The URI! Zone - 08/2006

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Welcome back! I hope my extended hiatus didn't leave you bored at work and lacking in daily reading materials. My two weeks off were mostly restful, with the first week spent at the beach in a house named Salty Nuts floating in the pool and rereading books I'd already read, and the second week spent at home relaxing and preparing for the new year. I am dubbing August 1 as something of a new beginning for myself because, like large corporations and the Chinese, I find that it's more sensible to bookend eras at a point other than right after Christmas (probably a learned behaviour from nineteen years of "school years").

Since today is Fresh Start Day, it's only fitting that I launch the second part of what will be a trilogy to rival Lord of the Rings for ass cramps and yawns. The first ten years of my site, 1996 - 2006, served to introduce the principal characters (Booty) and supporting cast (me and Doobie), while providing enough back story and trivia on everyone involved to keep my readers empathizing with the protagonists. The second part, 2006 - 2016, will document my struggles and conflicts up to the ripe age of 36, although I haven't yet picked a suitable title yet since The Empire Strikes Back was already taken. Finally, 2016 - 2026 will tie up all the mysteries and drama from the first two parts with salty dialogue and a moving musical score. I don't want to spoil anything, but at least one person who's going to die in Part II will come back to life in Part III. Production has already started on Part II, but I've not yet gotten the green light to work on the final part, since we apparently have to survive the blossoming World War III in the Middle East first.

The middle section of trilogies is usually the darkest one, so I've represented this visually by making the background of the site a darker shade of blue -- an artistic technique that will no doubt shock you! Looking around, this is about the only change you'll find, because I really liked the way everything else about the site worked. You can never have too much blue though and the old blue always seemed too faded and washed out for a hip, rock-your-papa site such as this one. Besides this change, I'll try to take more pictures, have more interesting news updates, and do more funny graphics (which fell horribly by the wayside last year, since precision work in Photoshop is very hard to do when your wrists are in bad shape like mine).

There's not a lot of missed news that you need to be caught up on from the past two weeks. Normally I'd do a week-long OBX Travelogue documenting which holes were dug and which mussels were eaten, but in the spirit of going forward with the future rather than past to the back, I'll sum it all up quickly. After a fun week spent with stalwart Zone regulars, Anna, Kim, and Gabe (and nine others who don't get top billing because they never visit the URI! Zone, never leave comments, and/or smell like salty poop), I returned home three tones tanner and nine pounds lighter to find my cats happily staying with my mom and my downstairs bathroom remodeled with wonderful sinks and toilets. The latter was done by my dad, the Restless Retiree, simply because it was there. Thanks Mom and Dad!

Plinky continues to rank up in World of Warcraft (hitting Rank 222 last week), and Veronica Mars: Season One was a surprisingly good show. I didn't watch any new movies during my sabbatical, but I did pick up several noteworthy CDs which I'll probably review in the coming days, as well as a salty new toy for my car, the XM Roady XT. Here are my two favourite new songs from the past two weeks -- obvious proof that my musical tastes are evolving ever so subtly throughout the years.

The Cardigans - For What It's Worth (3MB MP3)
Muse - Starlight (3MB MP3)

Of course, no update would be complete without new pictures and movies featuring your favourite feline foils. The first movie shows off Amber's mellifluous voice, with a cameo at the end. The second movie is scientific proof that cats love to eat earwax.

Amber Sings the Blues (5MB WMV)
Hungry for Earwax (5MB WMV)

Until tomorrow, this is your host, BU, saying "Have a swell day!" and "Thanks for your continued patronage! Please make checks payable to Brian Uri!."

Oh yeah, Anna is pregnant too. Here comes little Brian Ahlbin!

Rocket-propelled meth disposal system
Smiling defendant removed from court
Woman sought in Magic Cheese scam

tagged as website | permalink | 11 comments

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Whenever you go to the Outer Banks, you hear old-timers waxing poetic about the good ole days when beer was a nickle and there were only four people on the beach, all of them related to the Hatfields. Nowadays, a weekend in OBX brings a caravan of SUVs as far as the eye can see, as well as a Home Depot, a Walmart, and even a Harris Teeter, and there's talk of building a new bridge thirty miles north of the sole entry point to allow easier access to several of the towns. I agree that all of this reaches northern Virginian levels of excessiveness, but I don't necessarily harbor any sentimental vehemence against it all.

When we'd take our family vacations to Nag's Head in the late 1980s, we would stay in a tiny crappy motel with a kitchenette and eat Vienna sausages and Spaghettios out of the can. It was much like the way I picture life in the slums during the Industrial Revolution, except with more sand and fewer lice. From this unsentimental viewpoint, I don't really mind that there are more stores selling useless crap and a Wings store every half a mile on the main road, because at the end of the day, it's not about the fact that you're on a beach that should make a vacation great -- it's the fact that you are away from your work and your stresses.

Vacations are a chance to turn off the cell phone and recharge yourself, and where one person will backpack the Appalachian Trail to go on vacation, who's to fault the other guy who wants to mosey down the street without shirts and shoes to the Harris Teeter to pick up precooked snacks for dinner? Some people want their little luxuries when they go on vacation, and as long as the Kroger isn't built on the third floor of my beach house with a flashing neon sign, I see no problem with it. I can still get a place in a subdivision of houses with no commercial giants in sight and I can still walk down to the beach without waiting at a stop light. To me, having all the conveniences of urban life just a few miles down the road is a bonus, not an eyesore.

This is also reflected in the place I live -- I'm in a cozy neighbourhood in "rural" Sterling which is only minorly terrorized by MS-13, and I see kids riding by on bicycles most days of the week. However, there's a McDonald's less than half a mile away which I frequent at least twice a month, and all the major chain stores have an outlet within a five mile radius. They're there when I need them, but don't bother me when I'm at home, which is as it should be!

Feeling chubby? Look for a hungry man
The magnet I designed is the dogs one, but they sure don't tell you that anywhere
Watch out where you build your tree house

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Thursday, August 03, 2006

Review Day: Black Holes and Revelations

A few weeks back, Muse released their fifth album, Black Holes and Revelations , which quickly became their second album to reach number one on the U.K. charts. I first discovered Muse in August 2004 when Butterflies and Hurricanes played on my XM Radio somewhere on the road between Philip Barbie's wedding and the Outer Banks, and I was immediately struck by how musical their music is, despite their hard rock stylings and occasional foray into the use of noise as a musical instrument. The first CD, Showbiz was a rough, noisy first stab with a few catchy tracks. The second, Origin of Symmetry sacrificed the idea of catchy singles for a cohesive concept album with a lot of electronic experimentation, and the third, Hullabaloo, was a forgettable live CD that only showed that bands who use lots of effects shouldn't be heard live.

Their fourth CD, Absolution, was the first CD I listened to, and is also one of my all-time favourites. Their music was characterized by pretentious melancholy lyrics, driving beats, distortion walking the fine line of chaos, and a serious, ridiculous air in each song that says, "This is obviously the most important song you will ever hear in your lifetime", a feeling that's quite familiar if you've ever listened to Kansas. I enjoy that their sound is chaotic, but perfectly ordered and clean, not just a random collection of cymbal crashes and grunts. In their fifth offering, the three person band has greatly matured their sound, trying out a variety of different styles (quite successfully) while maintaining their signature sound. If Origin was their artistic album and Absolution was their catchy album, Black Holes is the mulatto (tar) baby that also introduces a lusher electronic pad and vocal harmonies for the first time.

Reviews for CDs online are generally useless, because people who don't have the CD in front of them don't really know what's being discussed. The people that DO have the CD are probably fans, so the review will be immediately dismissed whether it's good, bad, or self-serving. For this review, I've included extended clips (of crappy quality) from each song so you can hear what I'm hearing -- something of a Virtual BU Experience on the Internet. Even if you hate Muse's style, you may find a couple of songs you like in this latest offering. So plug your earphones into your computer at work, give a listen below!

Take a Bow (694KB MP3, 1:28)

Track one sounds like it could have come straight off the Origin album, and works well even though it's nothing new. The lyrics are a poorly disguised diatribe against our current President, since that's what all the "cool" rock groups are doing these days. Luckily no one really listens to the lyrics of songs anyhow, and it doesn't drag down the worth of the song at all.

Starlight (612KB MP3, 1:18)

The first song ends with a crashing chaos of electronic sounds which makes the pure, simple sounds of "Starlight" twice as effective, because you don't expect it in the least bit. This almost-pop song is the nearest to a commercial single that I've ever heard Muse create and it's also my favourite song on the album. I've been listening to it ad nauseum for days now.

Supermassive Black Hole (639KB MP3, 1:21)

Generally when you talk about the beat in Muse songs, you're talking about a driving, frenetic percussion that clueless teenagers can headbang to. This third song mixes it up by actually introducing a real beat, one of the "shake your big booty" variety from any song written overproduced for VH1 in the past three years. I half expected some bad trendy pop idol to sing the lyrics after the introduction to this song. After the initial shock, I liked it, right down to the grungy falsetto.

Map of the Problematique (255KB MP3, 0:32)

As if they were trying hard not to sing the same thing twice, the band's fourth song mixes a techno-dance beat with a thick electronic pad to create a song that'd be at home at any rave (or in any amateur video posted on YouTube). I say this with authority from my ample rave background, which ended after a tragic glow-stick mishap in elementary school. Harmless, but easy to listen to.

Soldier's Poem (268KB MP3, 0:34)

This is one of two slow songs on the album, and although it's solid, it's not very memorable. Muse's slower songs work best when they evoke the angst-ridden, haunting quality of "Sing for Absolution" and "Endlessly" from Absolution.

Invincible (469KB MP3, 0:59)

"Invincible" is one of those neat songs that builds up from nothing but it's definitely not the best song on the album. In fact, I think it only exists to showcase the electric guitar solo which sounds hard. My working knowledge of electric guitar is sorely lacking, ever since I was cut from the Heavy Metal Ensemble at Virginia Tech, so someone else will have to tell me if it is, in fact, difficult to play.

Assassin (480KB MP3, 1:01)

To make the Absolution fans happy, this is the song that most resembles that album. I like it, but it's not as innovative as the others.

Exo-politics (630KB MP3, 1:20)

This song tries to channel the vibe of 80s hair bands and grandiose rock operas and mostly succeeds.

City of Delusions (319KB MP3, 0:40)

There's no bluegrass on this CD, but this is Muse's attempt at Spanish Rock. Spanish Rock is easy to write and easier to listen to, and no doubt this will be the first song transcribed for marching band when Muse goes mainstream. Look for it at JMU in 2009.

Hoodoo (423KB MP3, 0:54)

This is the required "haunting Muse ballad", and is also the only time that Chris Bellamy shows off the heavy-handed piano riffs that made Absolution so unique. It's a good song, but not one of my favourites -- the tempo changes and style make the song feel like one big fermata, and I hate big fermatas. Your mother was a big fermata.

Knights of Cydonia (898KB MP3, 1:54)

This song could have been pulled straight out of the 80s, and sounds like something that might have resulted from a Queen - Kansas jam session. It's a great way to close the album, and also reveals that Bellamy's falsetto is as unnervingly high as it was seven years ago.

Bottom Line: A perfect CD for Muse fans, and not a bad way to introduce yourself to Muse if anything piques your curiousity. The entire CD is forty-five minutes long -- long enough to get your money's worth without Muse overstaying their welcome. Couple that with the cheapness of the CD ($9 at Amazon) and you have a winner. Tell me what your opinions are in the comments section! (If you don't listen to the clips and subsequently reply, I will have wasted an hour of my life recording samples and I will cry like a little girl)

Colbert and Wikiality
Please do not get too close to the meese
Stephen King doesn't want Harry Potter to die

tagged as music, reviews | permalink | 3 comments

Friday, August 04, 2006

Friday Fragments

a weekly way to win the war of words without wasting witty topics

♣ Ex-roomate Kelley Corbett and ex-girlfriend of ex-roommate of other ex-roommate Kathy Hanna are getting married today in Kawai, Hawaii! (Kathy is the girl). No doubt they will have a kid named either Kasey or Klyde, and move into the country where they can live in rural Fincastle with "The KKK Family" painted idyllicly over the doorway. Congratulations!

♣ Since the cute couple eloped, in a manner of speaking, I now have a free weekend in the middle of September which I would have otherwise spent in Staunton, Virginia, speed-trap capitol of I-81. Maybe I'll have a 27th-birthday-oriented barbeque and invite friends from all walks of life. Alternately, I could move to Idaho and become a hermit, connected to the outside world solely through the Internet.

♣ I still have a wedding to go to at the end of September -- Kathy and Chris' Magical Wedding Extravaganza, to be held in a toll booth on the south side of Jersey (Interchange 1). Rumour has it that many faces from the Tallahassee scene will be making an appearance.

♣ The wedding isn't really in a toll booth -- it'll be held outside in the grassy area of one of those left-turn roundabouts.

♣ To attend this wedding, I had to book a room at a place other than a Super 8 or a Motel 6. I'll be staying at the Residence Inn, Mount Olive , a posh extended-stay inn that's right next to the reception location featuring multiple beds, high-speed Internet, a kitchen, and two to five concubines. I'm sure there was a Red Roof Inn within driving distance, but it probably would have been booked up for the weekend's Poetry Festival, and besides, staying within walking distance of receptions is generally seen as a wise move.

♣ Why do you need to monopolize hotel rooms for a Poetry Festival? Don't people that go to those just tire themselves out snapping fingers in the coffeehouse then get high and pass out in a big love circle to the sounds of folk music? Having never attended one myself, I can only hypothesize. It must be pure ecstasy when some up and coming poet rhymes "clown" with "disown".

♣ I think that if you're going to create a poem where the ends of lines rhyme, they ALL should rhyme. Using words that are spelled the same but sound different is a big cop-out. Even Eminem is clever enough to think up a rhyming word for every occasion, although in at least one song, he did rhyme "shit" with "shit".

♣ I haven't heard anything about Eminem in months now. Is he still writing? Marrying ex-wives? I lost interest when all of his songs started being about his daughter. It's just not a very compelling topic for a rap song.

♣ Once again I have no big plans this weekend. On Sunday, the carpet goes into my master bedroom, finally completing the PUFFIN BAY GREY masterpiece that's been sitting empty for a month now. I've been living in the blue guest room all month, which is quite cozy, but it'll be nice to have the big bed again. Even though I don't move an inch when I sleep, at least I have the option to do so.

♣ Have a good weekend!

Girls Gone Border Patrol
Digging holes can be hazardous
Dog destroys Elvis teddy

tagged as fragments | permalink | 4 comments

Monday, August 07, 2006

Genericide

There was an article in the Post on Saturday discussing how the word "Google" has become mainstream enough to appear in print dictionaries and be used as a regular verb . I know that I've used the word as a verb many a time, and hear it daily in conversation. Apparently Google doesn't like it though, as the Post received a cease-and-desist letter, saying that it's an example of genericide. This term sounds much more ominous than it should and brings to mind the complete destruction of all generic grocery store brands, but it just refers to turning a trademark into a generic English word.

The best part of Google's letter to the Post was that they included examples of how best to use the word Google in daily conversation and print:

    Appropriate: He ego-surfs on the Google search engine to see if he's listed in the results.
    Inappropriate: He googles himself.

    Appropriate: I ran a Google search to check out that guy from the party.
    Inappropriate: I googled that hottie.

This sounds like a life lesson we could all stand to learn, a maxim that could appear in any fortune cookie: It is always inappropriate to google the hottie. But it also seems like overkill on Google's part. If I had a hot product and it suddenly became part of the vernacular, I would promote it as much as possible. Like soda versus pop versus coke, it gives a level of product recognition that you really can't buy.

The only part I'm missing from my plan to subvert the English language is a product worthy of the term, Uri, that can be used, consumed, or interacted with on a daily basis. Search engines are pretty much covered, so maybe I could make a toaster that uris the bread, or patent a new method of doing laundry and uri your panties. If I plan far enough ahead, maybe I can even set up some racy situations where I can uri some hotties! Any suggestions?

Diamonds are no longer forever
The half-naked and the dread
Muslim Fun Day cancelled

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Tuesday, August 08, 2006

How-To Day: Composing a Baby Announcement

To: Everyone@Work.com

Baby announcements shouldn't just go to the people who work directly with the new mother and father -- the entire company deserves to hear about the inner workings of the womb. This is why e-mail is the new mode of choice for publishing what came out of your body today.

From: NotTheMomma

If you are the parents, you probably won't have enough time or energy to announce the birth to everyone, so you'll have to hire one of your work friends as a town crier of sorts. The parents' job will be to present the baby in person once it's several months old so all the socially awkward people in your company can make banal smalltalk about their own baby experiences.

Subject: Welcome Baby LastName!

The tone of the subject should be slightly threatening, as if everyone in their right mind had better be welcoming of the new kid on the block OR ELSE. Don't actually give the name of the new baby in the subject -- that should be saved for the body of the e-mail. Otherwise it'd be like seeing Jaws in the first thirty minutes of the movie.

Loquisha Aaron Arnolds entered the world at 11:17 PM on Sunday, September 3, 2006.

The name of the baby should be the first thing in the body of the e-mail, because honestly, all people care about is seeing what kind of high-school-age-scarring you've affixed to your offspring. No one really cares about the time of birth, but it's customary to put it in. It might get you a few comments at work sharing experiences (i.e. "I was on the pot straining at the stool at 11:17! It's a good omen").

She weighed 9 pounds 8 ounces.

Your baby is not a trout and no one will be cooking it up for dinner. However, there is an unspoken contest to see who can have the most massive baby, so your e-mail announcement will be compared to all other announcements in the mail archives. No one really cares about these numbers unless they are unusually extreme. For a good time, lie about the weight and picture everyone in the company wincing when they visualize a tiny mother popping out a sixteen pound baby.

Mother, father, and daughter are all doing fine.

This is an obligatory line, to reassure readers that the mother had no complications and the father didn't slip on a janitor's wet mop in the hospital hallway. Even if something went horribly wrong, you need to include this line to prevent questions. If something weren't fine, would you really mention it?

Judge tosses suit by tiger man
Parrots name their kids
Cops quickly find stolen doughnut truck

tagged as mock mock | permalink | 6 comments

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The Ballad of the Master Bedroom0

This is the tale of the master bedroom,
the largest of spaces with plenty of headroom.1
I first moved in in the spring of 04,
the curtains infected, and AIDS on the floor.
Through multiple scrubbings and hands raw and red,
the carpet stayed stained so I hid it with my bed.

Fast forward a year to July, near the end.
I shared my house with Anna, Kathy, four cats (and Ben).
With money from work, there was no need to scrimp,
so I bought me some furniture, suitably pimp.
Black walnut trim was both suave and naughty,
and perfect for helping me uri a hottie.

Another year passed and the foliage changed,
but I couldn't see it, and felt quite estranged.
We built in a window, overlooking the rear
so I could enjoy the forest and spit on the deer.
(No sign of Bambi amidst all the cedar,
just a neighbour, a UPS guy, and the meter reader).2

The next step was painting, and you can't go astray
with a sale down at Sears on PUFFIN BAY GREY.3
I coated the walls and then went to the beach
oozing streaks on the trim like a medicinal leech.
With masking tape and fine-toothed comb,
the trim soon looked like a model home.

This weekend past came the final phase,
removing the old carpet to set it ablaze.
I replaced it with a carpet of Berber
which only rhymes with Gerber or maybe James Thurber.
The Oyster style was out of stock
and I had to make due with Road of Rock.4

So once again, I live in my own room
and the window eliminates much of the gloom.
Below you can compare the before and the after
and respond with either envy or laughter.
Or you can help me on my next quest:
To find out what drapes will look the best!

0: The author would like to warn you at this time that this could be the worst ballad in the history of ballads.
1: The author is quite short.
2: The author does not actually spit on blue-collar workers. This is called poetic license.
3: The author would like to recommend that PUFFIN BAY GREY always be capitalized, for emphasis and humour.
4: Rocky Road style looks just like Oyster style, but with a slightly more random pattern.

Happy Birthday Tammy!

Now all they need is a Lord of the Rings remake, for the good of the world
Beware the mysterious Penis Exploder
AOL Searcher No. 4417749

permalink | 2 comments

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Audience Participation Day

Caption Contest

This photo is taken from an article in yesterday's Post . Your instructions are simple: to submit a funny caption or dialogue for the picture! You can just send me the text if it's self-explanatory, or you may add cartoon speech bubbles if necessary, but you cannot doctor the photo itself to add more smoke. Mail your entries to me at the e-mail address at the bottom of the page (don't put them in the Comments section) by Sunday night and I will post all the entries next week for voting.

The winner will be chosen by my reading public and will receive a $5 gift certification to Amazon.com! For examples of what I'm looking for, take a look at last year's contest or my Pictures of the Year series from 2005.

Dolphin rescued from a Speedo
Buy a floating bed, just don't use your laptop in it
Man dies opening grenade with sledgehammer

tagged as contests | permalink | 0 comments

Friday, August 11, 2006

Friday Fragments

because it takes more paragraphs and makes the update look much longer than it really is

♣ There are some stories on CNN.com that just don't require a multimedia experience, and the one on the left is a prime example. Another example of text you'd never want to see on CNN.com: "Watch as Auntie Maybell shows off the three foot tapeworm in a jar that she had surgically removed from her intestines".

♣ There was an article in the New York Times about tapeworms the other day that was illustrated with a raw fish wrapped up like a birthday present with a ribbon of tapeworm. I bet there is an entire untapped market of "stuff you can make out of a tapeworm" from ribbons to Slinky's, and it's only a matter of time before some entrepreneur steals this idea and runs with it.

♣ I think the humble Slinky could be one of the worst toys ever invented, surpassing even the ball attached to a paddle and the yo-yo. What are you supposed to do with it after you drop it down the stairs and watch it hit the bottom? You can either wear it on your arms or get it caught in some girl's hair. Barrels of fun for hours on end.

♣ When I was a kid, my toy types were always segregated. Though you might see little girls letting Barbie ride their My Little Pony, you'd never find army men playing in Lego houses or Construx cranes built next to Lego spaceships. I never even allowed different Lego sets to mingle with other Lego sets (and I only built things using the instruction booklets). Apparently I followed instructions quite well. I also did this with the Etch a' Sketch Animator, which I mentioned some months ago. Creativity is overrated.

♣ Recently I've gotten the urge to start composing again, but I still haven't been able to sit down and put anything to paper. I think my three year hiatus and the obvious masterpieces of popular music I've listened to since I left school would make for interesting compositions. Maybe I should take a retreat some weekend and shut off the Internet and TV, then see what sort of musical gems I can fashion.

♣ Tomorrow is August 12th, which means it's time for another round of 12 of 12 . I haven't yet decided if I'm going to participate this month since I need to maintain the facade that my weekends are much more exciting than you'd expect them to be if I'm going to impress the ladies. Feel free to participate yourselves though and send a note to Chad with your finished entries.

♣ Honestly, everybody has a pretty mundane day, but everyone else's days always look several times more interesting than your own when you look at the pictures. For my Saturday, I will be doing a healthy mix of house work and yard work, with further doses of hanging out and staying in. I've also decided to get back into career-enhancement mode a bit, and bought two new books from Amazon. Which should I read first? The one on Ruby or the one on AJAX?

♣ Have a great weekend!

Adding more ammo to the moon landing conspiracy
Caller cancels wedding reception
Lobster thief caught red-handed

tagged as fragments | permalink | 4 comments

Monday, August 14, 2006

Chad Darnell's 12 of 12

I'm posting this update on Sunday because it's time-sensitive and no one would care about it on the actual 14th! This is my entry for Chad Darnell's 12 of 12 . Because it was the first time that the 12th has fallen on a Saturday, I figured it'd be neat to see how blatantly my routine matches what I do on the weekdays. You can also go back to my previous 12 of 12's if you're so inclined: June and April, or see this month's entries from regular Zone readers, Rob and Kim .

6:28 AM: The cats know that the alarm is about to go off and wake me up early just in case I'm feeling benevolent and will feed them early.
7:14 AM: Gassing up at the local Getty, which could easily be renamed Ghetto. There's always sticky slushie residue on the floors and one of the four pumps is always broken, but it has the cheapest gas in the area at $3.01 per gallon.
7:28 AM: If you can't read the sign on the far right, it says, "OPEN 24 HOURS: 6 AM Sunday - Midnight Saturday". Does that even make sense? Today I bought milk, buttermilk buiscuits, Coke Zero, and some on-sale Yuengling Black & Tan.
7:45 AM: Clock tower shopping centers are easily the most ridiculous artifice of yuppy shopping centers. The clock doesn't even tell time properly -- it's about seven hours ahead.
11:08 AM: Overlooking my freshly-weeded planting box which was being overrun by wild mint, clover, and crabgrass.
12:14 PM: Sitting on the back porch enjoying the hot-but-not-as-hot-as-last-week weather and the neatly-mowed lawn.
12:43 PM: Freshly showered and making the meal of kings for lunch: Velveeta Shells and Cheese.
2:48 PM: Playing with the kitties so they don't become fat and complacent.
3:00 PM: Feeding the cats. Rather, opening the cabinet containing the food just slightly and watching them get all riled up. They still haven't figured out how to get trhough the child lock. I eventually did feed them -- don't call the ASPCA!
4:12 PM: Driving through the Mixing Bowl to visit my parents since my sister and her husband are coming into town.
4:24 PM: My mom sitting in the sun room reading the paper.
6:42 PM: (Bonus Picture "Homage"), This is me doing a little composing-brainstorming with one of the on-sale Black & Tans. You can pretend I'm writing an homage to Chad!
10:22 PM: Back where I started so I can go to work in the morning!

Happy Birthday to my sister, Ellen!

Man blows up traffic camera
ATTACK OF THE GIANT SEA TURTLES
Undercover Kitten dies in traffic accident

tagged as 12 of 12 | permalink | 11 comments

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Next Year's Version

I received this pamphlet in the mail yesterday, advertising the next version of Finale, my music-writing software. The cover looks like a badly-designed reading primer from the 80s and comes with a nonsensical-if-you-stop-and-think-about-it slogan, "In the silence before the music begins, anticipation lingers." What does that even mean, and how does it relate to notation software? I don't have any solid proof, but I think they just copied the poster from next year's horror movie, Dark Alley.

Flipping through the pamphlet, I didn't really see any features to get excited about. Just a few additional formatting techniques that will make every part you print an unintentionally unique snowflake and a bunch of musical sounds that still don't sound like the real deal. Honestly, I haven't used any new features in the Finale programs since the 2002 version, but somehow I'm supposed to believe that it's a bargain to upgrade to 2007 for a mere $99. I probably won't think it's a bargain until they invent a cap I can wear that converts the music I'm thinking in my brain into picture-perfect scores and MIDI files. Brahms ain't got nothin' on the symphonies I store in my brain, but sadly no one will ever get to experience my unadulterated musical genius because I don't feel like transcribing the score onto paper (this is the world's loss).

It's one thing to change the year or version number on your product to separate it from previous versions. It's another matter entirely to repackage and SELL it as a slick upgrade when not much is different at all (see also Madden NFL '94, Madden NFL '95, Madden NFL '96, Madden NFL '97, Madden NFL '98, Madden NFL '99, Madden NFL '00, Madden NFL '01, Madden NFL '02, Madden NFL '03, Madden NFL '04, Madden NFL '05, and Madden NFL '06).

Here are some other signs that I don't always need the latest and greatest to survive:

AIM 5.1.3: The last version before they added all the useless ads, sounds, and streaming video, cluttering up my buddy list. I also pair it with DeadAIM 3.2.1 for tabbed browsing and hiding of all the useless AOL gimmicks.
SUPER Notetab v2.63e: This fine text editor is circa 1996 and is what I use for ALL of my web site and much of my daily work as well.
WordPerfect 12: Another 1996 fossil -- I would use WordPerfect 5 if they made a version that still worked in Windows. I could go off on a tangent here about how much I dislike Microsoft Word and how it tries to anticipate your every action and usually gets your intentions wrong, but that's enough for a whole update on its own.

Sign stealer saves the world from corruption
Strangely enough, no one found the taco sauce joke particularly funny.
Baltimore man has "Islam Sucks" signs

permalink | 1 comment

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Caption Contest Voting

Vote for your favourite entries from last week's caption contest via the poll in the left sidebar! The winner and results will be announced on Monday morning.

Secure relationships diminish the female sex drive
Windfall for Whale Vomit
Stored AOL searches show the human race is very scary

tagged as contests | permalink | 3 comments

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Movie Review: Brick

There are no spoilers in this review.

Brick is a very strange movie.

It's one of those indie films that saw critical success, but didn't really make much of a splash when it was in theatres. The core of the story is a new spin on Film Noir, with a hard-boiled detective, a salty dame, and all the usually twists, turns, and deceits. What's different here is that the genre is applied to a high-school setting, with young actors filling the roles of each of the stereotypes. All the characters talk in a very strange patois of detective slang and high school slang, and the actors are quite skilled at talking without moving their lips. By mid-movie, we had caved and turned subtitles on (which actually aided our movie comprehension in a big way).

The actor from the TV show, 3rd Rock from the Sun, plays Brendan, a loner high school kid whose ex-girlfriend is mixed up in some shady dealings with drugs. When she ends up dead in a sewer drainage canal, he sets out to figure out what happened and maybe get a little vengeance along the way. Among other familiar faces is the actress who plays Claire on LOST (hard to see in-character because she spoke without the Australian accent) and Richard Roundtree, also known as SHAFT. There's a fair amount of violence and lots of talk about drugs, but this has to be the tamest portrayal of the drug world in the history of drugs, since no one is ever seen actually using any of the drugs. The cinematography is a little dull, with many shots of thinking faces and the sky. The director apparently liked shots where clouds filled two-thirds of the screen and the land with tiny people walking filled the bottom third.

The mystery unravelled in the movie IS decent enough to sustain your interest, but I think it would have been much more effective had they just played it straight -- either a Film Noir in an adult world, or a normal whodunit with high school kids. Putting the two together was just too jarring to be effective. I never quite "accepted" the internal logic of the movie's world, and it took me nearly half the movie before I could figure out exactly what people were saying, but it was intriguing nonetheless.

Final Grade: C+

Digging up a spammer's gold doubloons
Introducing Fry Rage
Feeling blue, say "I do"

tagged as reviews | permalink | 0 comments

Friday, August 18, 2006

Friday Fragments

making the world a better place one fragment at a time

♣ Every Friday when I pick up my Popeyes lunch on the way home, I drive through downtown Herndon. On one particular street corner, there's always some poor schmuck in a Statue of Liberty outfit advertising some sort of accounting firm or somesuch. His understudy is an un-costumed fat guy in a lawn chair sitting next to a sign advertising a furniture liquidation sale. It's such a high class town.

♣ Liquidation sales seem to be quite the racket these days, especially considering that it's always the exact same store going out of business. It's not a bad business model if you think about it -- get some crappy goods, mark them up 300%, discount them 50% for the Everything Must Go! Sale, then sell what you can without warranty or return options. Final step, close down your shop, reopen it next month, and profit!

♣ Another good way to profit is to sell seasons of TV shows or movie sequels on DVD, and then repackage them in a SPECIAL EDITION so all the hardcore fans have to rebuy them for the special features. Yes, I will buy the final season of Alias so my collection is complete. No, I will not pay $200 to buy all five seasons in a special "Rambaldi" box with an extra deleted scene and a hidden easter egg.

♣ The cover of the Alias - Fifth Season DVD could quite possibly be the worst cover in the history of covers. The design looks like they sat a three year old down in front of Photoshop and the picture of Jennifer Garner looks like she just consumed a large quantity of past-expiration red meat and isn't quite sure whether she's going to honk or not.

♣ This is a good month for TV Shows on DVD though. The most recent seasons of LOST, Arrested Development, and Veronica Mars are all coming out during the next few weeks. I'm also intrigued by the FOX show, Prison Break. Anyone have any non-spoilerish opinions about it?

♣ I don't even know why I have cable anymore, since almost every show I watch is watched on DVD. If more networks start putting their shows online immediately after they air, I should cancel my cable and spend that extra $540 a year on something else completely superfluous yet fun, like a motorcycle!

♣ Can't you picture me tooling down the Fairfax County Parkway at seventy miles an hour on my hog with the wind blowing through my hair? I thought so.

♣ This weekend, I've got another healthy lineup of work and errands, with a Poker Night on Saturday and a Dinner For Parents Night on Sunday. The Java class I'm organizing starts soon as well so I'll probably want to do a little legwork for it. My summer weekends are pretty tame, but that's just fine by me. Exciting people don't get as much rest!

♣ Have a great weekend!

Save money by walking in the woods
Forget her shoulders, her eyes can read your mind
Because no one has ever played hangman before

tagged as fragments | permalink | 4 comments

Monday, August 21, 2006

Caption Contest Results

Congratulations to my Mom, who won last week's Funny Caption Contest! She wins a $5 gift certificate to Amazon.com for her efforts. While tabulating the results, I noticed that I forgot to include poll choices for #9 and #10. This is okay for two reasons: no one complained, so obviously no one was going to vote for them, and also I made both entries and why would I want to win my own contest?

I'd like to do many more of these audience participation contests in the future, maybe one a month at a minimum. There might not always be cash prizes, but at least you can get bragging rights and put a new line on your curriculum vitae. Besides contests to whet your creativity, there will be the usual smattering of music identification contests and maybe something zany like a "Identify the famous painting based on a small cross-section" contest. Have any ideas for weird contests that can be done over the Internet? Let me know!

So this update isn't a complete recapitulation of previous entries I have also included a deceptive cadence of new photos, like this one of me in 1981, and several new cat pictures .

Adam Sandler donates where it counts
Carr does not face an indecency charge because she had no inappropriate body parts exposed during the sex act.
Man trapped in chocolate

tagged as contests | permalink | 5 comments

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Two for Newsday Tuesday

Fugitive Closes Down Virginia Tech Campus

A dangerous escaped convict holed up near the campus of Virginia Tech yesterday, forcing campus officials to cancel all classes on the first day of school, disappointing thousands of bright-eyed freshmen who actually expected to get something out of the first day of class other than a mimeographed syllabus and a disinterested professor.

According to reports by the locals, the man was completely naked, with an impressive set of lamb-chops adorning each side of his face, and vaguely resembled Jake Gyllenhaal in his role of "Teenage Yeti". Police disagreed with these reports, saying that he wore a tie-dyed shirt and khakis and they feared he would blend in with students on campus. Apparently the campus has now been overrun with dirty hippies who have infiltrated buildings other than the old Drama Building and send organized crime / communist messages throughout the populace with Hackey Sack Morse code.

Luckily, the suspect was apprehended during the afternoon without further incident. As punishment, he was made to stand next to a sign for a collection of Alphabet Flash Cards (although this reporter is not quite sure how he ties into the term, "Kleenex").

NORAD Reports Unidentified Life Form on Radar

The North American Aerospace Defense Command detected unusual activity yesterday when a small unidentified peanut-like organism appeared on several of its radars. The creature seems to be a humanoid (meaning it will drop either [Silk Cloth] or [Wool Cloth] when pickpocketed) and even did a short ceremonial dance when it realized there were observers. Senior scientists were quick to note the similarity to the familiar seahorse, but caution the public against presuming anything so soon. NORAD predicts the life form will enter the Earth's atmosphere on March 27, 2007 which, coincidentally, is also the birthdate of Mariah Carey, Quentin Tarantino, Randall Cunningham, and the actress who played "Baby" in Dirty Dancing. Nobody puts Baby on the radar.

Help our cat or we'll shoot this fireman
Attack of the Mannequins
Man sues because he decided to be in gay porn

tagged as newsday | permalink | 6 comments

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Capsule Review Day

Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga (GBA):
One good thing about having a Gameboy DS is that it plays all the original Game Boy Advance games, which opens up a whole arena of games I never played when they were topical three and four years ago. Superstar Saga is the prequel to Mario and Luigi: Partners in Time which I loved and is an action/role-playing game like Paper Mario. It's definitely fun, but it's not as exciting as its sequel, probably because it's so similar and not quite as well executed. One problem I have is that around halfway through the game, the overworld map just opens up and you can go pretty much everywhere. I prefer games where you're constrained to a smaller area and have to figure out everything before moving on. Zelda games do this to perfection by putting secrets in plain sight then blocking them with obstacles that you won't clear until later. In Superstar Saga, I always just felt like I was missing too much and never quite sure where to wander next. Also, digging up beans is really annoying. I haven't beat this game yet, and haven't really had the urge to play it at all recently. Final Grade: B-

Legend of Zelda: Minish Cap (GBA):
A classic Zelda adventure in the vein of Link to the Past. The central conceit of this game is that Link can shrink into a tiny being by wearing a cap, which means that every scene can be approached from two different angles. I haven't had a lot of time to really get into this game (only about 15% through it), but I bet that I'd like it if I ever sat down and played for more than a few minutes at a time. Final Grade: B+

Brain Age (DS):
Brain Age is a budget title that's hot in Japan. It's a collection of puzzles and tests supposedly designed to sharpen your mental acuity if you play it daily. As a testing tool, it's horrible, because it often misunderstands your voice, and is incapable of deciphering 4's and 8's that I write. This generally drops a few points off my scores. As a bonus, the game comes with tons of Sudoku puzzles, making this a perfect "just a few minutes" game to bring along on trips. Final Grade: B-

XM Roady XT and the Altec Lansing 3120:
My old XM radio was over two years old with fuzzy connections, so I picked up the Roady XT right after I got back from the beach. The FM reception is much improved although it takes a few extra seconds to turn on, and runs quite hot. Two nice improvements: long titles and names now scroll on the screen, and you can pick any FM frequency you want rather than having to select them from a predefined list. Final Grade: A Buying this product forced my around-the-house receivers into planned obsolesence since the connectors are all different now. Rather than replace the three home kits (office, living room, and party room), I picked up the Altec Lansing docking station. The unit gets good reception and has a great sound quality for personal use. For larger venues, you'd probably want to run a cable from the headphone jack to a receiver though. Final Grade: A-

A History of Violence:
This movie is about a small-town everyman who stops a robbery in his diner and becomes a national hero. This leads to several heads of organized crime believing that he's a runaway hit man. The first 2/3rds of the movie are great, but the last 1/3 just dragged on and didn't really add anything. Also, having sex on stairs looks pretty painful. Final Grade: C+

Inside Man:
I love heist movies, and this one was great despite featuring Clive Owen who likes to sulk and brood through every movie he's in. It wasn't particularly preachy for a Spike Lee Joint, and even had a few light-hearted funny moments to it. Denzel was good as always, and Jodie Foster was unnecessary. Final Grade: B+

Happy Birthday Anne Lamond!

Porn broadcast stuns viewers
Live rattlesnakes released during movie
Porn still in the news. Porn porn porn.

tagged as reviews | permalink | 5 comments

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Congratulations!

American schools have always loved to shower their unique snowflake children with awards, deserved or not. Nowadays, it seems that everyone on a team gets trophies for outstanding effort even if they didn't deserve them, because to do otherwise would shatter the fragile psyche of underachieving kids everywhere. This seems like a new phenomenon, but it's actually been around for many years. Here are some samples from my youth and how they should be translated.

Good Citizenship:
Congratulations on not being the guy with the money when some girl accuses the class of stealing a dollar from her desk and the teacher orders all the guys to empty out their pockets! Congratulations on being the only Asian in the class, because black and white kids obviously can't be good citizens.

Tries Hardest in PE:
Congratulations on being able to run the 600 yard dash without giving up even though it takes you ten minutes! Congratulations on not doing any pull-ups and just hanging there for an hour! Congratulations on climbing halfway up the rope!

Most enthusiastic learner:
Congratulations on being the only guy in class that can put the numbers 1 to 100 in the proper order! Congratulations on understanding classroom etiquette when half of the class is a bunch of ADD kindergarten rejects!

Fitness Goals Award:
Congratulations on trying all of the Physical Fitness Tests and only getting a 55%, which isn't even passing when applied to normal grades! Congratulations on being weaker and less fit than 45% of the student body! This award will come in handy when applying to technical and Ivy League schools!

PE Shorts Award:
Congratulations for understanding the concept that gym is offered twice a week and that you should be wearing shorts underneath your pants for those two days so you can strip down and run around the multipurpose room jumping over cones that are twice your height! Congratulations for never having to resort to the ragtag box of abandoned shorts in the nurse's office which probably had scabies, mites, and poop stains on them!

Perfect Attendance:
Congratulations on attending every single class in your sixth grade year! No seriously, you wasted one hundred and eighty days of your life coming to school where you could learn about Mesopotamia and aphids, two subjects that will never again come up in the rest of your natural life. This award will serve as an ironic reminder when you are in your fifth year of college and your attendance rate dips below 25%!

Woman embezzles to play the lottery
Extreme Border Crossing
You say bomb, I say penis pump

tagged as memories | permalink | 0 comments

Friday, August 25, 2006

Friday Fragments

I'm thinking of a number from one to ten, and I don't know why.

♣ I've been temporarily sidelined by a mild case of pneumociatic triclociglucosis, a completely made up term to describe the bug I caught on Monday which gives me a sore throat, a cough, and stinging allergy eyes. I spent Wednesday at home relaxing and Thursday at home working which, on the bright side, saved me 28 miles worth of gasoline. I probably am not contagious, but I figure it's better to stay home than infect the multitudes of coworkers I would come in contact with. I'm still not fully recovered and it's actually gotten a little worse, so I'll probably only work a half day today.

♣ It wasn't all bad since I got to eat bacon for breakfast and catch up with some timorous online personas who are hard to pin down, like Paige who is visiting in November, and Rachel, who promised to return to the URI! Zone with more dumb-American rants as soon as possible. I also put up my curtains and started watching the first season of Prison Break which is quite good despite the main character only having two facial expressions: wry grin and burning stare of doom.

♣ The show keeps you rivetted although it's so intense that it's hard to watch more than a couple in a row. By intense, I mean that it's unrelentingly grim -- there are very few humourous moments or downtime, and the toe scene and the cat scene were completely unnecessary. It differs from a show like 24, which has a few scenes that are SO ridiculously dramatic that you can't help but laugh at them.

♣ I would probably last one or two days tops in a maximum security prison. The fact that prison conditions are horrible and scary doesn't bother me in the least bit, because it keeps smart people like me from even thinking about breaking the law. If prisons were like summer camps, why would anyone try to avoid them? Prison Break reinforces this because there are only black, white, and Hispanic people in the jail there. All the Asians are too smart for crime (or genius criminal masterminds) and don't go to jail. This is another reason to marry an Asian -- your kids are less likely to end up behind bars, according to this show. Obvious cause and effect.

♣ I read in the Post that the newest Survivor series is going to split the tribes up by race, which just screams "low ratings gimmick" to me. How they expect to do the groupings without offending anyone ("Let's stick the Peruvian with the Herndon Hispanic! They're the same") is up in the air, but the Asians will win because they are shorter and consume fewer natural resources, an important advantage! The first person voted off will be the Japanese guy though.

♣ Senator Allen finally apologized directly to his target for the "macaca" comment from a few weeks back . I don't see how anyone can look at what he said and how he handled the aftermath and not suspect that he might not be the best guy for the job. It would be a similar situation if I made derogatory remarks about all those dirty Australians on my page and expected Rachel to just "let it slide". I would probably get a verbal lashing in CAPS and lose my membership card to the Friends of the Koala Club.

♣ You may have noticed that I use Clubs now to distinguish each fragment on the page. I'm trying something new and I often win with clubs in poker. I went all-in with Jack and 3 of Clubs last week and won, before coming in last place out of 8 people.

♣ There's no Poker Night this weekend, but that's fine since I have a birthday barbeque to go to as well as a bunch of work to catch up on, pending my recovery from the pneumociatic triclociglucosis. No doubt, I will finish Prison Break too. How did anyone ever watch serial dramas before DVDs?

♣ Happy Birthday Nancy! Happy Birthday Mike Buns on Sunday! Have a great weekend everyone!

A pregnant man?
Teacher placed on leave for foreign flags
Robber mistakes town hall for bank

tagged as fragments | permalink | 2 comments

Monday, August 28, 2006

My rare case of pneumociatic triclociglucosis lingered throughout the weekend, effectively nullifying any productive plans I'd made. There's only so many times you can clean your house or mow your drought-afflicted lawn, so I spent most of the time on Friday and Saturday sleeping, playing games, and watching Prison Break (which was great, but had a rather crappy ending which set up the forthcoming season -- why can't shows just end?) On Sunday I went to work for most of the day, catching up on parts of my job that are more effectively done onsite than from home. By yesterday evening, most of my cold had gone away so hopefully this week won't just be a wash.

One side effect of being sick is that my normally deep, seductive voice is now twice as deep and 4.8 times as seductive. I didn't notice this until Friday night when I was ordering a pizza and the order taker tried to give me her phone number (I politely declined because it was already on the Pizza Hut magnet with the coupons). In an effort to take full advantage of this Barry White condition while it lasts, I'll be releasing a CD of sexy hook-up music which thematically revolves around my illness. It will feature such hits as "After the Lump Has Gone", "Esophageal Healing", "(Once, Twice) Three Times Daily", and "If You Don't Blow Me By Now (You Will Never Never Never Blow Me)" sung from the perspective of a runny nose. Look for it in Target soon!

For me, the worst part of colds isn't the sore throat, or even the random organic expulsions from various facial orifices. The worst part is when your ears are pressurized and you can't pop them no matter how hard you try. Sometimes you'll get lucky and relieve the pressure in one ear using the old "plug your nose and blow" airplane method, and then you have to make a choice: live with partial relief, or take the risk and try to clear the other one too. It's a dangerous lottery -- the odds are quite high that you'll not only fail to clear the other ear, but also end up screwing up the fixed one and fall back to square one.

Happy Birthday Gretchen Mourer and Wythe Newberry!

Cows moo with an accent
Man drops his iPod in the toilet and becomes a terrorist
Maynard Ferguson passes away

permalink | 1 comment

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Newsday Tuesday

Man Proud of Cheating at Video Games

Graves is a self-described "professional cheater." Today's games are anything but easy, the 24-year-old will tell you.

This fellow is a typical instant-gratification child of the multitasking era who dismisses today's games as difficult because he did not grow up trying to type TURN AROUND THEN SHOW MIRROR TO MEDUSA in King's Quest III in the five second window before constant and repeated deaths. Games today are not hard at all -- we just no longer have the time to master them like we did in our youth and tend to give up much more quickly than we would have in junior high school.

"This is what I tell people all the time, and I'm actually pretty adamant about it: I don't play games to necessarily play the game," Graves says.

And sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

"I play it for the story line"

You are the nameless space marine who has proven too tough for the forces of Hell to contain. After being teleported from Phobos, and subsequently fighting on Deimos which is hanging on top of Hell itself, you're back home on Earth, only to find that it too has fallen victim to the hellish invasion. -- official storyline, Doom II

"I play it for the mechanics."

Hit button to make Dirk do something. Move joystick to die. Insert fifty more cents.

"I play it for the graphics."

"I don't want to get stuck coming around the same corner 50 times. I'd rather get past it and see what the next story development is."

If the game is really that difficult, the next story development probably isn't even worth the effort it would take you to look up a cheat code. If it's actually quite simple but you're too impatient to work through it on your own, you're destroying the pace of the story by subjugating the artificial barriers the designers put in your way to intentionally slow you down. You can jump to the end of a book too and the story won't be as good.

Graves is a network engineer by day and a hard-core gamer by night, clocking an average of four hours in front of his PC or his Xbox in his Alexandria home.

Graves also stated that he is a hard-core salad bar connoisseur, having once made a second trip to get another salad at the Sizzler during the same meal! The added bacon bits made it Xtra Xtreme.

But what constitutes cheating?

Cheating is any action in a game that allows you to win or bypass otherwise challenging situations using meta-techniques not built into the game. Cheating is not sharing strategies with friends or buying a strategy guide. Using a Warp Zone in Super Mario isn't cheating -- typing IDKFA in Doom definitely is. And sure it might be fun initially, but afterwards, you'll probably find that being extremely overpowered robs the game of the challenge, the fun, and ultimately, any reason to play it.

Is cheating ever okay?

Cheating is fine when you've exhausted the possibilities of a single-player game already and want to find the Easter eggs and extras. It's fun to give yourself a billion dollars in Sim City and then try to build a thriving metropolis solely with railroads and hospitals. It's stupid shell out $45 for a new game and then make yourself invincible to beat it. It's less than socially acceptable to cheat at all in multiplayer games, yet that's where most of the cheating goes on. If you ever have to cheat at a game you play against other human beings, you've got deeper problems to worry about.

"I cheat on all the games I play," Graves says proudly.

In other news, interest in his weekly Texas Hold'em Tournaments has curiously dried up, and he is no longer allowed to be the banker when his friends play Monopoly.

Boat owner sues Katrina rescuer
Smuggled school weapon turns out to be an unusually long burrito
Woman crashes in dog driving lesson

tagged as newsday, games | permalink | 5 comments

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Discography Day

It's a peculiarity of my personality that I generally will pick the longer CD over the shorter, possibly better one. It's a throwback from the days when I had to make every CD purchase count, and the CD player only held one disc at a time. Subconsciously I must believe that there's a higher chance of finding good music if there's more to choose from. The same applies to musical groups -- if I find a group I really like, I'll collect as much of their discography as possible (see also, the complete works of the Hi-Lo's and twenty-odd CDs of the Stan Kenton Orchestra). There aren't many groups that I like well enough to justify shelling out the $15 per CD when I could be using that money to pay one third of the cable bill so I can watch commercials about feeding starving children in Africa for pennies a day, but the Cardigans has become one of them.

There's no single element of their music that propels the group higher than any other, but the combination of Nina Persson's breathy vocals, the jazz harmonies and intentional kitsch, and the tightly structured form of each song really makes the music noteworthy. They've released five major albums in over a decade, and the music has aged organically. Though you can tell each one was done by the same group, you can also tell that they didn't just repeat the same formula over and over to sing themselves a new swimming pool.

Here are capsule reviews and samples from each album. Even if you hate one album, you might be surprised by another:

Life (1994)

Sick and Tired (658KB MP3)
Carnival (369KB MP3)

In a nutshell: Catchy yet forgettable, pure whimsical fun, interesting harmonies and instrumentation. The perfect CD to play on the way to the hippie commune, or while driving through the countryside.

What you'll like: Even though she was just an amateur at the time, Nina's vocals and lyrics soar effortless above the accompaniment with a maudlin innocence.

Not so much: One track fails completely, and a couple are just a little too repetitive -- but then again, it's the exact style they were mimicking/satirizing.

Final Grade: B+

First Band on the Moon (1996)

Never Recover (497KB MP3)
Lovefool (487KB MP3)

In a nutshell: The music of Life made mainstream. Where the first album was whimsical, this one is off-kilter. Strange lyrics, more groovy beats, and a refinement of all the elements from earlier music, as if to say, "Hey, we know what we're doing now!"

What you'll like: More of the songs on this album, like Lovefool which everyone knows, will get stuck in your head. Nina's voice is still perfect.

Not so much: Yet again, one song is just uninviting, and the packaging of the CD looks like it was fed through a Xerox machine from the 80s.

Final Grade: A

Gran Turismo (1998)

Higher (578KB MP3)
Favourite Game (469KB MP3)

In a nutshell: An experiment in electronics, isolation, and desolation. The familiar forms and instruments are abandoned for sparse hollow drum tracks and synth pads. The lyrics of the Cardigans have always been an eclectic mix of sentimental, overly happy, wistful, and despondent, and these lyrics sway towards the pensive end of the pendulum. It's as if they're saying, "We can do more than bubble gum pop."

What you'll like: Even in the coldest sets, there's a signature warmth to the sound which keeps the album from being the soundtrack for a suicide. The perfect CD to listen to when you're just "in one of those moods".

Not so much: You really have to be in the mood to enjoy this one. However, the mood they strived to create is perfect.

Final Grade: B+

Long Gone Before Daylight (2003)

For What It's Worth (780KB MP3)
Live and Learn (538KB MP3)

In a nutshell: The country ballad album. The electronics are mostly abandoned for a more acoustic, organic instrumentation. The lyrics may still be pensive, but the arrangements and album as a whole are warm and optimistic. I really don't listen to much country and bluegrass music, but I can listen to this one indefinitely.

What you'll like: The ease that the Swedish lead singer can mimick Jason Chrisley's twang just enough to feel natural without being a Nashville wannabe. For What It's Worth is a great single on its own, and one of my new favourite songs of the past year.

Not so much: Like any CD composed mostly of ballads, it tends to drag a bit, especially towards the end.

Final Grade: A-

Super Extra Gravity (2005)

Diamonds (671KB MP3)
Godspell (414KB MP3)

In a nutshell: There's nothing really special about this album. It's as good as any other band out there, but doesn't feel like a worthy follow-up to the first four. The style is more straightforward rock-oriented, without many special effects, gimmicks, or tricks of acoustics.

What you'll like: There are two or three songs which really shine, but they can't support the other eight songs on the album.

Not so much: A decade of singing can wear down anyone's vocal cords, and you can tell here that her range has dropped dramatically. There's also an annoying quaver to her timbre, similar to Michael Ball in Aspects of Love ten years after being Marius in Les Miserables. It's still a great voice -- it's just not as unique as it once was. One of the songs has the words "so clap your hands" followed by a drum kit clap sound that's even too cheesy for the Cardigans.

Final Grade: C

Happy 30th Birthday Chris Li!

Man arrested for stealing own car
CNN Anchor leaves mic on in bathroom
Postman suspended for anti-junkmail advice

tagged as music, reviews | permalink | 2 comments

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Cat Picture Thursday

Today's update is a rather self-serving one -- I realized earlier that Booty will be turning 4 this year and Amber will be 2. Kitty will be 7 or 8, I'm not quite sure which. Over the past seven years of cat ownership I've taken thousands of pictures and posted over eight hundred on this site, so I wanted to highlight a few of my favourites that may have been forgotten over time. Please humour me as I indulge my nostalgia and close out the month of August with a trip down Cat Memory Lane!

Early unnamed kitten in 2000, stalking a hamster but having trouble staying awake. This was during the time that Nacho, Bumpy, and Zoe were all name possibilities, although intertia and apathy allowed Kitty to become the official moniker soon after.

Some people are all about ass and boobs -- Kitty has always been about the legs.

Moments later, the Triceratops kicked Kitty's ass.

You can safely assume that we threw all our dishes in the dishwasher after this picture. OR DID WE?

This picture clearly sums up the rough and brutal treatment Kitty had to go through on a daily basis as we put leis on her, stuck balloons to her with static electricity, and dressed her up in angel costumes for Halloween.

This is Booty in 2003. There is a mouse toy on a string tied to a doorknob, and apparently it just KOed Booty.

When you have to teach from the worst sightsinging book in the history of sightsinging books, your best bet is to let Booty teach (it) a lesson.

I got tired of playing Fetch with Booty so I hid her mouse at the top of the window screen. This did not deter her in the least bit.

Every Tuesday morning I would come home from Walmart with my weekly allotment of groceries and throw the plastic bags around the apartment for Booty to play with. One time, they surrounded her and fought back.

I warned Booty against joining that gang, the West Side Huevos, but she was in her difficult teen years.

This is such an artistic composition. The only way it would be more artsy is if there were little grotesque baby heads in all the flowers.

A lazy Sunday afternoon in Centreville, 2003.

No, that curved dresser top isn't just perspective -- it's critical structural bowing under enormous weight. Your cat's so fat she fell on the wall.

Booty and Kitty engage in Synchronized Fighting.

Unfortunately the Olympic sport of Cat Stacking never made it big outside of our home town.

OMG HI2U

You can just imagine the crazy pranks Booty's cooking up in this picture. She ran out moments later and got some toothpaste and a bowl of warm water.

2005. Amber doesn't realize how dangerous this is, and Sydney just wants to sniff some ass in case there's leftover food in it.

Booty and the new kitten, Sydney. At least one of the three cats in this picture is not pleased...

The Caped Avenger and the Alligator of Doom. This was the day Sydney got spooked while wearing her Food Lion cap and bolted out of the room. Unfortunately, the cape chased her and the sound wigged her out even more. She proceeded to charge through every room of the house in a panic, reaching the speed of sound, before catapulting under the couch and colliding with the wooden frame in a daze.

Fired by email
Flat Daddy -- for when you can't have the real thing
Depressed dad runs amok with chainsaw

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