Thursday, December 13, 2012

Evangelism

So Microsoft employees got Surfaces for "evangelism."  I had such a Surface Evangelism Opportunity this afternoon, only an hour after I got mine.  I was in the doctor's office for another round of wonderful injections in my face, and the following exchange took place between the nurse and me:

Nurse: (excited) Oooh, is that one of those Microsoft Surfaces? Can I touch it?
Me: Sure.
Nurse: Oh, this is so pretty! This is great... So is it running that Android Ice Cream Sandwich then?

-_____-

Thursday, November 15, 2012

OneNote

For those of you who are curious what I've been working on lately, our team recently completed the new version of OneNote, for Windows 8 and Windows RT mobile devices like the Surface.  Being a generally organized person, I've been a user and fan of OneNote since the first version, so it worked out pretty well for me.  I built the notebook organization features and all of the UI that appears to the left of your page except the More Notebooks list.



You can slide it in and out with a flick of your finger.  It's pretty fun.  I did the visuals and animations and functionality for that collapsible left portion of the app, and also worked with the XAML team in Windows to help define how some things will work for future developers.  So that's what I've been up to.

If you have Windows 8 or Windows RT, you can get the OneNote app for free.  All of your notes synchronize automatically between your tablet, phone, desktop PCs, and laptops, on pretty much every platform, so if you're already using OneNote and SkyDrive, everything will sync automatically, and if you're not, then you can download the other free OneNote apps for your iPhone or whatever.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Moar microbloggery

More Facebook wisdom for those of you who aren't my Facebook friends or followers:


(from election night)  Hahahahaha, there approximately TEN MILLION people on FoxNews.com commenting right now about how ridiculous it is that Romney is winning the popular vote but Obama has the electoral vote. IRONY LEVEL INFINITY

For some reason I always assumed that the number of dreams I had in which I was freaking out about missing a homework assignment would sort of taper off after being done with school forever.

Yesterday my hard drive died. In a moment of weakness I considered ending my vacation a day early and heading into work, but I found the strength to stay home and play the video games on my other hard drives, because that's what heroes do—they just focus and power through whatever rough situations life throws at them.

I currently have Borderlands 2 on my computer. I can't play it until Tuesday. I probably won't play it for at least a month since Mists of Pandaria opens in just days. I'm still excited. I'm that kid that just gets giddy about the Christmas tree and then only plays with the box.

I just got 27 injections of poison in my face and head, and four hours later I got ZERO lollipops at the end. I'm pretty sure this is why there are people who are upset about Obamacare.

It's probably just coincidence that the car next to me rolled its windows up right as I started singing along to Snow Patrol.

I'm making great progress on my draft for the script to I Know What You Did Last Supper, starring Jesus as Himself and Jennifer Love Hewitt as Sexy Judas.

Life tip: if it comes from an Asian grocery store and it says "hot and spicy" on the bottle, it's probably battery acid and you will regret consuming it well into the night.

Microsoft should probably have a policy where if you accidentally paste the address to a YouTube video for Call Me Maybe into source code twice in one day you have to just turn off your computer and go home.

Not too enthusiastic about the Mars mission. I've played Doom. I know where this leads... first we go to Mars, then somebody opens a portal to Hell, then you hallucinate monsters spawning behind you in hallways at work for weeks.

Pant leg touched side of urinal. DAY IS RUINED.

Probably not a good sign when you're so bored with your lunch that you forget that you were eating lunch.

First thing on my mind when I woke up this morning: some kid's yelling "Game of Thrones on Nickelodeon will be right back!" and one kid's sitting in a big orange chair, and another's in front of him about to be beheaded. A second before the sword gets to that kid's neck the camera cuts away to the Nickelodeon logo and green slime sprays on the screen.

I was just thinking of mangoes, and bam, five seconds later, I walk by a plate of mangoes. Next time I should think of a plate of $100 bills.

Eureka

One of the most satisfying things about doing engineering work is that moment when you finally come up with a solution to a problem you've been stuck with for a while.  (Coding something up that inexplicably works the first time without any problems whatsoever is just as magnificent, but it's not extremely common.)  Recently I've found, though, that I get a very similar feeling from the fiction writing that I've been doing.  Since I hadn't really written fiction in the last twenty years before now I wasn't expecting it, but I've discovered that the sensation I get when I have a plot hole and finally find a creative and interesting way to resolve it is actually very similarly euphoric.

I'm writing and designing a game.  I originally thought that I'd be spending most of my time on designing the game mechanics, but I've actually spent considerably more time on the creative writing portion so far.  Part of that is because it's easy to get little bits of creative inspiration at random times throughout the day.  (Usually this is inconvenient, because so far most of these have happened either while I'm in the shower, or at about 2:00am.)  But I think that part of it is just because it's very rewarding.  I get bursts of exciting, incremental reward in my brain just for coming up with creative plot solutions.  The game mechanics aren't as fleshed-out as the story is at this point, but I don't know if I'll get the same level of reward for every little change I make that makes the gameplay better.

I'm finding that OneNote is particularly excellent for keeping track of a creative writing project.  Since bits of inspiration come at any time, I want to be able to jot them down wherever I am, whether that's at my computer or on my phone.  OneNote will then sync anything I type between all of my devices, so I have all of my story outline notes everywhere I go, so I don't have to keep a paper journal or little scraps of sticky notes or anything like that.

Friday, November 2, 2012

My legs

The short version:
Sam Hulick, Christopher Lennertz, Cris Velasco, Sascha Dikiciyan, and Clint Mansell—Mass Effect 3 (Extended Cut): 9/10
Russell Brower, Neal Acree, Sam Cardon, Edo Guidotti, Jeremy Soule—World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria: 8/10
Florence and the Machine—Ceremonials: 8/10
Train—California 37: 7/10
Parov Stelar—The Princess: 7/10
Garbage—Not Your Kind of People: 7/10
Metric—Synthetica: 7/10
Elizaveta—Beatrix Runs: 8/10
Imagine Dragons—Night Visions: 7/10
Alex Clare—The Lateness of the Hour: 7/10
Dragonette—Bodyparts: 9/10
Muse—The 2nd Law: 7/10
Macklemore and Ryan Lewis—The Heist: 7/10

Finally, here are the great CDs that I've bought recently that I can definitely recommend.

The Mass Effect 3 soundtrack is excellent for a sci-fi action movie/game.  The parts that really excel are the tracks that fit the really emotional scenes from the game, of which there were many, and the epic moments, of which there were many.  The music that accompanied the sci-fi action moments isn't as spectacular, but it's still fitting and pleasant.  If you enjoy this sort of music at all I would highly recommend checking it out.  It's available on the various music services, and seven additional tracks from the Extended Cut were released online for free, though they're a little below average in quality.  I think the best on the soundtrack are Leaving Earth and I'm Sorry (emotional), and The Fleets Arrive (epic), but there's a lot to like for anyone who likes soundtracks.

The World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria soundtrack is almost as great.  For the most part World of Warcraft's soundtrack is just background music for each different zone in the game and not associated with particular plot points, so each area has its own musical themes, but there aren't generally separate tracks for emotional moments or epic scenes.  That said, there's some really excellent background music in here.  The soundtrack album combines multiple in-game pieces into single tracks; Way of the Monk and Valley of the Four Winds are both gorgeous, and Going Hozen is delightful.  Recommended for soundtrack lovers.

Florence and the Machine's latest CD Ceremonials is soulful and energetic.  There are plenty of really good songs on here, and while none of them reach favorite-ever status, there are enough of them that it's hard to pick just a few that I like.  But Only If for a Night, Shake It Out, and Remain Nameless are probably the strongest three.

I also got the Train album California 37 song with the catchy song everyone's sick of by now, Drive By.  In addition to that one I rather like 50 Ways to Say Goodbye and California 37.  It's a great pop CD.

It's sort of hard to sum Parov Stelar's latest album The Princess up in a number.  On one hand it has a lot of great songs.  On the other hand it's a two-CD album for the price of one, and it has a lot of crap.  Part of me likes getting more for my money, but there's value in knowing what to reject, too.  With You (featuring Lilja Bloom), Silent Shuffle, and The Fog stand out as being the most interesting on the album for me.  In 28 tracks, there's plenty to like and a bunch that I don't, as well.

I hadn't heard from Garbage in a long while (I say that as if I'm buddies with the band).  Their latest CD is interesting though.  The opening track Automatic Systematic Habit is a terribly catchy song about a lying cheating partner, and my other favorite Battle in Me has a delicious guitar part that I love.  It's a lot tougher to pick a third favorite after those two; Man on a Wire is probably it.  This album's not for everyone, but I do think that overall it's pretty good.

Synthetica by Metric might be the winner for the earliest surprise f-bomb on a CD that I own, in the great opening synth-rock track Artificial NocturneThe Void and the title track are probably my other favorites, though I'm partial to Lost Kitten too.  It's got sort of an indie, alternative, synth-y sound to it.

Beatrix Runs by Elizaveta was an unexpected and awesome random find.  It's like pop-opera... poperaOdi et Amo is the best track and it's glorious, but the opening song Dreamer is beautiful too, and Goodbye Song is touching.  I'd say that if you like female vocalists like Sara Bareilles there's a high probability you'll like this album.

I found out about Imagine Dragons because they were touring with AWOLNATION, though not when I saw them in concert.  They're an alternative band and their first CD Night Visions is good.  The opening track Radioactive is wonderful, and also may cause permanent speaker damage.  Demons and the much perkier On Top of the World are both fun times too.  The sound is notably different from AWOLNATION, but I can definitely see why you'd be likely to like Imagine Dragons if you like the other; they're both creative and interesting and experimental and really sound like they love what they're doing.

Alex Clare is known as "the guy from the Internet Explorer ads," because that's where you've heard the fabulous track Too Close from The Lateness of the Hour.  It's an energetic and funky and exciting album.  The opening track Up All Night is moderately disgusting but it's catchy and it sounds great, and Hummingbird is wild.  My biggest complaint about the CD is that too many tracks depend on repetitive wobbly wub-wub bass, which is a strange thing to say about a funky rock CD.

Dragonette's latest CD Bodyparts is the standout pop CD from this latest batch, and there are some amazing dance songs on here: My Legs, Let It Go, and Live in this City, to start with.  It finishes with Ghost, which I'm also partial to.  You've gotta check this one out if you like dance or electronic pop music.

A new Muse album is always a noteworthy affair, and their latest one The 2nd Law is no exception.  This time the controversy is that a few of their songs have a definite dubstep influence.  Most notably, their first big single, Madness, which is superb, but not even really a rock song, so I suppose I could see how some fans could potentially be upset.  My second (er, 2nd) favorite is Big Freeze, which has a much more traditional Muse sound, and finally the two-part mostly-instrumental finale (it just wouldn't be a Muse album without a big finale) The 2nd Law, specifically the second half Isolated System.  I think that most Muse fans are going to enjoy this album just fine.

Finally, I picked up the debut CD by local artists Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, The Heist.  It starts really strong and while there are definitely some duds on here, this is something worth picking up if you like hip-hop.  Thrift Shop is utterly delightful and has a hilarious video to go along with it, and Same Love has one of the best and most touching music videos I've seen.  Make the Money is catchy and Thin Line is really interesting.  It's sad that it's remarkable, but the lyrics on the CD are about actual things, and for the most part not just about bitches and going to clubs, so that's a nice plus.  I think we'll see more good stuff from these two.


Whew.

Undiscovered

The short version:
Kylie Minogue—Aphrodite: 6/10
Parov Stelar—Single Collection Volume One: 6/10
Elbow—The Seldom Seen Kid: 6/10
Fiona Apple—The Idler Wheel...: 6/10
Diddy/Dirty Money—Last Train to Paris: 6/10
Kings of Leon—Only by the Night: 6/10
Justin Bieber—Believe: 6/10
Incubus—If Not Now, When?: 6/10
Alanis Morissette—Havoc and Bright Lights: 6/10
Nelly Furtado—The Spirit Indestructible: 6/10
P!ink—The Truth About Love: 6/10
Cliff Eidelman—Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country: 6/10

In my last music post I covered some of the not-very-good albums I've bought recently.  Here are some of the kinda-recommended ones that I've picked up lately.  There were so many of these that I needed to give them their own post.

Kylie Minogue's latest album Aphrodite is kinda good.  Not great.  Just kinda good.  I would posit that you would enjoy it if you liked her last one.  To verify this hypothesis, listen to All the Lovers (video conservatively NSFW), Put Your Hands Up, and Illusion.

I tracked down Single Collection Volume One by Parov Stelar and it is precisely what it sounds like, though I doubt that they are "singles" in the sense that Americans think of the word, but rather the more literal "individual tracks that aren't on any of his other albums" definition.  I got it for Chambermaid Swing and Spygame; Charleston Butterfly is good too but I already had it.  There are a lot of misses on the CD though, which one should reasonably expect.

Elbow's The Seldom Seen Kid is a rock album with three great tracks, a few other decent ones, and a bunch of mediocrity.  Grounds for Divorce is quite excellent, and The Bones of You and One Day like This are lovely too.  The vocalist kind of sounds like he has the flu though.

Fiona Apple's 23-word-titled album The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do is probably my least favorite of hers so far.  The opening is okay, and then there are a lot of dull tracks and then a surprisingly great finish with Anything We Want and Hot Knife.

Diddy (as in Puff Daddy) and Dirty Money's album Last Train to Paris is better than I would expected, with that expectation being "utterly terrible," of course.  But there's actually a lot to like about this CD.  Plenty about the album sucks, don't get me wrong, but there's a schizophrenic mishmash of awesomeness like Coming Home, Hello Good Morning, and Ass on the Floor along with the awful crap.  I wanted to hate this CD, but I just couldn't.

Kings of Leon's album Only by the Night is fairly decent alt-rock.  Closer and Use Somebody are both wonderful, and Sex on Fire is pretty good too.  It's yet another one of those "the singer is hard to listen to for the whole album start to finish" deals though.

So yeah, I bought a Justin Bieber CD.  Believe.  It's not a masterpiece by any stretch, but it's perfectly acceptable pop music, and the kid can sing.  There's actually an interestingly diverse selection of musical styles on the album; Out of Town Girl, Die in Your Arms, and As Long as You Love Me are probably my favorites.

I decided to get the latest Incubus album If Not Now, When? after discovering that they still exist as a band when they toured with Linkin Park and Mutemath recently.  It's a really light sound; I thought of them as a fairly hard rock band, but the first two tracks on the album are If Not Now, When? and Promises, Promises are definitely not hard rock.  I rather like them, but they are not at all what I was expecting.  My other favorite from the disc, Switchblade, isn't quite as light but certainly isn't "metal" like this album is often classified either.

Alanis Morissette's latest CD Havoc and Bright Lights is okay, but her last album was great and this one definitely seems like a step down, which seems like a feeling I've had about almost every CD I've bought from a favorite artist in the past year or two.  The opening track Guardian is nice, and Numb is quite good too.  Then maybe Woman Down for third place.

After Nelly Furtado's last "look at me I'm hot" CD she has decided it's time for a "look at me I'm a serious artist" CD, so The Spirit Indestructible is her Native American-themed latest little bit of weirdness.  The best tracks are the ones that ignore that theme: High Life, Miracles, and Tiesto's remix of Thoughts.

P!nk's got a new disc of angry girl rock out, The Truth About Love, and it opens with an amazing track Are We All We Are and then kinda falls from there.  The other best ones are probably True Love (featuring Lily Rose Cooper) and Just Give Me a Reason (featuring Nate Ruess of fun.).

Finally, I tracked down a copy of Cliff Eidelman's soundtrack to Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, and it's not bad.  I like the Overture, The Battle for Peace, and Clear All Moorings.


So those I can all recommend with some reservations.  Next I'll get to the albums that I can wholeheartedly recommend.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Missing

Perhaps you've noticed, or perhaps you haven't, but I haven't posted much of anything in a couple months.  Part of that was work, and recently it's been World of Warcraft, and also because I've been working on writing something else and I haven't felt like also writing blog posts.  But here's a summary of what's new with me if you've been curious.

I've got a boyfriend.  We've been together for a little under half of a year, after meeting during Epic Weekend.  I don't really expect to write a whole lot about him because he's a pretty private person, but he's a swell guy.  So just don't take a lack of posting for a lack of interest, I guess.  We've got a long-distance relationship going on for the next several months, which is something I really didn't want to get into, but I decided I would tolerate because he's a neat fella and all.  But yes, if you're curious, that sucks a lot.  At the very least it gives me a lot of time to myself, which is something that I like, but it's a little too much time to myself, "read between the lines here."

I shipped a product!  For a little over a year I was working on the new version of OneNote, one of the Windows 8 / Surface launch apps.  It's pretty slick, and it's definitely the coolest thing that I've worked on professionally.  I want to get into a little more detail about it at some later point, but in short I wrote the notebook organization features and made it so that you can slide the app left and right with your finger (if you have a touchscreen) to access them.

Get it free here if you have Windows 8, a Surface, or any Windows RT device:
OneNote in the Windows Store

Finally, the latest excuse I'll use for why I haven't been writing much here is that I actually have been writing a decent amount, just not here.  I've been writing a story for a game.  I don't know if I'll ever attempt to build the game (I'd love to, but I already have so many projects going on...), but I'm having a lot of fun designing it and writing the characters and the story for it.  I'm not usually one for writing fiction but for some reason or another this is really relaxing and inspiring.

Anyway, that's the quick synopsis of what's new with me.

Garbage

The short version:
Apparat—The Devil's Walk: 5/10
Time Travel—Never Shout Never: 5/10
Chumbawamba—Tubthumper: 3/10
Vertical Horizon—Everything You Want: 5/10
Newsboys—God's Not Dead: 4/10
The Format—Interventions and Lullabies: 4/10
Air—Le Voyage dans la Lune: 3/10
Gentleman—Diversity: 5/10
Guns n' Roses—Greatest Hits: 3/10
Bee Gees—Number Ones: 3/10
Yury—Curriculum Vitae: 5/10
One Direction—Up All Night: 5/10
Maroon 5—Overexposed: 4/10
Garbage—Garbage: 3/10
Garbage—Version 2.0: 5/10

I've been listening to music a ton lately—you can thank the latest World of Warcraft expansion for that.  It's given me a chance to eliminate my backlog of CDs that I've listened to once or twice but couldn't quite decide what I thought of them.  Here is a list of CDs that I don't particularly recommend.  Since I don't think any of them are particularly good, I won't really go into a whole lot of detail, but I will still complain about musical artists who are still more talented than I will ever be.

Apparat produced the song Goodbye that was used during the epic climax of season 4 of Breaking Bad, and it's on the album The Devil's Walk.  The one used in the show was an instrumental version and was actually superior to the album version with lyrics, and the artist kindly released it online for free.  It's a glorious, wonderful, emotional, perfect song.  Unfortunately it was pretty much the whole reason to buy the disc.  The track Escape is also quite good, and Sweet Unrest is pretty decent, and the rest is the sort of thing you really have to be in the mood for.

Never Shout Never by Time Travel is just middling.  I'm not sure why I bought it in the first place.  The vocals are obnoxiously airy as if the singer (well, technically, the entire one man band, which is actually pretty impressive) were on the verge of falling asleep for the entire album.  The first three tracks Time Travel, Awful, and Silver Ecstasy are a good sampling.

Chumbawamba's album Tubthumper is bad and I shouldn't have even bought it used.  Just buy Tubthumping and maybe Amnesia.

Vertical Horizon's Everything You Want is okay but also pretty mediocre.  The title track is a good pop rock song, and after that Miracle is decent.  Meh.

Newsboys's latest, God's Not Dead, is disappointing again.  They can still play instruments but I'm pretty sure that the talented songwriters have all left the band at this point.  Revelation Song, I Am Second, and Mighty to Save are okay.

The lead singer of The Format is Nate from fun., but the band's sound is more tame and dull, and Interventions and Lullabies is not particularly great.  Career Day is a good song though.  Tie the Rope is okay.

Air's CD Le Voyage dans la Lune is their worst ever.  Just skip it.  The best track is Parade and it's nothing special.

Gentleman's album Diversity may actually a pretty decent Reggae album but I just don't have a very high reggae tolerance nor a lot of experience with the genre, so it just sort of gets on my nerves after a while.  I Got to Go is quite good, and Fast Forward and Changes are decent.

I got a Guns n' Roses Greatest Hits album for a few cents on Amazon for Paradise City, and that's really the only reason to own such a thing.  (Okay, okay, there are actually a few acceptable songs on here.)

Similarly, I got the Bee Gees Number Ones album for a few more cents on Amazon for Stayin' Alive, and most of the tracks are absolutely unlistenable.  It's like MP3s of shattering glass.  But Stayin' Alive is a great song, and the rest was essentially free!  Free bits!  It also includes the song that Ghetto Supastar is based on, which was a mildly creepy thing to hear coming from my speakers.

Curriculum Vitae by Yury was absolutely free on Amazon which makes it the best deal here.  It actually has three tracks that are quite good: Today, Change the World, and Hookshot; the rest are mostly pretty bad though.

Yes, I bought the One Direction album, Up All Night.  Yes, it's catchy.  No, it's not good.  Some of the lyrics are extremely terrible.  I do like What Makes You Beautiful, Tell Me a Lie, and I Want.  I'm already gay; what are you going to do, insult my masculinity?  No, I don't think they're cute.

Maroon 5's CD is their worst one so far. Overexposed is clearly a step closer toward pure pop than their earlier funky rock, and it doesn't work very well, which I don't think is prejudice because I love pure pop music.  The opening tracks One More Night is amazing though, and Doin' Dirt is fantastic too; Lucky Strike isn't bad either; it's just way downhill from there.

Garbage's debut self-titled CD is aptly named.  Only Happy When it Rains is the only good song.  Their second album, Version 2.0, has a couple—When I Grow Up and I Think I'm Paranoid—but it's only decent.

So yeah, none of those were particularly good.  Next I'll get to some of the better albums I've bought lately, but that was already a long post...

Sunday, August 19, 2012

First train home

It's pretty uncommon for music that I like to have lyrics that really speak to me.  The music that I enjoy usually either is instrumental, or more often than not speaks of topics that aren't really relevant to my life, like a lot of heartbreak or violence or promiscuous women in dance clubs.  I live my life in such a way to avoid all of those sorts of things.

Some songs get pretty close, like Atlantic by Keane—it's a song about a fear of growing old alone and one of my favorite songs ever, but while it's something I certainly understand, and it's a beautiful song that I find touching, they aren't lyrics that really speak to me.  That's not really a fear I have.  I don't ever feel lonely.  But Imogen Heap is one artist who has several songs that I identify with on some level, which is several more than just about every other artist.

First Train Home is a song about feeling isolated and awkward at a party, getting tired of the obnoxious behavior of the drunk people there, and wanting nothing but to get on the first train home.

Yet no one cares to notice
For all their yamming on
I clam up to hold it together

So what? I'm not that much fun to be with...
So what? You've got a silly hat on...
So what? I didn't want to come here anyway

Goodnight and Go is a song about having a crush on someone she sees frequently and constructing elaborate fantasy scenarios in which the heating goes out and she has an excuse to get close to him.  (She also follows him home and watches him through a window but that's neither here nor there...)

Why'd you have to be so cute?
It's impossible to ignore you
Must you make me laugh so much?
It's bad enough we get along so well

One of these days, you'll miss your train and come stay with me
You'd sleep here, I'd sleep there, but then the heating may be down again
(At my convenience)
We'd be good, we'd be great, together

Hide and Seek is a song about the aftermath of being hurt, and then after her initial sadness she retreats into annoyed sarcasm.

Mmm, whatcha say?
Mmm, that you only meant well?
Well, of course you did...
Mmm, whatcha say?
Mmm, that it's all for the best?
Of course it is...
Mmm, whatcha say?
Mmm, that it's just what we need?
You decided this?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Amateur girlfriends

The short version:
Mike Shinoda and Joe Trapanese—The Raid: Redemption: 5/10
Hans Zimmer—The Dark Knight Rises: 8/10
Russell Brower—Diablo III: 8/10
Vanessa-Mae—Storm: 7/10
Bond—Play: 6/10
Moulin Rouge soundtrack: 6/10
Lifehouse—No Name Face: 4/10
OutKast—Speakerboxx and The Love Below: 3/10
Nappy Roots—Watermelon, Chicken, and Gritz: 4/10
Gramatik—Street Bangerz Volume 1: 4/10
Röyksopp—Junior: 7/10
Katie Herzig—The Waking Sleep: 8/10
Xploding Plastix—Amateur Girlfriends Go Proskirt Agents: 8/10
Parov Stelar—Seven and Storm: 8/10
Miike Snow—Happy to You: 8/10
Civil Twilight—Civil Twilight: 7/10
Civil Twilight—Holy Weather: 7/10
B.o.B—Strange Clouds: 5/10
Keane—Strangeland: 5/10
Kimbra—Vows: 7/10

The latest in the series of soundtracks I've bought to movies I haven't seen is The Raid: Redemption, by Mike Shinoda with Joe Trapanese.  I adore Mike Shinoda as the rapper in Linkin Park and Fort Minor, but he's just running the computers for this soundtrack.  It sounded better when I previewed it; on subsequent listens it's not incredibly exciting.  There are still some really good tracks though, and a few others that are decent.  The track that I'm guessing plays during the credits, RAZORS.OUT featuring Chino Moreno from deftones, is really great, and We Have Company and Moving Up part 2 is also very good.  I'm not sure I'd recommend it unless you loved the movie's soundtrack and really like that sort of industrial electronic music though.

Hans Zimmer's soundtrack for The Dark Knight Rises was a worthy followup to the first two, and is just as explosive and Zimmer-y as you'd expect.  It fits the themes and emotions of the movie perfectly and it's everything I'd expect from a score to that film.  I love The Fire Rises and Imagine the Fire, and Mind if I Cut In?, and unlike the movie, it doesn't take forever to get to the point either.

Russell Brower's soundtrack for Diablo III is the odd game soundtrack that for some reason sounds better to me as standalone music than in the game.  I'm not sure if it's because in the game you're hearing it along with a thousand different spells and weapon clangs and gory demonsplosions at once, or just if it's mixed particularly well on the CD that came with the collector's edition, but it actually sounds pretty nice, in contrast to feeling sort of disappointed when I heard it in-game.  (Matt Uelmen's soundtrack for Diablo II is either my favorite game soundtrack ever, or at least in my top three or so.)  Anyway, there are a lot of great tracks.  Many of the best are from cinematics and cutscenes, but there's a variety: And the Heavens Shall Tremble, The Eternal Conflict, and Caldeum.

Vanessa-Mae is a talented Asian-lady who plays a stringed-instrument particularly-well on Storm.  It's not a solo CD, though; she has quite a bit of backup of various forms.  So it's probably more fair to characterize it as an album of modern instrumental music in which each piece features her as a soloist.  Anyway, if you can't get enough stringed instruments you will probably like it.  Check out Happy Valley, Summer Haze, and The Blessed Spirits.

Bond is a group of four other talented women who play stringed instruments.  Their music is a lot less traditional and more dance-focused than Vanessa-Mae's.  But their latest album Play is still catchy, even though it still dips into uncomfortably cheesy territory from time to time.  Elysium is great, and so's Midas / West with the NightRoad to Samarkand is pretty good too.  Check it out if you thought Vanessa-Mae could really use a DJ or a producer.

I've had the Moulin Rouge soundtrack for basically forever but never really gave it a proper listen.  (I remember almost nothing from the movie at this point, but I remember that there was a lot of red in it.  And windmills.  And Obi-Wan Kenobi.)  I really like Lady Marmalade (with Christina Aguilera, Lil' Kim, Mya, and P!nk), and Sparkling Diamonds (with the cast) is quite good too.  Diamond Dogs (with Beck) is probably my third favorite.  Musicals aren't normally my thing but Moulin Rouge is a fairly unusual movie, and the soundtrack's pretty... interesting.

Lifehouse's No Name Face is bland rock.  Hanging by a Moment is a great song.  Breathing and Cling and Clatter are good.  The rest is completely skippable and forgettable.  I got this one a long time ago... I hope I got a good deal on it.

OutKast's Speakerboxx and The Love Below is a huge two-CD set practically exploding with tracks, most of which are extremely terrible.  (For reference, on a five-star scale, I gave a whopping 18 tracks one star.  Eighteen.)  But!  It has Hey Ya!, which is of course pretty good, and Bowtie, which is also pretty good, and Dracula's Wedding, which is pretty good, and a couple other pretty good tracks.  The rest is mostly crap.  Pass.

Nappy Roots' Watermelon, Chicken, and Gritz (racism defense note: that is the actual title of the CD) is okay.  It's also rather mediocre.  By far the best track is the bonus track, the rock remix of Awnaw.  But I was aware of that going in.  After that there are several decent tracks, of which Set it Out and Ho Down are probably slightly better than the others.  I recommend passing and just picking up the Awnaw remix if you like it.

Gramatik's Street Bangerz Volume 1 almost sounds like a CD of music to be sold as background music for commercials or TV show montages.  It's missing something.  I'm not sure what, but I think the answer is either "variation" or "weed."  (Or even "rapping.")  In My Hood, Bring It Fast, and Lorena's Butterfly are the best tracks.  Definitely skippable, unless you need background music for a commercial or a TV show montage.

Röyksopp's Junior is definitely better.  Röyksopp Forever is a lot of fun (for whatever definition of fun includes electronic chillout music), and The Girl and the Robot (featuring Robyn) is strangely upbeat and dancey.  Vision One has some crazy glitchy synth sounds that also aren't very relaxing.  Worth checking out.

Katie Herzig sounds like a cross between the lead singer of Dragonette and Vanessa Carlton in The Waking Sleep.  Style-wise, it's a lot closer to Carlton's, in the "soft and pretty" end of the spectrum.  Lost and Found is my favorite track, and Best Day of Your Life and Free My Mind are close behind.  This album ended up being surprisingly excellent, and I'm definitely going to have to pay close attention to what she's up to in the future.

Xploding Plastix' bizarrely-titled album Amateur Girlfriends Go Proskirt Agents is, like, electronic jazz, I guess.  It's very pleasant.  The opening track Sports Not Heavy Crime is excellent, and the closing track Comatose Luck is also excellent.  The rest is consistently good; check out Behind the Eightball.  It's not easy to find in CD format but it can be easily purchased as MP3s.

Parov Stelar's Seven and Storm is sort of similar in style and is also very pleasant.  It's a bit more overtly electronic.  Faith featuring Odette di Maio and Nowhere featuring Billy Kern are both are beautiful and relaxing, and Spygame is clearly James Bond-influenced and is much more upbeat.  I'd definitely recommend giving this one a try too.

Happy to You by Miike Snow is good electronic music with heavy use of snare drums so it sounds rather military-ish.  Bavarian #1 (Say You Will) is the most recognizable track from the CD, and Devil's Work and Pretender are very good too.  The CD as-is isn't very danceable (though I imagine that any of the tracks could be remixed pretty easily), so if you're looking for electronic music that you can dance to then this probably isn't the disc for you.  But it's quality stuff nonetheless.

Civil Twilight's self-titled debut and their second album Holy Weather are both consistently good.  Their best song overall is from their debut album, the amazing Letters from the Sky, and the opening track from that album Anybody Out There is also great.  They've got a good, solid, standard-rock sort of sound.  I'm not a huge fan of the lead singer's voice, but the songwriting and instrumentals are really well done.  Their second album experiments a bit more and has more overall-good songs but nothing quite as excellent as Letters: Holy Weather, Shape of a Sound, and Sweet Resistance.  Definitely suggested for modern rock fans.

I wasn't a big fan of B.o.B's latest, Strange Clouds.  It's never a great sign when Morgan Freeman is in your first track and that doesn't save it, right?  Both of Us, a duet with Taylor Swift, is the best on the CD, and Chandelier featuring Lauriana Mae is quite good.  Never Let You Go featuring the delightful Ryan Tedder is pretty acceptable too.  Overall the album is just pretty forgettable.

Keane's latest album Strangeland wins the award for most disappointing in the bunch.  It's like a disc full of B-sides.  The weirdest thing to me is that before this album they put out an EP that suggested a change in musical direction with some more electronic influences and some interesting new sounds coming, and then a year or so later they put out a boring album with songs that all sound like rejects from their very first CD.  Sovereign Light Café is pretty good, and then I guess after that would be On the Road and Day Will Come.  Only really worth picking up if you need to fill in your Keane collection.

Finally, Kimbra now has a full-length album out, Vows, and it's lovely.  If you've already heard the Settle Down EP you know what to expect, and in fact you've already heard several of the tracks from this album.  Quality alt-rock.  The best song on here is Warrior, then Settle Down and Good Intent.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Epic Weekend and the story of the homeless velociraptors

May 11-13 I had a weekend that condensed all of the interesting things that would have normally happened to me in a month or two into a span of less than 48 hours.

Back around that time I was scheduling way too many things in my life.  I had plans for Friday evening, Friday night, Saturday afternoon, Saturday evening, and something that probably could have been construed as a date on Sunday.  But on Epic Weekend, nothing went according to plan.  I'd intended to hang out with a friend on Friday night after dinner with my old coworkers, but the plans I'd made for Friday night he had made for Saturday night, so the scheduling miscommunication left me with some extra time on Friday.  I decided to cancel Saturday afternoon so I'd feel less overextended, but then the guy I'd planned to see on Sunday invited me over, and for some reason that didn't seem like a stupid idea.  We didn't stay up too late, and I crashed at his place; he took the couch and I took his bed.

That worked well for all of about 45 minutes, when suddenly the front door was slammed open and people started yelling and entered the apartment.  My heart rate jumped to about 150 as my body switched over into "preparing to run for your life" mode, but soon amidst the yelling and loud noises I heard laughing, and someone turned on music.  What the...  what's going on?  Does he have roommates?  It certainly hadn't looked like he had roommates.  This looked like an apartment for one person.  But that's what it sounded like—it was 2:30 or so, his roommates were home, and they were very drunk, very loud, and wanted the couch.  Ten minutes or so after they arrived, the door to the bedroom arrived, and my new friend stumbled over to the bed in a zombie trance mumbling something like "ugh... couch... ugh... sleep here."  Then he collapsed into the bed and seemed to instantly fall asleep.

So now I'm lying in a bed next to an unconscious person I don't know extremely well, in a place I've never been before, right after what my fight-or-flight mechanism was pretty sure was a home invasion.  My heart rate didn't slow down.  Not a bit.  I was wide awake for hours.  Hours.  During the night I was slow-motion elbowed in the face several times, I had the back of my head grabbed like he was going to either attempt to detach my skull from my spine or make out with me, and I was intensely bear-hugged for about ten minutes, all while he was fast asleep.

I don't know when I finally passed out, but I'm guessing it wasn't until about 7, as it was light outside at that point.  In the morning we walked around and talked for a while in my two-hours-of-sleep state, but then he had other plans, so I headed back home.  When I got home a friend from Malaysia was online and I hadn't talked to him in a while so we chatted for a while, and by the time it was all said and done, I had time to nap for about an hour or two before it was time to head to Seattle for a birthday party.  I was a bit late in my exhausted post-nap state, so I quickly found a garage and headed to the restaurant for the party.

I sat at the end of the table, across from a cute guy I'd seen on Facebook before, but upon discovering that I was an engineer, the guy sitting next to me pretty much monopolized my time for the next couple hours.  The guy across the table didn't seem to notice my staring, though I found out a week later that everyone else at the table was quite eye-rollingly aware.  I talked to the one person I knew there for about one minute out of the whole night.  After the restaurant closed, the remaining half dozen of us (including me, the birthday boy, and the cute guy from across the table, but not the conversation monopolizer) went across the street to a bar to continue chatting.  That went on until about 1:45.  I headed back to the garage, pulled up to the gate, and noticed that nothing was moving.  I was locked in.  Sigh.

Given that I had now slept three or four hours in the past forty-eight, and the fact that I had an I-guess-this-is-a-date scheduled for later that day, I saw the "if you're locked in, call this number and for a $25 fee we'll send someone to let you out" sign and said YES PLEASE.  So I called the number.  "We're sorry, but this number is not in service."  Double sigh.

Guess I'm sleeping in the car for now.  It's 2:00.  People need to park for work... garage probably opens at 5.  I can leave then, cross the bridge with no traffic, get home to Redmond, and sleep in a comfy bed until a more reasonable wakeup time.  So I set alarm and set to work on the whole sleeping-in-the-car plan.  This turned out to be more difficult than anticipated.  As four-door sedans go I have a reasonably large car, but even in my ready-to-sleep state it just wasn't happening.  At 5 I went to see if the gate opened up.  5:05, still nothing—but I did finally find the garage schedule.  On Sundays they don't open until 9.  Craaaaaaap.

This particular garage was interesting in that it was split into two levels that were separated by ground-floor businesses—an underground level, and an upper level of additional parking.  I decided to see if the upper level had an attendant yet, or an updated phone number to call, or anything else.  A few minutes later, no dice.  Defeated, I returned back to the lower level of the garage... only to find that the door was now locked behind me.  Arrrrggghhhh.

I had nothing left to do but wander the streets of Seattle for four hours.  I figured that if I have to be outside and awake I might as well at least get some exercise.  So I walked.  And walked.  A homeless black man came up to me with alternating concerned and happy looks on his face, warning me of something he had just realized: there was only "like a 1 in 20,000 chance that God is black."  I thought about asking exactly how he had calculated that probability but I decided against it.  A couple blocks later, I walked past just about the sketchiest group of people I've ever come across, who were standing at strategic locations around a few intersections, clearly communicating something to each other nonverbally.  Perhaps they were homeless velociraptors, strategizing a plan of attack.

It had been quite a while since I'd eaten anything so I looped back around after a bit and stopped in at the McDonald's that was half a mile or so from where I'd parked once it opened.  (Not even Starbucks was open that early.)  In there I met a very angry man—specifically angry at all of the motherfuckers.  The motherfuckers who worked there, the stupid motherfuckers outside, the stupid motherfuckers with their pants falling off, the motherfuckers that he sees at some place he goes to a lot that I don't recall anymore, and the other stupid motherfuckers he sees all the time.  Apparently I was the only person in there who didn't look like a stupid motherfucker, because he followed me around the McDonald's and decided that he'd eat with me and tell me about motherfuckers, and how if it were back in the day when he was in the marines, he'd show those stupid motherfuckers what was up.  But I heard just about enough of the man's terrifyingly obscene rants so I took care to finish my food before he did and then bid him a good day and continued on my epic journey.

I made it back to the garage a few minutes before 9, ready for all of this nonsense to be over.  I drove up to the gate, of which there were two—a metal security gate that opened precisely at 9 (hooray!) and let new people come in and park, and a regular wooden one that lifts up once you pay the man in the booth.  But at 9:05 there was still no man in the booth.  Nor at 9:10.  At about 9:12 the attendant finally showed up, and he walked up to my car and said "Hey, how are you?  You looking to get out?"  This seemed like a moderately absurd question given that I was parked at the exit gate to a parking garage at 9:00 in the morning, but I indulged him.  When I answered yes, he got a concerned look on his face.  "Hmmm.  So, there's a problem.  The guy's not coming."

"What... do you mean, exactly?"  "The guy, he's not coming," and he pointed at the booth.  Turns out this was just a security guard.  We talked for a while longer and he decided that he would go call someone in charge, which seemed awfully, uh, nice.  Long story short, at about 9:25, an SUV barreled into the parking garage at about 60 miles an hour and a guy stepped out to take my credit card, cheerfully charging me something like $50 for two days of parking.  I was long past the point of caring at that point, so I drove home, took out my contacts, and pretty much just fainted into bed.

Then the guy I had plans with on Sunday stood me up, completing the checklist of absolutely nothing on Epic Weekend going as planned.  Pissed.

Probably in retrospect I should have just laughed at the ridiculousness of it all.  But either way, the cute across-the-table guy I met at the birthday party is now my boyfriend, so Epic Weekend all worked out in a weird sort of way.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Potential future value

My homeowner's association is renting a dumpster for a week, so it seemed prudent to take advantage of the fact and get rid of some of the extra junk around my place.  I'd already gotten rid of a bunch of stuff when I remodeled my kitchen a few months ago and I had one all to myself, but I still managed a little more than a trunkload of crap.  A lot of it was old shirts that I'd saved around.  These were shirts that I'd never wear again—shirts with big holes, large and impossible-to-remove stains, and so on.  I sorted through a couple boxes of these things, pulled out a couple shirts to throw away, and then put most of them back and was just about ready to leave for the dumpster before I realized what I had done.

I have a bit of a hoarding compulsion.  (Thanks Mom and Dad.)  It's a pretty mild one, and luckily for me, I also have organizational and tidiness compulsions that are much stronger.  But I do tend to keep things around far longer than is necessary because I vastly exaggerate their potential future value, which is the core behavior of a hoarder.  I went through my closet with the express purpose of finding shirts that I was absolutely certain that I'd never wear again, I found them, and then I put them back, because I couldn't bear to part with them, and I managed to trick myself into thinking that I was done with my task.  The logical and organized and tidy parts of me wanted to get rid of those shirts today, but the hoarding instinct in me said that I might need them someday and put them back in the boxes.  Whenever I catch myself doing something instinctively that differs from what I planned it always concerns me somewhat.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Living Things

The short version:
Deep Forest—Boheme: 4/10
Caravan Palace—Caravan Palace: 8/10
Morgan Page—In the Air: 7/10
Parov Stelar—Shine: 8/10
Parov Stelar—Coco: 9/10
Miike Snow—Miike Snow: 7/10
The Wanted—The Wanted: 6/10
Redlight King—Something for the Pain: 6/10
Dev—The Night the Sun Came Up: 6/10
Ellie Goulding—Lights: 8/10
Scissor Sisters—Magic Hour: 6/10
Wolfgang Gartner—Weekend in America: 6/10
Meg Myers—Daughter in the Choir: 5/10 (free download)
Linkin Park—Living Things: 8/10

The album Boheme by Deep Forest is not very good.  It's not terrible but it's nothing special; it's weird new age / world music and it has a bunch of people singing in crazy-ass languages so I guess I'm a racist now if I don't like it.  Some of the tracks are downright bizarre.  Then again, it's from 1995 and it would probably sound a bit different if they were making the same album today.  Cafe Europa, Boheme, and Katharina are the best tracks on the disc, and they're pretty decent, but there's not too much else to love on there.

The self-titled debut from Caravan Palace is pretty excellent though.  It's, like, modern gypsy music.  I don't have anything else like it and I don't know how else to describe it.  Check out Dragons, We Can Dance, and Suzy.  They're delightful.

Morgan Page's In the Air is a pretty good house-y dance CD.  The title track featuring Angela McCluskey, Sultan + Ned Shepard, and BT; Body Work featuring Tegan and Sara; and Gimme Plenty featuring Shana Halligan are all quite good, and there are several other pretty decent tracks.  Several of the songs on the CD seem pretty simple and just give me the impression that they didn't really require a lot of effort; whether or not it's true, it makes them a bit less enjoyable than they probably otherwise would be.  But it's all upbeat and danceable and still recommended.

I've recently discovered Parov Stelar thanks to Spotify, and I've picked up most of his albums, including Shine and Coco.  His music crosses a bunch of genres, but it seems pretty jazz-influenced, so I guess if I had to pick one I'd settle on "jazz fusion."  From Shine, Tango Muerte is easily one of the most amazing pieces of music I've heard so far this year.  War Inside and the title track are also particularly excellent.  From Coco, Catgroove is pretty amazing and catchy, and the title track is touching and slow; you'd be surprised to hear they're from the same album.  Fleur de Lille is pretty great too.  Unfortunately it's a bit expensive to get CD copies of his music in the United States; MP3s are readily available if you don't want to resort to importcds.com.

Miike Snow is the name of a band, not a person, and their first album is pretty fun alternative electro-pop.  Song for No One is infectious, and Black and Blue and Animal aren't far behind.  My main complaint about the CD is that a lot of the tracks rely heavily on a very repetitive droning note; out of my three favorites it's somewhat evident in Animal, but it's really noticeable in some of the other otherwise great tracks on the album like A Horse Is Not a Home [not a typo].

The Wanted is a boy band.  Let's just get that out of the way.  Anyway, their self-titled US debut is a decent pop CD.  It's not great, but it's not bad, and it's far better than I'd have expected had I just read "boy band."  I guess we're getting better at this boy band thing?  (It helps that their US debut is basically a best-of from their first two.)  The best tracks on the CD are Glad You Came, Chasing the Sun, and Warzone.  If you like pop music, I think they're worth a shot.  If you don't, well, then you're going to loathe this album.

Redlight King's Something for the Pain is hard rock.  Fandango sent me the track Comeback from the album for free when I bought my Avengers ticket, which was nice of them, and I guess it paid off for someone because I ended up buying the CD because of it, because it's a great single.  The title track is also rather good, and so's Underground.  The band didn't quite put itself on my "omg must hear their next album!" list but it's worth a listen if you like harder rock music.

The Night the Sun Came Up by Dev is a weird album.  Sometimes it's weird dance music, sometimes it's weird rap, and sometimes it's weird electronica.  The best track is Me—I don't know what to call it.  Alternative sung electronic hip-hop?  In the Dark is pleasant and mildly danceable.  Dancing Shoes is pretty.  I don't know who would like the CD—if you have a relatively high tolerance for weirdness in your music you might like this a lot.

Ellie Goulding's album Lights is rather good, though nothing on the CD reaches the fantastic self-titled single.  (Note that the more popular and slightly more awesome Bassnectar remix is not present on the album.)  Oddly, after opening with Lights, it leaves you with several mediocre tracks and then all of the best stuff isn't until the end of the album, like the two great closing tracks Salt Skin and Your Song.

Scissor Sisters' latest album Magic Hour is decent but not as good as their previous one.  After hearing their preview track Shady Love featuring Azealia Banks (wonderful video) I was really interested to see what they would come up with, but the rest of the album turned out to be pretty similar in style to their previous stuff and not nearly as wacky.  The opening track Baby Come Home (another fun video) and the lighter Inevitable are the two best, with Shady Love pulling up the rear, lame pun intended.  Worth picking up, but don't bother with the deluxe edition, because the bonus tracks are extremely bad.

Wolfgang Gartner's Weekend in America has one incredibly good track, Still My Baby featuring Omarion.  Forever featuring will.i.am and Shrunken Heads are great dance tracks too.  Most of the rest isn't that memorable and it's kind of loud and grating.  I'd probably just recommend just picking up those excellent singles unless you really love this style of dance music.

Meg Myers has a free EP, Daughter in the Choir; it's pretty good for free.  I like Adelaide, which is some pretty good angry-girl alt-rock, and Poison is decent.  Tennessee is fun and it's my new favorite anti-hipster song.

Finally, Linkin Park's latest CD Living Things is out, and I think it's quite pleasant.  It's evolutionary; no massive new changes to their sound or anything.  Their first single Burn It Down is fantastic, and Lost in the Echo is close behind, with the softer Roads Untraveled probably being my third-favorite.  (I think that Lies Greed Misery would be one of my favorites if it weren't so screamy.)


Aaaaaand that is what happens when you go on a Spotify-induced spending spree.  Still got about fifty albums to go...

Sunday, July 8, 2012

B-movie

The short version:
Hans Zimmer and Graham Preskett—The Da Vinci Code: 6/10Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard—Batman Begins: 7/10
Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard—The Dark Knight: 7/10
Bear McCreary—SOCOM 4: 7/10
Bear McCreary—Zom-B Movie: 2/10


I've been listening to a lot of soundtracks and instrumental music recently.   It takes me a little while longer to get through them since the music necessarily falls into the background when I'm listening—some of these I've been going through for like half a year.

Hans Zimmer and Graham Preskett's score for The Da Vinci Code is decent.  There are several really atmospheric pieces, and quite a lot of use of choirs, so if choirs are your thing, then this would probably be a good CD for you.  I particularly like Fructus Gravis, Malleus Maleficarum, and Rose of Arimathea.

Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard's scores for Batman Begins and The Dark Knight are also pretty good, with the second movie's soundtrack being a little darker and weirder than that of the first movie, which had a little bit more of a traditional orchestral action movie soundtrack.  From Batman Begins I like Eptesicus, Antrozous, and Molossus.  From The Dark Knight I like Like a Dog Chasing Cars, Why So Serious?, and I'm Not a Hero.

Bear McCreary's soundtrack to the game SOCOM 4 is also pretty good.  It's similar to the most Asian-y parts of the Battlestar Galactica soundtracks.  It's a two-disc set, and plenty of the material is not particularly fantastic, but if the best tracks were chosen for a single-disc release you'd have a pretty killer CD, and I think it would probably have Clawhammer's Betrayal, Battle for Control, and Theme from SOCOM 4 on it.

His soundtrack to Zom-B Movie is terrible.  I'm pretty sure it's supposed to be terrible, given the name.  Everything about the packaging suggests to you "this CD is going to be terrible; you should not buy this."  I love Bear McCreary and even so I didn't want to buy it, but I entered a contest for a signed CD and I won it.  I guess I got what I paid for.  Cecil and Orson is decent, and Chillerama Main Title / Floyd's Bean Bag, and Ryan to the Rescue are okay.  Most of the rest is barely listenable.  I can't even find it online now... that's not encouraging.

Real faces

There's been a strange change in my dreams over the past couple months: people I know who show up in my dreams have their real faces.  This is definitely different from the way my dreams worked for my first thirty years, and it's strange to me that I would experience such a change so late.  Previously, people I know from my life would appear in my dreams, but their faces and physical characteristics would be different.  Someone I know as a tall, thin, black guy could be a short, fat, white guy with a completely different face in my dream, but I'd still immediately recognize that person in the dream and wouldn't realize that anything was strange until I woke up.  But now, suddenly, that doesn't happen anymore: people I know from reality are showing up in my dreams with their correct physical appearances—some people I've seen that day, some people I haven't seen in years.  Odd.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The party with the groundhog tattoo

I had a dream last night that I think was kind of like two simultaneous dreams or something.  One of them was pretty uneventful and was really only notable because someone I know from real life was in the dream and showed up with his real face, which has only happened in my life a few times, and a couple of them have been recently.  And the other dream was an awesome action movie.  I haven't seen either movie but I think it was somewhere between The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Groundhog Day.

I was at a party, pretty similar to the one I was at right before I went to bed, and I only knew one person there.  The people hosting the party were keeping a young woman captive, but she escaped her cell, acquired a small knife, and then gravely injured one of her captors with it, who ended up killing her in the fight.  The fight was stylized and choreographed and violent but not bloody—for some reason there was a ton of killing in the dream but not a drop of blood.

After that scene the dream returned to first-person and I was back at the party again, and someone suggested we go on a trip, so we all went to the airport and flew to another city, which through some sort of clever editing only took a moment, and then we were back to partying in the new city.  In the new city, the young girl was once again alive, and the captor she had wounded was no longer hurt.  She once again escaped her cell, acquired her knife, and with increased skill since the previous fight, killed her captor and ran onward until she was defeated by the next of her captors.

When she died, she returned back to life in her cell, but all of the people she had killed returned back to life as well, and all of those people kept all of their memories, so now they were all quite aware that she was attempting to escape, so while she was increasing in killing skill dramatically with each life, her enemies were also learning her tricks and her plans.

And during all of this, the party was still going on, totally oblivious to the crazed murder spree going on elsewhere in the dream, with us in the party apparently not having any moral qualms about attending a party run by people who had imprisoned a young woman, or any fears about being slaughtered once the protagonist inevitably defeated them.

Toward the end, the worlds of the prisoner and the party finally collided and people started yelling "she's outside!  she'll free her mate!" and handed some of the party guests strange hunting bows with flaming pilot lights and quivers of arrows.  The people newly armed ran outside to chase down the prisoner that they just heard about and fire flaming arrows at her, but no one was successful and they ran off after her and we didn't see them for the rest of the dream.

As we remaining party folk wandered around outside wondering what to do next, I started snacking on some gummy bears, and some guy came up to me, pointed at my stomach, and said in a really bitchy voice, "Really?  How about some vegetables instead?"  Those gummy bears were the only things I'd eaten in what had been like twelve hours of dream time.  My subconscious is a jerk.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The other people eating your cake/baby/date are lying to you

I've come to notice that other people using superlatives around me can make me kind of uncomfortable in ways that would not be obvious or expected at all.  Totally innocuous comments like "isn't this the most delicious cake?" or "isn't she the cutest baby ever?" or "this is the best date I've ever been on" actually kind of stress me out a little bit.  I refuse to just blindly agree with those comments because I've made a commitment to always tell the truth, and that extends to even the slightest and most irrelevant aspects of my life.  And even if perhaps it were the most delicious cake I've ever eaten in my life, there's no way that I can reflect upon all of my past cake-eating experiences and make that determination in a reasonable amount of time and be certain enough that I could say it and not feel like I was probably lying.  ("Let me get back to you on that" sounds like a douchey way of saying "your cake makes me want to throw up in my mouth.")  But I also can't really explain why I don't want to fully answer the question in a reasonable amount of time without sounding like a crazy person.  So I just end up evading the question and saying things like "Yeah, this cake/baby/date is pretty moist," but it's pretty obvious what I did there, and so now I've extended my own awkwardness to the other person.  "My goodness!  Travis obviously doesn't like this cake.  All he had to do was say 'yeah' and he couldn't even bring himself to be nice enough to say that."

Chances are, your cake/baby/date isn't the best ever.  The other people eating your cake/baby/date are lying to you.  At least I'm being honest.  I really try to avoid putting other people in a situation where they feel like they have to lie to me for any reason; I just think that most people probably don't have any problem at all with telling these sorts of minor lies so it doesn't bother them.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Thanksgiving in April: Mom and Dad

I wasn't going to do one of these for my parents because it's so obvious, but it feels just as cheap to leave them out, so I suppose it can't hurt.  Thanks, Mom and Dad.  You sacrificed a lot and put up with a lot.  There were times where I know we didn't see eye to eye, but you equipped me with the logic and reason and love and kindness that it takes to be a good person.  It has never escaped me that though other kids may have had parents with more money or parents that let them get away with more crap, few have had parents that cared as much as mine.

Before I even started kindergarten my mom would buy me these workbooks and other educational things that they sold near the toy aisles in stores.  I'd devour them relentlessly, and I made a lot of progress with reading, writing, and math.  Looking back, I'm sure that we couldn't really afford them.  We didn't have much money.  We lived in my great-grandparents' basement next to a trailer park and paid $55 a month in rent.  But I think that those lessons helped a lot: my parents' focus on encouraging me to learn things at my own pace probably set things up for my whole life.

Thanks.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Thanksgiving in April: Peter, Peter, Phil, and Alex

It's easy for interns at Microsoft (and I assume elsewhere) to feel like this separate little group.  They're only there for a few months, so they don't really ever fully integrate with the teams that they work with, and they're obviously outsiders, so it's easy for the full-time employees to treat them differently.  So special thanks to Alex, Phil, and Peter on the FrontPage team for not making me feel like an outsider when I interned there.  And special thanks to a different Peter from the Thursday Evening Board Gamers for getting me into into the inner circle clique of the cool old people there, being my first non-coworker friend at Microsoft, and not treating me like "just another college kid."

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Thanksgiving in April: Rob Mauceri

When I first interviewed for an internship at Microsoft, I interviewed to be a Program Manager.  And I failed those interviews.  I kinda think that one of the people who interviewed me was a jerk and an idiot (still don't know who it was... I think it was someone who worked on Excel), and another one of my interviewers didn't seem to be doing a very good job either, but either way, I failed my interviews and didn't get the job.  And then Rob Mauceri said that they should fly me back to interview again for a Software Design Engineer position.  From what I can tell that never happens.  But it did, and I got the internship after that.  And then despite not really producing anything of any real lasting value that summer, I got a full-time offer.  Really this should be more of a thank-you to everyone involved in extending me that offer, because that made my senior year a lot more fun.

I'd wanted to work at Microsoft for a really long time, and I waited a year just to get that first interview.  So I'm really thankful that I managed to get that second chance.  Plus I got to miss Dr. Elbaum's awful software engineering class for my interview.  I hated that class so much.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Thanksgiving in April: Jenifer Dugdale

Ms. Dugdale was my freshman high school English teacher.  I don't think I learned anything in her class.  That's not her fault; I chose her class because it would be really easy, and boy was I right.  No; thanks, Ms. Dugdale, for playing Enya's album Watermark during class one day.  I consider Enya to be one of my favorite artists now.  I went out and bought all of Enya's CDs, making those four discs a sizable fraction of my entire music collection at that point in my life, and I listened to them ad nauseum.  (My mom complained more than once about this, and insisted I listen to something more appropriate, like KISS or Genesis.)  I don't know if it's because of how she layers the instrumentation, or because many of the tracks are simple, or just because she has a really beautiful voice, or just because I only had a few CDs in my collection, but I relentlessly analyzed that music.  I'd always enjoyed music, but for some reason or another Enya taught me to really appreciate music, so thanks Ms. Dugdale for introducing me to Enya.

(Okay, I did learn something in her class.  During Romeo and Juliet I learned that "wherefore" doesn't learn "where."  That knowledge came in handy in the OkCupid dating survey.)

American Nightmare

The short version:
Gorillaz—The Fall: 2/10
Ramin Djawadi—Game of Thrones: 6/10
Röyksopp—The Understanding: 7/10
Vanessa Carlton—Rabbits on the Run: 4/10
The Roots—Undun: 7/10
Morgan Page—Believe: 7/10
The Naked and Famous—Passive Me, Aggressive You: 7/10
Lana Del Rey—Born to Die: 7/10
Chiddy Bang—The Preview: 5/10
Chiddy Bang—Breakfast: 8/10
Kasabian—Kasabian: 6/10
Madonna—MDNA: 6/10
Digitalism—I Love You, Dude: 8/10

Some of the CDs in this batch I've been listening to for quite a while because I just wasn't sure what I thought of them, or I didn't quite feel like listening to them at the moment, or other similar reasons.  Those aren't the case for The Fall by Gorillaz.  It's just horrifying.  I bought it because I like the Gorillaz and though I knew that this album was largely instrumental before I ordered it, I assumed it would be similar to their previous CDs, not similar to the demo tracks that come with thirty-dollar Casio keyboards.  Amarillo and Aspen Forest are the best tracks and the rest aren't even good enough to be B-sides.

The soundtrack to Game of Thrones scored by Ramin Djawadi works well in the show but a lot of it doesn't stand alone extremely well since it's rather sparse at times.  That said, it's hard not to love the gorgeous main theme, and Kill Them All is much more emotional than one would expect given the name.  Appropriately given the story's content, most of the music is either violent, tense, or sad—When the Sun Rises in the West being a great example of the latter.  I don't recall exactly what happened during those couple minutes but having seen the first season there's a pretty good chance that at least a couple people died in that time.  Also there were probably some boobies.

Röyksopp's The Understanding is fun electropop with good beats.  Not super memorable, but pretty decent.  Only This Moment is the best track, with Triumphant and What Else Is There? behind that.

I'm generally a fan of Vanessa Carlton's but she's dipping too far into light folk territory for my tastes with her latest CD Rabbits on the Run.  I liked the more radio-friendly Vanessa, not whatever much of this album is.  Carousel and I Don't Want to Be a Bride are the best two, and In the End is interesting and weird.  Listening to those will probably give you an unfair impression of what the disc's like (no coincidence that those first two are singles); in contrast to those, there are also several barely listenable tracks like Get Good.

The Roots' latest, Undun, is one of the best-reviewed albums I've bought in a while.  I'm not sure if it's justified based on my own personal opinions, but I don't know how much of that is just due to the fact that The Roots' style is less pop and more artistic rap than I typically prefer.  There are a lot of pretty good songs on here but little that's great.  My favorite is I Remember (probably the most radio-friendly one), then Sleep, then One Time.  If I can say one thing about the album, it's not boring or repetitive or a copy of anyone else, and that's certainly worth something, but for me, the style's just a bit off.

I got Morgan Page's CD Believe.  It's electronic dance music.  It has beats and bass and girls singing.  It's pretty good I guess.  He's talented.  Strange Condition, I've Had Friends, and the title track are the best tracks.

The Naked and Famous is a good name for a group and Passive Me, Aggressive You is a good name for an album.  Spank is definitely my favorite track but the rest of the album isn't as hardcore-sounding.  Young Blood is pretty great too, and Punching in a Dream is nice.  For some reason the band sounds to me like what Arcade Fire would be like if they decided to stop being hipster icons and start kicking ass.  Many things about the vocals seem similar to me, and it's got a similar indie, alternative vibe, but everything seems more energetic and exciting and interesting.

Lana Del Rey's debut album Born to Die is weird.  She's a weird lady and her music is weird.  Even her facial expressions are weird, like she had a stroke and has been permanently stuck in some sort of duckface forever, and she sounds like she's bored with her own music and just wants to go home.  But for some reason it kind of works.  Her most well-known song Video Games just sort of floats and drones onward for five minutes and she sounds as if her lips don't move more than about three millimeters, which I think is actually accurate after having seen her perform on Saturday Night Live.  Off to the Races and Diet Mountain Dew are much less slothlike, which normally I'd prefer, though there's something strangely enchanting about how slow and nonelectronic a song titled Video Games can be.

I picked up both The Preview (an EP) and Breakfast by Chiddy Bang, with the latter full album being notably better than the EP.  Breakfast has some pretty insanely catchy tunes on it: Handclaps and Guitars, Ray Charles, Run It Back, as well as several others.  The rapper seems fairly average on first impression, but the tunes and beats are absolutely infectious.  Definitely worth checking out if you like hip-hop with fancy pop beats.  From The Preview, Opposite of Adults (sampling Kids by MGMT) is probably the best, but it's not nearly as good as Breakfast.

Kasabian's self-titled album is interesting.  By far my favorite song is the opening track, Club Foot, which is the one I got the album for.  That song plays during a crucial plot scene during Alan Wake's American Nightmare and the song is bizarrely perfect for a scene with explosions and nonsensical awesomeness and shadowy demonic creatures with axes crawling out of the darkness to attack you.  I don't think I'd have fully appreciated the song's awesomeness if I didn't associate it with that scene in the game, but anyhoo—nothing on the rest of the CD measures up to that song, but Reason is Treason and the instrumental track Ovary Stripe are both good.

Madonna's got a new CD out, MDNA.  None of the tracks on it seem particularly great.  I haven't listened to it a whole lot yet but nothing really catches me.  The big single Give Me All Your Luvin' featuring Nicki Minaj and MIA is cheesy and lame but it's catchy and still probably the best thing on there, followed by Love Spent and Beautiful Killer.  What's probably most worrisome is Some Girls, a track with some solid production that I think would actually be better as an instrumental.  When one of the world's most iconic vocalists is putting out songs that make me think that they'd be better without any vocals, something's wrong.

Finally, I picked up I Love You, Dude by Digitalism, and it's pretty intense.  It's got a lot of good beats—not necessarily danceable, but I'm not much of a dancer so they're interesting nonetheless.  Blitz, Stratosphere, and Miami Showdown are all great.  Definitely worth checking out if you like a good electronic beat.

Whew.

Update:  You can also find my favorite recent tracks on my Spotify profile.