Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Some Kind of Nerdster

I watched a documentary on the making of Metallica's self-titled 1991 album (also known as "The Black Album") the other night. It was informative, but one thing struck me:

Jason Newsted and Kirk Hammett are complete nerds.

Actually, I knew this about Hammett already--I've seen him in interviews. If you haven't, you should. His voice and mannerisms skew towards the effeminate. So while he may be a fire-breathing he-god (whose heart pumps not blood, but pure liquid awesome) when he has a guitar in his hands, as soon as he puts it down and says something you start thinking "oh, I could so take him in a fight."

Newstead, instead, just comes off as nerdy. And it's the same deal, watch him play bass and he is the monster of a man projecting thundering tones through his 5-string uber-guitar, until he sits down to just talk.

I understand that the socially awkward gravitate towards music. And I realize that musicians are nothing like the version of themselves that they embody when on stage. I'm just not used to it being quite so drastic. At least Brian Warner (a.k.a. Marilyn Manson) can talk a good game.

Of course, he's also the front mane.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Leeches

During my tenure at FoxTrax, I've been exposed to a whole industry that I had no idea existed. There are a plethora of businesses whose entire revenue stream is derived from taking advantage of other businesses.

I'd seen a little bit of it during the 3/4 of a shift I spent in a toner room (which, it seems, was just long enough for me to figure out that it was a scam and exactly how that scam worked). But I had no idea how extensive this can go.

Here are a few of the usual suspects:

Listing sites - These businesses offer you "exposure" by way of an overpriced listing on a site that you've never heard of and that no one goes to. I got a call the other day from one called "Executive Business Listings". I haven't linked to them because I don't want them getting any SEO out of me, and I encourage you to not search for their site for the very same reasons, but I'll tell you what you would find: no phone numbers, no contact info, and it was, in fact, hard for me to find anything that would constitute a "listing".

They called to ask me if I wanted to renew our service and to confirm the address to send the invoice for last year's service--and invoice that goes to the tune of $900. They kept badgering me to claim that I was "authorized to receive invoices on behalf of the company". Which I never admitted to--and since they kept saying they would get me a confirmation number and never did, I don't think they'll actually be sending us anything, but just in case they do--we also record our phone calls.

And then there's the International Trademark sellers. Shortly after we got our trademark for our logo, we began getting a deluge of mail offering us an International Trademark for the low, low price of anywhere from $1000 to $20,000 (or the equivalent in Euros). Of course, they're all written in dense legalese and act as though they've been in touch before. It reminded me of the mail/calls Abby and I got immediately after our wedding, offering us rushed copies of our marriage certificate.

And they all pretend like they're who you've been dealing with all along. On a similar note, I remember right after we picked up the paperwork at the licensing office in Vegas, walking hand-in-hand towards Fremont Street and a guy stopped us and asked if he had just seen us in the licensing office (we'd been there, but he hadn't--I'd have recognized the ridiculous orange shirt he had on) and asked if we'd picked a chapel yet and tried to sell us the use of his.

But the biggest pain has been Salesboom. We signed up with them over a year ago--they're an online CRM that has lots of cool features but suffers from being cripplingly slow and not very usable--which is kind of a problem for a service that costs $1200 for a one-year contract. After 6 months, the service was abandoned. So a few weeks ago, they called to see if we were interested in re-upping. We told them we weren't. So they told us that, according to the agreement we had signed, if we wanted to discontinue service, we needed to give them a month's notice in writing (they called us, of course, with less than a month to go), and that they were going to just charge our card anyway.

Legal action is slightly obstructed by the fact that they're in Nova Scotia.

Yeah.

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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Johnny McBush

So, Evan and I have been up to no good lately. It's less than two months to the presidential election--high time I started caring about politics.

Check out the ne'er-do-well-ness at www.johnnymcbush.com.

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Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Just to Boogie With You

I've been listening to disco, lately.

Yeah, yeah, I know.

I can't help myself. There are some classics out there that just set my veins afire. Stayin' Alive, YMCA, Play That Funky Music, Boogie Shoes. I went to Amazon in search of compilations that might give me some of the essentials, and 3 discs later...

I'm a sucker for genre compilations. It's like a greatest hits album of assorted 1-hit wonders. Thanks to them, I have enough ironically cool music to DJ a wedding, give or take a Righteous Brothers album.

There's the 80's New Wave disc, that has I Want Candy by Bow Wow Wow, the B-52's Rock Lobster (don't worry, I've got Love Shack on another disc), Tainted Love, Come On Eileen, etc. Or there's the 80's hip-hop disc, which has Jump Around, Set Adrift on Memory Bliss, Around the Way Girl (sadly, no Mama Said Knock You Out), Nuthin' but a 'G' Thing, etc. Or the collection of 90's techno, featuring such ubiquitous toe-tappers as Mr. Vain, 100% Pure Love, What is Love (baby, don't hurt me), or Good Vibrations, that seminal chart-topper that gave us Mark Wahlberg with his funky bunch.

I sometimes wonder how many fans have harassed Mr. Wall-Burg about his dance-tastic past. Alternately, I wonder how many fans he's secretly killed.

Soundtracks are good, but a genuine compilation is better. Soundtracks always end up with some kind of filler that worked as background music during the film but isn't worth listening to all the way through--or worse, you get stuff like the American Pie soundtrack, that is chock-full of non-hits by the bands whose hits are peppered across the movie.

Sometimes you get a Mallrats or a Pulp Fiction--a seamless blend of great genre tunes that are only occasionally interrupted by dialogue. C'est la vie.

La vie.

And, of course, some compilations are completely worthless--the No Alternative charity disc that came out years and years ago and features all the biggest artists of the 90's grunge scene playing music that obviously didn't make it onto their albums. The only song worth taking away from this is Verse Chorus Verse (a.k.a. "The Happy Song") by Nirvana--the record's unlisted bonus track.

And I have yet to sully my hands with the dirt from a Now That's What I Call Music volume. Even I have standards. Or not. It occurs to me that I was listening to the Bee Gees this evening, whilst barreling down Highway 40.

I think of them as guilty pleasures. Besides, my iPod is brimming over with genuinely cool/good music, mainstays of my youth, and the obligatory awesome stuff that I've always loved and you've never heard of (like, for example, 9 discs of The Seatbelts). But man cannot live by pretentious crap alone. Sometimes I just want to put on my... my, my, my, my, my boogies shoes.

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Slate on Charlie on Palin

There's a great article on Slate about questions Charlie Gibson should ask Sarah Palin in her forthcoming ABC interview. Very informative, and it gets down into the meta-nitty-gritty of interviewing tactics.

And when did he stop being Charles, incidentally?

My Wife is Famous

Not really, but it's still cool-ish.



Abby shows up at 1:17.

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Monday, September 8, 2008

I've Got Something You Can Terminate. Or Chronicle.

*hangs head in hands*

We're watching Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles on Hulu. Which, if you've never been to Hulu.com, it is, in fact, the greatest thing since sliced bread.

Almost.

Just be prepared to lose a few hours of your life.

Anywho. So, T:TSCC. 9 episodes of franchise-rape, but apparently between that, T3 and the forthcoming TS (by McG... seriously), James Cameron has enough money to keep his bunghole numb, so I won't pity him too loudly. Tonight we watched episodes 6 and 7. Episode 6 was a series of flashbacks meant to evoke the original Terminator film. Episode 7, that's right, lots of references to T2 (although no explanation of how Dr. Silverman got all his hair back... but whatever).

Lots of things go wrong with the narrative. Up until this point, there's been a moderately low-budget sci-fi with a pinch of story-telling that doesn't quite stand up under its own weight, but lots of action and explosions to make up for it. Definitely a step up from, say, the first two and half seasons of Quantum Leap for those of us who enjoy conceptual time-travel-related science fiction. With explosions. And up until now, it's held up pretty well.

Until now.

The worst part about these last two episodes is that nothing eff-ing happens. I don't ask a great deal of my mindless entertainment. Okay, that's a vicious lie, but is it too much to ask that it be entertaining? I think not. So what happens? First, we introduce the dorky kid from the old-school 90210 and bill him as a warrior-hero and action pimp. We pump him full of bullets and have him cough blood between flashbacks of war and torture. Then we wake him up and turn him into a whiny bitch who never leaves the house and is terrified of Summer Glau.

Well played.

Oh, but it gets worse. While he's on the table, oozing bad-ass at an unhealthy rate, we're told that he needs a blood transfusion. He's AB-negative, very rare. But, we're in luck. Sarah Conner is O-neg, the universal donor. But no, that won't do! He needs his own blood type, "universal" be damned. But we're in luck again, Sarah's son John is AB-negative. Oh, what joy, what bliss, what a thinly-veiled setup for the reveal that the boy and the bad-ass are in fact related. Which we new from the last episode. And the "previously on" bit.

So, do you see what's wrong with this? If not, enjoy the rest of the series.

Quick refresher on blood-typing. Everyone has two genes that are either A, B, or neither (O). If you have an A and a B, you're AB. Two A's or an A and an O, you're A. Same for B. No A's and no B's, you're O. Your genes come from your parents, so if Sarah is John's mother and she's type-O, there's no way John can be AB. Sort it out. I'll wait. And it's not like this whole contrivance couldn't have worked, rh-factor (pos v neg) is recessive, so if Sarah was positive and her son was negative, there's a decent chance that John's father is also negative, which, along with the other evidence presented in the same conversation, should have been enough to force the plot point.

It's the 24 problem--an interesting premise, lots of good action, but plots that are cripplingly stupid and just badly written. What the hell, Fox? These are some of the most-watched shows on television. You can afford fact-checkers! Or, at least, hire a smart person to read the script before filming and make sure that the writers haven't drooled all over it!

Because it's not just the particulars that bug me. It's the over-arching plot curves. Just from a common-sense standpoint, what are the chances that two people with rare blood-types are going to fall in love and have a child upon whom hangs the future of the known universe?

Slim, right?

It goes on. Why is this she-terminator having such a hard time blending in at high school? She did fine in the pilot. Why is she going to school at all? How can she stick her hand in a turbine without damaging her skin? Episode 7 saw the she-terminator, "Cameron" (remember when homages were subtle? Me neither), doing ballet alone in her room at the end. Why? Well, it was so the Glau-ophobic 90210 kid/bad-ass could see her doing it and decide that maybe she was okay after all. But why would a machine be doing that? For her own edification? For practice? No. No rational reasoning that fits with a character who is a machine makes sense, and no stretch-of-the-logic-but-fixed-with-a-line-of-dialogue reasoning was given either. Here. It's easy. Watch this:

JOHN: How did you find him?
CAMERON: Through his sister's dance studio.
JOHN: Dance studio? How did you...
CAMERON: I took a ballet lesson.
JOHN: You learned ballet?
CAMERON: Yes.
JOHN: Really...
CAMERON: Really.
JOHN: ...show me.

Nothing to it. Then bad-ass walks into the living room and sees it, plot point is effectively conveyed without having him sneak up to the teenage girl-bot's room to spy on her.

But, again, it's the over-arching theme that really grinds my... erm... joints. Why do we seem to be on this never-ending crusade to humanize the machines and toughen-up the humans? Is this some quest to make the show even more boring? By far, the most interesting conceit of T:TSCC is the notion of a war with time-travel and the various ways that that can mess with you. But they aren't doing anything with it. Instead, it's the usual stoicism you find in Fox serieses. The stoic-protector-fills-void-of-absent-father dynamic was played out thoroughly in second film, we really don't need to re-hash. Not to mention that stoic humans don't really hold up when compared to freaking terminators.

Seriously.

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It's-a Sun-shine!

I've been playing Super Mario Sunshine over the weekend. I was curious. Like Final Fantasy VIII, it's one of those games that critics loved but ardent fans seem to hate.

Anyway, I gave it a try. I like Mario, but I, like nearly everyone I know, gave the Gamecube a pass on it's initial run in lieu of the PlayStation 2. So I'm just now getting to an entire generation of beloved franchises: a cell-shaded Link, Samus in first person, and Mario with a water gun.

...yeah...

So I'm not a huge fan of 3D platformers in the first place. Super Mario 64 does nothing for me except give me motion sickness--thankfully controls have been fixed and the camera mostly fixed in Sunshine. But, having played the far superior Super Mario Galaxy, I gotta say, Sunshine is fun but a little underwhelming.

Will I finish it? Who knows? Star Wars: The Force Unleashed comes out next week, so I imagine I'll be pretty wrapped up in that once Tuesday rolls around, so maybe. Unless someone convinces me to pick up Spore.

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Sunday, September 7, 2008

Sponge and Cheap CD's

I'm listening to Sponge's Rotting Pinata (forgive me, I'm too lazy to look up the n with a tilde on it) album. Really, I'm only interested in two songs, Plowed and Molly (16 Candles), but I bought the whole album anyway. Because I'm a dinosaur.

Well, not entirely.

The logic is this: I could have spent $.99 apiece to get the songs off iTunes, probably $.89 apiece off Amazon mp3, or I could just spend $2.99 to get the whole album off Amazon Marketplace. That's $2.99 after shipping, mind you.

Clearly worth the extra dollar to be able to rip the album as a 192 mp3 (Amazon mp3's are typically 256, which is overkill, but kudos to them for doing it) and explore the rest of the album for good songs that weren't on the radio. I'm just over half-way through, and so far nothing is jumping out at me. So everything except the two songs I was after will most likely get deleted from my ipod to free up space, but I'll give it a chance.

It's a very early 90's record: rough, un-polished production, you can hear the influence of the non-Nirvana Seattle grunge scene. Pennywheels made me think of Alice in Chains, Drownin' has an early Pearl Jam vibe. Lots of jangly guitars a la The Cure and some shredding a la the 80's metal scene, but not much in the way of genuinely memorable hooks. It's a background noise album, and it's not trick to understand why it was listed for a penny on Amazon Marketplace. It's a shame it's so raw--I understand that this was in vogue in the 90's, but it just doesn't help the record any. The guitar work is very impressive, and as such, it's an album that might have benefited from a bit more polish in the mixing/mastering stage.

I also purchased Metallica's Black Album under similar circumstances (don't worry, plent of polish on that one). Although it had a full 5 songs I was interested in, and I paid roughly $5 for it (I don't remember how much, exactly, but it was certainly less than $6). Still on par with Amazon, but having the disc gives me more flexibility, and it still ends up filling my ipod. And, in the end, if the other 7 songs are a disappointment, to the recycle bin they go.

Of course the irony of this is that I'm purchasing these legally (I'm a musician, so the I tend to feel oddly conflicted about "stealing" music) and the artist and label don't see a penny of it. Amazon's making a little. But mostly I imagine this is the pre-ipod generation cleaning out space in their storage units by liquidating their old CD collections.

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Ah, we've arrived at the hidden track--the staple of 90's albums. This one is hidden after about a minute of empty space after track 10, a method that was more effective/popular than the "zero" track (where you hide a song in the negative space before track 1). Although, weirdly, it looks like this song has an 11th track. Could it be an unlisted track after the hidden track? It's like a cliche within a cliche.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Hell Hath No Fury...

...like a sake hangover.

Monday, September 1, 2008

At Least Gustav Didn't Invade Georgia

So, the politicos are saying that the only way John McCain could win would the general election is for there to be a terrorist attack, because people tend to associate the Republicans with strength against terror.

So if a terrorist attack is the best possible thing that could happen for McCain, what would be the worst? A hurricane in Louisiana?

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Restaurants in the Information Age

The food service industry has some strides to make yet in the Information Age. Right now Dominoes (and probably a few other pizza places) allow you to make delivery orders online, and using that interface you can customize your pizza and make payments. It's not the most intuitive UI in the world, but it's not broken or anything, and it's convenient for the non-phone inclined, or for situations in which it's hard to communicate exactly what you want over the phone. Maybe your English isn't great, or you're mute. Okay, I'm stretching a bit here--and most people would rather deal with a person than a website, but what if this were transposed to other realms?

Say, Burger King.

Set up a station where you can punch in your order, completely customized to your specifics, and pay with a credit card. It prints out a receipt and tells you your order number. This could go a long way towards eliminating the inept cashier problem that plagues so many restaurants who pay their employees $6-an-hour for customer service.

What about larger restaurants? Abby and I went to Olive Garden on Friday and waited out front for 45 minutes to get a table. It's not that we mind waiting, but the fact that we had to wait at the restaurant added opportunity cost to the cost of the meal. What if you could place yourself in line to get a seat from home, or give an approximate time that you planned to eat, and then be told when you should show up. Obviously the system would have some kinks that would need to be worked out, and it relies pretty heavy on the customer, who can be notoriously unreliable.

I remember living in Columbia, Missouri, where none of the restaurants took reservations because the college-age population was pretty bad about not keeping their appointments (or setting up three different reservations and then only keeping the one that suited their particular taste). The key is to provide people with an incentive to show up. Money is a good one.

How about this setup? Make your reservation online and it will cost you $5. When you arrive, you get $6 credited towards the cost of your meal (as an incentive to use the system). If you have to wait more than 10 minutes to get a table, not only are you refunded the $5, but you still get $6 credited towards the cost of the meal. I think people would use a system like that.

The only obstacle is that information-providing is not in the interest of the business. You go to a restaurant expecting to get a table and learn that there's a 40 minute wait, the main thing keeping you there is that you assume that there's a similar wait anywhere else. If you can go online and see that you won't be able to get a table for 40 minutes, you may decide to go somewhere else instead.

But if someone decided to give it a try, I bet it could catch on.

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