Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Here We Go A' Caroling

With Christmas almost upon us we're listening to Christmas Carols at the house 24 hours a day and unlike in previous years when we'd rotate through the various Christmas cd's we have we're relying mostly on the radio for our Christmas Carol fix. This has, in retrospect, been a bad idea. Gone are the alt-Christmas nuggets of The O.C.'s Christmakkah mixes, gone are the awesome covers such as Jimmy Eat World's brilliant take on "Last Christmas", gone is Wyclef Jean freestyling over Stevie Wonder piano licks as they perform at the White House. No, they have all been replaced with the banal, lifeless Christmas carols emanating from B95.5, Atlanta's soft rock juggernaut of shitty music.

This is mostly an exercise of convenience as the kids are, shall we say, impatient when the cd ends and we do have some cd's with some very odd choices including a "Very Special Christmas" mix that ends with a Patti Smith rendition of "We Three Kings" that sounds like she's trying to give her musical interpretation of the apocalypse. Keeping the radio on ensures an uninterrupted string of Christmas glee and makes sure that nothing strange gets in. Unfortunately it also means that we're confronted with some truly horrible Christmas music.

When I was but a young lad we had a four album set of Christmas music. I can remember it well because every record was in a different color sleeve and each sleeve had different ornaments on it. My sister and I would sit around the record player and look at the sleeves while the music played. Now there were four records but we only played one of them as one record had all of the good songs such as "Holly Jolly Christmas", "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" and "Frosty the Snowman". When you're six, you want to hear about presents and mythical snow beasts, the coming of Our Lord and Saviour is far less important. Plus those songs were probably performed by the Lawrence Welk singers or some shit and as such were boring as hell. As a result of restricting myself to a childhood of snappier, faster Christmas songs I have zero tolerance for slower, drawn out holiday tunes.

Unfortunately, slower and drawn out seems to be the mark of a good Christmas song these days as I have heard some absolutely awful renditions of songs that are so slow and labored that they make "Jingle Bells" sounds like "Kashmir". Part of this is just shitty tempo choices, but part of this is the artist wanting to add their own "spin" to songs by adding words. A perfect example, James Taylor's rendition of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas". Not only is it dragged on forever by adding his own lyrics, as if the song wasn't quite good enough on its own, James feels that the song isn't quite specific enough as to when you should have a merry little Christmas, opting to add the word "right" to the line "have yourself a merry little Christmas now". Seriously James? Does the the word "now" not convey immediacy enough for you? Or are you concerned that people will be thinking on a glacial or galactic time scale and think that "now" means sometime this epoch and you want it "right now" as in this very instant? I'm willing to give Yolanda Adams a pass on this one because her version kicks ass and girlfriend can sing.

Of course, this is to say nothing of the rampant oversinging that every artist seems to think is their birthright. Maybe they think that their voice is a gift from Jesus and by dragging a note over an eight octave range is their way of thanking JC for his gifts, but whatever it is, it needs to stop. You can sing, we get it, now please wrap it up, I've got presents to buy. Christina Aguilera is by far the worst at this, which isn't surprising as she's not very good at non-Christmas music either.

Finally, some Christmas songs just need to go away and never come back. Over the course of a normal holiday season I'd hear "A Wonderful Christmas Time" three, maybe four times. I think I've heard it at least seven hundred times since Thanksgivingl. I am now convinced that Paul McCartney is Satan's agent on Earth sent to drive us all insane to the point where we murder each other.

Now don't get me wrong, I still love Christmas songs. Give me a good Johnny Mathis song or a Burl Ives tune, or better yet, Run-DMC's live version of "Christmas in Hollis" and I'm happier than a pig in shit. I just need to reclaim our Christmas from the greedy clutches of soft rock.

In the interest of that, enjoy one of the greatest Christmas songs ever made, courtesy of The Vandals. Oi to the world everyone!

Friday, October 30, 2009

PS3 Early Impressions

I've only had the PS3 a couple of days and things still aren't working properly on all fronts, but I've spent enough time with it to have formed some impressions. Overall I'm pleased with my purchase although like most of my consumer electronic purchases of late, I'd like some things to be different. Sony seems to give and take away with equal measure which is annoying, but no more so than most gadgets I've been dealing with lately.

First let's talk appearances. The PS3 slim is a very good looking piece of hardware. The matte finish makes it look elegantly understated. It's much, much smaller than I figured it would be as I had envisioned something akin to obelisk in 2001.

It's a pretty sparse rig with only an eject button and a power button up front to let you know that you can actually do stuff with it. It doesn't even have a disc tray option instead for a "suck it in and spit it out" thingamabob like what you might find on a car stereo disc changer. There's two USB ports up front and some A/V connections in the back. Like I said, pretty sparse, but it still looks damn nice. This is where Sony's years as a hardware company come into play unlike Microsoft who couldn't make a good looking piece of hardware if their life depended on it.

Getting the PS3 set up was fairly easy, until I turned it on. As my receiver is four years old, it doesn't have HDMI switching so I'm relying on an external switch to go between the 360 and the PS3. The 360 initially had problems with the switch however once I started giving the projector time to warm up a bit before talking to the 360 everything worked fine. Not so with the PS3. It simply did not like the switch to the point where the whole console would lock up. I can only assume that this has something to do with the PS3 being a Blu-ray player and maybe there's some HDCP shenanigans involved. I don't know. All I know is that the 360 doesn't give a shit what it's connected to as long as the end result is that the signal gets sent to a device via HDMI. The PS3 only works (now) if it is connected directly to the projector. The switch only cost me 17 bucks, so it's no big loss. I have a slightly more expensive powered switch on the way from Monoprice so hopefully this one will work.

On the audio side, I have everything connected via optical cable which is where my most recent slew of problems started. While checking out my spiffy new copy of Transformers 2 on Blu-ray I noticed that my back surrounds weren't firing. Ditto for when playing Uncharted. My receiver can matrix 5.1 to 6.1 if need be as well as do native 6.1 ala DTS so I knew it wasn't a receiver problem. I've been rocking the 6.1 setup for almost half a decade now with nary a problem. I searched on various PS3 and AV forums for advice which was a monumental effort in and of itself as a lot of the information was from a couple of years ago.

I found a couple of things to work with, namely a setting that tells the PS3 to send audio for Blu-ray as Bitstream rather than PCM. According to some folks, PCM can't be matrixed by receivers so if the mix is laid down natively as 5.1 and sent over as PCM, well that's how your receiver will deal with it. I have no idea if this is true or not, but it sure sounded good. Armed with this knowledge I set out to make things right.

I changed some settings in the PS3 and then fired up Uncharted. After pressing some buttons on my receiver I was able to get the receiver the matrix the signal to the back surrounds. Oddly enough the audio in Uncharted is DTS which my receiver should matrix natively so I wasn't sure why I had to tell it to do so. Armed with this minor success I fired up TF2. Everything was going great, sounds from the back speakers, sounds from the ceiling surrounds but the mix was very heavily weighted towards the right. I mean, like the aural equivalent of having the whole room tip. I went up to the left, front speaker and put my ear right up to it. Nothing. Oh no. Please don't tell me I blew a speaker. I ran the test tones through it, still nothing. Double oh no.

I pulled the cabinet out and looked around back of the receiver and there was the problem, a pulled out speaker wire. At one point I must have been fiddling around back there and I knocked a wire loose. I put it back, put the movie back on and everything was great.

Not content to rest on my laurels I threw in my DVD of Bruce Springsteen live in Barcelona. Now it's been a while since I watched this one downstairs and it is mixed to sound like a concert with a decent amount of crowd noise, but this seemed overly noisy in the crowd department. Usually I can hear Max's drum hits very distinctly but this time they were drowned out. Not sure if my piddly speakers in the family room where I last watched it weren't able to handle the background stuff as well so I wasn't remembering how it sounds correctly, but it seemed off. Next up was Behind Enemy Lines, my choice for best surround sound test disc. The scene at the beginning where Owen Wilson and his pilot are trying to evade the SAM will give any home theatre set up a serious work out. In this case everything was great, both sound and audio.

Finally I threw Uncharted back in and this time the back surrounds had sound coming from them without me having to tell my receiver anything. I wonder if having that speaker disconnected caused problems with the receiver. I don't know. All I know is that things are sounding the way they should be and I'm happy.

Now while I'm thrilled that everything works great, it does bug me that I'm not getting the full audio experience due to my connection type. Oh sure you can connect via optical, but you don't get the Dolby TruHD or whatever the hell it's called unless you send audio over HDMI. Plus, the PS3 seems to limit the bandwidth going over optical which I probably wouldn't notice any way, but now that I know it, it bugs me. Not enough to spend more money on a new receiver, but it bugs me nonetheless.

On an interface side, there is tremendous amount of shit going on in the PS3 interface. I'm used to it due to the PSP but holy Christ, if you were new to gaming you'd probably crap your pants. I much prefer the 360 dashboard, however there's a great deal of familarity there, so that may have something to do with it. I also like how the 360 has your friends and your gaming experiences as a whole more integrated into the interface. Given that the PS3 wants to be a total media hub, I can see why it isn't so focused on gaming but the overall impression is that it's kind of sterile and slightly unfriendly. The 360 dashboard on the other hand is a little homier but generally more comfortable to be around. Think Pam from "The Office" compared to early Caprica 6 from "Battlestar Galactica". Sure, I'd sleep with either, but I'd rather hang out with Pam. For the record, I don't want to have sex with any of my consoles. Ok, maybe with the DSi just a little.

On the gaming front the PS3 has yet to disappoint. I'm only playing Uncharted but so far I'm very impressed. The game looks great, and while I don't like the shooting parts, it is, hands down, the best written, voice acted and mo-capped game I've ever played. I'm also thrilled with how Elena looks like a real woman and not someone trying to smuggle watermelons in her chest. I'm still getting used to the PS3 controller, mostly the lightness of it all. The 360 controller is a beast and with the chatpad attached, as mine is, it's pretty heavy. Moving to a much lighter and slightly smaller controller is something to get used to. On a related note, I love that I can charge up the controller by connecting it to the PS3 however the power needing to be on to do so sucks. Luckily I can charge it off of the laptop that I always have riding shotgun. Sony giveth and Sony taketh away.

Finally, I'm not too happy with the notion of needing yet another remote control but trying to watch movies with a controller is a) unwieldy and b) embarassing. This ain't a dorm room. We're all adults here. I have a universal remote, but the PS3 uses Bluetooth, so my Logitech goes right out the window. Sure I could buy the adapter but I'm not spending 50 bucks for the adapter when I could get the PS3 remote for under 20. So now I have the universal remote, the projector remote for when the projector isn't listening to the universal remote and the PS3 remote. The truth is that I need to map some of the projector buttons to the universal remote and make my life easier but that requires effort whereas complaining is pretty easy. That being said, the PS3 remote is pretty nice and very responsive. As remotes go, you could do a hell of a lot worse.

So far I'm enjoying the PS3. I have a bunch of games to play for it (the aforementioned Uncharted, Uncharted 2 and Ratchet and Clank: A Crack in Time) as well as the first PS3 R&C game coming for Xmas. All of this on top of Borderlands which I'm still loving the hell out of, Dragon Age: Origins which comes out next week, Lego Rock Band and Left 4 Dead 2 which come out in November. Oh and I just bought Bill's review copy of DJ Hero complete with turntable controller. Not sure when I'll play all this stuff but I can tell you that I won't be watching any movies while working out for a while. I'll just have to figure out how to scratch a record while riding the exercise bike.


Friday, October 23, 2009

The Waiting

The waiting truly is the hardest part.

So, with the recent release of the slimline PS3 at 300 bucks and the recent release of Transformers 2 on Blu-Ray, I got to thinking that maybe it was time to finally board the PS3 train. Actually, what really did it was the release of Uncharted 2 and the wave of praise that has been heaped upon the game. Still though, 300 bucks for a console seemed a lot, especially on a console that won't be the primary console.

So at the middle of last week I see that the Sony Style store had the old 80 GB models for $249 and that included an extra controller and free shipping. Plus, if you applied for the Sony Style Visa card you got a 50 buck statement credit. At that point I started seriously considering it. Now, the thing about me is that when I get to the point where I'm seriously considering something, that thing is as good as purchased but for some reason I continue to consider and consider and usually consider it to death and miss out which is exactly what happened here.

So by the time I decide to get off my ass and order the fucking thing, they're sold out. Oh well. A perusal of the Cheap Ass Gamer forums showed that not only were they sold out, but people who had ordered the bundle earlier in the week had their orders canceled by Sony. Oh well, guess I didn't miss out on too much.

On Sunday, on a lark I check out Sony Style again and this time I see the 160 GB Uncharted bundle for 300 bucks. Yeah, it wasn't the newer system, but the hard drive was bigger and it came with a game that I was going to play any way? Sold! I applied for the Sony card, got approval and ordered my console. Nice!

On Monday I check my order and it's still processing. Ok, well, I ordered it on Sunday night at around 9PM, so that made sense. What didn't make sense was that I was charged for shipping but a call to Sony Style fixed that.

Monday afternoon, still processing. Monday night, still processing. Tuesday still processing. At this point, I began thinking that this was the 80 GB bundle sell out situation all over again. So on Wednesday, when it was still showing as processing, I called Sony Style back and talked to a rep who forwarded the question about my order on to "management". Now, at this point, the 160 GB bundle was removed from the PS3 section of the site, which is why I figured I wasn't going to get it.

Sure enough, about an hour later I get an email from the Sony Concierge that said that due to the popularity of the model, they didn't know when they'd be getting them. Now, I know that the e-commerce system isn't a perfect one, but come on. If you can't hook up your inventory system to your ordering system with a degree of competency, then you really shouldn't be selling shit online.

So here I was without a console, but with a Visa card that I had applied for. I have never been a big fan of Sony, mostly because of the dickheaded comments by Sony management and the feelings of entitlement they seemed to have in regards to their consumers. I was seriously considering buying a used PS3 and just saying "fuck Sony" but the more I thought of it, the less I liked the idea. For one, there's no guarantee that the used system I'd be buying would actually work and didn't have a tuna fish sandwich shoved in it somewhere. Second, I did have that 50 buck statement credit just sitting on the table and it'd be stupid to waste it. Third of all, I used to work for a company that was run by a very brash, very public young guy who often said things that made him sound like an incredible egomaniac (which he was). At the time, when people found out that I worked there, they always responded to me as if I said those stupid things and it always bugged me because I had nothing to do with the guy. I hated being lumped in with that guy and here I was doing the same thing.

The simple fact is that my PSP has never done anything but do what it was supposed to. I may have issues with the design of the thing, but the fact is that it has never broken on me. Ditto for my Sony receiver and the slew of other Sony products I've had since I started buying Sony as a wee lad. On the other hand, my original 360 which I've had nothing but love for had to be fixed. Petey's 360 had to be fixed. Petey's brother's 360 had to be fixed. Hodge's 360 is on its way back from being fixed. Bones had to have like five of the fucking things fixed. That's not to say that the PS3 is bulletproof, but it's silly to pass up a good deal on what is, statistically, a much sturdier piece of hardware just because someone in upper management is a douchebag.

So on Wednesday I ordered the slim 120 GB for 300 bucks, and made sure to get the statement credit and now I await its arrival. I went for years without wanting a PS3 but now that I ordered it, I want it like now. NOW! It won't get here until Wednesday which is fine because that's when my HDMI switcher, HDMI cables, Blu-Ray PS3 remote and copy of Transformers 2 on Blu-Ray arrives, but still, I want it now. I have no way of getting it hooked up to my projector and nothing to play/watch on it once I do, but that doesn't matter. I want it now.

The funny thing is that had I just ordered the slim model last week when I began seriously considering the purchase I'd have the damn thing by now. Indecision is a harsh mistress.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A Party in the USA

Yeah I've been gone. Now I'm back. At least I think I am. Is anyone still here? Hopefully. Time will tell.

So yeah, I love pop music. Not enough to buy it, mind you as the joy of pop music is how ephemeral it is which usually means that in a year you'll listen to it and think "why in God's name did I ever like that?" Still a good pop song is enough to slightly lift my spirits before they sink back into the morass of hatred that they're usually mired in. We listen to a lot of pop music in the house as for young kids The Beatles may be a more musically educational choice, but pop music is much more fun. I'm sorry, it just is. And while I know that one's musical diet can't all be pop rocks and Cherry Coke, it can't all be bran muffins and broccoli either. Hence the pop music.

One song that I have heard about a bazillion times in the past month is "Party in the USA" by Miley Cyrus. It's an odd song, it is and for my much lauded return from self-imposed exile, I have chosen to bring my critical eye to bear on it. This comes mostly from the fact that not only can I not get this song out of my head, but whenever I hear the song, I ask myself these questions leading to the song and my stupid questions being stuck in my head. So now I'm giving both to you. Lucky you.

Before we get started though, I have to ask, is she auto-tuned on this song or is she naturally that nasally? Neither seems all that great, but one should always strive to be natural, so I guess I'd choose the latter over the former. Not that she's looking for my approval mind you, but I have an opinion and this is the internet so by gum I'm going to share it.

Ok, here we go. Lyrics in text, commentary in italics.

I hopped off the plane at LAX with a dream and my cardigan
Welcome to the land of fame, excess, whoa am I gotta fit in?

Ok, why she feels the need to tell us that she has a sweater with her is beyond me. She must get cold on planes like my wife does. I find it interesting that she's worried about "fitting in" in LA. Fitting in in LA means doing lines of blow in the ladies room before going down on some third rate casting agent in hopes of scoring an uncredited walk-on part in "Crank 3: The Crankiest" so this seems like an odd thing to be concerned about.

Jumped in the cab, here I am for the first time
Look to my right, and I see the Hollywood sign

You'd need to either a) have unnaturally (for LA) clear skies, b) hover about 100 feet off of the ground or c) be able to see through solid objects to see the Hollywood sign from LAX. Most likely she saw a sign for Hollywood Taxi Service or Hollywood Dry Cleaning and isn't smart enough to know that it's not the real Hollywood sign. Either that or she's Hawkwoman.

This is all so crazy, everybody seems so famous

People at LAX do not seem famous, they seem frustrated and upset because LAX is a fucking pit and it's damn near impossible to get around the fucking place. Plus, I can assure you that famous people are not getting around LAX the same way little miss Nashville hayseed in the song would. No doubt Miley is used to being paraded around with her entourage and just assumes that this is how the common folk travel.

My tummy's turnin' and I'm feelin' kinda homesick
Too much pressure and I'm nervous
That's when the taxi man turned on the radio

No one can explain to me what she's feeling nervous about or feeling pressured about. She doesn't do anything in the song. No audition, no try outs, nothing. She basically got off of a plane and hailed a cab. What the hell is there to be nervous about? And taxi man? When have you ever heard a cab driver called a taxi man. It's almost as if she's never been in a taxi in her life and as such, has no idea what to call the driver.

And the Jay-Z song was on
And the Jay-Z song was on
And the Jay-Z song was on

This is the musical equivalent of "some of my best friends are black". Note that it's not a Jay-Z song, but the Jay-Z song. I don' t know what the definitive Jay-Z song would be, but my vote goes for "Jigga That Nigga" which is not exactly something you'd play in a cab if looking for a good tip. Besides, most cabbies in LA are going to be playing Armenian folk tunes or Al-Jazeera Radio or some shit.

So I put my hands up, they're playin' my song
The butterflies fly away

Again, why is she nervous? And really, you're going to raise the roof in a cab?

I'm noddin' my head like "Yeah!"
Movin' my hips like "Yeah!"

If she's moving her hips in a cab I can only assume that she has accepted the inevitability of the situation and has started turning tricks in the back seat.

Got my hands up, they're playin' my song
And now I'm gonna be okay
Yeah! It's a party in the USA!
Yeah! It's a party in the USA!

Being from a country music family, Miley realizes that the best way to get airtime is to lace your song with as much jingoistic bullshit as humanly possible which is why she feels the need to explain to the listener that Los Angeles is actually part of the United States and while she doesn't agree with 99% of the commie pinko bastards that live in California, she is still in the USA. At a party. A party in the USA. If she doesn't mention the US it's a good chance that Toby Keith will show up and punch her in the ovaries.

Get to the club in my taxi cab
Everybody's lookin' at me now
Like "Who's that chick that's rockin' kicks
She's gotta be from out of town"

Christ, where to begin. Ok, so first thing she does when arriving in LA is go to a club? What the hell is she here for again? Second of all, Los Angeles is home to some of the premiere sneaker boutiques in the world. I'm pretty sure no one is going to think twice about someone wearing sneakers. Third, "rocking kicks"? Who the fuck calls sneakers "kicks"? My dad, that's who and he thinks everything is neat. Or is this one of those cases where a term is so old and stupid that it's come back around to being cool again? Neat!

So hard with my girls not around me
It's definitely not a Nashville party

That would be because you aren't in Nashville. Try and keep up.

'Cause all I see are stilettos
I guess I never got the memo

On the one hand, this line ties into the usual teen angst comprised mostly of self centered feelings of persecution. I'm the only one who can't do this or go here or whatever. Poor Miley is the only person who didn't know to wear stilettos to the club. On the other hand, she did just fly in from Nashville so if there was a memo about LA club footware, there is a pretty good chance that she didn't get it. Might I suggest the LA Club Footware Google Group?

My tummy's turnin' and I'm feelin' kinda homesick
Too much pressure and I'm nervous
That's when the DJ dropped my favorite tune

And the Britney song was on
And the Britney song was on
And the Britney song was on

This is the most interesting part of the song. Britney is one of the more "first name only" recognizeable stars, so it makes sense to name drop her, but at the same time, there are parallels between Miley and Britney. Both are from the south, both got their starts on Disney shows, both have questionable vocal talent steeped in an overly nasal delivery. Is this a sign that Miley sees her charted course not much different than Ms. Spears' and will soon marry a back-up dancer, get pregnant like nine times and then go on a crotch flashing spree across Los Angeles or does she just really like "Womanizer"? Let's hope it's the latter.

So I put my hands up, they're playin' my song
The butterflies fly away
I'm noddin' my head like "Yeah!"
Movin' my hips like "Yeah!"

Got my hands up, they're playin' my song
And now I'm gonna be okay
Yeah! It's a party in the USA!
Yeah! It's a party in the USA!

Stay thy hand Toby Keith!

Feel like hoppin' on a flight, on a flight
Back to my hometown tonight, town tonight

Jesus Christ kid, you just got here. No one likes a quitter.

Something stops me every time, every time
The DJ plays my song and I feel alright

Now I can certainly attest to having emotional upswings tied to particularly good music, but if you're tying your major life decisions to the whims of the DJ, especially in the face of today's shitty corporate radio landscape, well you may be in for a tough time. On the other hand, if her favorite song is "I've Got A Feeling" by the Black Eyed Peas there's a pretty good chance that she'll be dead of natural causes before it drops out of rotation.

So I put my hands up, they're playin' my song
The butterflies fly away
I'm noddin' my head like "Yeah!"
Movin' my hips like "Yeah!"

Got my hands up, they're playin' my song
And now I'm gonna be okay
Yeah! It's a party in the USA!
Yeah! It's a party in the USA!

Yes, yes, we know. Hips, hands, party, USA. Toby Keith is pleased. You can keep on living. For now.

As much as I rag on the song, I really do enjoy it. I can only hope that it replaces "Born in the USA" in the various GOP functions for while I always chuckled to hear an incredibly scathing comdemnation of the US used for Republican shin-digs, I'll laugh harder watching Newt Gingrich move his hips like "yeah". Then I'll probably throw up.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Practical Piracy

So I was browsing the torrents for illicit reasons the other day and what appeared on the front page of the torrent site du jour, but a link to Pearl Jam's upcoming album "Backspacer". Now, before I proceed, allow me to state that I don't download music that I haven't paid for. That's not a value judgment or anything, I just don't do it. The simple fact is that I still prefer CD's over digital downloads due to my lack of an mp3 player in my car and if usually you can get a cd the week of release for about ten bucks. Ten bucks is not an exorbitant amount of money and seeing how I'd have to do some work to get mp3's on to my PC and then on to a disc, well I'll gladly pay the money to save myself the effort. Now, that's not to say that I haven't stolen music in the past. I mean, I'm not a monk. I went full-on, batshit, Napster crazy like everyone else did back in the day and I'm not against accepting cd copies of an album if someone wants me to hear something. For the most part though, if I hear something and like it, I'll buy it. I figure that if it's not worth buying, it's not worth cluttering up my iPod with it as I have plenty of albums on there I don't listen to. No sense putting another one on there if I don't think it's worth buying and if it is worth buying, I probably should.

For the record, I do download movies however if I like the movie I then go out and buy it. Not exactly 100% honest, I know as I'm still stiffing the studio on the rental revenues but at the same time, most of the movies I download I wouldn't pay to rent. Midnight Meat Train anyone?

Ok, right, back to Pearl Jam. So when I saw the link to the album I immediately got all excited, but not because I'd be able to listen to their album over a week before it came out, but more importantly, because this meant that I'd be able to hear the songs before I started singing them in Rock Band. See, "Backspacer" is going to be released for Rock Band on the same day that the album comes out and I'm not a big fan of singing songs that I'm not familiar with. I'll do it, but I always have a better time with the songs if I know them. So I downloaded it.

I'm not sure exactly how high on the geek spectrum it puts me but I'm thinking that stealing an album for the express purpose of being able to practice singing it in a video game makes you a rather huge geek. Ditto for using the word "rather" when you're not even remotely British.

I have every intention of buying the album when it comes out, and I plan on picking it up at Target so that I can score the download code for the Rock Band tracks. Simply put, it's a fucking awesome record. At a hair under 37 minutes I wouldn't call it short, I'd call it lean. It's just a really focused effort with some interesting sounds going on and one of the most uplifting yet dismally depressing ending songs in recent memory. It's an interesting reversal from the heavy, political tone of "Pearl Jam" which makes sense given the change in political climate since that record. I dare say it's almost a fun album which is not an adjective I'd use to describe most PJ records. If I had to pick a previous album that it's closest too, I'd have to go with "Yield". I loved the fuck out of that album, but I know that many don't, so don't let my comparisons turn you off of "Backspacer" if you're thinking of getting it. It really is a nice, tight album from a band that never ceases to amaze me. By the way, Matt Cameron is just great on this record. It's amazing how much better this band got when he joined.

Will the songs be fun to sing? Yeah, I think so. I mean, Eddie's vocals have always been impossible for me to replicate as he's just all over the place, but in a good way. He can go from growling to lilting in the space between the verse and chorus and I just can't do that. I mean, he's an actual singer and I'm a dude playing souped up Karoke in his basement, so that's to be expected, but hot damn if I don't wish that for just once I could break it off like Edward. I find that for some songs I have to try and imitate the singer in order to hit the pitch right. For the life of me, I don't know why that's true, but it is and while I'm sure it's not the greatest thing to listen to, it puts points on the board and I'm enjoying myself, so that's all that matters. Maybe that's what I have to do here. Try and do an Eddie impression and see where that takes me. Probably nowhere good, but it's worth a try.

So yeah, pick up "Backspacer" next week, legitimately, of course. I don't think you'll be disappointed unless you just don't like good music, in which case, piss off. With that said, enjoy "The Fixer" cause it's fucking awesome.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Layton Review

Here's my review for Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box. When I sent off the review, I specifically asked that the last two lines not be cut as they were money. They were cut, and not only cut, but, in my opinion, the cutting makes the last paragraph seem rushed. While I mind when shit gets edited, I recognize that it's my editor's decision to do so. Still, I really don't like it when shit gets edited to the detriment of the piece as I don't get a chance to make a change that makes it read better and then it just comes off that I don't know what I'm doing. Oh well. Perhaps I don't know what I'm doing. That's always a possibility too.

Oh, here's my Muramasa review if you're interested.

I dunno. Game reviewing just ain't the exciting, fun-filled trip it was before. I do like the money though, so I just gotta work through this funk, suck it up and get the job done.

Friday, September 04, 2009

The Burden of Quality Headphones

Hey! How are you? Great.

Feel like reading a review of Fossil Fighters for the DS? Well, here it is any way. Jerk.

I can almost see the light at the end of the tunnel. One more week of Abby in the feeding program and me on bus and hound the child to do his homework duty and then I'm back to my usual slacking, long lunch taking ways. How has Abby progressed you ask? Shitty! Well, maybe not shitty but I can tell you we're no where near where we'd thought we be which is a shame because, last I checked, we're still out two months of Linda's salary. Oy! Oh well, they tell us that after a few months of outpatient Abby will be eating like normal but they also told us that she'd only have to do the feeding program for four weeks. At this point, if they told me that the sun would rise tomorrow I would seriously, seriously doubt it.

But you don't want to hear about that do you? Of course not! You want to hear about my new headphones! Yes you do. Yes. You. Do.

So, several years ago, let's say like six, or maybe five, Linda bought me a fabulous pair of Sennheiser HD 270 headphones. They were, in a word, glorious. In fact, I would put them second on my list of all time best gifts that she has ever given me, with first place occupied by a two-way tie between my grill and my smoker. Any way, after years of shitty, ten buck headphones that lasted all of a month before crapping out in one ear, these things were a revelation. I heard parts of the music that I had never heard before. Plus, even though they weren't a proper pair of noise cancelling headphones, their closed design helped to block a lot of stuff out, which is essential in these difficult, cubicle dwelling times.

Unfortunately even high quality headphones have a finite lifespan and a few weeks ago mine crapped out in one ear. The higher end Sennheisers have the ability to swap out the cord that you use to plug them into their audio source, so I was hopeful that a cable replacement was all that was necessary, but alas, this was not the case. I took the blasted things apart to try and suss out the breakage but as I am not an engineer of any capacity, all I could do is stare at them meaningfully and try to will them back into proper working order. It did not work.

And so began the Great Headphone Hunt of '09. One would think that buying new headphones would be a simple process, but one would be wrong. For one thing, stores don't carry lots of headphones and your choices are even more limited when you're so called "electronics" stores are limited to Fry's and Best Buy. Oh sure, there are plenty of heaphones available online, but if you want to actually try them on, a key aspect of the headphone buying process, you're pretty much screwed.

My first pair was another pair of Sennheissers, this time the Sennheiser HD 202's. I figured that they should be ok, as the manufacturer was the same and they were cheapest on Amazon so this was a slam dunk. Not so much. I had read the reviews on Amazon, many of which mentioned how tiny the cans were, but I figured that these people must just be complaining as internet reviewers are so fond of doing. Yeah, not so much. These fucking things hurt. Sennheisers are, for the most part, built in Ireland and I can only imagine that these cans were meant for the faerie folk as they laid upon my ears, pressing them back into my head in a manner that was, shall we say, less than comfortable? Fuck it, the blasted things hurt. So, back they went, with my out the five bucks to ship them.

Next up were a pair of Panasonics that I bought from Fry's for 30 bucks. They certainly looked big enough, and they were, but by golly they sounded like deep fried shit. Flat and lifeless, these are the headphones of the damned, the aural equivalent of flavorless gelatin. I mean, I guess I shouldn't have expected much for thirty bucks, but where I come from, thirty bucks is still a decent chunk of change. They are currently boxed up with the receipt taped to it, awaiting their eventual return to Fry's where they can live out the rest of their dull days on the peg.

Third up was a pair of Sony extra bass headphones. I listened to these in Best Buy and they were comfortable enough, however the music that the display model used were bass heavy, which is to be expected, so they played to the strengths of the headphones but, unfortunately it also masked their problems, namely the inability to deal with non-bass heavy music. Unfortunately you don't know this until you get them home and plug them into your own music collection which is when I figured it out. To their credit, as I mentioned before, they are quite comfy. It's like wearing a leather couch on both ears. As most of my music is not bass heavy though, they did not fulfill their primary function, namely reproducing my music in a faithful manner, unless all of these years I just didn't notice the incessant buzzing. They were returned to Best Buy the next day.

So, finally I settled on a pair of Sennheiser HD 485's. I had no problem with the sound of the Sennheisers that I had returned and all of the reviews for these cans pointed out that they fit over the ear rather than smush your ear into your head so I was confident they'd fit properly. Even with the right cans picked out there was some ordering drama as Amazon had them in stock but felt they'd just hold on to them for like two weeks while Homer tooled around the warehouse on his magic forklift. Fuck that. had them in stock, shipped them in a day and did it with 2-day shipping for a total price of a buck less than what Amazon would ship it free. Thankfully the fourth time was the charm as these are some mighty nice headphones. They're comfortable and they sound great. There's a little more sound leakage than my last pair, which I'm not entirely thrilled about, but with my crappy hearing it's probably best that I keep them at a lower volume any way. I still think that my original Sennheisers sound better, but from what I understand they also cost quite a bit more, so that's to be expected. I did not want to pay that much as unless it's Transformers or video game accessories, I'm one incredibly cheap bastard so for what I did pay, I got my money's worth.

So there you have it kids. If you listen to your music with some crappy 15 buck Radio Shack headphones, or God help you, the iPod earbuds and are thinking of upgrading to some really nice headphones, don't. Once you have nice headphones, it's hard to go back and picking a new pair is a serious pain in the ass. Trust me.

Friday, August 21, 2009


Man, has it really been two weeks since I wrote something? Damn.

Well, truth is my schedule has kind of morphed into something that makes it difficult to find the time to pound out an update. My daughter started going to an all day feeding program in Atlanta which means that Linda is off work and on FMLA. With my son now in school that means I'm on afternoon bus duty. Basically I leave work at 2:15, go to the bus stop, pick my son up, get home, get him set up with Spongebob and a snack and then work at home for the last hour of the day. With this schedule my lunch hour, when I used to write, is now spent getting home in time for the bus. Plus, with my employer being so generous with how I work, I don't want to abuse it by spending time at work writing.

At home I've had a good amount of reviewing to do but not just reviews, but guides which means that in my gaming time, I'm gaming for guides. First was Mothership Zeta and now I'm working on the Red Faction Guerrilla DLC. I've also started doing videos for GameShark which not only takes up a fair amount of time when I usually game, but takes even more time afterwards when watching tv. It doesn't help that I don't really know what I'm doing so I keep making mistakes thereby extending the process.

So basically I don't have a lunch hour, my gaming time is spent on review material and then when I come back upstairs to watch tv I have to either edit videos or play something on the handheld for reviews.

It's a shame too because I have such tales to tell of shooting ranges, concerts and other general tomfoolery. I'm going to make a concerted effort in the next few weeks to make time to write, especially at night so that I don't have such a backlog of topics. Along with keeping in touch with my various fans, both of them, it will also keep my writing juices flowing. I find that when I'm not writing regularly, when the time comes for me to write for GameShark, not only do I not want to do it, but I find it fairly difficult. Makes sense I guess.

In the meantime, behold the fruits of my video labors:

Red Faction Guerrilla DLC Pro Times

GameShark Extra Time with the Fallout 3 DLC

GameShark Extra Time with Wii Sports Resort

Oh yeah, as Todd would say, I got a face only radio would love.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009


I have just the thing for those of you that can't stand to be away from my gloriousness for these extended absences: reviews!

Here's one for Infernal: Hell's Vengeance a not very good game and here's one for Wii Sports Resort, a very good game. I'll give you three guesses as to which company made good on their promise to send me a review copy. Here's a hint: it didn't help the score much.

Oh no, did I say too much? Whatever.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

A Man's Cave Is His Castle

What's up party people? Been a while since I rapped atcha but here I am, back in full effect. Well, maybe not full effect. Maybe partial effect. I dunno, 1/8 effect?

Any way, so I got home from work on Friday and what was awaiting me on my doorstep but yet another badass Batman sketch from my main man Bonesy. I immediately squirreled it away to the movie room where I could give it the proper place of prominence among my various geek chic treasures. I then took a picture of its placement so that I could show Bones that I revere his sketches. It's important to keep these things coming. Then I thought, what the hell, I haven't posted in a bit and my sister, mom and wife did a hella nice job putting up all of the pictures, so why not show it all off? Why not indeed. Sit back kids, you're about to get your minds blown.

Ok, so here's the movie screen, where all of the big screen gaming takes place. It's a 92 inch Dalite Cinema something or other screen. It is, in short, the shit. Below it is my Salamandar AV cabinet which houses all of my goodies. On top of the speakers are Lego Ultimate Collector's Edition replicas of an X-Wing and a Tie Interceptor. On top of the cabinet are various figures from the first live action Transformers movie. It's hard to see, but there's also an Alternators Ravage which combines the awesomeness of everyone's favorite Decepticon jaguar with the ability to transform into an actual Jaguar motor vehicle. If you look hard enough at the back corner you can spot my Fallout 3 lunch box and bobblehead. Best parts of that game if you ask me.

Here's the new DVD cabinet. Oddly enough, due to a shipping error, I have this exact same cabinet in the unfinished area of my basement awaiting assembly. Not sure where we're going to put it as we didn't order it, but I'm sure we'll find someplace for it. Atop the DVD cabinet are some Legends class figures from the first live action Transformers movie as well as some framed Superman cards I've had for forever now.

So this is, essentially, the back wall of the movie room. If you're looking at this, the screen is to your left, projector to your right. On my big ol' subwoofer is a Lego Ultimate Collector's Edition AT-ST. Next to the cube is my various Rock Band instruments including my badass Hot Rod Red wireless bass. On top of the shelf is the rest of the figures from the first live action Transformers movie. That white mess on the chair is the univeral remote, the projector remote and the spreadsheets I use for boosting Red Faction: Guerrilla multiplayer achievements. Oh yeah, we all organized up in this bitch.

Ok, so on the left is my first back wall speaker. Under it is a reprint of what is probably my favorite Achewood strip, the Ray Smuckles Decision Making Flow Chart. When I ordered a print of the strip I could have had Ray's name replaced with my own, however I have never turned this, or any other mother out. Any relative for that matter. Plus, the joy of the strip is how well it encapsulates Ray's character and Raymond Q. Smuckles is one of my favorite comic strip characters so to take away his thunder seemed wrong. Next to the strip is the shadow box I made with goodies from E3 including my badge, a postcard of some concept art from "The Conduit", a picture of all of the GameShark writers and the copy of Drum King I won when we all crashed a PR event. Good times.

Ok, so here we have the Bugs Bunny - Charlie Chaplin drawing done by my good friend Dennis. I'm not sure how it is that I keep becoming friends with people of advanced artistic abilities but I'm glad that I do as it keeps me in quality wall hangings. Next to this is my Earth X poster signed by the man himself, Alex Ross. The series ended up being just ok, but when one can get a signed Alex Ross, even if it's just a print, well one does it.

On the left is a poster from the MC Frontalot, MC Lars, YT Cracker triple bill from December of '08. A careful examination of the poster shows that it was signed by the Front himself. Lars and YT Cracker both signed shirts which are hard to put on the wall, especially considering that I wear both shirts regularly. Next to this poster is a poster for "The Magnificent Seven" one of the greatest westerns of all time, if only because in it, Charles Bronson whips a little kid's ass for being ungrateful. The world would be a much better place if children lived in constant fear that a young Charle Bronson could show up and spank them at any moment for being ungrateful.

Following the excellent trend of classic movie posters and webcomic art here we have a poster for "The Great Escape" featuring an oh-so-dreamy Steve McQueen. Next to it is the original artwork from this strip of Shortpacked in which Batman tells the "no fatalities" rule to Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe to go screw itself. Finally we have a poster from the original "Ocean's 11". I'm pretty sure it's a law that if you have classic movie posters in your basement, at least one of them has to have Frank Sinatra on it.

Ok so something like a half dozen pictures into this post we get to why I took pictures in the first place. Top middle is the new Batman sketch that Bones did for me, bottom middle is one he had done for me before. Marvel at their awesomeness! The sketches are sandwiched in between the superhero stamps the Post Office commissioned a couple of years ago.

This is above the counter by the bar. It's the four prequel comics done for the "Superman Returns" movie. My mom got them for me and they're all signed by the creators and bagged and authenticated and shit. Not only do I love them because I love Superman, but I love the fact that my mom took the time to find a gift that combined so many things that I love. Go mom. You're the best.

Eat and get gas! Get it! You can eat, and fill up your car with petroleum! Ha! Love it! I don't know why I loved the dog one so much but I do. Silly doggies.

So this is above the sink that's by the bar and it's these coffee print, thingies. They're quite shiny as you can tell from the flash. Trust me though, they're about coffee and look, a coffee maker, so it all works out.

Finally, here's my framed print from the cover of the Pearl Jam live set of various performances done at the Gorge in Washington. Next to it is a giant panel door that goes to the furnace. Nice! There was no good way to take this picture by the way. I'm not so bad a photographer that I think you want to see some shitty panel door.

So here's the view as you're coming into the movie room. The majority of the pictures would be on your right. Yes that's the exercise bike. It kind of ruins the look of the room, but seeing how I watch movies and play games while I work out, and I won't work out if I can't watch movies or play games, it's a necessary evil. Well, only necessary if I don't want to weigh 200 pounds.

And here's the view from the back corner of the movie room. That horrid pink towel is around the base of the exercise bike because only my wife seems to be capable of not smacking her toes on it and I'm convinced that with her it was only a matter of time. Once I smack my toe on something so hard that I'm pretty sure I broke my toe, I wrap it up in a towel. I'm crazy like that.

This is my computer desk in the room outside of the movie room, soon to be The Man Lounge. I didn't take a picture of the whole room as it's not looking its best right now. This cabinet has a wealth of crap on it including my Gears of War figures, my Scully picture and action figure, a Willow action figure from the Buffyverse, a plush Pikachu, Blammo the dog, Mooby the cow, some Star Wars Legos and the puppet. Truly it is a mish-mash of pop culture crap. Oh, and there are also a ton of badass Batman Legos on the small file cabinet. Yeah, that's the Batcave and it is awesome.

Finally we have my bookcases in the Man Lounge. Righ now they mostly hold comics as all of my proper books have been moved upstairs to make room for even more toys. There are Star Wars Legos, Indiana Jones legos, Batman Legos, vintage Star Wars figures, Dark Knight figures and other assorted pieces of my past. Looking at these shelves gives you a fairly good idea of who I am. I'll leave it to you to draw your own opinions as I know I'm fucking awesome.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Macaroni and Cheese

Time for another food post. My apologies to anyone trying to diet cause I'm about to wreck your shit.

Ok, so I make a pretty badass macaroni and cheese. It's my mom's recipe however I have tinkered with it over the years and I think I've come up with a version that kicks nine different types of ass. My family loves it and I have brought it into work and been told on multiple occasions that is the the best macaroni and cheese that the person eating it has ever had. Now, I'm sure there's some polite exaggeration going on there, but I can be pretty critical about my own food, more than anyone else, and I'm here to tell you that this stuff is the shit. Given that I have nothing else to write about, I have decided to share this awesome recipe with you. You are truly blessed.

Before we get started, I want to point out that you are, of course, free to make this recipe however you choose, however if you decide to use fat free cheese or low carb multigrain pasta, please don't tell people that you got your recipe from me because I don't want my name associated with your nasty ass cardboad glop. This recipe has a lot of fat and a lot of carbs and it tastes fucking awesome. If you're on a diet, just eat less of it. Share it with your coworkers, freeze it for later, do whatever you need to so that you don't consume half of the batch in one sitting, but don't go messing with the ingredients. This ain't Cooking Light.

Secondly, this recipe uses Velveeta which I'm sure will cause griping among the more high falutin' of my readers, but the truth is that Velveeta melts up smooth as silk and when you're making macaroni and cheese, the last thing you want is some messy combination of half melted cheese and cheddar oil. I know because I've made just that. So bite the bullet, buy the Velveeta and try not to ask too many questions about what the hell is in it.

Finally, this recipe doesn't have an exact amount for some ingredients so you're just going to have to experiment. Honestly, this is how I got mine to be as tasty as it is, so don't sweat the small details too much. As long as you follow the basic template you'll end up with something that will smack the taste from your mouth and have every person you've ever desired longing for a one way trip to your tingly, naughty regions.

Cooking spray
2 cups uncooked macaroni
1 16oz block of Velveeta (remember, no hatin')
1 8 oz bag shredded Colby and Monterey Jack blend
1 8 oz bag finely shredded Mozzarella (if you want to go with an Italian cheese blend here, that would work too, I'll switch between the two depending on mood)
Butter (about half a stick, and notice I said butter and not margarine)
Black pepper

1. Cook the macaroni according to package directions, draining well once done. You want them to be just a hair shy of done so that they're nice and firm when the cook among the cheeses. Do not, I repeat, do not let them get overcooked as the resulting loss of texture makes for a bit of a mess in the final product. It still tastes ok, but it's more of a macroni and cheese pudding at that point.

2. Preheat the oven to 375. If your oven has heating elements at the top and bottom, arrange the rack so that the dish will be lower in the oven. More on that later.

3. Coat a 2 qt (mine is a 2.5 L) casserole dish with cooking spray. Whoever does the dishes will thank you later. Mine is round, not sure if that makes a difference.

4. Divide the Velveeta into three equal sections and then slice the sections up into eight or ten equally sized pieces. I usually slice crosswise and then slice that slice lengthwise.

5. You're going to be layering everything in the casserole dish, making three layers total so when you start sprinkling the shredded cheese and putting down noodles, keep in mind that you'll have three layers of it. It's not absolutely crucial as you will stir the whole thing up half way through the cooking time, but still. Ok, so the basic layering strategy is to do the following:
  • Layer of noodles
  • Sprinkle about 2 tablespoons of flour all over the noodles.
  • Sprinkle a generous amount of pepper on the flour
  • Dot the noodles with chunks of butter (about 1 - 2 TBL divided up into five or six total pieces)
  • Put the chunks of Velveeta on top of the noodles whereever there isn't butter. You want things to be relatively even so if you find that you don't have enough pieces, just break up what you have with your fingers and do your thing
  • Sprinkle one type of shredded cheese on top
  • Sprinkle another type of shredded cheese on top
  • Repeat for the next two layers
When you're done you should have a casserole dish that weighs about eighteen pounds.

6. Pour milk into the casserole dish so that it comes up about 1/4 the height of the dish. I usually slide a knife down the inside edge of the dish and push the mixture away from the dish to see how far the milk has come up. The milk will take a second to settle, so if you don't see it immediately, don't go pouring a ton of milk in there. Take it slow as too much milk will turn this thing into soup.

7. Put the dish in the oven for 30 minutes.

8. Once 30 minutes is up, stir the whole thing. If you have heating elements at the top of your oven, move the rack so that your dish is higher up in the oven. This allows the crust to brown up and get nice and crunchy.

9. Put the dish back in oven for 30 more minutes.

10. If your oven only has top heating elements that turn on when the broiler is on, feel free to put the thing under the broiler for a few minutes to brown up the top but it isn't necessary.

11. Take out and let it sit for five minutes while your stomach does backflips over the glorious mounds of pasta and cheese you're about to deposit in it.

12. Serve and enjoy.

That's it. Pretty simple, right? If you want to spread things out over two nights you can either make the whole thing up the night before and then put it in the oven or you can make the noodles up the night before and then assemble and bake the next day. If you make the whole thing up the day before and refrigerate the uncooked dish, you will have to adjust your cooking time to account for the fact that everything is cold. Nothing to do there but just experiment and be flexible with your dinner time. Drinking helps.

When you stir the dish at the halfway mark you'll notice that a lot of the velveeta chunks won't have melted. That's ok. Stirring is very important as otherwise you run the risk of having too much cheese in one layer, and not enough in the other. Also, don't worry if it looks really soupy at this point. Even if you put too much milk in, it will thicken up a bunch as it cooks for the next half an hour. It will also thicken up some as it cools. For those that like a crumb topping, and I don't know why you would, but it's not my place to say, put the topping on after you stir it as you don't want crumbs mixed in with the whole thing, nor do you want them to burn.

Give it a try, let me know how it turns out. Feel free to share it with others. Go forth my cheese loving minions and enjoy!

Monday, July 13, 2009

On Pies and Potter

I made a pie on Saturday and with it, the flames of baking have rekindled in my breast.

For Christmas last year Linda got me a dessert cookbook and I got her a pie cookbook proving yet again, that if ever there were two people meant to be together, they are she and I. Now, the pie cookbook was not for her to bake from, but for her to choose from so that I might make pies. After a year in the cake baking trenches, I felt like I could handle pretty much any cake thrown my way, provided that I had enough time and the right materials. With the addition of my Father's Day gifts, a cake bow and this giant spatula thingy used to move cakes, my arsenal was complete.

Pies on the other hand have always scared me. First of all, I don't know how to make a pie crust, something I was loathe to try this time around. They seem so thin and fragile, capable of tearing and ruining your dessert at a moment's notice. Second, the notion of making a fruit pie seemed fraught with peril. What if you don't buy enough fruit? What if they end up being too soft or too hard or filled with unsightly bruises. What if you pick the wrong type of fruit? Some apples are great for baking, some aren't? Good Lord people, I was raised on the mean streets, not some fucking peach grove, how the hell am I supposed to pick a good peach? I can barely dress myself in the morning.

The simple fact is that I take food, particularly baking very, very seriously. There is nothing so depressing as a failed dessert. Dessert is entirely optional. It exists solely to give joy. A failed dessert is then the absence of joy. Taking on the monumental responsibility of providing dessert, knowing full well that my failure to do so means no dessert, is a scary idea, made even scarier when the attempted dessert is a pie. Oh sure, I've made apple pies before, but nothing other than that. Seeing how this was summer, I felt that apple was too heavy, so, for the first time with real intent, we consulted the pie cookbook.

Now, Linda and I agree on a lot of things, but usually not dessert. She loves lemon meringue pies, I love key lime. I love cheesecake, she does not. I veer towards towering, monumental peanut butter and chocolate constructions, she likes a simple cake from a box. For two people who love dessert, we find ourselves at odds frequently, and don't get me started on her not liking pecan or sweet potato pies. The nerve of that woman.

After narrowing down the choices we eventually agreed on a strawberry rhubarb pie. I had never had such a pie, certainly never made such a pie and was fairly certain that I had never seen rhubarb before. I decided to make things easier on myself and go with a store bought crust as I tend to get upset when things don't go well in the kitchen and I needed this pie to go well. After getting home with all of the ingredients I got to chopping and mixing and rolling the pie crust into the appropriate pie dish.

I was a bit skeptical of the rhubarb what with the cookbook saying that loads of sugar is needed to make it palatable. It seems odd that you would put something in a pie that needs additional flavorings. Plus, it looks like a giant red celery stalk and the notion of putting celery in a pie that didn't have chicken and carrots in it seemed odd. Still, not being an expert, or even a novice about these kinds of things, I pressed onward, mixed everything together, including the crumb topping, and heaved it all into the oven.

After an hour of baking, at which point the juices bubbled out of the edges, thick as jam, I took the pie out of the oven and let it cool. As you can see, it ain't pretty, but sometimes the best baking ain't pretty.

The Pie

A couple of hours later we cut into the thing and had the first slices. I have to say, for a pie with giant, red celery stalks in it, it's pretty fucking good. The strawberries and rhubarb play off of each other, with hints of lemon and sugar mixed in there. I'm not a huge fan of the crumb topping as I'm not a fan of the cornmeal that's in it, but that's easily remedied with using other crumb topping recipes I've amassed since taking on cakes. As first pies go, this one was a hell of a way to start.

The unfortunate thing is now I want to make all of the pies I've seen in the book: the peaches and cream pie, the peanut pie, the peaches and lemonade pie and yes, even the grape and fig pie. I want to make a pumpkin pie and I don't even like pumpkin pie. For two people who are constantly trying to make sure they don't gain any more weight, me learning to make pies is a very bad idea.

My only change to the pie would be that I would bake it, let it cool, refrigerate it and then cut into it the next day. This is a very soft pie and after taking two slices out of it when it was still a little warm, an unfortunate pie collapse took place leading to some very unappetizing pieces on Sunday night. It still tasted great, but the pie would have kept it's shape better had it been first cut into when a little colder.

Last night we enjoyed our pie while watching "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban". We're watching all of the movies again in preparation of "Half Blood Prince" this weekend. "Azkaban" is my favorite Potter movie and was the movie that turned me from someone who would watch them if invited to someone who had to see them the weekend they opened. The movie is on such a higher level than the previous two, and set the bar for all of the ones that followed. I've seen it a number of times now and I still love it. I can certainly think of worse ways to spend a Sunday evening than eating strawberry pie and watching Harry Potter.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Reviews and Family Visits

First of all, my brilliance continues unabated as I bring to you the real truth about video games. The truth is that I love Tiger Woods for the Wii and I love The Conduit. Man, my Wii has been getting a lot of play lately. Insert sexual jokes here.

In other news, we had family visiting this week, barely a week after the last group of family left. I love my family, but man, I am really looking forward to having an empty house. I want to be able to watch what I want to watch and play some games and not have to scream everything because someone's hearing aid broke. It certainly didn't help that the roofers came and put on a new roof while family was here so not only was there screaming due to the aforementioned hearing loss but there was also banging and hammering and sounds you would attribute to your house coming down around you.

Then the air conditioning broke. Again.

So yeah, it's been a tough week, but everyone has been shuffled off to the airport, all of the roofing supplied have been picked up and as far as I know both air conditioners are working. All of this is just in time for the holiday weekend when, undoubtedly, my kids will come down with some form of strep that makes them bleed out of their eyeballs. As long as I can still game and watch Burn Notice on DVD, I honestly don't care. We have plenty of tissues and antibiotics.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Best Pillows Are Behind Us

The other day my oldest dog threw his back out humping a pillow.

Well, we think this is what happened any way. He has had a rough time getting around the house of late, which we attribute to his age what with his 14th birthday looming on the horizon. Going up and down stairs takes him a bit longer, partially because he's slower and partially because he'll perch at the top of them and stare for a few seconds as if it takes an act of will to traverse them. Sometimes he'll walk funny, sometimes he won't. Sometimes he'll jump down from the bed or the couch without a problem, sometimes he doesn't so much jump as he'll fall in a semi-controlled manner and land with a resounding thud.

Through this all though, he has continued to hump the pillows.

My dog is an inveterate pillow humper and has been ever since we had him neutered a scant six weeks or so after coming home. In his youth you could chart the path of his day by following the trail of fucked pillows as they lay strewn about the home. He would start his day in the living room, then move to the family room, then the spare bedrooms before finally coming to rest on our bed, usually saving his most furious bout of copulation with my bed pillow. The dog and I have shared a mutual, long simmering disdain for each other for years now, which I attribute to my wife. Simply put, the dogs were her babies before we had babies and while my second dog has always tirelessly worked for my affection, stealing a pat on the head or a sit in my lap when I'm willing to give it, and being thankful for it, my first dog sees me as nothing more than competition for my wife. Oh sure, he's happy when I pet him, but he's also snapped at me more than anyone else in the family, and he has never snapped at my wife. We get along, choosing to avoid each other and for the most part, it works out. Except for the pillows.

It's hard not to read human intention into animal behaviour, especially animals that you live with so when I get home to see my pillow humped to hell, I take it as an insult. After all, the pillow has to smell like me, so if the dog is choosing to hump it, it has to be his way of exerting a meager amount of control over me, or at the very least, flipping me the doggy finger. Whether or not he meant it to be an insult or it was simply a manner of my pillow being more humpable, the end result was the same, the pillow would be on the floor, one corner stiff from where he held it in his mouth, the side of the pillow dented due to his fervent thrusting.

The most amazing, if that adjective can be used in such a situation, aspect of his humping was how quickly he would get down to business. On many occasions, he wouldn't even wait for us to get down the driveway. If I forgot my wallet, or needed something else from the house and came back in, there he would be, fucking the living room pillow with abandon not thirty seconds after we had left. I consider myself a normal, red blooded male and even in my horniest, most sex obsessed teenage days I don't think I could go from zero to fucking in such a short span of time. Certainly not now when those days are a good twenty years behind me.

As he got older, the amount of humping lessened, but it still remained. The daily ritual upon coming home from work, or from a day of running errands would be to get put the various pillows back on the couch, both those left for him, the "house" pillows if you will, and those deemed to nice to be violated by him, the "guest" pillows. Earlier this week, Linda noticed that in the morning, the dog was walking well, spry and full of pep and she returned home from an errand, picked up a pillow and noticed the dog walking oddly, as if in pain. Shortly afterwards she sent me a message informing me that our dog threw his back out humping the pillow.

It's an odd feeling to see something you love, or at least begrudgingly tolerate, get older to the point where their normal behaviour becomes less and less of a certainty. I'm not the most adventurous sexual partner, but I have, on occasion tweaked this thing or that thing while engaging in activities, and it has given me pause, but not so that I'd consider not engaging any more. To see my dog, who has humped pillows for over ten years now, leaving a trial of violated bed accessories in his wake, get to the point where this activity may have to stop due to his old age is sobering. Turns out time waits for no man, or dog as the case may be.

I have joked for years that the easiest thing would be to just put the dogs down and move on with our lives, having removed two of the four obstacles that lay between us and the ability to live unfettered. The cruel joy of pets is that they are expendable and when they are gone, they are well and truly gone, unlike children who may leave your home, but you will always worry about and fret over, even if you do so at a rare 5:00 movie, or a dinner date taken right from work. Not so with pets. Pets don't move out, they move on.

So when I see that my dog, our first shared biological responsibility is getting old enough to not go about his day, even a reduced version of it, it saddens me because as much as the old bastard annoys me, he has been a part of our lives for quite a while now and as much as it might be easier to not have him around, I can't say with certainty that easier equals better. Plus, the fact remains that as he got older, I did too and if he is getting to the point where he can't do the things he loves due to the advances of age, that day will eventually come for me as well, provided I don't die beforehand. When I do get to that point, will my children joke about putting me down? Will I be seen as an obstacle for their ability to go about their lives unfettered? Will I have warts and a penchant for fucking inanimate objects? I sure hope not.

The wife and I have said that the dog needs to go to the vet, but neither of us are taking the steps to do so, which, I'll admit, is cruel to the dog, but I know that for me, it's not necessarily because I want to avoid the expense, because I do, but more because I don't want to be told that the dog is getting to the point where the right choice is the final one. I do not want to take him on that final car ride. I do not want to have that talk with my children. I do not want to get mad at my other dog because she won't stop searching the house for her brother. Most of all though, I do not want to come home to a house of unhumped pillows.

Monday, June 22, 2009

All Of Your Brink Questions Answered

Well, probably not all of them. Certainly not all of them, actually. Come to think of it, this probably represents but a fraction of a fraction of your Brink questions. There would have been more had I been even halfway competent and had Todd been sober. Still, it's a decent read. How's that for promotion?

Friday, June 19, 2009

A New, Boring Hope

So my son and I finally sat down to watch Star Wars about a month ago and ever since he has been peppering me with Star Wars questions. Oh, awesome, you're thinking, he wants to know about Jedi and Sith and speederbikes and shit! Ha, yeah, no. That would be cool. Those questions I could get into. No, what he wants to know about is where people get their clothing, whether or not there's gum in Star Wars and if Darth Vader ever shoplifted as a child.

Now, I'm sure that there are a number of people thinking "well, there's no such thing as a stupid question" and I can assure you that you are completely wrong. There are many, many stupid questions, most of which are asked by very young children. Oh sure, the first time my daughter asks "is it sunny outside" as she squints to look at me and has to cover her eyes from the sun's blinding rays I will consider that what she's really asking is "would you use the word sunny to describe today" and she just can't suss out the right way to say it, but come the ninth time that very same question is asked, well, that's when you start worrying that she'll never be able to live on her own.

In fact, just this week my son came up to me and asked "In Star Wars, was there a broken bridge and Luke Skywalker held on to Princess Leia and they swung across it?" That is exactly what happened in the movie, the movie that he watched with his very own eyes. I mean, come on! I have no recourse but to use sarcasm in that situation. "Well, did you see that happen in the Star Wars movie?" I asked. "Yeah" he said. "Then, I think that means that it happened" I said. I asked him more questions around his question to see if there was something else he was getting at, but nope, his question was to verify that what he saw with his own eyes actually took place. I guess it was all so thrilling that he thought it was some sort of wonderful dream.

To fully explain the types of questions he's been asking, here's a little conversation I dreamt up. Imagine George Lucas has told the people at 20th Century Fox that he's looking to revisit Star Wars. The script has been dropped off, and read and now it's time to go over it. Take it away George and oh, I don't know, let's call him Marty.

George! Come on in, great to see you, great to see you.

Nice to see you too Marty.

George, let's get right down to it. You know, when you told us here at Fox that you were interested in revisiting Star Wars, well, we just about died and went to Heaven. I mean, obviously we've been huge fans of your work and have been honored that you've let us all take everyone's positive memories of Star Wars and shit all over them.

I've enjoyed it too.

But...with this new draft of your plan on revisiting Star Wars, well, I'm not sure how to say this so I'm going to just come out and say it. George, this has to be, hands down, the most boring fucking script I've ever read.

How so?

How so? How so he asks. Ok, well, let's start off when Han Solo and Luke Skywalker first leave the Millenium Falcon after being captured by the Death Star. You spend ten minutes going over how the doors to the Millenium Falcon work.

People like doors.

No, people like The Doors, and then it's only the pretentious assholes. Ok, fine, so how about later on when instead of going to rescue Princess Leia they go looking for a pool.

I like pools.

I like pools too, but I don't want to see a movie about them. Jesus George, you have a ten minute scene where all you do is show various Stormtroopers and TIE Fighter pilots eating.

And chewing gum.

Oh, right, can't forget the gum. Honestly though, the worst part is when you have the Crimson Guard-

Emperor Guard

Fine, the "Emperor Guard" dress and undress himself over and over again. Never mind that the Emperor Guard aren't on the Death Star in the first movie, who the hell wants to watch someone put on clothes for like fifteen minutes?

It's a very complicated outfit.

It's a shawl and a red bucket! They can't even see out the damn thing!

I still don't see what the problem is. These are very valid insights into the world of Star Wars.

No, they're not. They're very boring insights into the world of Star Wars. George, I know you're not a very good filmmaker, but no one, and I mean no one wants to see how people get dressed. I mean, they assume that characters put on their clothes the same way that everyone else does. Ditto for going through doors. You have every bit of daily minutae in this film short of watching a storm trooper take a dump.

(George stands up and drops a script on the desk.) Empire revisited bitches!

Lord that was awful. Any way you get the point. I'm almost afraid to have him watch Empire, not because I'm afraid of explaining how Darth Vader can be Luke's father, cause he won't notice that, but because I won't be able to adequately explain where Lando buys his boots.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A Kingdom of Puzzles

Here it is, my long awaited Puzzle Kingdoms review! I know, I know, you've been anxiously awaiting this one for weeks. Weeks! Well, wait no longer.

Friday, June 12, 2009

More E3 Madness

It's the E3 Games We Promise Won't Suck. Whee!

I liked this one because after days of writing previews which had very little of my personality and thank you emails to PR, which, in the interest of maintaining relationships had almost none of my personality, it was nice to be myself when writing this one. I'm certainly not the best writer of our merry crew, and it shows, but I don't care. I got to be me on this one, and Bill let me, so I'm happy. Now, I'm fairly certain that I'm going to be arrested for mentioning orgasms and Zelda in the same paragraph so I should probably go and call my lawyer.

Let's Talk About Toys, Baby

I've been spending a fair amount of time with the new Transformers for the upcoming movie and the underlying theme can be summed up in one word: complicated. I don't know if they toy designers felt that the original movie toys didn't have enough going on, or they just want to punish parents by putting "ages 5+" on a toy that requires an engineering degree to transform, but whatever the case, these toys have a lot going on. Now, the plus side of this is that the robot modes all end up being a lot more detailed and varied than the toys from the first movie but the flip side is that some of the transformations are damn near impossible. Part of this has to do with the fact that the transformation instructions haven't gotten any better yet the toys are even more complicated leading you to a situation much like getting an air conditioner installation manual consisting of one step that reads "Step 1: Install air conditioner."

I mean, there is no way in hell that a five year old could transform these things and I'm not talking about a lazy-ass five year old like my kid, although I should be honest in pointing out that my kid is a lazy-ass six year old. I'm talking about a kid who is willing to spend time with a toy trying to figure it out. Most likely the damn thing will come apart before it gets transformed and either Timmy will just throw it out or Timmy's dad will then have to spend time figuring out how to put the blasted thing back together and then how to transform it. I'm lucky in that my kid doesn't like Transformers, no doubt because he won't take the time to learn how to transform them, even the easy ones, and I'm not one to repeat myself a dozen times, however I like Transformers and these things are starting to irritate me.

Granted, this didn't stop me from dragging my family out on the Friday before they came out so that I could buy a bunch of toys at a Walmart in Florida, many of which I have since returned because Toys R Us had them on sale and Walmart wouldn't price match them. Luckily my family is used to following me around looking for toys and at that point in the vacation, the impending afternoon rainstorm was putting a damper on most plans, so it's not like it was all that big of a deal. Well, the credit card company denying my charge because they thought someone had stolen my card and driven to Florida was a big deal, as were my misbehaving children, but those aren't my fault. I'm just the one that brought us all there. Ok, shutting up now.

Now, don't get me wrong, I really like these new toys, I just may need to hire someone with smaller, more nimble fingers to transform them. The other big difference between these toys and the last go around is the penchant for more strange robot modes. Someone at Hasbro, or someone who worked on the new movie, really has a fetish for unicycles as several of the new toys have a robot mode that involve balancing on one wheel while another one sticks up in the air. For example, take Chromia and Demolisher:



Now, in Demolisher's defense, he can stand on his own, as long as he balances on his hands, like a gorilla. Chromia has no defense. If she's not standing on the weapon rack thingy, she falls right over. Also, Chromia, despite her seemingly simple design, was impossible to transform using the supplied instructions. I ended up putting them aside and using the picture of her robot mode on the card to transform her. Maybe I got it wrong and when transformed correctly she balance on one wheel perfectly but I sort of doubt it. The upcoming Arcee figure, also a motorcycle, also has a unicycle robot mode as does some unnamed upcoming female robot. The fan community thinks that all three robots will be able to combine in some fashion no doubt into some huge robot that also can't stand on it's own. Perhaps all three will just stack one on top of the other into some giant collapsing tower of Cyberton.

Now, I can't say that were I to visit another planet and be given the ability to take a shape that I wouldn't choose to roll around on wheels, but at the same time, I can't think of any real practical purpose to it, especially given that they can't stand up by themselves. And come on, if it's such a good idea, woudln't our ever-present intelligent designer have designed us with one giant wheel instead of legs while it was also making complicated bacteria motors? Come on people. Legs are good enough for us and good enough for your loving G-O-D so they should also be good enough for sentient, transformable robots. Plus, they make posing so much easier. At this rate, the next movie is going to feature robots that balance on a giant pin when in robot mode necessitating me to pose them in a display I'll call "Please Don't Disturb the Sleeping Transformers".

I still don't have all of the toys yet, nor have I transformed the Leader class ones, which, in the past were hella complicated, so it's possible that this first wave was just overly complicated and that the engineers layed off of the crystal and designed the later toys to be something a child could actually play with. More likely they realized that their target audience is grown men so they said "fuck it" and decided to give us value in the form of a toy that takes the better part of a half hour to transform, not counting the fifteen minutes needed to liberate it from its plastic coffin. Who the hell am I kidding? I'll buy 'em either way. Such is life when you're a slave to the plastic.