Sunday, November 10, 2013


A few months ago I posted about how a big chunk of the emotional experiences in my life come from art.  I've been collecting some of the melodies that I feel have had extraordinary emotional impact in my life, and I thought that I'd share them.  All of these are pieces that I think are really moving completely removed from their context (such as a movie or TV show or a life event), though most of them also have special significance to me personally.

I think it would actually be really fascinating to play these songs for people for the first time, completely out of context, and then find out what they felt, or what they think must have happened in the movie or show or game that the piece was from.  (If you do this yourself, please let me know!)

Storming New Caprica by Bear McCreary from season 3 of Battlestar Galactica is probably the quintessential track for this list.  Percussion has this primal effect on people, and Bear knows percussion.  (I'm sure dozens of people have done psychological studies on why that is, and why drums were always used in war.)  The track starts out by building tension with just drums and eerie haunting sounds, and then by a little after the two-minute mark it explodes into an amazing thrill ride that literally makes my hair stand on end when I hear it.  In the show, this was from the beginning of season 3, during the suicide mission. Bagpipes in the BSG soundtrack seem to signal desperation and sacrifice, so it's only natural that they're one of the highlights of this.

Atlantic by Keane is a lonely, sad, honest song and it may be my all-time favorite.  There's so much longing in his voice.

Goodbye by Apparat is the track that is played near the end of the episode "Face Off" from the end of season 4 of Breaking Bad (as an instrumental).  In addition to being haunting and creepy and generally incredible, in the show it's paired with a series of scenes that are written and filmed incredibly well.

Leaving Earth by Clint Mansell is the music you hear at the end of the Mass Effect 3 tutorial as people are boarding evacuation ships.  It's just... so sad.  It's melancholy with just a little bit of terror and tension.

The Riders of Rohan by Howard Shore from The Two Towers is basically perfect film music, and there's a reason that many of the comments on YouTube all point to the part around 2:53.  The Lord of the Rings movies have some of the finest scores I've ever heard.

Time by Hans Zimmer from Inception is the music that the movie closes with.  It's pretty simple by Hans Zimmer standards, but it has a great build to it, and it's excellent epilogue music.

The Armageddon's Blade theme by Paul Romero is one of my favorite melodies (specifically, the ending), and the game it came from is one of my favorites, but I completely missed this track until later.  It's just played at the menu for one of the campaigns in the game, and you'd completely miss it if you weren't looking for it.  If I were a superhero I would definitely choose this tune as my theme music.

I first heard Club Foot by Kasabian as a part of Alan Wake's American Nightmare, and it plays there as sort of a reward for doing something awesome.  (It's actually vaguely related to the story, but really any awesome-sounding song would have fit.)

1, 2, 3, 4 by the Plain White T's probably fits here the least, as it's a track with mostly just personal significance.  It's the track that my ex used to associate with me, so I began to associate it with him.  It's a nice song; I just don't know if it's as moving as the rest.

Evacuee by Enya is a very lonely song.  She wrote it when her mother died.  My mom made us promise long ago that her funeral had to be happy like a New Orleans party funeral, though, so this song definitely wouldn't work for her.

Set the Fire to the Third Bar by Snow Patrol is a strange duet with Martha Wainwright.  It's the only song on this list that I can sing along to.

Torture by Les Friction is a really powerful and beautiful song that I guess one could classify as a power ballad.  I feel confused and sad and angry like I've lost someone when I listen to this song.

Finally, Tristram by Matt Uelmen is the track that people associate with the Diablo series of games, and it's gorgeous and unsettling and instantly memorable.  I think it's responsible for a lot of the nostalgia of those games; when people think Diablo, they immediately think of that theme, and it's no mistake that when Diablo III was announced, they did so with a few notes from a guitar.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

As if my whole family died in a house fire and it was my fault

I've been thinking lately that perhaps a big part of my shyness is just a case of my general fear of failure.  Certainly I have an aversion to doing things where I feel that I may fail, and sure that's absolutely common, but I imagine I may be worse than the average in this regard.  (Maybe I'm used to being good at certain things, and I like the way it feels to succeed at those things and just subconsciously focus on doing only those things to maximize that nice feeling.)

I worked as a cashier at a grocery store for a year, and at Burger King for a year, and I never had any trouble interacting with people there.  In fact, I was downright social in those jobs.  For a long time I've wondered why that was, and my best explanation was that I was in the position of power in those interactions.  Sure, you don't generally think of cashiers as powerful, but I'm the person taking the customers' money and letting them leave.  In a very tiny way I controlled their destiny, and they came to me without me having to do anything.

But also in those cases, there was no potential for failure.  Anyone even slightly competent can check out peoples' groceries or press someone's Whopper order into a register.  Like any smart person, I was good at those jobs.

When meeting someone new for some kind of social reason, such as at a party or to ask them out on a date, however, there's a definite chance for failure.  There are all sorts of reasons why a person might not be interested in you.  The consequence of that failure is embarrassment.

I have a tendency to overestimate potential negative consequences.  I don't have a fear of heights in quite the traditional sense, but I absolutely overestimate danger.  I have no problems with glass floors, but I can't get near a ledge if there isn't a very sturdy-looking barrier.  And I can get really uncomfortable around knives or equipment, even if I'm using those things correctly.  My nature is to play things extremely conservatively, avoid all risk and uncertainty, and make sure that everything in my life goes according to plan.

So when I'm interacting with new people, I think that a lot of my shyness comes from that exaggeration.  I delude myself into thinking that if I fail at talking to someone, the results will be emotionally catastrophic as if my whole family died in a house fire and it was my fault.  Realistically, I do embarrassing random crap all the time, and that doesn't get to me, but the thought of walking up to someone that I like, smiling, and saying that I love their watch absolutely paralyzes me in terror.  Maybe the key for me to get better is to first stop and assess that (lack of) risk logically and objectively—thinking about it just for a couple seconds should be plenty to remind me that I have nothing to lose.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

50% of the time it works every time

Hey sexy, you're so hot that you're hard-boiling my eggs.
You're welcome for yet another top-quality pickup line.  This one's extra great because it's completely gender-neutral.

Monday, November 4, 2013


The short version:
Ari Pulkkinen—Trine: 3/10
Francisco Cerda—Jamestown: 2/10
Tomas Dvorak—Machinarium: 4/10
Matt Uelmen—Torchlight: 4/10
Mosh—Mosh: 4/10
Betty Who—The Movement: 4/10
Bastille—Bad Blood: 7/10
Empire of the Sun—Walking on a Dream: 6/10
Empire of the Sun—Ice on the Dune: 7/10
Silvia Torres—Silvia Torres: 3/10
KT Tunstall—Invisible Empire // Crescent Moon: 4/10
Marina and the Diamonds—The Family Jewels: 8/10
Natalia Kills—Trouble: 7/10
Janelle Monáe—The Electric Lady: 6/10
The Naked and Famous—In Rolling Waves: 7/10
Andrew Belle—Black Bear: 8/10
Morcheeba—Head Up High: 7/10

I made my way through a few indie game soundtracks: Trine, Jamestown, Machinarium, and Torchlight.  None of them are really must-listen.  Machinarium has several interesting sounds, but it's a bit light.  The best track amongst them is the Town theme from Torchlight, which will be instantly recognizable to Diablo II fans.  I also picked up a couple free albums from Mosh and Betty Who.  The Mosh album has a great but repetitive track McQueen, and the best thing on the Betty Who album is probably You're in Love.

I picked up Bad Blood by Bastille as an import, though it looks like it's since been released in the US.  Their track Pompeii is pretty popular, and one of the better rock songs I've heard in a while.  Things We Lost in the Fire and Icarus are similar, and they're the other two best songs on the album.  Overall, it's a rather good set of songs, but there are too many reused sounds and melodies.  These Streets, for example, sounds an awful lot like a lighter version of Pompeii to me.

Empire of the Sun's two albums Walking on a Dream and Ice on the Dune are both weird, trippy dance pop, produced by two dudes in wizard costumes.  I use the word "pop" to help you identify the style of music, but the majority of these songs would definitely never appear on the radio or become popular.  Most of the vocals are terribly bizarre, and obnoxious at times.  That said, from their first album, We Are the People, Country, and Swordfish Hotkiss Night are all great.  From their second album, DNA is one of the best songs I've heard in months, Concert Pitch is excellent too, and Awakening is definitely channeling Daft Punk.  I'd give them a recommendation if "weird, trippy dance pop" sounds like fun to you.

I've been waiting to pick up Silvia Torres's self-titled album for many years.  The opening track Take Saravá is wonderful, but most of the album is completely uninteresting.  The only other song I like is Pomba Cor de Cal.  It's worth picking up Take Saravá as a single if you like it, but pass on the rest.

KT Tunstall's latest album Invisible Empire // Crescent Moon is a lot lighter and folk-ier than I was expecting.  It's basically two half-albums, and neither one is really my thing.  That said, the second opening track Crescent Moon is really beautiful, and Invisible Empire and Feel It All are pretty decent.  I'm hesitant to recommend the album, but if you like "light and pretty" then you may like it.

Marina and the Diamonds's The Family Jewels was a welcome surprise.  I guess it's adult contemporary; it reminds me of Lily Allen more than anything.  There are quite a few catchy tracks worth listening: Shampain, Are You Satisfied?, and Numb; and those should give you a pretty good impression of what the rest is like.  This is probably the best overall album in the batch.

Natalia Kills's second album Trouble is I suppose the same genre as Marina and the Diamonds, but with a lot darker and grittier sound.  I love the variety in the album; I never really knew what to expect.  I recommend Problem, Devils Don't Fly, and Controversy (freaky seizure video).

Janelle Monáe is always bizarre and The Electric Lady is no exception.  A lot of the album's songs feel to me like they'd be a lot better with just a little more, and are saved mostly by the fact that Janelle has an amazing voice.  (I had the same problem with her previous albums so I should just expect it by now.)  The stand-out is Primetime featuring Miguel, which is just about the sexiest thing I have ever heard, and the video fits it gloriously.  Q.U.E.E.N. featuring Erykah Badu is probably my second-favorite.  And the title track featuring Solange is good too.

The second album from The Naked and Famous, In Rolling Waves, is much lighter than their previous album, and I definitely don't like it as much.  But, there are still some beautiful tracks on it.  The Mess and We Are Leaving are gorgeous, but you can't exactly rock out to them (well, maybe at the end).  The lead single Hearts like Ours is my third-favorite, and a bit more uptempo than the rest.  Overall it's still good, but if you liked their first album it's not a guarantee that you'll like this one.

Black Bear by Andrew Belle was another surprise.  I don't even remember how I stumbled across the album (possibly by mistyping Andrew Bayer), but it's an interesting album of vaguely hipstery alternative music.  The album opens with its best two tracks, Dark Matter and PiecesSanta Fe is my third favorite, with a weird funky bassline that I didn't expect on this CD.  Check it out.

Finally, Morcheeba has another new album oh-so-cleverly titled Head Up High.  There are some great songs on it, but quite a bit of it is mediocre, and doesn't hold a candle to some of their earlier work.  My favorite is To Be featuring Rizzle Kicks, followed by Call it Love, and Face of Danger featuring Chali 2na of Jurassic 5.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Dubious ranking

If we take the full set of white males alive today and sort them by the times they have loudly sung the lyrics "Don't make me make you fall in love with a nigga like me," I have to imagine that I am pretty near the top.

I read someone's explanation of The Weeknd's lyrics once and it was basically "if any man said the things he does to a woman, they would slap him and call the police, but when he sings them they want to drop their panties."  Were I a girl I think I would just shrug and nod at that.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The clock, not other things

After a workout I almost always do stretches in the hot tubs for 5-10 minutes, which seems to really help reduce soreness and muscle tightness the next morning.  There's a wall clock in the same room that I use to time my stretches.  And right in front of the clock there's these lounge chairs that weird people like to nap in after a workout, and people constantly pass by those lounge chairs on the way to and from the sauna and steam room.  Half of these people are old naked white dudes.

I've been waiting—waiting, for years—for someone to misinterpret my intense staring at the time as creepily staring at them, get angry about it, and yell something like "what's your problem, asshole?!" at me.  Then I will calmly respond that I am "watching the clock, not the cock," which would be worth at least fifty badass points.

But in half a decade it hasn't happened yet.  And realistically in that situation I would probably respond with a startled "wuh nnghhwhnngh? oh," which the angry guy wouldn't even be able to hear over the sound of the water jets and showers.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Failing grade

So I'm taking an online course in audio production (recording, sound waves, etc.) right now, and one of the most surprisingly difficult things about it has been adjusting to the fact that my grade doesn't matter.  In some way this is partly because it's a free introductory class, so I don't have anything to lose, but realistically, even if I paid a thousand bucks for the class, it still wouldn't matter if I failed.  Getting a failing grade doesn't mean that I retroactively unlearn anything I learned up in the class.  It doesn't prevent me from learning more or getting better or getting a job.  It's completely, utterly insignificant, and I've been trained my whole life to pretend that it is.

The homework in the class is worth 30% of the final grade, and it looks boring and tedious and largely uncreative, so I just decided not to do it.  But it's frankly ridiculous how much I strained over making this decision.  I immediately recognized the homework* as being something that would not have a significant impact in my learning the material, but that threat of getting a poor grade in the class even though that means nothing whatsoever was still enough to make me reconsider that decision half a dozen times.  It's painful to admit just how brainwashed this experience has made me feel.

Grades don't matter.  Just need to keep reminding myself that until it sinks in.  And I think that if I had had the opportunity to have a more self-directed experience in school that didn't focus on getting grades it would have been a lot more valuable, because that would have better fit the way that I learn things.

(*In case you're curious, the homework each week is to prepare a lesson plan for some of that week's material, present it to others, and then to peer-review five other peoples' lessons.  Nope.  Not doing that.)

Monday, October 7, 2013

Walk alone

These lyrics really stuck with me today.  No particular reason; I just think they're awesome.

Unbeaten path got my soul so sore
The Devil want me as-is, but God, He want more
I'm a snake in the garden of bones
I'm a loner in a world of clones.

The Roots—Walk Alone (abridged)

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The translocator

I don't think any concept from a video game has impacted my daily thought processes as much as the Translocator from Unreal Tournament.  Basically the Translocator is a Frisbee launcher with a button that lets you teleport to the spot where your Frisbee is.  So, if you want to get upstairs in a hurry, you shoot a little disc upstairs over the railing, hope it landed in a safe spot, and then you activate the transportation effect.  If you happen to position the disc underneath someone else and then activate it, you'll be teleported inside that other person and they'll just sort of explode in a shower of guts.  If you fired the disc off into orbit and then activate it, well then you're probably going to suffocate in space.

In real life it would be a tad dangerous to use terribly often (as illustrated by the number of accidental suicides and homicides that it causes in the game), but it sure would be convenient.  Hardly a day has gone by in the past decade that I haven't thought of firing a disc off to some distant spot and teleporting there instead of waiting for an elevator or slow-moving people on the stairs.  (I don't usually think of the murder features all that often, but depending on the situation I suppose they could be a potential added bonus.)

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Forbidden parchments, anatomical mysteries

Shortly after I turned nine years old, my grandparents moved out to the country.  Their new place was seven acres or so*, a forest providing nearly endless opportunities for exploration and adventure when you're nine.  I was out there spending a couple days with them, and my friend Dusty (who was ten or eleven) was also there.  Dusty's family was friends with my grandparents, so I saw him once a year or so.  We were both super excited to discover and map out the whole property, but we were most excited by the dump.
The previous owners had made a small ravine on the property into their own personal dump.  It was mostly things like appliances and material scraps, but there were still a variety of thrilling treasures there like a gas mask, various broken objects, cords and tubing, and so on.  Obviously my grandparents didn't like us playing there, but the magic of such a boundless pile of joy was too much to resist.

Then on our second or third trip to the dump we found a big pile of porn.  We extracted the Playboys and Hustlers with the enthusiasm that one might lend to a pile of pirate necklaces and gold bars, carefully laying them out until we were sure that we had found them all.  Now, I'd been to public school, so a month or so after entering kindergarten I had become familiarized with virtually every swear word, body part, and sex act that humankind has imagined to date, but I had never seen actual pornography before.  (I think Dusty had, but I'm not going to put him on the spot here.  Don't want to get him in trouble.  Bro code and all that.)

As we turned the pages we marveled at the anatomical mysteries that were unraveling before our very eyes.  It was honestly probably the most exciting thing I had ever found in my life up to that point, even surpassing the time I found a five-dollar bill.  That day we became men, for we had seen boobies.  We continued inspecting the loot as best we could, but there was a significant problem: the pages were all stuck together, and only a few images were accessible.

Yes, I know, clichéd, but true.  Except in this case our foe was ice, as this was either January or February in Nebraska and probably twenty degrees outside.  We weren't sure how we were going to defrost them, but we knew we couldn't just leave such magnificent objects where we found them.  And we certainly couldn't leave them all neatly organized as they were now, because then it would be extremely obvious that we had found the forbidden parchments.  So we decided that we would hide them in a hollow log.  (Hollow logs are a real thing, city-folk.)  They would defrost by the next day (perhaps my grasp of how temperatures work was not fully developed by then), or if they didn't, we could find a suitably secure location in the barn that seemed to be away from prying eyes.

We went to bed that night positively giddy at the thought of what the next day would bring.  The next morning, we headed outside to rescue the porn, but we hit another snag: my grandpa was working on cleaning the dump, as he'd been doing for days.  Good thing we moved the magazines to that log, but we'd have to wait until later.  We found something else to occupy ourselves for a while, watching Grandpa like hawks, until we finally noticed him leaving the dump area, carrying a load of junk to the incinerator.  We made our way to the hollow log, and... it was hollow again.

I've been let down a lot of times in my life, but owning dirty magazines for the first time only to have them taken away to be incinerated before we had had the chance to fully research them was probably the biggest disappointment I experienced before my tenth birthday.  Not to mention the horror we experienced when realizing how easily our plan was foiled and that now he knew.  But Grandpa never spoke to us about the magazines, and I would certainly die of embarrassment if the topic ever arose today.

* * * * *

Note: The original title for this post was "Grandpa porn," but I changed it because I feared no one would read it with that title.

* ...and it cost 1/5 of what my tiny place here did, ugh.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

No reason

I just had a great idea for an app.  I call it Creepy Stalker Shot.  It's a camera app that lets you take pictures without other people realizing you're taking pictures.  It superimposes a faint outline of whatever you're taking a picture of on top of something innocuous like an email or a web page or texts.  That way you can still frame your shot successfully, but people around you don't know that you're being a creepy stalker.

If you steal my idea please at least make a version for Windows Phone.

No reason.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Torture for ten-year-olds

When I was young, I wrote a lot of stories.  Most of them were some sort of adventure in which I or someone like me was the star.  I would sit in front of a computer or a pad of paper and write them, and Mrs. Campbell would periodically check my spelling and grammar or, rarely, offer suggestions.  One such suggestion was that I should adjust the following lyrics from a song that a coven of witches were singing in one of my stories:

...ripping and raping,
killing and boiling in oil!

I do not envy anyone who has to explain to a ten-year-old that "raping" does not mean "whipping with a flail or similar torture device," which was my understanding at the time.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Purchased loyalties

For most of the time I've been alive, I've been a fan of the Might and Magic game series.  Might and Magic III in 1991 was the second game I ever purchased, and it was exciting and life-changing for introducing me to role-playing games: a new type of experience that I wasn't unfamiliar with and instantly became one of my favorite pastimes, like they have for many a young nerd.  1991 was a time in which one could use the word "splendor" to refer to Might and Magic III's 256-color, 320x200 graphics.  (My cell phone has 1,436% more pixels, and displays a lot more colors.  My monitor has 6,300% more pixels.)

The last Might and Magic game was IX in 2002.  It was rushed as the company that had bought the studio tried to stave off bankruptcy, and the series died off then.  The brand name was purchased by Ubisoft, who threw away the campy characters and worlds and storylines of the Might and Magic games and started anew, but they never produced another Might and Magic role-playing game.  (Admittedly, the games they've produced under that brand name have all been fun.)

Until this year.  Ubisoft has a small team finally making a sequel, Might and Magic X Legacy.  It's old-school in every way except the graphics, forgetting most every gameplay innovation of the past almost-two-decades.  There's something oddly charming about a game so retro that you can only turn in 90 degree angles and can't look up and down and the world stops moving when you're not walking forward.  And I'm certainly intrigued.  But I'm not sure why.  It's being made by a completely new studio, with nobody who worked on the original games, and oversight by a company who completely threw away most of everything Might and Magic but the name when they bought the brand.

It's fan fiction, basically.  If someone bought the rights to George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series and wrote another Game of Thrones sequel, would it really be a Game of Thrones sequel?  There would be outrage at the thought of new fiction being produced without the input of the original author but released under the same "brand."  When a sequel to Donnie Darko was released with no involvement from the original writer and director, everyone assumed it would be horrible, avoided it, and from the look of the reviews they were right.  But brands changing hands seems to happen all the time in games, and most of the time nobody seems to notice or care.

Well okay sure, people notice sometimes.  Sometimes not until after the fact.  Diablo III had a rocky start and did not cater to the super-hardcore crowd as well as Diablo II did, and internet trolls vigorously proclaimed that the game was horrible and not a real Diablo game because the lead designer and most of the team were new to the Diablo world.  And while I think the game is stupendous in most ways, they may be right that it's not a "real" Diablo game.  Games don't generally have single writers that one can point to as being wholly responsible like one generally can for a book or a movie; most seem to be like a TV show where there are several writers that work together.

I'm going to buy Might and Magic X Legacy.  Part of the strength of a brand, creative or otherwise, is that it's an informal agreement.  The company who owns that brand sells you a product, and you trust that it is of a high quality because you have prior experience with the company and brand.  The insurance of this is the brand itself—if BMW started releasing unreliable, low-quality cars, the value of their brand would diminish.  And nobody knows who was the design director or technical overseer for their model of car; it's solely the brand that matters, not the people.  But if every car company started trading their brands around and assigning new teams to each project with that brand, the power of car brands would start to diminish.

Or... maybe it wouldn't.  Now that happens all the time with games, and brands are still supremely powerful, and brands can coast on the successes of old games for a long time.  I buy games all the time because they're the latest in a series so I "know" they'll be good.  But realistically a lot of the time I'm buying them for that brand promise, not because I have any idea who's involved in the writing and design and direction of the game.  (Ubisoft has effectively purchased my loyalties.)  I only know a couple game designers by name, and that's actually a little saddening to me, especially since I intend to produce my own game someday.  And I don't have a brand name behind me.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Glad we could get that cleared up

For a while now I've been trying to decide on the least sexy euphemisms for sex that I've heard in a song.  I've narrowed it down to:

J Cole—Can't Get Enough
"get up in the guts"

Dev—In the Dark
"open me up and do some surgery"

I still couldn't really decide which of those two is the least erotic, but a cursory internet search shows that "get up in the guts" is not a clever invention by Mr. Cole but rather awful slang in use in other songs as well, whereas "open me up and do some surgery" appears to be unique to Dev's song.

So congratulations Dev, you have produced the least sexy euphemism for sex ever.

Monday, July 1, 2013

I hope you didn't scratch the paint

I find it supremely annoying when I fall or cough and someone asks "are you okay?", whether with genuine interest or as a knee-jerk reaction.  (It's much worse if I didn't even fall and it was something even more minor, like lightly bumping into something or tripping and catching myself before I fall.)  I know that I have fairly little right to be annoyed by someone attempting to care for me or being otherwise interested in my well-being, but it still drives me nuts.

I suppose it's the implication that I need help that bothers me, though I'm not entirely certain.  I don't want it said or implied that I need help, and I don't want to ask for help unless it's really necessary.  When I slip on a stairway or trip over my own feet it takes something that's already embarrassing and annoying and calls attention to it, making it more embarrassing.  And I take pride in self-reliance, and the implication that I need assistance for the most absolutely insignificant of problems is insulting.  I'd far prefer if people would just ignore my occasional (okay, frequent) clumsiness, or at least make it clear that they in no way expect that I need any sort of help by responding with "don't die" or "I hope you didn't scratch the paint" or the like.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Binge and Purge

I go through phases where I am overflowing with creativity and a desire to build things and make music and photograph things.  Sometimes this lasts a week, sometimes it lasts two months.  Then I will invariably go through a phase where I don't want to build things at all.  I want to consume art and beauty in all its forms.  I want to play new games, be immersed in new stories, and see new typefaces and architecture and arrangements of color.  I mean, I always want to do those things, but sometimes the craving is much stronger.  It's a binge and purge cycle, where I ingest beauty and then later spew it out.

In the past I saw this with a more depressing light: there was the time of creativity, and the creative funk.  I saw the consumption phase as laziness—I had this feeling that I was being lazy and wasting my time on this earth if I wasn't trying to make things.  But I'm starting to understand a little better that in the grand scheme of things, if you go two months without making anything, it's not a failure.  It's not a failure that the sun isn't always out every hour of the day; it's part of a natural cycle that keeps plants growing while preventing us from baking to our deaths.  Even if right now I don't feel like making anything new, I will in a week, or a month, or a season.  Feeling bad about it as a way to motivate myself into being productive is probably not the right way to deal with it.  It's resting, to give me the energy to be creative again when the cycle moves on, and research to fill me ideas.

When I was younger I think the phases of this cycle were much shorter—no more than a couple days.  I wonder now if this was simply because I was younger, and time felt more compressed, or if it's because I work full-time now.  "Real life" is way more stressful and mentally exhausting than school was.  I do have a parallel cycle at work, where I'm very productive for a while and totally unproductive for a while, but regardless of which phase it is I'm still working for a similar amount of time, and it can take a lot out of me.

Certainly the "binge" phase of the cycle is much simpler mentally, when I can passively sit and watch TV or cast spells at monsters on my computer screen.  Work and social demands and anything else that exhausts me can perhaps lengthen the time I stay in the binge phase.  But perhaps unlike in real life, the purging is generally more long-term rewarding.  And I need both parts to be happy.

Friday, June 28, 2013


I've been thinking off and on about why some people get so excited about movies or music or TV or games, and some people don't.  Being one of the people who do get excited, I couldn't really comprehend how someone could not be excited about at least one of those things.  I mean, art is pretty fundamental to the human experience.  How can it not thrill and excite you?

Talking with my friend Louise about the topic a while back, I learned something that I think helped me to understand it a little better.  Both of us love games, and we watch Breaking Bad and Dexter and other TV together, and generally enjoy art.  But while I become excited to the point of bursting whenever I find out that someone's working on a new Might and Magic or Command and Conquer or Warcraft game, or Imogen Heap's putting out a new CD, she doesn't.  I become overwhelmed with anticipation and she doesn't.

Now I don't have a deep psychology background or a lot of data points, but the thing that I realized talking to her is that basically all of my emotional experiences come from art.  Is that true, at least to some degree, for other people who become enormously excited about art?  Her emotions are triggered by human interactions, but I rarely feel much of anything talking to other people.  I don't cry at funerals or weddings, I don't get as angry as others, and I'm rarely sad.  But the scene at the end of what was effectively just the tutorial to Mass Effect 3, where the Leaving Earth theme is being played and you watch people get onto evacuation ships—that made me cry.  And the introduction to Up.  And at least half of the episodes of Lost.  And the feeling I get when I hear an amazing song for the first time is greater than most of the times I've heard great news from a friend.  Art is what moves me.

Is there correlation between those who react strongly to art and poorly to other humans, and those who get overwhelmed with excited anticipation about a CD?  Certainly on the surface it makes sense to be excited about the types of things that have most reliably brought you joy in the past.  For some people that's other people.  Or maybe some people just don't get excited with anticipation—that just doesn't seem very likely to me.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013


The short version:
Zedd—Clarity: 6/10
Labrinth—Electronic Earth: 7/10
Petri Alanko—Alan Wake: 7/10
Petri Alanko—Alan Wake's American Nightmare: 4/10
Charli XCX—True Romance: 5/10
Daft Punk—Random Access Memories: 5/10

Zedd's album Clarity is a dance album with music that you can dance to if you're into that sort of thing.  Dancing, I mean.  I would like this album more but a lot of the tracks are frankly pretty obnoxious in parts (even if they're otherwise not bad), and it's full of dance music tropes like noisy crescendos.  The opening track Hourglass is pretty great though, possibly because the first half of it sounds more like OneRepublic with a girl than a dance song.  Anyway, it's really well-constructed.  Speaking of OneRepublic, the second best is Lost at Sea featuring Ryan Tedder: it's pleasant, and it doesn't try to make me feel bad for sitting stationary while I listen.  The title track Clarity is third place, with a strong beat and strong vocals.  And then there are awful travesties like Fall into the Sky featuring Ellie Goulding, which sounds like it's a butchered cover of itself.  Anyway, most of the album's just okay; with a little more creativity I think it would have been a lot less forgettable.

I first expected Labrinth's Electronic Earth to be another dance album, and I thought about it that way at first, but once I realized it was "just" pop music (complete with too much Auto-Tune) with a bit more post-production it all made more sense to me.  There are three standout tracks: Treatment, Climb on Board, and Sweet Riot; and all three of those are infectiously catchy and are produced extremely well.  I'm glad I gave it a shot; the only song on here I recognized at first was Earthquake, which is full of annoying whiny noises which probably would have been clever if they weren't repeating throughout the entire song.  I'd recommend it to anyone who likes pop music that reeks of computers.

I got the Alan Wake and Alan Wake's American Nightmare soundtracks by Petri Alanko through a Humble Bundle.  I already owned the games for the Xbox—Alan Wake is incredible by the way, and you should definitely own it—but I picked them up again for the PC to get the soundtracks.  The first game's soundtrack is rather decent and fantastically moody; the second game American Nightmare's soundtrack not so great by comparison.  From the former, A Writer's Dream, Tom the Diver, and Hunters are good examples.  There are also a couple metal tracks by the metal band Poets of the Fall on some versions of the soundtrack.  If you've played the game—and, again, you should—then you'll recognize the band's music from one of the game's hilariously wonderful showdown scenes.  The latter game's soundtrack is shorter and not as interesting; Emma is a good example track.  It's unfortunate but quite expected that none of the licensed songs made it onto the soundtrack, such as Poe's Haunted or Kasabian's Club Foot.  Alan Wake made very good use of music, and even though most of the soundtrack is moody and not symphonic masterpieces, it's pretty well done.

I discovered Charli XCX through her guest appearance on Icona Pop's album and I decided to pick up her debut, True Romance.  It's okay but quite forgettable, with no tracks that stand out extremely well.  Nuclear Seasons, Set Me Free, and Black Roses are good examples.  I guess the style is probably something like "indie electronic," or just "alternative" for short.  I dunno.  Might be more worth checking out if you like 80s music; for some reason or another it has a mild 80s pop vibe to me.

I don't like Daft Punk's new album Random Access Memories.  There; I said it.  Burn me at the stake if you must.  In this album they've gone from an electronic band that samples funk to a modernized funk band.  In their first single for the CD, Get Lucky featuring Pharrell Williams, you wouldn't even have a reason to call it a Daft Punk track were it not for a little bit of their signature robot voice at the end.  Contact is fun, Touch featuring Paul Williams is weird but pleasant, and Giorgio by Moroder ends up quite nice as well, but starts with nearly two minutes of talking that I'll need to clip out to retain my sanity.  Anyway, their artistry is apparent, but their arty experimentation isn't enough to make me want to listen to this as much as their past work.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Petty name-calling, under-the-breath-talking

I decided while driving last Friday that High Road by Fort Minor is the best rap song that I have ever heard.  (Fort Minor is the side project of Linkin Park's rapper, Mike Shinoda.)  Naturally I needed to verify this with real data, and now after browsing through all of the rap tracks in my collection that I had rated 5 stars, I can back up my initial conclusion.
I love pretty much everything about High Road.  Mike's vocals are perfect—the rhythm is entrancing, and he's got a strong, sharp, clear voice.  The chorus is sung by John Legend, who fits the track wonderfully well with his silky-smooth R&Bness.  The beat's great too, and I love that the pacing is such that I can manage to rap and sing along moderately well, which is not generally the case.  And the lyrics, while not Shakespeare, have a nice flow to them.
Lemme tell you where I'm at with this
You bastards are gonna have to take back that shit
I'm not plastic and fake
When I make tracks, I take facts and lay 'em out for the masses
You assholes are gonna see soon that I'm not playing
Start asking me the names that I'm not saying
But I'm trying to be bigger than the bickering
Bigger than the petty name-calling, under-the-breath-talking
Rumors and labels and categorization
I'm like a struggling doctor: no patience
But you can say what you want about me
Keep talking while I'm walking away
Anyway.  Yeah.  Best rap song ever.  The runner-ups, which all excel in most of the factors that are important to great music, are (in no particular order):
Chiddy Bang—Handclaps and Guitars
Jurassic 5—Back 4 U
Diddy/Dirty Money—Coming Home
The Roots—Walk Alone

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Square one

Well I'm basically back to square one.  I had a visit with my neurologist a few days ago, and we decided that the Botox wasn't really helping all that much, and there wasn't any reason for me to keep taking prescription painkillers that come in suspicious powder form and cost $200,000 a pound after insurance.  So I'm off all of the medications that I was previously on.  I'm also going to stop going to the chiropractor, since I've been there for fifty visits now with no notable change in my headaches.

So now I'm back on ibuprofen, and next up I'm going to be trying massage and acupuncture, though massage isn't covered by insurance so I'm almost sort of hoping that it doesn't help.  She also prescribed Ambien to help me sleep, though so far it doesn't seem to have any effect on me at all.  She did warn me that a decent number of people sleepwalk and even order things online when they're taking it, which sounds kind of hilarious, but I think I'm safe because I have trouble typing my password when I'm awake, let alone unconscious.

She also asked "Have you ever had cranio-sacral adjustment? I think you should try that." Then she described that someone was going to feel the energy around my head and adjust my energy flows using their Gift. Then she pantomimed a crazy person and replied "So yeah, it's pretty wooo-woooooooo, but then again it's probably better for you than whatever weird poisons I prescribe for you to pop, right?"

In the meantime, it's nice to not be on a long list of different prescription poisons that I'm taking every day.  It's not that I'm against being a human guinea pig, but so far it hasn't been fruitful in getting me days free of pain, nor have any of the drugs at all made me totally high and awesome.

Other than those current non-pharmaceutical treatments—massage, acupunture, and cranio-sacral, there isn't really much else for her to suggest next other than variations on drugs I've already taken (I've already taken many variants)—or perhaps marijuana, for which there's definite significant anecdotal evidence in support, though she hasn't mentioned it.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Good old days

Last night I spent twenty minutes browsing through my favorite posts from the good old days.  Man, a while back I apparently had all sorts of interesting things to write about.  Now most of the time that I think of a good topic I realize that I already wrote about it years ago (I mean I've probably posted about this before too), and for some reason I rarely bother digging into my extensive list of rainy day topics.

Maybe I need to set a goal of writing a blog post once a week, instead of just writing dialogue for my game.  Just to keep things mixed up.

The sort of thing that gets you on a domestic terrorist watch list

When I was young I was obsessed with weapons.  As many nerdy children and teenagers do, I had a particular fondness for medieval weaponry, but I also loved guns and explosions and lasers too.  One of my prized possessions in my youth was a standing chalkboard on wheels.  (Bet you didn't expect me to say that, right?  You were totally expecting me to say "pocketknife" or something.)  On that chalkboard I devised all manner and number of games and activities.  My favorite was a game that I created to play with my little brother, The Explosives Game.  (I'm guessing I was around age 8 or so at this time.)

In this game I would create scenarios similar to how a Dungeon Master would in D&D, and then my little brother, armed with a number of sticks of dynamite and barrels of TNT and so on, would play the part of a guy who just wanted to blow things up and kill people.  The backstory of his enemies was always rather weak, as is always the case when little boys play with their GI JOEs and the like—they were "bad guys"—and that was justification enough to wander into their homes, kill everyone inside, loot their armory, and destroy every possession that they held dear.  This is the sort of thing that I imagine gets you on a domestic terrorist watch list these days, but I assume that any number of creative children come up with similar games of wanton violence.  Over the months (years?) I established quite an extensive (you know, for a kid) core handbook for this game, though the actual gameplay was flexible enough that much was made up as I went along so that whoever I felt like the winner should be would in fact be declared the winner.  (I think I tried to split play sessions 50/50 between us.)  I had a black binder filled with page after page of stats on explosive devices: what they looked like on the board, their explosive radius, how much damage they did, how much they cost at a shop, and so on.  It was like the Player's Handbook and Monster Manual for my magnum opus.  I would enjoy having that book now, though it's possible I destroyed it at some point; I vacillate between treasuring such nostalgic memories, and wanting to erase all traces of my past foolish low-quality creative endeavors.  (Some of my Photoshops from a decade ago make me want to throw up.)

Of course that wasn't the only game I created, but it was the most dear to my heart, and it was one of the few that I ever wrote down rules and numbers for.  Probably in second place was The Great Race, which basically consisted of putting a dozen or two small toys (especially Happy Meal toys) in a row on the linoleum kitchen floor and then racing them to the finish line using a completely arbitrary and made-up series of rules.  In one game my box of fries had a special power that allowed him to jump ahead of any car on the board and my pony got to move twice every turn, and in the same game maybe my brother's milkshake got to fire missiles at my racers, killing them and removing them from the game.  It didn't make any sense, but then again neither does Super Smash Brothers, and even adults like that game for some reason.

I think I turned out okay.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

They've unmade a huge mistake

Arrested Development season 4 is out in a week.  However quickly this week goes by, it won't be quickly enough.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

It's going to be fine

The short version:
Darren Korb—Bastion: 9/10
NEEDTOBREATHE—Caercas Blancas EP: 3/10
Jessica Curry—Dear Esther: 3/10
Ari Pulkkinen—Shadowgrounds: 3/10
Ari Pulkkinen—Shadowgrounds Survivor: 3/10
Dave S-B—Revenge of the Titans: 2/10
Jason Graves—Tiberian Twilight: 8/10
Kid Cudi—Indicud: 4/10
Baz Luhrmann / Various Artists—The Great Gatsby: 5/10
Andrew Bayer—If It Were You, We'd Never Leave: 9/10
Youngblood Hawke—Wake Up: 7/10

I got Bastion through one of the Humble Bundles, and its soundtrack by Darren Korb came with it, which is great, because it's really fantastic.  It's unusual and wonderful and just makes me happy.  It's heavy with acoustic guitars and catchy beats, giving it a Fireflyesque feel, but it does seem to use some stock, prerecorded samples—From Wharf to Wilds clearly has the same melody as Seven Lives by Enigma, for example.  The end theme Setting Sail, Coming Home is my favorite, and the short opening tune A Proper Story is close behind.  It's great enough that I initially passed on the game after playing the demo but now I want to give it a shot just because the music is so great.

NEEDTOBREATHE have a free EP, Caercas Blancas, with a couple studio tracks, a demo, and a couple live tracks.  They're not exactly one of my favorite bands to begin with, but I think it's really only worth picking up if you're a big fan.  White Fences is the best on it, and it's merely decent.

Jessica Curry's Dear Esther soundtrack is really boring.  Not nearly as boring as the game, but still pretty boring.  The last track The Code is the highlight.  (This is not the same soundtrack that is available on Spotify; I'm not sure what's up.)

Ari Pulkkinen's soundtracks for Shadowgrounds and Shadowgrounds Survivor also came from a Humble Bundle, and they're nothing to be excited about.  Valley of Shadow from the former is the best track and kind of reminds me of The Neverending Story for some reason, but overall both are bland.

My final Humble Bundle acquisition in the batch, Dave S-B's soundtrack for Revenge of the Titans was even more boring.

Tiberian Twilight was such a disappointingly terrible game that I somehow managed to completely ignore Jason Graves's excellent soundtrack until now.  The whole soundtrack itself seems entirely out of place in a real-time strategy game, let alone one as bad as Tiberian Twilight.  Presumably some of these tracks are from cinematic cutscenes and they would certainly make sense there, but it's music that tells a story, which just isn't appropriate for the game.  Maybe that's how I managed to play through the whole game without realizing how good the music was.  The Prophet's Ascension is long but lovely, Whatever It Takes seems like it would fit well in The Avengers, and The Pacific Hub is just very pretty.

Kid Cudi is a great producer and not a very good rapper.  He has a strange off-key vocal style that often I find sort of endearing, but it's mostly just infuriating on his latest CD IndicudJust What I Am, Young Lady, and Cold Blooded are the best tracks on the album, and the vocals on those are actually pretty decent.  But then there's stuff like Girls featuring Too $hort (ugh) that makes me want to drink bleach.  Even as one of the worst tracks on the disc the background instrumentals are still relatively decent if a bit sparse, but both his and $hort's vocals are horrible, and it's enough to make me wonder if Cudi would be better just producing for other artists.

The soundtrack for the Baz Luhrmann film The Great Gatsby is weird.  There are a lot of decent tracks on it but nothing great.  Gotye's Hearts a Mess is probably the best thing on it, but it's taken straight from his album Like Drawing Blood and not new material.  The cover of Beyoncé's Crazy in Love by Emeli Sandé and the Bryan Ferry Orchestra is kind of hilariously cute but I'd be hard-pressed to call it great.  And Back to Black by Beyoncé and André 3000 is sultry and strange.  (That's right; Beyoncé is on here but not singing her own song.)  There are also tracks by Florence and the Machine, Sia, Nero, Lana Del Rey, and other recognizable names, and all of it's kind of middling and bizarre.  (Maybe it will grow on me.)  But still less bizarre than Moulin Rouge.

Andrew Bayer's If It Were You, We'd Never Leave is wonderful not-quite-fully-instrumental electronica.  The beats are good but they aren't the only focus; this isn't really dance music, and it's full of emotional, well-crafted pieces packed with intriguing sounds.  Echo is the best track on the album, and then Lose Sight and Gaff's Eulogy.  Lose Sight is particularly interesting to me; it sounds like a remix of an Imogen Heap song that doesn't exist.

Finally, I heard Youngblood Hawke for the first time at the fun. concert in the park next to my house, and I'm glad I wrote down their name so I could watch for their first album, because Wake Up is a great start.  We Come Running is their most recognizable track, and it's very, very good alt-pop.  Stars and Dreams are great too.  Some of the tracks are approaching my maximum hipsterness level, but overall it's a nice indie pop sound.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Setting Sail, Coming Home

I've been listening to the Bastion soundtrack recently and it's reminded me how rare it is to find video game soundtracks with distinct vocals (as in, no generic prerecorded "oohs" and "ahhs").  Obviously it makes some sense to avoid vocals in most soundtracks in general, so generally they're only used in end themes.  Anyway, here are my favorite seven instances of songs in video games with distinct lyrics, not counting games with licensed tracks (like racing games and Alan Wake).

All of these are great and you should stop what you are doing and listen to all of them.

Bastion - Setting Sail, Coming Home
Journey - I Was Born for This
Portal - Still Alive (spoilers)
Portal 2 - The National - Exile, Vilify*
Skyrim - Dragonborn
The 7th Guest - The Fat Man - Skeletons in my Closet
The Curse of Monkey Island - A Pirate I Was Meant to Be

* I didn't actually find this song in-game; apparently it's like an Easter Egg?

A Pirate I Was Meant to Be gets tons of bonus points for being a song that is actually part of the storyline, as one of the most awe-inspiringly awesome unexpected moments of a video game ever.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Still a long way

For the past couple months I've been running an experiment of sorts where I had Firefox set up to block Flash by default, and then I'd selectively enable it for sites that needed it, like YouTube and Vimeo and Facebook and so on.  I've come to the conclusion, yet again, that the sites that I visit are still a long way from being Flash-free and HTML5-friendly.  Not only was it obviously obnoxious for Flash content that I wanted to see like videos, but there were a lot of unexpected place where it sucked, too: some sites have transparent Flash ads that cover a significant portion of the page, and with Flash disabled, parts of the page were simply inaccessible.  And some sites that I visit a lot like Soundcloud have script on the page that interacts with the Flash content that didn't know what to do without it.  And there are cases like where YouTube has a Flash-free beta player but it's pretty broken and isn't as functional as the regular Flash one.

My first experience in recent years with a Flash-free world was with the iPad; that was a couple years ago, and I found a lot of things frustrating about the iPad but the lack of Flash support was a big one.  I don't actually even completely remember what motivated me to try living without Flash again other than pure curiosity.  Microsoft decided that for the Surface, Flash was still a necessity, and right now I feel like this "experiment" vindicates the people who made that politically awkward decision pretty well.

I'd love a world where Flash was not a requirement to browse the web, but as far as I'm concerned, that's still going to be a while.  People like to talk about how everything's HTML5 now and Flash isn't necessary, but either those people visit a wildly different set of websites than I do and never click on random links from their friends, or they're just deluding themselves.

Friday, April 12, 2013

An entire morning spent just waking up

Months ago I resolved to stop getting on Facebook in the mornings, and start the day productively and earlier.  This has not happened yet.  I think the problem is that when I wake up I'm very groggy and disoriented.  I don't feel like I have the mental capacity to prepare for the day yet, so I sit and absently browse Facebook while I stretch and clear my eyes and wake my brain up.  At some point while clicking the various links that people shared I'm awake enough that I could start getting ready for my day, but at that point I'm already completely distracted, because I am very easily distracted in general and my friends post interesting things.  Once I finally pull myself out of endless browsing, I go through my work email to see if anything important has already happened, and inevitably there are things that need my attention there.  By the time that's done my brain is mostly "lit up," and now I'm remembering the things I need to do today, coming up with new ideas, and the like.  Those things need to be written down or I'll forget them later, so I start writing them down, and that generates new ideas.  By the time it's all done it can be 90 minutes of my day already taken up by the process of getting up.  It's not all 90 minutes of wasted time, since a lot of it is stuff I needed to do at some point anyway, or remembering things I needed to remember to do, but it still makes me feel like an entire morning spent just waking up.

Monday, April 8, 2013


I find myself perpetually sick of Alanis Morissette, even though I like her music. It's my car's fault, really. Whenever I choose a new playlist, her name sorts to the top alphabetically. So she's always the first artist I see or hear when picking new music, and I'm constantly hearing 20 seconds of Alanis before picking something else. Sorry Alanis.

Saturday, April 6, 2013


I found a neat tool that a grad student wrote called KeyFinder that determines the key of a song through audio analysis.  It got me wondering if my favorite songs share common keys.  I have too many "favorite songs" to analyze all of them, but I decided to pick 20 really excellent songs that are among my favorites, put them through the analyzer, and see if I could notice any patterns.

Wolfgang Gartner—Still My Baby A♭ minor
Hans Zimmer—Time G
Bear McCreary—All Along the Watchtower D♭ minor
Apparat—Goodbye E
OneRepublic—Counting Stars D♭ minor
OneRepublic—Can't Stop C
The Weeknd—The Birds (part I) G minor
Yann Tiersen—La Valse d'Amélie (Orchestral) A minor
Quarashi—Pro F minor
Icona Pop—I Love It A♭
Les Friction—Torture E
Kid Cudi—Pursuit of Happiness A minor
Hooverphonic—You Love Me to Death A
Goldfrapp—A&E A♭
Coldplay—Viva la Vida A♭
Russell Brower et al—Going Hozen F
Matt Uelmen—Ancients A minor
Keane—Atlantic E♭
Alex Clare—Too Close B minor
Gary Jules—Mad World B♭

I suppose the most interesting thing about all that is that there are actually more songs in a major key there than a minor key; I had always assumed that I preferred music in a minor key.  And A♭ shows up more than other keys.  And it's possible that the tool sucks and it's not actually accurate information, though the author has evidence to suggest it can play on the same field as other products with the same goal.  But anyway, I don't think I can draw too many conclusions from the exercise.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Hot tubs

Anyone have inside jokes with themselves?  I definitely do.  The hot tubs at my gym have signs in front of them that say

Soap shower required before entering whirlpool

but I decided that was basically just a nice way of saying something else, so every time I see those signs I'm slightly amused now because I translate them in my head to

Hey! Scrub yo butthole

So if you ever see me smirking near the hot tubs, that's why.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Can't Stop

The short version:
Neil Davidge—Halo 4: 8/10
Austin Wintory—Journey: 9/10
The Glitch Mob et al—Drink the Sea remixes, vols. I and II: 3/10
Beats Antique—Contraption vol. II: 7/10
Glenn Stafford, Neal Acree, Derek Duke, and Russell Brower—Heart of the Swarm: 5/10
Andrew Bayer—It's Artificial: 8/10
OneRepublic—Native: 9/10

Lots of great music to recommend recently.  First up is Neil Davidge's score for Halo 4, a game I have not played.  Overall it's a quite good example of Inspiring Cinematic Action Movie or Game Music.  I imagine that it fits the game very well, but it sounds rather nice as an album of energetic background music too.  Buying the CD also gets you several downloadable tracks which shouldn't be missed, as the bonus downloads include the Andrew Bayer remix of Green and Blue which is fantastic and bears little resemblance to the original track, excellent in its own right.  The remix is really groovy for lack of a better word, and it just puts me in a happy mood.  My only complaint is that it suffers pretty heavily from what I believe is properly identified as "ducking"; to emphasize the beats in the song, the other audio around the beats is reduced in volume.  The effect is basically the musical equivalent of turning the sharpness filter up waaayyy too high in Photoshop; used subtly it's a nice effect, but overused it's weird and awkward.  Anyway, those two tracks are great, and so are Awakening, Haven, and several others.  Definitely worth checking out if you're a fan of Inspiring Cinematic Action Movie or Game Music.

Austin Wintory's score for Journey is simply one of the most beautiful soundtrack scores I've ever heard.  Really my only complaint is that the game Journey itself is very short—just a couple hours—and while the soundtrack is amazing and fits the gorgeous environments in the game perfectly, there isn't a huge amount of variance from beginning to end.  That said, this is a soundtrack that you can play start to finish without wanting to skip a track or even pause in the middle, and I think that it would be a pretty incredible experience to hear it performed live.  Check out I Was Born for This, The Road of Trials, and Nascence.  You can also pick up the free Journey Bonus Bundle, a free collection of B-sides from Journey and the other minigames that come on the disc.  Nothing on the bonus bundle is as good as the main soundtrack, but it's still nice.  Anyway, the soundtrack came with my copy of Journey for free (it was on the Blu-ray with an option to copy it to your hard drive), but it can also be picked up separately.

The Glitch Mob put out two free albums of remixes from their debut album Drink the Sea, and unfortunately there's one great remix and most of the rest range from pretty bad to mediocre.  The reason worth picking it up is the Beats Antique remix of We Swarm which is catchy with some great, weird horn parts.  A few others of the 25 tracks are decent but they're mostly just riding on great source material.

Having really liked that Beats Antique remix I've been listening to a couple of their albums, and Contraption vol. II is rather pleasant.  Skeleton Key is the standout best, and Colony Collapse and Hero are great too.  It reminds me a bit of Caravan Palace and a couple other bands I've found recently that focus on old sounds and instrumentation fused with modern beats and production.

The soundtrack for Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm came with my collector's edition copy, and it's decent but nothing too spectacular, like the music from the previous games in the series.  There are several excellent moments in the soundtrack, but they're spread pretty thin between fairly dull parts.  The organization of the soundtrack also seems sort of odd; some of the tracks are like three completely different songs mashed together, so if there's a piece of high-energy music from one of the cutscenes you really liked, it might be sandwiched between two slow, ambient, atmospheric bits.  Collateral Damage, Conscience, and He Had It Coming are the best.

Thanks to some incessant praise on Facebook and his great remix off the Halo 4 soundtrack I picked up Andrew Bayer's album It's Artificial, and it's very good.  It's pure electronica without really attempting to be pop or dance music, and some of the pieces are rather beautiful.  The opening track Nexus 6 is gorgeous after a weirdly long two-minute buildup, Monolith is driving and intense, and Paper Cranes just makes me happy.  Definitely worth checking out.

And finally, the new OneRepublic album Native came out a week ago, but I am already fully convinced that it is top-notch.  Strangely, the first two singles from the album are in my opinion some of the less interesting tracks on there, which made me fear for the album a bit, but I was quite wrong and it's wonderful.  The opening track Counting Stars is perfect, from the vocals to the drums to the instrumentation to the production.  (On a side note, does the background instrumentation remind anyone of the awesome synths in Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight) by Abba as sampled in Hung Up by Madonna?)  But that's not even my favorite; the best is Can't Stop, similarly perfect in every aspect, with some incredible high-pitched vocals.  And Preacher has a lovely gospel-pop feeling to it.  Native is indisputably one of the best albums I've heard, and if you can hear Can't Stop and Counting Stars and not fall in love with them, I don't understand you.  Needless to say, highly recommended.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Enter Galactic

One of the lines in the Kid Cudi song Enter Galactic absolutely drives me up the wall.
Tell me your secrets
The things that make you tick
I like when you talk
Because your voice is angelesque
The word "angelic" would have fit perfectly there.  Also, "angelic" is a real word and "angelesque" is not.  Also those lyrics are just pretty terrible overall.  But at least the song's catchy.

P!nk has quite a few terrible rhymes in her songs too and they enrage me just as much.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

No longer utterly dependent

A few days ago I got Lasik.  I've been looking forward to it for more than a decade now probably.  My vision has been pretty bad since first grade, and for the past twenty years I haven't been able to see or read much of anything without glasses or contacts.  A week ago I couldn't read a thing that was more than 2-3 inches from my face.  Today with no correction I can see about as well as I could with glasses on.  To call that anything less than a miracle of modern science is underselling it.

To put things in perspective, before the surgery, the number of memories I have from my entire life in which I did not have glasses or contacts I can probably count on one hand.  I remember vague imagery of the playground equipment in the kindergarten area at my elementary school.  I remember the first time I read a word (or one of the very first few), "GAS."  I remember being in a K-Mart or ShopKo or Target and my mom buying me workbooks to help me learn math.  And honestly that's about it.  And then I remember standing in line in front of the school when I first got my glasses, and how soon after, I felt weird without them.  If I was up late at night, I had to put my glasses on to help me sleep because I felt wrong without them.

I don't remember what it was like to wake up to an alarm clock and to actually be able to see that alarm clock.  I don't remember what it was like to be able to walk around without having to feel my way around.  I'm no longer utterly dependent on my glasses and contacts to the point where I am quite nearly blind without them.  I can make love and see who it's with.  I can go on a trip without the disastrous possibility of leaving my glasses behind (which has happened once).  I will likely still need reading glasses or some sort of additional help in a decade, but for now, my life has been changed.

The actual procedure was straightforward and was over in minutes, after all of the preparatory tests and consent was done.  They put some anesthetic in my eyes, put me in a dentist-like chair, and things began.  They put a device around my eyelids that I can only assume was reminiscent of A Clockwork Orange to keep my eye open, and then there was a terrifying device that sounded like a mini sawblade whirring.  They put more drops in my eye that temporarily blacked out my vision, and then thwuck-thwuck, the saw slid in and out.  I could feel the saw apply pressure to my eye which was unsettling but not painful; it was cutting a flap off my cornea.  Then the flap was held back while the laser burned away part of my eye—it smelled like burning hair and filed-down fingernails.  Then the flap was put back in place, more drops were added, and they repeated the procedure on the next eye.  And that was it.

Immediately after the procedure my vision was drastically better—not great, but quite noticeably better.  I could make out peoples' faces, and while they were a little blurry, that in itself was a massive accomplishment.  The world looked like it was underwater, and I could read things on a computer if I turned the zoom level waaaayyy up (250% was the sweet spot).  It was uncomfortable to look at one for too long, though, and my eyes tired very quickly.  The next day, I went in for my post-op appointment where they removed the clear bandages from my eyes, and after my eye test I was told I could expect to get about 20/25 in my left eye and 20/20 in my right eye after healing completed.  That's a nice improvement over the 20/many-thousand vision in my eyes prior.  (My prescriptions were -10.50 and -10.00, if you want to compare.)  That day I could use the computer for somewhat longer periods of time at about a 125% zoom level, though it was still straining.

The following two days were this weekend, and now at the end of Sunday I feel like I'm ready to go back to work tomorrow.  Staring at a computer screen for a long time is still a little challenging (it's too bad that I didn't have those three days of solid meetings after the surgery), but I think I'll be able to last most of a workday at this point.

I still have to put drops in my eyes every hour or sooner for the next month or so, and I have three different kinds to use right now.  What really surprised me is that there was no real pain besides the discomfort of the dry, strained eyes.  I was given capsules of liquid acetaminophen to use when the original anesthetics wore off, but they were never necessary.  That seemed pretty strange to me given that I just had the tips of my eyeballs sliced off.  (The thought has occurred to me that I'm just so used to constant pain at this point that I don't even notice things like that.)

Today, at the end of the weekend following my surgery, the only way you can tell by looking at me that anything is different is that my left eye is a bit bloody (which I'm told is common, due to capillaries getting sliced when cutting the flap).  In a week I'll be done with the medications and I'll just need moistening drops for the following few weeks.  And after that I'll get to experience again what it's like for people with normal vision, and I can already tell that it will be amazing.


The short version:
Stacie Orrico—Stacie Orrico: 5/10
Mike Morasky—Portal: 3/10
Mike Morasky—Portal 2: 6/10
Icona Pop—Iconic EP: 8/10
Tegan and Sara—Heartthrob: 7/10
AWOLNATION—Red Bull Editions: hey, it's free
fun.—Selections and B-sides from Aim and Ignite: hey, it's free

I stumbled across Stacie Orrico's self-titled album in my music folder, which I don't really remember buying, but I had heard a couple of her songs in college and they were okay, and you can get the CD new on Amazon for four bucks, so I guess it seemed pretty low-risk.  Low-risk is probably a good way to describe it I guess.  It's mostly bland pop; there are a few catchy tunes and some pretty awful tracks and it's absolutely unessential.  I Could Be the One is the best, followed by More to Life.

The whole Portal 2 soundtrack was released as a gargantuan free download, which was awfully nice.  If you haven't played the game, Portal 2 has a strange soundtrack.  It's extremely synthetic-sounding, which fits the game and builds tension, and while in the game it has a cute sort of atmospheric charm, heard on its own it becomes painfully clear how obnoxious-sounding most of it is out of context.  A great example of something that is nearly impossible to listen to is Die Cut Laser Dance.  In the game that would have probably fit just fine as you're flying through space and lasers are firing at you and you're not sure if you're going to fall to your death or successfully evade the trap, but as background music while surfing Facebook it makes you want to die.  On the other hand, it's a huge soundtrack, and there are actually quite a few awesome tracks.  Bombs for Throwing at You is one of my favorite video game final boss battle tunes and it's absolutely nerve-wracking in a weirdly pleasant way, but it's definitely stretching the limits of soundtrack tunes that you'd ever want to listen to outside its original context.  You Will Be Perfect is pretty great too, and I'm not sure where it's from, but it's catchy, and one of the least annoying tracks in the set.  And the opening track Science Is Fun is cool too.  Anyway, you can download the three-volume soundtrack for free from the Portal website.  The original Portal soundtrack is much worse and the only worthwhile thing at all on it is the now-famous Jonathan Coulton song Still Alive.

I found out about Icona Pop because Chiddy Bang sampled their song Manners, and they've finally got an EP out now.  The Iconic EP is pretty excellent for a debut.  There are no bad tracks out of the six, and three are wonderful: I Love It is aptly named and full of energy, Manners is catchy and weird, and Sun Goes Down is interesting.  Some people have a pretty negative reaction to either the two girls' tendency to yell, or the quirky instrumentals, but I think that if you enjoy electro-pop you need to check them out.

Tegan and Sara's new album Heartthrob didn't really catch me at first.  I really liked the first single Closer, but the rest didn't really excite me so I ignored it.  Then Amazon had it for super cheap so I picked it up after all given that I was going to pick up the Closer single anyway, and it's really grown on me since then.  The whole album has a fun 80s vibe to it while still sounding fresh.  How Come You Don't Want Me is a strong second-place, and Shock to Your System probably is third-place.  But just about every track is pretty strong, and I think that if it had one more song that I thought qualified as "great" I'd give it an 8/10, but it's still worth checking out.

AWOLNATION had a free download called Red Bull Editions that has a few decent remixes.  I wouldn't pay for it, but luckily no one asked me to.  fun. also released a free download called Selections and B-sides from Aim and Ignite and I feel sort of similarly about it.  It does contain All the Pretty Girls which is one of my favorite tracks off their first album, but I already had that.  Both are worth picking up if you're a fan of the respective bands and not if you aren't.

Friday, March 15, 2013

What it's like to get Botox

I realized that before having Botox done, it was something that I'd always been somewhat curious about.  It's this mysterious procedure that elderly female celebrities get to make them look weird, but not something that "normal people" have done.  Now that I've had it done three times, I figured I'd share the experiences in case any of you were curious too.

First of all, I've had it done as a medical treatment (for my headaches), not a cosmetic one.  When used medically, the same toxins are used, though at a somewhat reduced dosage level.  It's also injected into different locations; someone getting it done for cosmetic reasons wouldn't get injections on the sides and back of their heads.  But, at the core, it's effectively still paying someone to inject poison into your face.

My particular dosage is 155 IUs of the toxin, which works out to 27 different injections.  Most of them are in the face, around my eyes, but there are several other injections around my temples and a few in the neck.  The whole process takes about 15 minutes.  Botox paralyzes your muscles.  Injected for cosmetic reasons, it gets rid of wrinkles.  The objective of using it for headaches is, roughly speaking, to weaken the face muscles so that they don't apply as much pressure to the face.  There are cosmetic side effects to the procedure; the first two times I had it done I had reduced ability to scrunch my eyebrows, and my forehead was noticeably smoother.  I just had it done a third time yesterday, though, and I haven't noticed those side effects this time; my face hardly seems weaker than it did before the injections. The effects all wear off in about ten weeks, and then you have the procedure done every three months.  It has proven somewhat effective but not very significantly effective for me, so I don't know if I'll have it a fourth time or not.

The individual injections are uncomfortable.  There's the simple fact that you're being poked with needles many times, which I don't really mind too much but some people strongly dislike, but it's also in an extremely sensitive part of your body.  The most unsettling part from my perspective is that because it's done in the face, I can actually hear every part of it.  I hear the needle puncturing my skin, sliding slightly into my face, and I either hear the liquid being injected, or I hear my muscles reacting to it.  So that's pretty creepy.  All of the injections are at least mildly painful, because the liquid burns a bit and it's an injection in a place that's sensitive to begin with.  The ones in the temples are quite painful.  My face feels sore for 24 hours or so after the procedure.  The after-effects are pretty mild, though; I often don't really notice until I touch my face to wash it, and then suddenly it stings and I remember why.

That said, most of the pain is gone a couple minutes after the procedure finishes; by the time I'm driving home, things are really not bad at all.  It's offset by reduced headache pain for the next couple months, and many people who have it done have much greater results than I have.

My health insurance covers the treatment, which is not common.  They wouldn't cover it until after years of other remedies, for reasons of cost, though the treatment is well under $1,000 per visit, and some of the drugs I've been taking are on the order of $50 a day, so it seems like if it had actually been fully effective for me it would have been a bargain for the insurance company.

So, anyway, if you are curious, that's what it's like to get Botox.

Saturday, February 9, 2013


The short version:
ATB—Distant Earth: 6/10
Caravan Palace—Panic: 6/10
Lana Del Rey—Paradise: 5/10
No Doubt—Push and Shove: 5/10
Howard Shore—The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: 7/10

I picked up the recent album by trance artist ATB, Distant Earth.  It's pretty much exactly what I expected.  There are two CDs: one of danceable music, and one of lighter, more ambient fare.  It sounds an awful lot like the previous work of his that I have, and without much of anything that stands out as awesome, I don't really have any reason to recommend it.  The best track is Apollo Road, which is reasonably catchy, but nothing spectacular.  After that it's Chapter One, which is pretty, but way too repetitive for a seven-minute piece of music.  Those are both from the first CD; Magnetic Girl is possibly the best from the second, lighter CD.

Sophomore album Panic from Caravan Palace is a let-down: it's a considerably weaker effort than their great debut album.  Clash is the best track on the album, and it's quite good.  Dramophone (wonderful video) and Cotton Heads are next in line, and they're pretty good too, but overall it's much blander and just a lot less exciting than the first time around.

Lana Del Rey pulled a Lady Gaga and released a short album hot on the heels of her first one, Paradise.  The musical style is very much the same as her debut, and the songs aren't quite as good.  I wouldn't quite call them B-sides, but they're definitely at a lower overall quality level.  Nothing stands out as great, but Ride (video; song starts at 3:30) and Cola are pretty good.  (Side note: Cola has just about the most surprising and weird opening line that I've heard in a song.)  If you loved her debut CD you'll like this one too.

No Doubt's new CD Push and Shove is again sort of what I would have expected.  A lot of it is sort of slow and uninteresting—not that I have an issue with slow music, but No Doubt is not really the band I want to listen to when I want to hear something slow and beautiful.  Looking Hot is the best on the album and a bit catchy, and Push and Shove is fun too.  But neither of those are must-haves, and the rest is less compelling than those two.

Howard Shore's soundtrack for the first Hobbit movie is not as good as The Lord of the Rings scores, which is the same as the way I felt about the movie.  I'm not sure if it's because this one's two CDs and the other movies had single-CD soundtracks, but I did feel the same way when watching the movie, and that's that the musical themes appear to be repeated more often in this movie versus the others.  With as much repetition as there is of the new material, and the fact that he chose to reprise old material as well, it reinforces my thoughts that this score is just inferior to the Lord of the Rings movies'.  That said, the movie certainly didn't have a bad score by any means—it was actually pretty good, simply failing to meet high expectations.  My favorite track is the credits song: Song of the Lonely Mountain by Neil Finn.  From the score, my favorite pieces of new material are Radagast the Brown and Warg-Scouts.  Old Friends is also rather good, but it's more of a reprise of the last three movies.

Those brings me down to zero CDs in my music queue, which is pretty amazing to me.  I still have a couple dozen game soundtracks and other smaller things to make my way through, but I don't really expect I'll comment on most of them.

Sunday, January 27, 2013


I went to Sundance this year and saw a few of the films.  Overall they weren't super awesome, but it was still kind of a fun experience.

Sightseers (4/5) was my favorite by a longshot.  It's a dark comedy about a British couple who go on vacation, and after dealing with too many obnoxious people, the guy spontaneously decides to become a serial killer.  I don't think it needs much more explanation than that.  I'd recommend it to anyone who can enjoy a good dark comedy.

Virtually Heroes (2.5/5) was decent but I felt it was too long for what it is.  I imagine that you'd like it more if you’re the sort of person who likes cheesy or "so bad it's good" movies.  The plot is that the main player character in a video game has an existential crisis.  That's about all there is to it.  There are some good jokes that will only make sense to a gamer: the heroes avoid walking near barrels at all costs, after objectives are completed the movie gets letterboxed and prettier for a scripted cutscene, and characters keep forgetting to reload.  It spends too much time being painfully self-aware and making sure it can get every joke the writer thought of into the movie, even if it doesn't fit.

We Are What We Are (2.5/5) was a horror movie about a family of cannibals.  The atmosphere was great and the acting was good overall (especially considering that three of the stars were children or teenagers), but it lacked a plot.  With more stuff happening and less time spent setting up a creepy, disturbing atmosphere, it could have been great.

Big Sur (1/5) was filmed beautifully and it convincingly portrayed a portrait of a depressed alcoholic sinking into madness.  Too bad it was more dull than most documentaries.

Catnip: Egress to Oblivion was a short that played before Virtually Heroes, warning about the dangers of catnip abuse, in the style of half-documentary, half-propaganda.  It was pretty cute.  You can now watch the whole thing on YouTube; it's just a few minutes.  Recommended for those with cats.

Probably not something I'd be terribly interested in doing again anytime soon, but the idea of a film festival is compelling in theory at least.