when dating
4. All of my watches
5. A stupid play tube/tunnel thing from Ikea that we bought a year ago and then never gave to Ben, because we bought a bigger tube/tunnel thing for his birthday. Ikea is somewhat far away and traffic is blechy, hence the not returning.

Five things in my car
1. An odd smell
2. CD's
3. Earphone/microphone for my cell
4. Parking garage pass
5. A hammer so that my mother-in-law doesn't have to worry that I'll perish in a watery grave when I plunge into a river and then can't open my power windows. Don't ask.

Um, I don't know who to tag, but I'll say anyone from the XB site that reads this here blog. You know who you are. I also tag Greg. Greg, thou art it!

Friday, July 21, 2006

God of War

Well, it's Friday and save for an hour long meeting, I've successfully avoided doing any real work. Yay for me.

Last weekend I finished God of War so I thought I'd share my thoughts on the game. We at SuburbanJoe feel it important to keep you up to date on games that came out over a year ago. If not here, then where?

God of War follows the adventures of Kratos, a down on his luck Spartan warrior who just happens to be on a quest to kill Ares, the god of war. With his trusty Blades of Chaos permanently seared to his wrists, his bold, red tattoos and his plucky spirit, Kratos makes his way through lands of Greek myth, happily rolling logs, climbing pillars, swimming through deadly gears and killing whatever he comes across in the most violent and disturbing manner possible.

For all of the hoopla raised about the Grand Theft Auto games, I'm surprised no one makes a peep about God of War. Granted, cyclops don't exist in real life, unlike hookers, but still, any game that has you finishing off a living creature by using your blades to climb up said creature and then reaching in and ripping it's sole eye out should warrant a little criticism. There are games I would not allow my kids to watch, like Call of Duty 2. Then there are games like this one, where I'm uncomfortable having my children in the same room as it, lest it's violent behaviour seep out and taint my innocent offspring. There's even a sex minigame in there, not hidden behind layers of code manipulated only by GameSharks and other foul magiks, but right out in the open for all to see. Well, not all as I missed it, but it is in there.

Combat is interesting and your various weapons and magical powers can be levelled up relatively well with new/stronger combos open unto you when levelled. As in any game with a bunch of combos, you'll find some that work for you and then quickly forget about all of the others. Combat can geta little repetetive as any time you see an open hallway, or large, open room, you can bet that once you get in it, the doors will seal and you'll be faced with undead minions to dispatch. Combat is rarely too difficult, on the medium setting anyways, as the game seems to modify what dead enemies drop to help you get through particularly tough battles. One thing I noticed was that in certain situations, like moving from a hallway to a room, if the hallway was still open when the beasties appeared, they'd follow you to the opening of the hallway, but no farther allowing you to retreat into the hall, and start a combo that finished in the room, smashing your enemies in the process. Hey, it's not running away if they don't follow. Or something.

What does get you killed, and multiple times in this game, is the variety of puzzles placed in Kratos's path, seemingly to get you, the player, up to the same level of apocalyptic rage as the character you're manipulating. Now while I didn't find the game as frustrating as my friend Dennis, who broke his hand in anger during the "climb out of Hades" sequence, and I didn't chuck my controller across the room as I did when fighting Meta-Ridley in Metroid Prime, I did have my fair share of curse words, thrown up hands and visions of me punching David Jaffe in the gut. I enjoy a good puzzle, perhaps of some kittens looking dismayed at the fishy treat denied to them by a glass bowl, or of some horses, congregating at a fence line and broken up into 250 oddly shaped pieces. What I don't like is feeling like I'm making progress only to come to a section where I have to walk across timbers 3 stories in the air and jump rotating saw blade arm thingies. Nothing makes gaming come to a screeching halt quite like doing the same puzzle over and over and over and over. In fact, I was so uninterested in a particular set of puzzles that I didn't play the game for over a month. Granted, I watched Deadwood during that time, but I also did my fair share of rocking out in Guitar Hero, a game who's "puzzles", in contrast, invite, nay, demand your continued attempts at mastery.

That being said, I wouldn't not recommend God of War to folks, as it's production values are superb, it has a good amount of replay value in both an unlockeable new difficulty level and a Challenge of the Gods mode that, when completed, allows you to dress Kratos as a cow using jugs of milk instead of tethered blades. I kid you not. There is also a good number of featurettes explaining how they went about designing the game, the evolution of Kratos, the evolution of the monsters and a gallery of discarded character models. Usually, these peeks behind the curtain require you to pay an extra 10 bucks and buy the Super Extended Collectors' Edition of the game, but those good folks at SCEA have included it all, free of charge. Good on them.

The story is interesting and the cut scenes are top notch, so if you remember a time when your gaming efforts were rewarded with a killer ending movie, you won't be dissappointed. I found Kratos's reason for wanting to kill Ares kind of silly, well not silly, but lacking compared to the level of quality in the rest of the game, but in a game like this, the story is secondary. Hell, I'm happy they had one as developed as they did. There has been some recent hullabaloo, yes hullabaloo, over David Jaffe (the designer of God of War) no longer wanting to make games with stories, wanting instead to focus on the game experience. People were somewhat surprised by this both for what it means for future God of War games and just games in general. First of all, it doesn't mean squat for future God of War games as all they really need to do is just change the story, add some new enemies and perhaps a new combo or two and bam, you have GoW2 and GoW3.

As for the second point, games don't need stories to be good. Tetris doesn't have a story and that game sells in whatever format they put it out in. Sports games don't have stories and they sell like hotcakes. In fact, the only games that need stories to be successful are RPG's and adventure games. That's why the story of all of the Super Mario Bros. games have all been the same, Princess Peach has been kidnapped and Mario must rescue her. I think that the reason for this is that in most games, the gameplay doesn't do anything to tell the story, it's just what you do to get to the next point where more of the story will be told, either by getting to the next geographic part in the game, finding whatever you need to find, or beating whoever you need to beat. The story is then told in cutscenes or conversations or in examining said found item, but I don't remember a time where I obtained a powerful +4 Combo of Plot Revelation.

RPG's and adventure games have conversations as part of their gameplay, so they can move the plot forward with their gameplay, but even that's a bit of a stretch. That's not to say that you can't tell stories, and good ones, with games and even in genres that were traditionally bereft of stories (Hellloooo Half-Life), but Jaffe saying that he doesn't want to do games with stories means just that. It doesn't mean he doesn't want to do good games. God of War had a very specific tone, and takes place in a very specific time period/mythology, so a lot of the gameplay is restricted. It's not like you can throw in a whack-a-mole mini-game or something so I can see why Jaffe might want to cast aside the limitations of story and just focus on gaming. If he can make good games out of it, good for him.

So, to wrap up, God of War has an interesting story, good but slightly repetetive combat, annoying puzzles, superb production values and a level of gore and violence we probably should all be a little ashamed of. At 20 bucks, lower if you score it preowned, it's a pretty good way to spend some time with your PS2. Plus, it has boobs, for whatever that's worth.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Sonic Boom!

Greetings Squaddies! Welcome back.

Today's question comes from my best friend and former college roommate, Dennis. Dennis is actually better suited to write these Wednesday posts as he's wicked smart and reads all sort of science stuff in his spare time while I read Playboy and play with Legos. Oh well, I guess you get what you pay for.

His question is:
Can I hit a ping-pong ball hard enough to barrier tunnel through my opponent's paddle (the Guile sonic boom principle)?
Ah, Guile, he of the massive flattop and annoying turtling moves. Was there no more annoying opponent in Street Fighter? That Sonic Boom attack followed up with a flying high kick and then he fucking crouches down and keeps hitting you with that stupid light punch, charging up the whole time. Bastard!

Barrier tunneling is an interesting quantum mechanical phenomenon by which particles "tunnel" through energy barriers. It's actually more complicated than that, and as such, requires a bit of an explanation. Lucky for you, I'm just the guy to provide it.

Lets say you have a boulder, and you want to roll the boulder up a hill of a certain height. I don't know why, it's not important there Sisyphus, just roll the damn boulder. As you roll the boulder up the hill, the kinetic energy of the moving boulder gets turned into potential energy. Once you get to the top of the hill, if there's some kinetic energy left over, the boulder will roll right down the other side. If, there isn't enough kinetic energy, the boulder either stays at the top, never to move again, or rolls back down the side you're pushing it up, crushing you to death in the process. Rough stuff, this boulder.

Now, let's say instead of a boulder, you have a particle, like an electron. It's moving along and it comes to an energy barrier of certain height. Now, just like our boulder, if the energy is enough to get over the barrier, than yay for it, and it moves along it's way. If, on the other hand, the particle has far less energy than what's needed to cross the barrier, it's repelled from the barrier. If the particle though has just a little less energy than what's needed, it tunnels through the barrier. This is because, quantum mechanically speaking, the particle isn't a boulder, it's a wave, and the wave function that describes the particle's behaviour extends through the barrier, and comes out the other side, albeit diminished. As the wave function describes all the possible positions of a particle, a dimished wave function on the other side of the barrier means that there's a small probability that the particle will end up on the other side of the barrier. As there are no available states in the barrier for the particle to exist in, our particle can't end up in the barrier, like our boulder can end up at the top of the hill.

Now, we say that there's a small probability that tunneling will take place, but even a small probability spread out over the billions and billions of particles that make up our magnificent world means that it happens enough for us take advantage of it and use it for our nefarious purposes. A variation of quantum tunneling called the Fields Effect acts as an electron source for flash memory. Quantum tunneling also allows for scanning tunneling microscopes to exist, which helps us witness surfaces at an atomic scale, and build messages like IBM roxors! made entirely out of atoms. Oh those wacky IBM guys.

Now, on to your question Dennis. Yes, there is a probability that every single particle in the ping pong ball could barrier tunnel through the near infinite number of energy barriers that exist in your opponent's paddle, thereby passing the ball through the paddle and signifying you as the Gnip Gnop God of the ages, however the probability is so small, that you could hit ping pong balls until this universe were reduced to dust and never have it happen. Better you just work on a devastating cross shot and be done with it.

I should say, that prior to the cinematic masterpiece that was "Street Fighter", I would have put the aforementioned probability right up there with the odds that renouned actor Raul Julia's last role before his untimely death would be starring across Jean-Claude Van Damme in a movie based on an arcade fighting game. Goes to show you how much I know.

I think we'll continue this quantum train next week and talk about why quantum computers are soooooo much better than regular computers, except for the fact that they don't exist yet.

Wikipedia - Quantum Tunneling - Understanding Quantum Tunneling
Wikipedia - Field Emission
Wikipedia - Scanning Tunneling Microscope

Monday, July 17, 2006

Happiness, Part 2

Sorry for being in absentia on Friday. Things at work got away from me and the next thing I new, the weekend was over. Funny how those things get away from you. I'm going to experiment with the schedule a little and switch Monday and Friday. My non-gaming, non-science posts require me to be creative, and by Friday, I'm pretty much entirely devoid of creativity. As I'm a little fresher on Monday, I think that posts that require creativity would be better served by coming out then. Plus, a gaming post on Friday will prepare you for a weekend of digital tomfoolery.

That being said, I'm going to continue my post from last Monday and give you a small taste of what makes me happy in life. This is an effort on my part to focus more on the positive things in my life, rather than the negative. Plus, I'm tired, this is easy and it helps to continue a theme I've already started. As you can see, being lazy makes me happy. So, in no particular order, here are a bunch of things that make me happy.

My wife's ass - My wife has a great ass, a fact that makes me very happy. Don't get me wrong, the rest of her is pretty cool too, but sometimes, a man needs to sit back and admire the beautiful things in life, and my wife's ass is one of those things.
My son's legal wranglings - My son has started negotiating when we tell him to do things. When we tell him not to touch things, he says that he's not touching, he's "pretend touching". If we tell him not to play with something that isn't a toy, he's not playing he's "just holding it". Now, normally this would be very, very annoying, but as anyone with a young child will tell you, kids' behaviour comes and goes in phases, and the legal wrangling phase means that the "why, why, why, why" phase is over. Huzzah. Plus, it's always nice to see your kid behaving the way they're supposed to. And pretend touching is a pretty clever defense.
My daughter eating a banana - When we adopted Ben, he dind't have any issues other than pretty much constant ear infections that were fixed with ear tubes. Abby, on the other hand, is small for her age and needed to go to a speech therapist to learn how to eat. Once she figured out that teeth are for chewing, she treated fruits and vegetables like we were feeding her iron filings. At some point, something changed and she started eating bananas. I can't stand the foul things, choosing to think of them as Satan's fingers, however Ben loves them, and now so does Abby. Seeing my daughter not only eating, but eating something that isn't a cracker, makes me very happy.
Pearl Jam - I've gone on about them before, but Pearl Jam makes me very, very happy. Their new album kicks ass, the latest recording of their Washington, DC show is amazing, and the band is sounding better than ever. I love the fact that Eddie is in his 40's, as it gives me hope for rocking out well into old age. I also like the fact that the press is rediscovering the band, not because I need to see The Jam in the press, but hopefully this will help get more people interested in their music.
Good movies - Ah, the joys of Netflix. Without it, Linda and I would have missed out on a bunch of fantastic films, because we wouldn't have thought to rent them at the video store, or we wouldn't have wanted to risk spending 5 bucks on something outside of our comfort zone. Netflix has allowed us to see some really good movies (some really crappy ones too) with some amazing performances. Over the weekend we watched "Brokeback Mountain" which, all "controversy aside" was a wonderful film. Last year, we watches "Sideways" and I loved it so much I went out and bought it soon afterwards. Paul Giamatti was a revelation. Maybe it's because I'm growing older, but the flash-banginess of ye olde action movie is losing out to well acted, well told stories.
Superman Returns - Except for Superman. Then again, "Superman Returns" was well acted and well told, but it happened to have a fair amount of action too. When Supes returned, triumphantly saving a plane full of people in the process, I had tears of joy in my eyes. It was nice to see Superman back in fine form, not just for those of us who grew up with Chris Reeve in the role, but for my kids, who now have a Superman movie to call their own. Well, in a few years when we let them watch it anyways.
Without A Trace - The show "Without A Trace" makes me happy. The fact that they won't release season 2 on DVD in the states makes me unhappy. The fact that they now show it on TNT makes me happy. The fact that they don't show it in order, making us have like 30 episodes from 2 seasons saved up on the Tivo makes me unhappy. All in all, it all comes out to being happy, but I would be a lot happier if they'd just release the damn DVD's in Region 1.
Guitar Hero - More on this later, but this game helps me unleash my inner rocker. The jump from Easy to Medium is quite substantial, mostly because of the addition of one stupid, blue fret button, but the need to keep on rocking is a cavernous void that can only be filled by rocking, rocking and more rocking.
Zaxby's - Every Wednesday night, Linda and make the kids dinner and after they go to bed we get take-out from Zaxby's. Linda is partial to their fried house salad, while I find their Wings and Things to be a big box of crack in chicken wing and chicken finger shaped pieces. I don't know what they put on their chicken, but I'm thinking it's heroin or some shit because I'm hooked. Their fries dipped in ranch dressing is worth the inevitable quadruple bypass surgery.

So there you go. My wife's ass, chicken fingers, Superman and digital rocking out all come together to weave a tapestry of happiness that is my life. I'm sure I could come up with a post of equal length of things that piss me off, but that won't get us anywhere. Unless, of course, next Monday rolls around and I have nothing to post about.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Lactate Intolerance

Greeting Squaddies! Welcome back. I apologize for not posting last night, but I got sidetracked by God of War and then, finally getting 5 stars on "No One Knows" by Queens of the Stone Age. I am now a Guitar Legend on easy mode, having put out 5-star performances for every song. I am now rocking Medium level with moderate success. Then, we watched "The Constant Gardener" which is the most beautifully shot film I've ever fallen asleep to. Twice. Not that it's a bad film, by any measure. It's well shot, well acted and well written. It's just a bit slow and my level of fatigue was not ready for such a slow build up to the movie's conclusion. Rachel Weisz was hot though, so yay for that.

Today's question comes from Andy. I have decided to answer this particular one because it has to do with exercise and he recently returned from a trip to England where he, his brother and his dad biked across England. Apparantly they don't have cars in England. Biking is a big thing for the Smith clan as his brother recently biked from Beijing to London. I don't understand it either, but good for Team Smith for getting off their collective butts and enjoying this fine world of our's. I raised a pint for you each night you were in transit, feeling that you were biking enough for all of us.

On to the questions. Andy asks:
Why does lactic acid build up in muscles? And why does it cause soreness?
An excellent set of questions, and they do much to support my belief that exercise hurts and should be avoided at all costs. Better to get fat and have a massive heart attack which probably hurts more, but on the plus side, doesn't hurt for nearly as long before all your hurts go away.

The simple answer to your questions is "Because it would be bad if it didn't" and "It doesn't" but that would make for a short post, so I shall endeavor to clarify things.

As you exercise, a substance called pyruvate is produced in your muscles. When enough oxygen is present, this pyruvate is converted into acetyl-coenzyme A which is an input into the Krebs Cycle. The Krebs Cycle then creates ATP which is used to transport energy between cells. This is a good thing. When there isn't enough oxygen to convert the pyruvate, as with intense exercise, the pyruvate would build up and reduce the amount of ATP that is ultimately produced, resulting in less energy for your cells. Luckily there's a substance called lactate dehydrogenase which can take the pyruvate and break it down into lactate (lactic acid) and nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide or NAD+. NAD+ is important because it can be used in the glycolysis process to create ATP, which we've already covered.

That's all well and good, but what are your muscles supposed to do with all of the lactic acid now sitting in there? For years and years, common belief was that lactic acidosis caused your muscles to burn and feel sore, namely because some dude decided to carve up frogs, shock the frog muscles into activity and then noticed that the muscles were covered in lactic acid once they stopped responding to his Frankenstonian shockings. Thus, the relationship between lactic acid and muscle fatigue was born. Why no one questioned why this guy was cutting frogs in half is beyond me, but a biologist I am not. I can also understand the notion that having muscles filled with acid would be a wee bit uncomfortable as, after all, Two-Face didn't get to look like that from harsh language.

As it turns out, lactic acid is not a bad thing. It is a very, very good thing that allows your muscles to keep on keeping on. First, your muscle cells can use the oxygen stored within them to turn the lactic acid into pyruvate, which, from what we discussed before, can then be used as an input into the Krebs cycle to create ATP. Alternatively, the lactic acid can be taken by your liver as an input into the Cori Cycle which then produces glucose which can in turn be used by your body for energy. Note the lack of soreness.

What causes the soreness in the muscles is a result of a whole lot of ATP being produced. As we talked about before, during intense exercise, aerobic metabolism can't create enough ATP so your body switches over to the glycolysis process to create ATP. This process can create a whole lot of ATP in a short amount of time. As the ATP reacts with water, it gives off hydrogen ions and overloads the support systems of the cells. These hydrogen ions then cause the pH to fall, increasing the acidity and owie, you're one hurting unit. So basically, lots of exercise causes too little ATP which causes your body to switch gears and make a whole lot of ATP which reacts with water, gives off hydrogen ions and cause acidosis in your muscles. Owie. You = hurting unit.

As we've seen that lactic acid can be used by muscles to create pyruvate and ultimately ATP, any types of exercise that increase the number of muscle cells is a good thing. More muscle cells means more lactic acid can be converted into pyruvate which means more ATP. It also means the ATP that is produced is produced at a rate that your body can handle, meaning less acidosis. Frankly, I'm quite happy with my muscle mass and the amount of ATP produced, so I'm going to stay right where I am. Then again, I've flown internationally and the pain of that experience was far worse than the sore muscles I would have received had I just biked home from Russia.

Wikipedia - Lactic Acid
PubMed - Biochemistry of exercise-induced metabolic acidosis. - Robergs RA, Ghiasvand F, Parker D, Exercise Science Program, Department of Physical Performance and Development, Johnson Center, The University of New Mexico
The New York Times - "Lactic Acid Is Not Muscles' Foe, It's Fuel" - Gina Kolata, May 16, 2006
Wikipedia - Cellular Respiration
Wikipedia - Krebs Cycle
Wikipedia - Cori Cycle

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

A Conspiracy of Ignorance

Someone or some thing doesn't want you to learn about lactic acid. Events have conspired against me to provide you with a post at some point Wednesday, however I'm going to try for Wednesnight. Don't get your hopes up though as I am very tired and am about to go into a 2 hour staff meeting followed by what will undoubtable be a hellacious commute. If not tonight, than tomorrow, or next week, or the week after. Let's not make any plans now. Don't call me, I'll call you.

Ciao babe.

Monday, July 10, 2006

The Pursuit of Happiness

In last week's Economist, they had an article on the fact that we have the "pursuit of happiness" as a fundamental tenet in one of our founding documents, namely The Declaration of Independence.

The sentence was remarkable at the time—a perfect summary, in a few pithy words, of exactly what was new about the new republic. Previous countries had been based on common traditions and a collective identity. Previous statesmen had been exercised by things like the common good and public virtue (which usually meant making sure that people played their allotted roles in the divinely established order). The Founding Fathers were the first politicians to produce the explosive combination of individual rights and the pursuit of happiness. It remains equally remarkable today, still the best statement, 230 years after it was written, of what makes America American. The Book of Job gives warning that “man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward.” Americans, for all their overt religiosity, have dedicated their civilisation to proving Job wrong. - The Economist, "Pursuing Happiness", June 29th, 2006

This article got me thinking about my own personal pursuit of happiness. Generally, I'm a pretty happy guy. Oh sure, my kids irritate the hell out of me, but at 3 and 1.5, that's pretty much their job. If they just went about their days doing everything we asked them to do and never getting into any trouble, I'd be worried that we spent a lot of money to adopt robots. As anyone with a Roomba will tell you, I am decidedly anti-robot, so you can see why I would not want to let one into my home, especially under the guise of it being my offspring. I believe the children are the future, but not robot children. You're just asking for robotic upheaval and subjugation of the human race at that point, and I ain't havin' that.

Where was I? Right, happiness. As I said, I'm a pretty happy guy. I'd be happier with a different job and more friends that exist outside of internet message boards, but these things will come with time. It's somewhat hard to make friends one's age when one works with people that are older than them and one doesn't have any energy after a day of chasing around the aforementioned non-robotic children and ends up spending their evening falling asleep in front of "Without A Trace" reruns. At some point, I hope to have a different job, perhaps with younger people, people I prefer to Poppy Montgomery. OK, I doubt that will happen, but I'll pretend to like them better than Poppy as I certainly have a better chance of hanging out with them.

The Economist article also talks about the pursuit of happiness being tied into the pursuit of obtaining material goods and whether or not having more money makes people happier. For, me it's a bit of a mixed bag. When I think back to when Linda and I were living together, in graduate school, making a tenth of what we make now, I don't remember us being miserable. Bored? Oh sure. After all, we didn't have any money to do things. Hot? Oh yes. We lived in a crappy brick apartment with no air conditioning. But unhappy? Not in the least. Once we had full-time jobs, we still couldn't do a lot of things, but at least we could live in a place with central air, and could take the occasional trip to Cape Cod in the summer. As we've moved forward, and been lucky to make more money with each successive trip around ye olde salary carousel, we've amassed more things, which makes me more and less happy at the same time.

Let me explain. I worry. I'm a worrier. I will worry about most things, if given the chance. In the past, most of my worries were money related. Any time Linda would decide she wanted to live in a new place, I'd worry about being able to afford it. Luckily, our moves usually came when raises did, so an increase in rent came with an increase in salary. When we bought our first house, I can remember sitting up in bed night after night going over the finances in my head. For some reason, foreclosure seemed worse than evicition, regardless of the fact that in both cases you end up living in your car. Once we had Ben, I worried about a mortgage that kept going up (stupid property tax increases), plus paying for daycare plus paying for college. Had we not moved to GA, and been able to take advantage of the equity in our home before we got Abby, it is doubtful that I would be able to get out of bed in the morning, so paralyzed with worry I would be.

So, does money make me happier? The money we make, and the financial decisions we've made up to this point allow me to not worry and not worrying makes me happy. Not worrying makes me fucking esctatic. Now, I know things can change, but hopefully we've done the right thing to absorb bumps in the road, and I know for a fact that we can pare back things as we need to in order to absorb bigger bumps.

Where money doesn't make me happy is when I start to feel guilty about the things that we have and the things we choose to spend our money on. Now don't get me wrong, we're not lighting cigars with 50 dollar bills while being fanned by the pool boy, but at the same time, one doesn't exactly need a home theater. When I think about the things we have, relative to others, I start to feel guilty about having too much, and we should instead be doing better things with our money like sponsoring third world orphans. Then I put on "Master and Commander" and the cannon shots are so loud that Linda has to come down to speak to me about the third world orphans we're currently sponsoring, upstairs trying to sleep, and I'm all like "Fuck that. Let Mubutu buy his own glasses." Then I feel bad because it isn't Mubutu's fault that he can't see. Then I play Guitar Hero and "Iron Man" is so loud my fillings vibrate out of my head and thoughts of Mubutu evaporate, and so the cycle continues.

So, in that regard, money just seems to bring me guilt. I mean, I could give it all away, but Linda and I work very hard for what we have, so why should Mubutu get it all, which also makes me feel somewhat selfish. It's a bubbling cauldron of emotions, for sure. I try to make sure that we donate money at the holidays to various causes, Child's Play being my favorite, as well as kick in when the Red Cross needs donations for catastrophes, or when the neighbor's kid needs to support his/her band/sporting team/greased pig catching team. It doesn't completely erase little Mubutu from my head, but it helps to dull his plaintive wailing.

The other worry is that my kids will grow up and think that what we have is normal and that it is reasonable to expect that everyone has these things. By any reasonable yardstick, our kids will have more growing up than either Linda or I had. That's not to say that Linda or I were poor, not by any stretch, just that they'll have more. I should clarify that they'll have more of the unimportant things. The important things like love, security, food, shelter, clothing and an education will be there at the same levels as when we grew up. I know that I never worried about where my next meal was coming from, and I'm pretty sure Linda didn't either. She may have worried what that meal was, and how it would taste, but that's a different story. My concern is that my kids won't be able to differentiate between the important things and the non-important things.

I know that a lot of that will be a factor of youth, I mean shit, I have a Lego AT-ST Ultimate Collector's Set on the way that I consider to be pretty fucking important and I'm 34 years old. At the same time, I see some kids today who think that the world owes them these pretty trappings, and the people these kids are going to turn into need to be hit with shovels. Thankfully I know the type of people that Linda and I are, and neither of us will have a problem with setting the kids straight when it comes to what they have that is important, and what they have that is not. I remember talking to neighbor about all of my video gaming and them remarking that Ben is going to be so lucky when he grows up because of all of the cool things he'll have and my reply was "Ben ain't got shit. Those are mine." Now, that's a pretty immature response, but at the same time, it marks an important distinction, and one what will hopefully stave off any assholery. What I meant is that I have things that I worked for and my kids have very little that they get just by benefit of being born. If they want more, well then, welcome to McDonalds, yes they may take your order.

I usually don't get as introspective as I am now, as I choose to just kind of take things for what they are and act accordingly, however from time to time, I see the importance of examining your life. I have been extremely lucky in that my happiness comes with very little pursuit. My wife entered my life, unbeknownst to me, with a mission to land herself your's truly, and I have benefitted greatly from knowing her from the very second I met her. My kids, which did require somewhat of a pursuit, are great kids by any measure, but even more so when considering where they came from and what toll that could have taken on them, and subsequently on us. Even though I'm not thrilled with my job at present, it's a good job that pays good money and I certainly didn't set out to get it when I left school. All of these things, taken together, makes me even more thankful and awe-struck that I have what I have, because, to a certain degree, it feels like I stumbled into it. Oh sure, I've worked along the way too, but Linda will not hesitate to tell you how, left to my own devices, I would have gone on that evening not knowing the amazing life that stood before me, contained within the willowy frame of an 18 year old woman.

Certainly, my further happiness will require more pursuit on my part as a new job isn't going to just fall into my lap and focusing on how my kids only irritate me will mean me missing some very cool parts of their lives. Fortunately, the foundation of happiness has been laid, and the rest can be accomplished by effort and a change in perspective, which are much easier to come by when the other pieces are there. Unfortunately, for Mubutu anyways, I also want to retire early, so his blind ass is going to have to hit up someone else.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Media Day Part 2

I will be honest with you, this post is somewhat of a cop-out. I have a post in my head that I'm trying to wrestle into something meaningful and not just a string of my ramblings capped off with a period and a lack of resolution. I will continue to think about it, in hopes of using it for Monday. If I can't turn it into something meaningful by Monday, I will instead regale you with tales of The Finites' return to rock glory.

I've been a good little media consumer of late, purchasing and watching and generally making my brain available to musical and visual stimuli of varying sorts. I am now prepared to share my experiences with you, in hopes that you too can be a good little media saturated American.

The new Guster album, "Ganging Up On the Sun" dropped a few weeks ago, an event that made me deliriously happy. Guster is one of my favorite bands, an idea punctuated by the fact that I recently spent 46 bucks for a ticket to their July show here in the ATL. I am loathe to attend any entertainment event alone, however after attending an Angie Aparo show by myself and not dying as a result of my solitude, I figured it'd be silly for me to not see one of my favorite bands simply because I don't have any friends. The steep price of the ticket really bugs me, but at the same time, I'm averaging one concert about every 2 years, so I think I can handle it. Plus, I saw Guster tour with Ben Folds a few years ago and they do rock the house, so I know it's money well spent.

Back to the new album. It's quite good, and from a musical standpoint, it's probably their strongest effort. They added a new guy to the band, and he plays like every musical instrument ever, so they can do a lot of stuff in their songs and not have it sound like their just fucking around. At the same time though, it feels like the inherent Guster-ness of the album is slightly less this time around. In past albums, the band had a very distinct sound, possibly intentionally, possibly because, by their own definitions, they weren't very good musicians and were just doing what they could. Now that they have someone in the band who is quite skilled musically, the quality and variety of sounds in the songs has gone up, but now their songs sound a little more like other bands out there. This is a little dissapointing, however at the same time, there is such a fantastic level of craftmanship in the songs, with layers of different sounds and instruments all working well together, that it's kind of hard to find cause to complain. One thing is for sure, that they continue to grow with each album, which is commendable. If you're already a Guster fan, I think you'll be happy with the album, however if you're new to the big G, I'd recommend getting the new album, and their last one "Keep It Together" to get a good feeling of what they're about. Feel free to pick up "Guster on Ice: Live from Portland, Maine" too if you have some extra cash on hand.

On the same day, I bought Keane's new album "Under the Iron Sea". It's a solid effort and has a nice arena rock kind of feel to it, which makes sense given that they toured with U2 to support "Hopes and Fears". If you were turned off by the constant airplay of "Somewhere Only We Know", don't discount this album out of hand, as the sound is a lot different. In fact, my good friend Dennis, who hated Keane with a white-hot intensity due to just that reason, has found himself enjoying this new album quite a bit. If an album recommendation from one complete stranger, myself, doesn't convince you, surely recommendations from two complete strangers will.

Yesterday I bought The Fray's "How to Save a Life" and Snow Patrol's "Eyes Open". Both were 10 bucks, and both have already proven themselves to be worth the little amount of money I spent on them. The Snow Patrol album is a little more serious, in tone and musically, with a lot of driving guitars and somewhat dour melodies. I've seen the Fray album reviewed as being something you won't remember once you're done listening to it, however I think that's being a bit harsh. I mean, we can't expect everyone to record "Born to Run". It's a good pop album with a lot of good hooks and some nice piano work. I bought it mostly for "Over My Head" as I can't get that song out of my head, but have found other tracks on the album that are similarly entertaining. I can easily recommend either album for those with 10 bucks to spare and a hankering for new music.

Now that I'm all caught up on season 2 of Deadwood, I sat down to start watching season 3 the other night. I'm only one episode into it, so I know I still have catching up to do, but that George Hearst is one evil little cocksucker. I hope to hell he doesn't think he can come into the camp and start fucking up what Al has built. It's interesting that they've done such a good job with the character of Al Swearengen that you root for him, despite being a stone cold killer and, by many accounts, not a very nice person. It's similar to what they did with Tony Soprano before that show collapsed under the weight of it's own importance. For my dollar, there is no finer television character in recent memory than Al Swearengen, and no finer actor on television than Ian McShane. I look forward to the coming battle between Al and Mr. Hearst, but would do well to remind Mr. Hearst of Al's comments to him in season 2, namely that Al does better killing closer in.

I was glad to see that Timothy Olyphant gets to do more in this season then just glare and beat people, although the shit kicking he gave Farnum was a nice way to remind us of Seth's awful temper. Mr. Bullock got to laugh, make jokes, be introspective, glare and beat people so clearly we're making progress. I do wish Tolliver would just up and die though. It's nothing against Powers Booth, although the size of his head is offputting, it's just that I've never liked Tolliver, nor found him interesting, and while I can work with the first, I can't do much with the latter. At the same time, he needs to be there to fuel conflict for Joanie, whom I do like, so I guess I can learn to live with him.

When not watching Deadwood, we've been watching the World Cup and I am very excited for the final match. For some reason, every time I turned on a match, Italy was playing, so I've adopted them as my home team and will root for them in the finals. I know that a bunch of them are in some match-fixing scandal at home, and that might color people's opinions of them, but I don't really care, as I'm only interested in what I see on the pitch. The officiating seems to have gotten a lot better from the first round games, so hopefully we won't see Sunday's match decided on a shitty call. It's odd for me to be excited for a sporting event in the middle of summer, and even stranger for it to be soccer, but I'm not questioning it and am just going for it. Sunday night, can't come soon enough. Go Italia!

As I mentioned before, I will labor this weekend to corral my thoughts into something coherent, so that you don't have to just read about cd purchases and video game rock bands. In the meantime, enjoy your weekend, go buy some cd's and watch some soccer. Huzzah!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

I Got Nothing

Greetings Squaddies! Welcome back.

Today's question comes from a Mr. Bacharach who asks:
Why do birds suddenly appear, every time I am near?

The answer is pretty simple. Just like me, they long to be, close to you. Either that, or you have popcorn in your hair.

As you can tell, I've got nothing. The holiday week has thrown my productivity waaaaay off, and it has seeped into my personal productivity, also known as this site. I'm also starting to run out of questions, so we're going to need someone to step up and refill our question bucket. In the interest of getting this accomplished, I'm going to open up Wednesdays to any and all questions, science or not. If you have a question, ask it, and I'll do my best to answer it. Not sure how will it'll work out, but I'm sure it'll be interesting.

Don't worry, I still have some science questions left, including one about lactic acid that I"m planning on answering next week. Andy asked it, and as he's currently riding his bike across England, it's a subject I'm sure he's well acquainted with.

Monday, July 03, 2006


Our yard has been beset by Cooper's Hawks.

We hear them more than we see them as they are quite loud and quite vocal in their unhappiness when we let the dogs out thereby scaring them away from their perch on the swingset, the fence, or the porch roof as pictured. We've seen them eating something, but what we're not exactly quite sure. At one point I had to let the dogs out and there was a hawk on the ground eating something and a rabbit frozen in place about 4 feet from the hawk. Given that I was about to add two idiotic dogs into the mix, I was curious as to how it would all play out. In my mind, the rabbit bolted, in fear of the dogs, the hawk, not seeing the dogs, took down the rabbit and the dogs then took down the hawk. In reality, the hawk flew to the fence, the rabbit bolted across the yard and the dogs didn't even make it to the grass because they were too busy sniffing the grill. The hawk, realizing that the dogs were no danger to it, and that it had just missed out on a tasty meal of rabbit, looked at me as if to say "you suck". Eventually the dogs and I made it to the yard, but I was unable to determine what our feathered friend had been eating. We have a wide variety of lizards and snakes in our yard, so perhaps, with the rodent population having moved on in fear, they have turned to a diet with a more reptilian flair.

Not being one to let a unknown species muscle in on my territory, I set out to learn the ways of the wily hawk, so that I may better understand it and we may live in harmony. I found that there are a wide variety of Cooper's Hawks and am now prepared to share my findings with you. I should warn you though, ornithological humor is not my strong suit. It may get ugly.

Mini-Cooper's Hawk
The Mini-Cooper's Hawk is known for it's small size, increased maneuverability and distinct plumage of primary colors, covered in black stripes. While faster and more agile than other hawks, the Mini-Cooper is known for it's inability to carry more than the smallest prey and often times needs 8 or 10 trips to carry something no larger than a good sized beetle. The Mini-Cooper is also well known for it's annoying habit of using British words for everything, including "boot", "bonnet" and "Shropshire". The Mini-Cooper's Hawk is best seen in it's native environment of 6o's heist movie remakes.

Marissa Cooper's Hawk
This tall, blond colored hawk has recently been declared extinct after a brief 3 year sighting period. Vacuous, self-absorbed, and by all accounts, incapable of catching prey and eating, the Marissa Cooper's Hawk has been known to catch pool furniture in its talons and hurl said furniture into pools when agitated. Often seen in the company of the Grey Hooded Chino, the Marissa Cooper's Hawk was terminally incapable of finding suitable mates choosing instead to pick mates that were often times bad for them, but usually were just silly plot devices, with the exception of the time when she hooked up with that female bird which was actually kind of hot.

Caitlin Cooper's Hawk
In the same family as the Marissa Cooper's Hawk, early sightings of the Caitlin Cooper's Hawk reported an unattractive bird with a tendency to keep the company of horses. However after a number of years without being sighted, recently the Caitlin Cooper's Hawk has been sighted again, this time as a shorter, more attractive, but sluttier version of her "big sister" hawk. The Caitlin's Cooper Hawk is poised to fill the ecological niche vacated by the extinction of the Marissa Cooper's Hawk, however Mother Nature (also known as Fox) hasn't ordered a full slate of episodes so hopes for the continued success of this bird are not high. The Caitlin Cooper's Hawk is identified by its plaid patterned lower plumage, bare midriff and occasional joint.

Winnie Cooper's Hawk
The Winnie Cooper's Hawk was often sighted in the 80's but has since only been seen, on occasion, on college campuses. An attractive bird, with black head feathers, the Winnie Cooper's Hawk is more known for the type of bird watchers it attracts, namely lonely, freakish men looking to act out their prepubescent "first kiss" sex fantasies.

Anderson Cooper's Hawk
Known for its silvery head feathers and cry of "Accountability! Accountability!", the Anderson Cooper's Hawk has been sighted more recently since appearing at the Hurricane Katrina devastation. Oddly enough, this bird's cry was strangely silent at White House Press conferences prior to Katrina, instead choosing to hang out with Moles.

Ha! Wow. That was just awful. Well kids, it just goes to show you that many times, things are much, much funnier in your head than on paper. Ay carumba.