For Squirrels – Example

My music collection exceeds 15,000 songs. Nearly all of these are from CDs that I bought and ripped myself, though there is a chunk of stuff I ripped from other people’s CDs. *shrug* The music industry hates it, but sometimes it happens, and I don’t really care since it doesn’t much hurt the band, their cut being so small in most cases. Anyway, I’ve started taking advantage of Google Music, which allows you to put 20,000 songs “in the cloud” to stream to any computer or mobile device you want. For years I avoided buying MP3 players like the iPod (although I do own a 30GB Zune, but I didn’t buy it – I won it) because I didn’t like having to pre-select my music before going somewhere. I actually like selecting the entire collection (well, almost, I have to remove those radio shows) and hitting random play on the whole thing.

That’s what I was doing when a song off the album Example by For Squirrels started playing. Oddly enough it was the first track of the album, “8:02 PM”. I quickly stopped the player, found the album and played it. Never heard of For Squirrels? I’m not surprised. If you weren’t listening to Alternative radio at the tail end of 1995, like Atlanta’s 99X, you probably didn’t have a chance to hear them. The album, their only major label album, was released on October 3rd 1995, but by then the band was all but finished. On September 8th, a little less than a month earlier, the band was involved in a terrible car accident in their van, taking the lives of two of the band’s four members, and their tour manager. Vocalist Jack Vigliatura and bassist Bill White died, while guitarist Travis Tooke and drummer Jack Griego were both injured but survived. The two remaining members of the band would try to reform with new members, later changing the name of the band and releasing one album before disbanding for good in 2001.

For Squirrels - ExampleExample is, for me, a very interesting album. I’d call it good, but it isn’t remarkable or full of hit songs. The only single it produced was “Mighty K.C.” which was an elegy for Kurt Cobain. However, none of the songs are awful, and in fact show a promise never realized. Had the accident not happened, a second album could have seen the band grow into something more. Instead, we just have this. A song that went to #15 on the Modern Rock chart, and an album that just barely made the Billboard 200.

In 1996, I should have been graduating college, but a misstep or two and a decision to move out on my own, the combination of which resulted in me having to pay for school on my own (which further resulted in full time work and part time school), I missed being able to get out in four years. It was in these early months of 96 that I purchased Example. I’d heard their single a number of times, and I knew the story behind the band. And as I lay on the bed in my room contemplating my next move in life, the music washed over me.

In the past 15 years, I’ve returned to this album a number of times. Every time I hear one song from it, I have to hear the entire thing, from start to finish, every track. I know in part that is because of when the disc entered my life, that it is a permanent part of the soundtrack of my life, but I hope it’s also because there is something more to these songs that the emotion I’ve attached to them, that a song like the penultimate track “Disenchanted” speaks some universal truth that other people recognize too.

I’d recommend Example by For Squirrels to anyone, to listen through at least once, just to give a chance. It is an album of its time, a mid-90s Alternative Rock band. Don’t say I didn’t warn you if that winds up being your complaint.

No… I said the OTHER white meat.

A turkey holding a shotgun.

You’ll have to forgive the crudeness of the sketch. I’m trying out a new setup and using Paint.NET, so I’m still working out the kinks.

Anyway…. Happy Thanksgiving!

Ear, Nose and Ducts

Earlier this year I began doing the Insanity work out. And then I quit doing the Insanity work out. Last year, around November-ish, I started feeling not-well. I hedge a bit at using the word “sick” because for the longest time I was never full-blown sick. It was mild (and I mean really mild) congestion with the feeling that something was stuck in the back of my throat. Coughing and the constant swallowing in an attempt to dislodge whatever was stuck there resulted in frequent sore throats, and as time went on it got worse, but never really horrible.

I stopped doing Insanity because it seemed to get really bad while working out. I’d end up way more out of breath than I should be and coughing, and I’d get more congested. When I stopped doing the work outs, it got better.

On Halloween this year, we had a guy come out to inspect the heating and air units in the house. As usual, he changed the filters. The filters were really really filthy, especially in the second unit, the one that handles the basement/media room. When he popped that bad boy out and started changing it, he started coughing and so did I. That night I had a terrible sore throat and a head ache to go with the coughs, and by the next day I was is horrible shape. I stayed home from work the rest of the week recovering. While I got better, I never got well. I didn’t even return to the pre-Halloween me.

I went to the doctor and got some medicine to treat bronchitis, which I may or may not have had – but since I haven’t been given antibiotics for anything in nearly a decade I don’t think my taking some now is going to hurt anything. However, even with the meds, the coughing didn’t go away. So it was time to try something else.

On Sunday morning last week, I woke up and made a concerted effort to stay upstairs. Within a couple of days I was coughing less. It didn’t go away entirely, but it lent credence to the theory that the problem was allergy related, and that I was allergic to something downstairs. So, we called up a company that cleans out air ducts to come and clean ours.

They came on Wednesday and cleared a handful of trash bags worth of stuff from the vents. Dust and mold (probably the culprit), and nails and bottles and cans… it seems that when they built the house many years ago, the construction guys would drink a soda and then just put the waste in a nearby air duct rather than throwing them away. You’d think that perhaps a duct cleaning would occur when the house was finished being built, but apparently not.

With all that out of the way, I found myself breathing a little easier. And yet, I still have the feeling that there is something stuck in the back of my throat. I decide to give in to my 21st Century Internet tendencies and go to WebMD. For over a year I’ve been telling doctors that I have this feeling, and they’ve continually told me to take allergy medication. Over on WebMD though, I find that this is also sometimes a symptom of acid reflux. You see, acid gets out of your stomach the wrong way and into your esophagus, and your esophagus tightens to prevent it from going further or something like that, hence the feeling that something is stuck in your throat and why coughing doesn’t help (coughing is air coming from the lungs, and while air and food go in the same hole, there are two different tubes they travel down, so no amount of air from the lungs will help a problem coming from your stomach). I get myself some antacids which WebMD recommends to combat acid reflux, and lo and behold I’m feeling better. I wish I could get back the money I spent on doctors and prescriptions. Oh well.

And I’m feeling better just in time too! I’ll start exercising again this Friday… after Thanksgiving.

From A to Zed

Around six months ago, I wrote about the CDC embracing the zombie apocalypse as a teaching tool for disaster preparedness. Some people laugh at stuff like this, but as I said then, as I’ve said for a long time, and as I continue to say, if you are prepared for zombies then you are prepared for just about anything.

Since then I’ve had their little badge up on my site and I hope people take it to heart. Seriously, just the simple act of having a flashlight with batteries (or one that doesn’t need batteries), a radio, some food, some water and a plan just puts you in a great position to handle even minor things, not to mention when a storm rips through and the power is out for a few days.

Randomly, earlier this week, I clicked that link myself, just to make sure it still worked, and was rewarded with finding out that they’ve made some changes.

Now, in addition to their one sheet about zombies and links to other disaster preparation information, they’ve put up a short graphic novel, Preparedness 101: Zombie Pandemic. It is available as a PDF from their site. I love that the CDC is doing this, and I hope they keep doing it.

Perhaps they need a page that uses werewolves to illustrate how to handle animal bites…

American Horror Story

American Horror StoryIf you watch the show Glee you’ll know what I mean when I say that Glee includes everything from high school. Seriously, the creators and writers of that show have literally taken every story and stereotype that has ever come out of high school, every personality type and quirk, and found a place for it in the show. It is absurd, and I suppose that absurdist take on high school is what keeps people watching. That and the singing.

Taken from that angle, it probably wouldn’t surprise you to know that the creators of Glee also created and wrote Nip/Tuck, which was a show that took every story and stereotype that has ever come out of plastic surgery and mashed it into an absurd take on the profession.

Following in that tradition comes American Horror Story. It’s about a family that buys a house that is haunted. Within the framework of their story, they are taking every story and stereotype of the haunted house and ghost story traditions and mashing them into an absurd wild ride. Perhaps other people will find the show scary, and even I might admit to finding a creepy moment or two, or a scene that makes me jump now and then, but mostly this show is just insane.

We’ve got ghosts of murder victims and ghosts of their murderers, we’ve got previous owners who managed to survive still drawn to the house, we’ve got a family of current owners with secrets, we’ve got crazy neighbors who seem to know the house is haunted and they don’t seem to mind. We’ve got haunted places and haunted people and haunted items. We’ve got people with blood on their hands who know it, and people with blood on their hands who don’t know how it got there. We’ve got ghosts who appear only to some people and we’ve got ghosts who appear differently to different people. And all of it is happening all at once.

I hesitate to call this a great TV show, because I know it isn’t for everyone. But for someone who loves horror, I think I almost have to watch it. The first episode, to me, had some pacing issues -as I find much of TV and movies do these days since so many editors don’t seem to know how to cut transitions that evoke the passage of time- everything seems to happen all crammed together rather than over a period of days or weeks, but later episodes have resolved that a bit. Every actor here is also giving a top-notch performance, even Dylan McDermott whom I normally can’t stand.

All in all, I’m finding it worth watching. And it has already been picked up for a second season. Woohoo!

Vote

VoteThe title should say it all. And yet, so often I’ve expressed that sentiment to people and they push back with all the reasons why voting doesn’t matter. But it does. In a democracy (or a democratic republic or whatever variation you want to pedantically state we live in) your vote is one of the things you have that matters most.

The elected corrupt have little interest in educating the electorate

While voting is good, voting blind is not. You do yourself and everyone you know a disservice if you don’t do your research. Keeping up with all the positions and politics used to be hard and time-consuming, but we live in the future, and these days in as little as five or ten minutes a day you can learn so much about every issue that faces this nation, and from so many sources that you no longer have to implicitly trust that the reporter is giving you an unbiased opinion. Let the opinions be full of bias, and let the Internet deliver to you so many opinions that you can find the truth for yourself.

Just be careful not to tie yourself down to too few sources, even when.. no, especially when you find yourself agreeing with everything a particular source says. Don’t be lazy because it is so easy to not be lazy. Use Google and Bing, or even Yahoo or Ask or any random search engine, and you’ll get all the information you need. And with the advent of Web 2.0 design, you can participate. If you read something you don’t quite understand, you can ask for clarification and the Internet will clarify it. Millions of people are out there, waiting for someone to ask “Can you explain what is meant by…”, and some of them will even be right!

Don’t wait for the politicians to tell you what the issues are. Go find the issues for yourself. Educate yourself. Because the truth is, the people you’d rather not have in office would rather have voters who are easily distracted by meaningless issues that reek of tabloid level scum than to have voters who actually know what’s going on.

There is no use voting for anyone but the Republican or the Democrat

Republocrats and DemicansIn many cases, when you get to the polls, you’ll find yourself with just two options. Republican or Democrat. (Though, write-in candidates should be supported everywhere, you might just have to search hard for the option or ask for help in locating it – some of these ballots are really poorly designed, even the electronic ones.) But often there will be other choices. These 3rd party candidates are often there to shine a spotlight on a single issue or small set of issues, but you don’t have to ignore them. Include them in your research and if you think those people are the best for the job vote for them.

Some people will call that a “wasted vote”, but it isn’t. Not in principle. Yes, Mr. Third-party may not have a shot in hell of taking the office, but if he can get enough votes then either a) his pet issues will get more air time, or b) the swell of support this time will increase his chances next time. And remember, not everyone votes at the same time, and exit polls start showing predictions early. Your vote of confidence in that other option might inspire others to also throw their weight behind the little guy.

Mostly though, a vote for the best person is never a wasted vote. Voting for someone you don’t want in office because she’s a little less bad than another candidate, that is a wasted vote because you are supporting someone you don’t agree with. And when they get into office, they don’t get results like “62% of the voters voted for you! However, 23% only did so because they didn’t want the other guy to win but they don’t really like you.” They just get the first sentence, the one that tells them they have a mandate from the people. You’ve just given a mandate to a politician you didn’t like enough to vote for on merit alone.

You fool.

Vote for the candidate you want to win!

Tomorrow is election day in the United States. If you haven’t yet, spend a little time today to find out what is going to be on the ballot and learn enough to have an opinion. Tomorrow, vote.

I Like Blogs

This shouldn’t come as a surprise, since I maintain one, but I like blogs. The main reason I like them is that most blogs update daily, as in once a day. Maybe every once in a while a blogger gets prolific and updates twice a day, but there will also be days they don’t update at all. I can even manage to stomach sites that get enough popularity that they have multiple writers and updates start becoming more frequent, mainly because each writer often has their own voice.

What I hate is when sites become popular enough to be profitable and suddenly the RSS feed gets clogged with blurb posts that are little more than saying “Hey, there is a piece of news from somewhere else and here is a link.” I don’t subscribe to a lot of sites other people live and die by because of this. So many of them just don’t put forth the effort. A new thing gets announced and 90% or more of the sites post a “Look! New thing!” entry that just links to some other site (often a similar post that links to somewhere else – I mean, seriously guys, if you learn about the new thing from another site and not the source, please link to the source and thank the site, don’t link to the site, that’s a waste of everyone’s time). No commentary, no story, just a link and a place for people to comment.

If you are going to repost news, have the courtesy to think up an opinion on it, or the decency to do a daily or weekly wrap up of links so that it comes in one post and not twenty-seven. By posting every little bit of news or announcement or cool thing on its own with no meat of your own, you are saying that you don’t value my time, just your post count and my traffic. Which is why you lose my traffic.

My blog isn’t very popular. I’ve got maybe seventy or so people who read frequently enough to be tracked, and mostly it’s because, I admit, my content isn’t all that exciting. A few people like it enough to keep coming back, but that’s it. If I wanted to get more readers, I would post more content and work on making the content I do post better. I wouldn’t increase frequency with shit posts linking to other places with hot topics that will drive up my page rank in hopes that more people visit. But the latter seems to be what many sites do. They increase quantity without increasing or even maintaining quality, popularity over substance, and a number of other “this instead of that” scenarios.

I suppose it comes down to preferring opinions over news, especially since so many news sites are really announcement sites, posting headlines without substance. Anyway, back to the blogs…

Mind the Gap

This is important. This means something.

Kindling

KindleSo, I was gifted a Kindle for my birthday. In accordance with the preference I had expressed, it was the cheapest new Kindle, the one with no touch screen, no 3G, and displays ads when it is idle or in standby mode. I am very excited. And yet, I’m also a little annoyed. Not at the Kindle itself, but the situation I find myself in.

You see, I have a bookshelf, and it is full of books. Understandable, since I do read books. In fact we have a bunch of those. But this particular shelf is full of books I have yet to read. Easily 30 of them, possibly as many as 40 or even 50. Books I’ve been given as gifts for birthdays and Christmas, books I picked up on sale, books I bought at the closings of a couple of Borders locations. I have all these books to read and none of them are on my Kindle.

To make matters worse, I happen to be in the middle of reading George R.R. Martin’s A Dance With Dragons, a giant brick of a book that is uncomfortable to read in nearly any position. I’d love to have it on my shiny new Kindle, but the publisher blocks lending, so I can’t even get someone with an eBook copy of it to let me borrow it. (First world problems!)

I suppose, if I were inclined, I could dip into some of the shadier parts of the Internet and find eBook copies of them, placating myself with the justification that I’ve already bought the books. I’d prefer to find some place willing to take my books in trade, maybe for a small fee, and give me eBook copies in return. I don’t know if that exists. If it does, I haven’t been able to find it.

I imagine most people have this problem when they first get a Kindle or other eReader, this lag between reading books and reading on the device. At least it is a problem that should solve itself in time. Until then, I’ve been loading up my reader with the best free books around (perfect for Halloween are Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Bram Stoker’s Dracula and even Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow), and I’m heading over to the library to get a card since Kindle supports library lending now.

There will probably be times when I miss books, and no doubt on occasion I will still buy them, especially when authors and signatures are involved, but I am glad to be finally diving into the future.

Rising in my queue

Dead Rising 2

The Chuck Stops Here

Having received Dead Rising 2: Off the Record for my birthday, I decided I should finally get around to playing Dead Rising 2. I love the DR franchise and always wanted to play DR2, but it got pushed back in my queue by a few other games I also wanted to finish. So I put the game in a couple of nights ago, loaded up my last saved game, and quickly realized why I’d put it aside before in favor of another game. Of all the things I love about the DR games, the one thing I don’t is that it is nearly impossible to “win” on the first time through.

If you aren’t familiar with the games, your character gains experience (PP) and levels up as you complete tasks, save people and kill zombies. When you lose, and you will lose, you can start over, retaining your levels and unlocked abilities, thus making the second trip through easier. During the first game, this was an interesting mechanic, but in DR2 I found playing the first run through a bit disheartening as I knew I wasn’t going to succeed. I last saved my game just moments away from failure.

Of course, failure of the game’s main mission has its own reward: you can keep playing. Once the mission failed and I was informed that the truth had vanished, I was reminded why I didn’t mind failure in the first game. Now with an open world and no real reason to be there, I’ve been going on zombie killing sprees and saving random people when I’m able.

In the zombie genre, there tends to be two stories to tell. The first is full of hope, that our intrepid band of survivors is going to make it – final stand not withstanding. The second is stubbornness. Our survivors are only survivors for now, everybody dies, it’s just a matter of when. When in a DR game you fail the main mission and the story, the path to hope, fades, your game shifts from the first type of story to the second. Hope is gone, you’re all going to die, but not yet, not if you can help it. It’s sort of a “rage against the dying of the light” feeling.

I love it.

Originally posted on Google+, but I just had to repost it here since it isn’t public over there.