Calculate your chances...negative...negative...negative!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Yuki Show Diary: 12/27/08 Radio Radio

By the week of the show, I think all of us were regretting taking it. There were a number of factors, mostly dealing with the time of year and that most of would just be back from holiday traveling and just want to relax. For me, this was compounded by a party we'd hosted the prior night and that I was feeling so much the shattered man.

Regardless, we continued on and I didn't follow through on my threat to bring an old Rhythm Ace instead of my drums. The night started on a bad note for me as I discovered I'd lost one of my fitted earplugs. Luckily, I happened to have another pair where I'd lost the opposite one, so I still have a matched pair. It's just that they were halfway across the city.

The show itself was better than I'd expected all the way around. We had a very good turnout, which was really surprising given this hadn't been one of our finest promotional pushes and it was two days after Christmas and bad weather was looming.

It took me a while to get my footing though. Tempos have been creeping up in practice and I've been trying to pull them back a bit, but between that and feeling like a chewed piece of gum, I overcompensated the first half of the set. Had a few minor mishaps, but as long as I didn't think about what was going on, I was fine.

The combination of the humidity outside and the club not being ready for 60+ degree weather in December made for a very sweaty night. I think I lost a gallon of fluid on the stage. That was the worst part. Well, that and loading out in the pouring rain. That really sucked.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny (1972)

I love bad movies. If you've been reading this blog, it's a given. And, I love weird kiddie matinee movies from the 60s and 70s. If they're Christmas kiddie matinee movies, even more so. But Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny...wow.

I'm going to start out by saying, this is easily the worst Christmas film I've ever seen. Really, calling it a Christmas film at all is stretching it, as I'll explain later, but for now let's just leave it at that. It's also probably the worst kid's film I've ever seen as well. (Yes, it's even worse than The Magic Land of Mother Goose, another kid's film with a tacked on Christmas tie in.) I'm going to go so far and say it's on the top 10 worst films I've ever seen. (Now there's a list I need to compile some day.)

If you want to read a recap of the film almost as long as the movie itself, block off an hour and click here. If you'd like a more sensible length recap, try this one. But, since you are here, let me give you my quick run down of what goes on in this movie.

First up, we have Santa's sleigh stuck on a beach in Florida. Why? Who knows? Santa magically summons a motley crew of kids to help unstick him, and they try...for nearly fifteen minutes. When they run out of random farm animals to try to hitch to the sleigh, they hunker down for Santa to tell them a story. And by tell them a story, I mean unspool an entirely unrelated movie, complete with opening titles, within this movie.

For the next hour, we are treated to schlockmeister Barry Mahon's take on Thumbelina, apparently filmed two years earlier. The only connection this Thumbelina has to the Santa bits is that they both have parts filmed at the Pirate's World amusement park. I mention this because it is the only thread connecting these two things.

Thumbelina doesn't have squat to do with Christmas and doesn't even try to. The acting is horrible, the songs excruciatingly long and the animal costumes aren't even detailed enough to be nightmare fuel. One thing Thumbelina has is plenty forced cross species romance. My favorite bit is when Thumbelina reels off a list of why she can't marry Mr. Digger, a rich mole, and the fact that he is not human comes in last by a long stretch.

Anyway, eventually, though not soon enough, Thumbelina ends and we're returned to our Santa stuck in the sand already in progress. I'd like to remind you, we're about an hour and fifteen minutes in and we've barely seen Santa and have seen neither hide nor hair of the Ice Cream Bunny. But wait, we're not done yet. Since someone was nice enough to YouTube it, I'd like to present to you the last ten minutes of the film.



If you're worried that you didn't understand what just happened because you came in at the end, let me assure you, I saw the entire thing and I still have no idea what just happened. You will note, as everyone who has seen this movie does, a distinct lack of ice cream. I guess he was in such a hurry slowly driving to save Santa, he completely forgot about his namesake dessert item. Maybe he was made of ice cream, though that would be highly impractical in Florida.

You should also note someone either pushing the fire truck or a kid who has fallen off the back and is attempting to catch up. My guess is the former, as the truck is moving so slowly you'd have to be dead to let it pass you.

There is one detail you missed from the front half of the film. The two kids in the straw hats? Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. Why? No clue. They don't figure into this film at all except for a scene establishing who they are and showing them spying on the Santa scene. When they popped back out at the end, I'd completely forgotten they were ever there, that's how little they added to the movie.

By putting that clip up, I'm afraid I've oversold the film. See, that is literally the best ten minutes in this ninety minute film. It goes downhill from there. All of the stuff I'd read about this movie didn't prepare me for the tedium that sets in quickly while watching.

Other classics in this genre of bad kiddie Christmas movies, like Santa Claus Conquers the Martians or the Mexican Santa Claus, may be inept, but they are never less than entertaining, even if for all the wrong reasons. Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny is just plan boring. The only reason the ending is worth seeing is it's about the only time in the movie anything at all worth watching happens.

Prior to this, I'd have said two of the worst kiddie flick I'd seen were The Magic Land of Mother Goose and Jimmy, The Boy Wonder, two films the great Herschell Gordon Lewis did for other people in between gore and sexploitation films. Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny shares many traits with those two movies (tacked on Christmas theme, nonsensical film with in a film, grade school play production values, terrible songs) but it truly takes them to another level. Jimmy and Mother Goose may be slow in spots, but they're mind blowing in others. The Ice Cream Bunny is just dull.

I sought this one out because it has a bit of a reputation among connoisseurs of crap cinema. After seeing it, I really can't understand the appeal. There's good crap and bad crap and this is definitely bad, boring crap. Unless you are up to an endurance challenge, a completest or a masochist, I'd recommend staying far away from this one.

Friday, December 05, 2008

MST3K Redux

As much as I love Mystery Science Theater 3000, somehow I've resisted buying any of the Cinematic Titanic releases...until now. Yes, they broke me down with Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. Not only do I love this movie (it's sooo bad,) I found this a surprising and gutsy choice for the CT crew, considering this movie was riffed on MST3K back in the day.

Well, I'm happy to report this disc is a winner. Amazingly enough, despite the fact that most of these folks worked on the MST3K episode, the riffing is all new. And it's really funny stuff here. Check the trailer:



So, as I'm sure a million other MST3K fans have done, I have to contrast this to Rifftrax. It's not entirely fair, as I have more Rifftrax stuff than Cinematic Titanic, but here goes anyway:

Rifftrax was first, so they have that going for them. Since most of what they do is just an mp3 commentary track to be played along with a commercial DVD, their releases are cheaper and quicker to download. They have also done shorts, like MST3K used to, which are the whole deal.

However, most of the Rifftrax are for modern movies that I really don't care about. Since they're just mp3s, I'd have to acquire the movies as well. Aside from the shorts, I haven't really been interested in any Rifftrax in a while, though bringing guest riffers (like Fred Willard) on board has made me interested in checking out some of them eventually.

And speaking of the riffers, here's the big difference: the CT crew, is not only greater in number, but it's pretty much all my favorite people from MST3K. While I have nothing against the Rifftrax crew, there's just something about Joel, Trace and Frank (and the underrated J. Elvis, his riffing was the highlight of MST3K Season 1) that I find funnier.

So that's my two cents. I look forward to checking out some more Cinematic Titanic in the future. And I'll enjoy firing up the Rifftrax take on the Star Wars Christmas Special again this year and hope that they'll do more shorts in the next year.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

What If They Held a Chinese Democracy and No One Cared?

And speaking of hype, the much hyped, in the works even longer than the Beatles on iTunes, Chinese Democracy finally released and...bombed. After all the leaks, the jokes, the money thrown at this, first week sales were only in the area of 250,000-260,000. Ouch.

To anyone who has really been paying attention, I don't think this is much of a surprise, but I'll bet there are some executives at Best Buy who green lighted the huge bonus for making the album a Best Buy exclusive who are trying to figure out what happened. Seems like they already threw in the towel on this one, as Axl Rose was no where to been seen in their most recent circular, after dominating the release week one (and was it really only two weeks ago?)

The record company people are already starting the blame game, pointing the finger at Rose's lack of publicity appearances or talking to the press as what killed it. Seriously, UMG? Who didn't know about this album? For that matter, who really wanted to hear it, but hadn't prior to release? To say Axl's avoidance of the promotional circuit killed the album is just absurd (and if they were shocked by it, they haven't been paying any attention.)


This album cover still looks like a crappy mock up to me,
even after seeing it in the store.


Here's what I think happened: The suits in the entertainment world are still trying to come to terms with this Internet thing. For too many years, they ignored anything from the web, which was very unwise. Now, I think they are going too far in the opposite direction and taking every bit of Internet hype too seriously.

As I'm sure you know, there's a lot of sarcasm on the web. There are also tons of here today, meh tomorrow memes out there. And most of those memes make little sense to the outside world. For instance, how many people had to explain Rickrolling to relatives after watching the Macy's Parade this year?

Chinese Democracy was talked about a lot on the web, but context is king, and the context here was much more gawking at a freak show than genuine interest in this album. Unfortunately for UMG, Best Buy and everyone else, I don't think they got that. I think they saw everyone talking about that album and interpreted it as "it's going to be a smash" rather than realizing the majority of the people saw it as a joke.

Of course, we can also factor in that no one is buying music these days and even when they do, expecting the same level of sales as the Use Your Illusion days is completely unrealistic. It's not a giant leap to imagine the suits seeing the Guns N Roses name and becoming nostalgic for the sales figures of those heady days. Given the kind of logic that seems to prevail in this industry, I'm sure more than a few people thought the GnR name alone would have that magic to sell at that level again.

Well, it didn't and yes, you can blame the economy, blame downloading, etc., etc. That's part of the big picture, to be sure. By comparison, Kanye West fell just under half a million this same chart, which is pretty pathetic for him too. (Of course 808s and Heartbreak isn't exactly his normal thing, so that's a factor there.) But, what I think this comes down to is the suits misinterpreted the Internet hype surrounding Chinese Democracy for real world people actually wanting to buy this album. Other than the theory that they were throwing good money after bad (how many millions did this album cost UMG anyway?) that's the only possible explanation I can think of.

Chinese Democracy is the first Snakes on a Plane album. If you'll recall, Snakes on a Plane had this huge mocking Internet hype surrounding it, which it seems led many of the money people to believe it would be a box office smash. It wasn't and Chinese Democracy won't be either. But, at least some people got a free Dr. Pepper out of the deal and now the Internet can move on to laughing about possible release dates for Dr. Dre's Detox and the next My Bloody Valentine album.

(Sidenote: along this same theme, I'm amazed no one has offered Rick Astley a truckload of cash for a comeback album yet. After the Macy's appearance, I'm going to be even more shocked if this doesn't happen. And yes, it too will bomb.)

More Amazon mp3 Goodness

Remember how I said iTunes was going to have to step it up to stay competitive with Amazon? Well, I think Amazon raised the bar again with their Black Friday Specials, which are still running, apparently. Not only that, but they are doing a spend $25 in "qualifying purchases," get $5 at the mp3 store free promotion until December. The range of purchases is pretty wide. I managed to get a credit before I even knew of the promotion, for instance.

On the Apple front, I mentioned before Apple's attempt to meet Amazon's Friday deals, which is still pretty underwhelming in my eyes. Scuttlebutt is, the talks to make iTunes DRM free rage on with WMG dipping a toe in the water. It's a start, but, again, it's ironic (and suspicious) that so long after Steve Jobs gave his anti-DRM speech, EMI is still the only major to have totally embraced iTunes Plus.

EDIT: Interesting article at Hypebot on what the hold up is. Did Amazon make these same concessions (other than the one for BMG)? Interesting that one of the main issues is an explicitly stated fear that competition will drive prices lower. Regardless, I can't see a control freak like Steve Jobs bending much.

Then there's the oft rumored, would you please get it over with already, Beatles on iTunes talks which have apparently stalled again. I guess they need another dump truck full of money for that one. But, I'm still unconvinced that it's really that big a deal. Sure it'll be good for impulse purchases but are there really that many people waiting for the Beatles music to be available on iTunes to buy it? I have to wonder, with the availability of the Beatles catalog on CD, the ease at which one can find dozens of fan remasterings and "needledrops" of every Beatles record ever made on the web and the looming end of the 50 year copyright protection period in the EU, what exactly is the value of this catalog for a digital retailer like Apple.

Regardless of what sales will be, I just wish they'd get it over with and do it already.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Review: I Got The Feelin': James Brown in the 60s



Finally got this three DVD set the other day. Over the course of two nights, I watched the whole thing, and there's a lot here to digest. Unfortunately, there isn't much of the 60s covered and the title is a bit of a misnomer. But what's here is pretty essential for serious James Brown fans.

This set could almost have been called James Brown in March-April 1968 as aside from bonus footage on the third disc, that's really what the focus is on. More specifically, the important date is April 5th, 1968, the date of the concert on the second disc and, as the title of the documentary on the first says, "The Night James Brown Saved Boston."

Context is everything here, as April 4th was the day Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. Riots had broken out all over the country and the major cities were breaking out in flames. Boston hadn't been hit yet, but, as luck would have it, there was a big James Brown concert scheduled.

At first, the city leaders considered canceling the show to keep people off the streets. Then, they had a better idea. Televise the concert. Hopefully, people would stay home and watch the show and the city might make it thought the night. A risky plan, but they didn't see many other options.

Too bad they couldn't get a hold of Brown before hand.

Needless to say, when James touched down in Boston, he was furious first at the attempt to shut down the show, then at the idea that the city was going to have it broadcast. Two things you could say about JB, he was a capitalist and he wasn't going to be used by anyone, and it looked like he stood to lose a lot of money and be used by the government of Boston.

Anyway, I won't recount the whole thing for you. It's an interesting story and the documentary covers it well. I'd always heard the Boston thing mentioned in JB lore, but this was the fullest I'd heard the story told. It's not only a pretty amazing piece of history, but it's a pretty good look at how much influence James had in the late 60s. The fact that televising a concert of his contributed to one of the quietest nights in Boston's history, is pretty amazing.

The second disc is the video of that concert. There are a couple of spots where there's missing video, but luckily there's still audio. The circumstances of the filming are unfortunate in more ways than one. WGBH was commissioned to do the telecast with little notice and no prior expirence filming much other than classical concerts. Their director jokes about not using the good mics and sadly, it's apparent, especially in James' vocal mic.

Still, they did a pretty good job. It's just odd how for most of the show, all you see is James in the spotlight. I don't know if that's a combination of early videotape equipment and the lighting in the Boston Gardens, but the effect is kind of eerie. Later in the show, James calls for the house lights while he's trying to keep people off the stage and you get a good look at how few people actually did come out.

Speaking of, the climax of the concert hasn't anything to do with the music. Near the end of the show, some kids jump on stage. A white cop pushes one back into the crowd. Then the stage is filled with people. James orders the cops to back up and handles the situation. It's pretty impressive stuff.

In spite of it all, they turn in a smoking performance. 1968 was kind of a turning point for James music and this show is a great example of what it was like at that time*. It's a shame that none of the other performers in the revue are featured. I would have loved to see Marva Whitney's set, but I'm assuming they only filmed James.

The third disc is kind of odd. The packaging trumpets the footage being from the Apollo in 68 and while it is, it's really a TV special called James Brown: Man to Man. The footage is heavy on the crooner stuff and there's a lengthy sequence of James walking around the ghetto. This special was shot about a month before the Boston show and while it's in color, the picture quality isn't as good as the black and white Boston footage.

The rest of the 60s is apparently represented by two clips from Paris in 67 and the famous TAMI Show appearance from 1964. Shame there wasn't more, but that's it.

Going into this, I knew it was pretty much about the Boston show so I wasn't disappointed. But, to someone who didn't know much about this release, Shout Factory's curious title might be misleading. While it's easy for a hardcore Brown fan like myself to ask for more, I have to say I'm pretty pleased by this set. I hope there's more to come, as I really think Shout did this right and there's still the whole half of the decade to cover. (Not to mention the 70s...hey, Shout Factory! How about a Future Shock box set?)

* Sidenote: another reviewer mentioned something about James starting off the show slow as a tribute to MLK or something like that. The fact of the matter is, James had been starting his shows off with a crooner set for most of the 60s. Based on other recordings around the same time, this is pretty much the same show they did every night on the road.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Yuki is READY FOR SOME FOOTBALL!!!



A huge thanks to Dave Lindquist at the Star for putting our CD in the right hands to make this happen. Crazy.

In other news, the EP is finally available through the iTunes music store, however, Apple seems to think our name is Yu-Ki. Grr. Hope to have that straightened out soon. Also SnoCap gets the big thumbs down. The information on how to embed their store in a MySpace page is totally wrong and their customer service apparently doesn't read emails. So we're at 50% for the download stores.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Kind of Blue 50th Anniversary Set...Is Sony Insane?

Miles Davis' Kind of Blue is a pretty amazing album. It was both an important album in the development of jazz music and a commercially successful one, at least in terms of the sales of jazz recordings. It's an album that continues to be revered and continues to sell, two reasons that make a special anniversary set of the album a given, especially in a genre where the labels love to issue the same recordings over and over again.

So, we have Sony's new-ish Kind of Blue 50th Anniversary Set (a year early even, but who's counting?) Just when it seemed like the vaults had been mined to depletion, Sony offers up never before released false starts and studio banter, in addition to the album proper and an additional, previously released, session by this group of musicians (and there was a live set they didn't include for some reason.) There's also a blue vinyl pressing of the album, a new DVD documentary, a 12"x12" hardcover coffee table book and various photos and other odds and ends.



To say the set is a bit obsessive in scope is almost a given. And, if you've been following Sony's series of Miles Davis box set, you know to expect sticker shock to match ($109 list, to be exact.) It's also worth noting, aside from the studio chatter and breakdowns, there isn't any new music here. There's a new documentary on the DVD, but Sony has already announced the CDs and DVD will be available separately.

So, here's my big question: in a time when labels are complaining about no one buying music anymore and how they're losing money, how in the world do they justify such a lavish package for an album in one of the lowest selling genres of music? While I'm not arguing Kind of Blue is worth a super deluxe set, since 1997 this album has been reissued four times I can think of off the top of my head, plus included in a box set and there were at least three audiophile vinyl issues (one on blue wax even!) How much Kind of Blue does one need?

Now prepare to laugh at me because, yes, I bought this set. In my defense, I was able to purchase it at about a 50% discount which is a bit more reasonable price in my eyes. Still expensive, to be sure, but probably closer to what this set should cost than what they're asking.

Is it a nice set? Yes...but, something went seriously wrong in the packaging department at Sony. You have the book, then you have a gatefold LP jacket with the record in the left pocket and the discs tucked in pockets on the right inside. Even under the best circumstances, these discs would get scratched over time, never mind that shipping in such a heavy package pretty much guarantees no one receives a flawless copy.

The record is probably intended more as a novelty item anyway, so I guess I shouldn't be shocked that it's slightly warped. Shame, as it sounds really nice, like they put some care into the mastering.

As for the rest, well, it is what it is: an obsessive look at one of the greatest jazz albums of all time. The music I already had on the Miles & Coltrane set. The documentary was nice, but I don't know how often I'll watch it. Really, the book, with the large pictures, was the best part of the deal. Well, and the record, which had it been a flatter pressing, would have been a real star of this set.

And so it goes. In a time when everyone is crying about their bottom line, Sony brings out an overpriced set with a limited market. On one hand, it's probably the ultimate anti-download, as this is a set as much about having the physical stuff in your hands as it is about the already available music. On the other, this set might be the ultimate "so what" as I can't see how this set gives any further insight to this masterwork that one could have by listening to one of the other currently available CDs and reading Ashley Kahn's Kind of Blue: The Making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Apple Steps It Up A Little

Remember a couple of weeks ago when I was talking about Amazon's mp3 deal of the day and their 5 for $5 on Fridays? Well, it looks like Apple has quietly started doing something similar with a few albums and movies at $4.99. Good step in the right direction, though there's one thing where we're not exactly comparing equals. Four of the seven albums currently available are the lower bit rate and DRM encumbered regular iTunes files. The movies are a little more promising. There's ten available now and if you're a Schwarznegger fan, you're in luck as almost half of them are his films.

It'll be interesting to see what kind of stuff comes up in Apple's store. So far, the titles aren't that interesting, but I'll keep an eye on this to see if there's any must haves offered up. Considering the quality of daily deals Amazon has been throwing out recently, they've got a long way to go.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

It's Beginning to Look Too Much Like Christmas

Once upon a time, when I was young, Christmas seemed to slowly fade in as December grew longer. I don't ever remember an exact day for the official beginning of the Christmas season. It just seemed like more decorations would appear, as if by magic, as you got close to the 25th.

When I got older, I ended up working retail for a while. By this time, there was an unofficial start to the holiday season; black Friday, the Friday after Thanksgiving. The day before, nothing. The day after, it was Christmas season. Decorations, sales, music, the whole works. While I missed the easing into the holidays, it didn't run on long enough to wear out its welcome.

Then the creep began.

I don't remember when it happened, but after I'd gotten out of retail, someone broke ranks and started gearing up for Christmas before Thanksgiving. Not wanting to be outdone (or miss any potential sales,) others followed suit. The Christmas season was starting earlier and earlier each year. Retailers stocked trees and candy canes earlier in November. Radio stations raced to be the first to go all Christmas music. Etc., etc., etc.

This year, about a week and a half before Halloween, I saw the first signs of Christmas. I really couldn't believe it. But more followed. I just got back from Target and here, a week after Halloween, they're practically in full-on Christmas mode. My wife has reported already hearing Christmas tunes in the stores.

Now, I understand that people like Christmas. Who doesn't? But I really think this is getting ridiculous. Do we really need almost two months of Christmas season?

Yes, I am a cynic, but I have a hard time seeing this as anything more than retailers, who are anticipating poor end of year sales, trying to get people to buy as much crap they don't need. I know, that's all the retail game ever is. But, when it's barely November and I'm already being suggested "great gift ideas" in ads, the game feels even more blatant than it already is.

Speaking of the economy, can we call it a recession yet? Who isn't worried about things? Who doesn't have less money in their pocket than they did a year ago? Given that, I understand why retailers might be making the hard push earlier. But, I can't help but wonder if consumers aren't going to be a bit fatigued come December.

With Christmas season starting so early this year, I just can't believe I'm the only one who feels a little cynical about it already. In a year when people are having to tighten the financial belts, how are the Joe Sixpacks going to feel about nearly two months of being told to buy, buy, buy, in the name of Christmas? I'll be real surprised if by December 25th I'm the only one who feels Christmas may have overstayed its welcome this year.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Yuki Music Store Test

Alright, in addition to the other ways one could buy the Yuki EP, should one want to (and they should,) we have a Snocap store up, which I guess is the only way you can sell your stuff through MySpace. So far, I'm 100% unimpressed with SnoCap, but you can embed your store everywhere, so that's neat. I'm going to try that here, so this is a test post. Please stand by:



Thanks for your patience.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Yuki Update

Sorry I haven't written anything in a while. Been kind of busy. And speaking of busy, things have been taking off with my band Yuki, which is a good thing. The first run of the CD is just about sold out. You can probably still find copies at Luna Music or Indy CD & Vinyl around town. For those of you not local, you can download a copy at Amazon or from eMusic. (iTunes and MySpace are taking their own sweet time getting these tracks up.)

Additionally, we've received airplay on X103's local music show and one of our songs off the EP is going to be featured in an Indy Star slideshow recapping a Colts game (we're still not sure what about us says "are you read for some football?" but apparently they see something we don't.) And we're going to be playing with Kristeen Young at Radio Radio on December 27th. (We've had a bunch of other show offers that haven't worked out for various reasons, it's a tough time of the year to try to schedule things.)

Other than that, we're just working on new material, hoping to have a followup EP out soon. That's kind of it. Reaction from the show and EP have been great and we're just trying to keep moving.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Clearance Rack Review: Parappa the Rapper PSP

This is a new thing I'm going to try to do every so often. Since I end up buying most of my games either used or on clearance, I'll probably be one of the last people to review them. So, with that, I bring you the Clearance Rack Review, an irregular column dedicated to reviewing games I've recently plucked from the clearance (or used) bin.

Game pundits often point to Final Fantasy VII as being the big system seller for the original PlayStation. Well, for me, the game that really sold me on Sony's original gray box was a cartoony game with a rapping dog called Parappa the Rapper. FFVII was pretty but basically more of the same in genre I really didn't care about. Parappa however, was new, novel and something that really couldn't have been done on the cartridge based, last generation systems.





The concept behind Parappa is simple. You are the titular hero of the game, a dog who must rap his way through six levels in order to win the affections of Sunny Funny, who is a flower. The way you rap is by pressing buttons on the controller in time with the music and a cursor on the screen. Sound familiar? As best I can tell, Parappa was the first game to combine the follow the leader concept behind Simon with music, thus creating the modern music game.

The story is weird but funny. Lots of personality is brought in by Rodney Greenblatt's artwork which forms the basis of the game. It's hard not to smile at the characters and things going on, even when you are doing poorly and things start getting really weird.

The songs, except for the final level, are memorable and easily the best in the series. The big problems is, there just aren't enough of them. Even back in 1997 when Parappa was first released, it was hardly packed with replay value. Today's gamer, more familiar with rhythm games, could probably finish Parappa under two hours after taking the shrink wrap off.

There are downloadable remixes (why they aren't already on the disc, I don't know) and an ad-hoc multiplayer mode that I haven't tired yet. Multiplayer would do a lot to give this game replay value and was the was the only way the sequel Um Jammer Lammy topped the original. Still, it might be tough to find someone else willing to play with you, as this game is starting to show it's age.

And speaking of Um Jammer Lammy, I can't think of any reason why that Parappa sequel wasn't included in this package. While it was a lesser game than Parappa, it was fun and would double the length of this very short game and lessen the sting for those who paid full retail.

Which brings me to my bottom line. I paid $15 for Parappa at Target. It took me a while to actually decide to buy it because I knew how short the game is and how little replay value there is. Nostalgia got the best of me that day. I still think the game is fun and worth playing, but I'm not sure how much is nostalgia (this game wrecked many a real band practices back in the day.) The additions are so minor, I think had this been a PSN download for $5 or so, it'd be a no-brainier. At half off, you really have to like it to buy it, but I'd only recommend paying full price to total music game addicts.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Fair Use for Me, not for Thee.

According to the EFF, John McCain is getting a bunch of frivolous DMCA take down notices for YouTube videos from media corporations such as Fox and the Christian Broadcasting Company. A few weeks ago, the Obama camp was getting the same from NBC. The McCain campaign is claiming fair use, but the rights holders and YouTube don't seem to agree agree.

All politics aside, I'm glad to see the issue of fair use is finally starting to affect the people who could actually do something about it. I've long thought the terms of the DMCA are overreaching and useful concepts like fair use and public domain are being thrown by the wayside in the rush to give the big media corporations more and more rights.

The irony is double considering just this week Bush signed into law the PRO-IP bill creating an Intellectual Property Czar and increasing penalties for allegedly illegal use of intellectual property. According to a letter of decent from the Department of Justice the bill includes provisions whereby "taxpayer-supported Department lawyers would pursue lawsuits for copyright holders, with monetary recovery going to industry." Yet another instance of the federal government stepping in and not only granting more rights to the big media companies, but even taking a stake in insuring those rights by going after alleged infringement violators.

I wonder if the fact that both campaigns were hit with these things, when it seems like the news clips used were likely falling under fair use, might mean that whoever wins the election will take a look at the insanity of the DMCA and the way things are done currently. A dancing baby video with music playing in the background getting yanked might not be enough to get anyone to pay attention, but perhaps both sides losing videos in an election season might make these politicians see the importance of protecting fair use. Or, as soon as the election is over, this is all forgotten, big content lobbies for more legislation, which they get, and the cycle begins again in four years.

Yeah, I know which one I'd bet on.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Yuki Show Diary: 10/11/08 New Albany, IN

Again, I'm doing this after the fact, so bear with me.

We got asked to play this fest for the New Albanian Brewing Company. The whole situation was pretty sweet as we were paid in advance, they put us up at a hotel, fed us and the beer was free flowing. The only issue was getting there.

We'd thought we were playing at the brewery, but that turned out to not be the case. There was this Harvest Festival in downtown New Albany and we were playing kind of adjacent to that. Unfortunately, our contact didn't have a cell phone and the people at the brewery/restaurant weren't exactly the best with helping us out.

Actually, I lied when I said that was the only issue. We asked for backline as the largest vehicle we had was a Subaru, which we packed to capacity with gear and merch. Someone usually gets the short end of the stick on the backline and Saturday that was me. The kit was one drum and one cymbal stand shorter than what they said I'd have. The four piece kit, I can hang with, but I ended up playing with a high hat and one cymbal. The stand didn't even have a nylon sleeve on it, so I wasn't going to put my cymbal on there. Ended up using their cymbals, which were junk, but ended up being the least of my concern.

The biggest issue was, the heads on this kit were completely dished on both sides. Really, if I can just digress a moment, heads aren't that expensive, at least if you're not buying bass heads. When they get to the point were they are cratered like the moon and won't hold any tension anymore because they've been that stretched out, it's time to replace them. Flipping the drum over and doing the same thing to the resonant side head is not an acceptable substitute.

I tried to get as much as I could out of that set but, of course tuning was impossible as the heads were that shot. I ended up just cranking them down so I at least had some response, but half way through the set, they'd loosened back up. At least I was being miced so you could hear me as there's no way I'd have much volume with that pathetic setup.

Alright, so what about our set? Well, we played between a banjo playing one-man-band kind of thing and a band called Sativa Gumbo. Yeah. We went over better than I'd expected, and we played better than we had at the Mel the night before, but it really wasn't our audience. Still, by the time the flaming hoola hoop girls came on, we had a bit of a group at the stage.

Did I mention the flaming hoopers? They were supposed to do their thing before we played, but ended up not. We wanted to try to coordinate something with them, but didn't. Then, halfway through our set, we were told they were coming out. Sucks that we didn't have much notice (as there were better songs to do their thing to) and now the group that was up front watching us got pushed back as they roped off about 12 feet in front of the stage. Kind of buzz killed a bit, though we would have loved to work something out in advance with them. Maybe next time.

The show itself went well, with one exception. About halfway through, I had what I can only describe as a Stockdale VP debate moment. I knew what song was next, I obviously knew how to play it, but I just blanked out. I recovered, but it was really weird sitting there and feeling like I'd just forgotten why I was there. This is bothering me more than it probably should.

Checking out the next day, this kid with a chipped tooth and looking pretty rough asked me what I though of the Harvest Festival. I said I had a good time. He said there were too many fights. Looked to me like he hadn't won many of them. I'll take in to consideration his advise not to go to the skate park after dark.

We hit ear-X-tacy and this cool shop Ultra Pop! in Louisville on the round about way out of town. Ultra Pop! had this awesome Godzilla vinyl I really wanted, but I'm not quite readly to drop $175 on a toy. Yet.

Anyway, all in all a good time and I guess we're going back to play Louisville December 13th. Groovy.

EDIT: stumbled across a Flickr of photos from the show. Check it out here: http://flickr.com/photos/ivoryocean/sets/72157608206409188/with/2958154339/

Monday, October 13, 2008

Yuki Show Diary: 10/10/08 Melody Inn

I'm writing this a few days after the fact, so forgive me if the memory is a little hazy. Anyway, we (meaning Yuki) played the late show at the Melody Inn with Red Light Driver and Small Arms Fire. RLD asked us to play, which was cool as I haven't heard them in a while. The show invitation gave us the motivation to get our CD done and all that, as we'd decided not to play a show until we had a CD to sell. Everything came together on the merch front, even though it was a little last minute. The CDs were ready and the shirts were down to the wire, but we got 'em. Groovy.

Alright. So I don't know for sure what happened on the promo front, but there was a good sized crowd for the show. We opened and ended up with a ton of people checking us out. Ended up selling a bunch of CDs and shirts and getting some really great feedback from people. Most often heard was the slightly backhanded compliment "I like this so much better than Svetlana." The intention was well meaning...

Our set went off alright. It's hard to get good sound on stage at the Mel and the vocals suffered a bit as a result. Jason was cranked up louder than usual, so we probably weren't balanced correctly for that anyway. Unfortunately Jarrin, our sound wizard, had a paying gig, so he was on the road and couldn't be around. The Mel is kind of hard to get good sound in anyway.

The other thing about playing the Mel is the set up and size of the stage. Somehow I managed to fit the full Vistalite kit on the stage but I think I was crowding everyone else out as a result. If you were wanting to check out the Vistas in all their glory and didn't show up Friday, you may have missed your chance. Don't think I'll be bringing all that mess out again. It's a drag to have that much gear to cart and set up and tear down.

Other than that, I dropped a stick (and recovered alright) and I knocked a rivet out of my sizzle cymbal. I don't think there was any other gear catastrophes, at least not for me, but I'll know for sure next time we practice. I'll be amazed if there was no other cymbal damage as I was really having to whack those suckers to keep up.

Oh yeah, we were videoed, but our volume completely overwhelmed the camcorder mic, rendering the footage pretty worthless. Boo.

EDIT: check out this rad photo gallery of the show from Charlie Clark at Nuvo!

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Shameless Self Promotion: Yuki

Y'know, I don't think I've mentioned anything about my band because I'm the world's worst self-promoter. So, since I actually have good reason to, allow me to rectify that situation today.

We are Yuki and Yuki is a four piece shoegaze/dream pop/noise pop group from Indianapolis. Loud, pretty, tuneful, ethereal; I think we'll cop to any and all of those.

I've had many people ask me whatever happened to Svetlana? Well, the answer is Yuki. Yuki is pretty much a continuation of Svetlana. New songs, slightly poppier, one fewer member. That's about the difference.

So, I said I had a reason to bring the band up. Well, I have a couple. First off, we sent the EP off to get manufactured. That is really exciting as we've all put a lot of work into it and we're all pretty happy with it.

The second (and third) is that we have a pair of shows coming up. First up is a show October 10th at the Melody Inn with Red Light Driver and Small Arms Fire from NY. This is going to be our debut show and a CD release of sorts.



The following day, October 11th, we'll be playing the New Albanian Brewing Company's Fringe Fest 2008 in New Albany, IN. We're really looking forward to this one and, from what I hear, they're quite looking forward to us as well. Should be a pretty awesome time.

That's about all the band news I have at the moment. Please come out and say hi if you are in the area on the 10th or 11th. I'll have more info on the CDs and where outside the show you can buy them when I know for sure.

My Summer Ride: Part .5

Well, Fall is starting to fall, so I guess now is as good a time as any to focus on the last of my Summer rides. This time, it's my bike, which is another in a line of wonderful birthday presents from my equally wonderful wife.

See, I have an old Gary Fisher bike, which has served me very well, even in times when it was my only mode of transportation. However, Kristen bought a Electra Amsterdam Classic 3 (read about that here). After being introduced to the Electra line, I developed a very bad case of bike lust, specifically for the Rat Fink.

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This bike is a Sting Ray styled chopper, except it's big enough for a 6'3" adult to ride without looking ridiculous. It's a heavy beast, especially compared to my Fisher, and the three speeds and coaster break don't quite equal performance. But, with the green metallic flake paint and Ed "Big Daddy" Roth inspired graphics this bike just oozes cool.

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I so love this bike. In fact, the Fisher has been hanging from the garage ceiling since the Rat Fink arrived. Yeah, living in a neighborhood with a ton of hills probably makes this bike a little less practical, but you can't help feel really cool cruising with this one. Well worth the money, if you can find one.

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PS: I changed some things around with the blog layout. Let me know if things get wonky in your browser.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Assaulted by Sound: My Bloody Valentine at the Aragon, Chicago 9/27/08

For years I wondered how the layers of My Bloody Valentine's classic albums Loveless and Isn't Anything would be reproduced live. Well, from what I saw last night, they weren't or at least they didn't appear to be. Yeah, I think I heard them, but just watching what was going on there's no way the simple barre cords Shields was playing and Belinda's almost nonexistent strumming was producing all the melody lines. Being a drummer, I also felt there was a large portion where the drum loops were pulling a little more than their fair share. I have a hunch the glowing Apple logo atop the soundboard stage right was the likely source of a fair amount of the extra sonic chaos.

And speaking of sonic chaos, we were treated to a rather lengthy "holocaust" in You Make Me Realize (21 minutes, according to a friend.) After hearing so much about this infamous climax of the My Bloody Valentine live expirence, I was expecting more. I feel confident in saying I understand what they were trying to accomplish, but the end result was more like having your head inside a jet engine than anything remotely artful.

Which leads me to the volume. Complaining about the volume at a My Bloody Valentine show is missing the point. However, I've been to some loud shows in my time and I've been to several loud shows with fantastically clear sound. I was hoping this would be another, but it wasn't so. About halfway in, it became nearly impossible to determine what they were playing as one sonic glob sounded much like the next. I'm not sure if the sound equipment or the room was to blame, but considering I've heard nearly audiophile sound in Ball State's basketball arena, I know it can be done in most any room, though I do see a history of people complaining abut the sound at the Aragon.

(A quick word about earplugs: without the earplugs, this show was just a rush of white noise and made absolutely no sense. The earplugs were like looking at a Magic Eye poster at that point where you finally get it in focus. It doesn't look exactly right, but you can at least see the shapes in the random patterns. It was one of the more interesting sonic phenomena I've experienced at a concert.)

Unfortunately, this volume, coupled with the sludgy sound, steamrolled over all the things that make My Bloody Valentine such a brilliant band. All the sub-melodies, all those harmonics created from the points where all these layers intersect, all the beauty of the songs underneath it all were swept away in a tidal wave of pure sound. All that remained was a horrifying crush of noise, with drums that crashed down on your throat and an occasional recognizable guitar part rising from the peaks. I can't imagine what someone who hadn't already memorized every nuance of this music would have gotten from this show aside from the blunt physical impact of the sound.

Because of the extreme volume and the amount of stuff obviously happening behind the curtain, it's really difficult to gauge the performance in any meaningful fashion. They showed up, exhibited the exact amount of stage presence they are known for, played a full set and left. Belinda delivered a heartfelt appreciation to the audience and Kevin mumbled a "yeah, thanks." So it went.

The short version would be this: it was exactly the disappointment I expected. And, in some weird way, there is satisfaction in that. I am glad I finally saw them but, even as much as I love this band, I have little desire to see them again.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Dear Amazon and the Record Labels.

Hiya. I have a confession to make, I've become completely addicted to the Amazon mp3 Store's mp3 Special Deals. Specifically, I check daily to see what the deal of the day is. These deals of the day are albums on sale from .99 cents to $2.99, compared to the usual $5 and up.

Here's the thing about it, these bargain prices, combined with the quality of Amazon's downloads and the ease of using the service have gotten me to buy more music via download than I normally would. For instance, today I bought Jay-Z's Vol. 3. I think I have most of this album floating around on my PC somewhere, but it was .99 cents. At that price, it was a total no brain decision. I've also bought several other albums that I wouldn't have touched at full price or even some that I might have already acquired through less honest means. And I've even bought one or two on the Friday 5 special for the slightly higher price of $5.

My point is, the combination of lower prices and the quality of product and ease of use has made this guy buy more than he normally would, even when he knows where he could get the stuff for free. Perhaps it might be worth trying this with more than just an album of the day (and five on Friday) and seeing what happens?

Yours,

Rob Guernsey

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

8 Simple Rules for Selling Music in Today's Market

The music blogsphere is all a twitter having a good laugh at slotMusic, this month's savior of the recording industry. Once again, this is an idea so silly, so outdated (not to mention they've already tried, and failed, at selling music on a memory card once before,) and so clueless that any half interested school kid could tell you why this isn't going to work.

Since I've already missed the first wave of specific slotMusic bashing, and since I'm getting tired of making a post every couple of months outlining all the same reasons whatever new thing big content is trying to roll out is going to fail, I'm going for a more general approach to this post. I feel pretty confident these rules apply to slotMusic or the next download store or whatever else they want to cook up.

So here they are, in a rough order of importance:

1. Your music must be iPod compatible. While other mp3 players are making inroads, the iPod is still the market leader and probably will be for a long time. Tying files with non-Apple compatible DRM or making the files much more difficult to transfer to an iPod than pushing one button is an almost certain trip to the dustbin of history.

2. You are competing with free.The big companies see Apple's .99 cents per track/$9.99 an album as a good starting point, but the truth is, it's pretty much the end of the line. When it's as easy (if not easier) to find an unauthorized free download for a vast majority of the music out there as it is to actually buy it, the closer you are getting to free, the more likely you are to have people turn to legit music services rather than blogs or torrents.

3. Convenience is key. Music blogs don't require the use of a convoluted download manager. Most torrents have files properly tagged and organized. Both bring the music straight to your desktop, ready to load on the mp3 player of your choosing, without having to leave the house. A surprising number of the legal download services I've used miss one or more of these things. When you make people work for something they've already paid for, it tends to push them back to the people offering it as they want it, for free.

4. If you don't have it, they can't buy it. As much as I love eMusic, I don't see anyway a new music service could survive without the full support of the four major labels and a healthy selection of the biggest indies. The iTunes and Amazons of the world have conditioned customers to expect pretty much anything they want, when they want it. If you don't have it, they will find it elsewhere.

5. Physical media is dying. The problem isn't that customers want a shiny new format. They aren't asking for a successor to the CD. They don't want gimmicky memory cards and, once the trend/nostalgia dies down, they won't be buying vinyl. People don't want anything they have to go to the store for. They don't want anything taking up more space. Aside from a dwindling number of holdouts, people just don't want stuff. All they want is the music and it is entirely possible to have one without the other.

6. Less DRM, not more. Ahh, digital rights management. How those on the Internet do love to hate you. Well, that hatred (or at least awareness of what you ever are) is starting to spill over from a small, but vocal, group of people to a more mainstream consumer. (See the Spore backlash on Amazon for instance.) With Yahoo and Microsoft announcing shutdowns of their authentication servers, more people are experiencing the worst case scenario with DRM encoded files and vowing to have nothing to do with them in the future.

7. It's time for bitrates to go up. When the iTunes Music Store launched, the 128kbp was justified by the fact that it created smaller files and boadband was just starting to cut into dial-up's domination. Now that really isn't as much of an issue as the number of users still on dial-up is small. Consumers are also starting to expect higher quality, as the novelity factor of the format has worn off. Devices can store more in smaller packages. There's no reason not to take advantage of this.

8. If you are keeping up, you're falling behind. What I mean is this; look at the market leaders Apple and Amazon. They have a huge market share and I think people are mostly satisfied with the service those two provide. If you are doing less than what they are, you're already dead, but even if you are providing something similar, people are going to need a little more to convince them to check you out. Improving on any of the previous seven rules I've mentioned is a good start, but I'm talking about going above and beyond even that.

For a start, how about bringing album art back? Yes, I know some albums on the iTunes Music Store come with a digital booklet but I think there's plenty of potential to improve on what they've done and make it more common.

Then there's all the extra stuff they've been throwing in with CDs to try to make them more appealing. I'm talking about videos, ringtones, etc. Instead of seeing these things as additional profit centers, how about bundling them with albums, like they do with the physical CD? Give the consumer a little extra reason to buy the album from you (and DON'T raise the price.)

I could go on, but I think I've done enough of the music industry's work for them already today. So, these are my 8 Simple Rules for Selling Music in Today's Market. What do you think? Did I miss something? Am I crazy? Or is it already too late? (I'm still considering that last one as a very real possibility.) Drop a comment and let me know what you think.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Our Summer Rides Part 2: The Beetle

Warning: this post contains hot topless Beetle action.

Last post I covered what has been essentially my wife's summer ride. Now I'm going to show you mine. I was lucky enough to be driving a 1974 Convertible Volkswagen Beetle that looks about like it rolled off the showroom floor.

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The story on this car is that it had a pretty charmed life. I guess it sat in an Al Capone's restaurant for a long time, though we've yet to figure out the connection there. My father-in-law collects cars and found it at auction. So, technically it's not ours, but it pretty much is for as long as we want to drive it.

Aside from a few things, this car looks to be all original with a little over 17k miles on the clock when we got it. I had to have the carburetor rebuilt (don't store old cars with gas in the line, it gums things up) and the mechanics discovered the front end had been rebuilt as a maintenance thing with all new bushings that wouldn't break down like the originals. In fact, the mechanic, a 20 year VW vet, told me this was the nicest driving '74 bug he'd ever been in.

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And this car is a joy to drive (or it has been since the carb rebuild. No more random stalling!) Granted, this is a little tougher for me to drive than the Smart as my knees are into the steering wheel. So, I have to sit a little funny, but I've gotten used to it.

The old VW engine is a reliable beast. Not really that exciting, but I have confidence that with proper care, this thing will outlive us all. And aside from a few touch up spots and peeling chrome on one hubcap, this car is in beautiful shape. Ok, so the radio is dead. That's about the only negative.

Unfortunately, we live in the Midwest which means snow and road salt. So, the Beetle is about to get mothballed for the season. It also means I'll probably go back to driving an much less exciting modern Passat. But here's a couple more pictures in the meantime. Enjoy the car pr0n.

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Now playing: Earl Bostic - A Taste Of Fresh Air
via FoxyTunes

Monday, September 15, 2008

Nico's Blue Butt


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Originally uploaded by CaptainWrong

The other day a mysterious blue spot showed up on Nico. I don't know if she sat on a marker or a pen exploded in Kristen's office and she found it. This picture was after I tried to clean her up and mostly I just smudged it and turned the spot into a stripe.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Beans in the Bag

Sorry for the quality on this. It was a "strike now while the cat is doing something cute" thing.

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He's still hanging out in the shoulder strap of the bag.

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Our Summer Rides Part 1: The Smart

A few years ago Kristen and I went to Europe. One of the random sites we both enjoyed was the tiny Smart car which was everywhere. There were two models, a more basic people mover which could be parked perpendicular to the curb, and the mini-roadster. We meant to rent one for an afternoon as we figured they'd never bring them out here.

About a year ago a slightly modified version of the fortwo arrived in the US and now we have one. The US version is slightly longer (no crazy parking with this one) so you might have a fighting chance in a collision with an SUV and has a Mitsubishi engine instead of one made by Smart's parent company Mercedes.



We've had the Smart for a few months now and I think it's safe to say we're both kind of unimpressed. OK, if you want a car to turn heads (for the time being anyway,) you're looking at one. Everywhere we go, we get stopped with dozens of questions about the car. It's kind of annoying, truthfully.

The finish and features on it are very well done. (I think our car has nearly all the options.) The inside is comfortable, even for someone 6'3", though if the seat leaned back my visibility would be greatly improved. You can tell thought went into this vehicle. (Road noise is a bit more than I'd like though.)



And it does get good gas millage, but not as good as you might think. The Honda Fit gets almost the same MPG and has four seats and something closer to a real trunk. I think the MPG was another thing that was compromised in the trip across the ocean, but I might be mistaken in thinking the foreign ones do better with gas.

While it's fun to drive, it's also a bit quirky. The three cylinder engine isn't going to break any land speed records but it gets the job done. However, I just can't get used to the "auto-manual" transmission. I guess this is supposed to give the benefits of a manual with the convenience of a automatic, but it feels to me like it's shifting and someone in the passenger seat is working the clutch.

Then there's the cost. The Passion Cabriolet (kind of a convertible, but more like a glorified sun roof) we're driving starts at almost $17K. Fully outfitted like ours is, it's closer to $19K. Granted, you can go base model at $11.5K but, as difficult as these are to come by now (22 month waiting list, we were told,) I'm sure any dealer is going to up sell as many extras as they can.

So, the Smart is an interesting little car. Until these are easier to come by, I think anyone interested would be better off checking out the Fit or a Scion. The gas mileage isn't that much worse and you get more car for the money.

The questions we always get asked about the Smart:

Q: What kind of millage does that get?
A: We average in the mid-30s with mostly in town driving.

Q: How much did it cost?
A: Ours was in the $18k range, but it's about as top of the line as you can get.

Q: Is it electric/hybrid?
A: No, standard gas engine.

Q: Can you take that thing on the interstate?
A: Yes, though the acceleration makes merging a bit of a nail biter sometimes.

Q: How much does it weight?
A: No clue.

Q: Can you fit in that?
A: Yes, but I have to watch my head putting the top back.

Q: Where' the engine?
A: In the back.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Disneyland vs. Magic Kingdom

Two theme parks enter...only one will leave...

I have a love/hate relationship with the Disney corporation. I have a deep love and respect for the company's history, but I absolutely hate the way the modern company pisses all over that legacy. I love the fact that Disney extended health benefits to same-sex partners in a time when it was rather risky to do so, but I am completely repulsed by the way Disney's lawyers keep getting copyright laws rewritten to favor Disney.

I could go on like this all day, but one thing is certain: they still know how to run a theme park. (Of course, that whole love/hate thing pops up again, but I'm getting ahead of myself.)

We got back from California a few days ago and before leaving we spent a couple of days at Disneyland. It was my first trip there. About this time last year, we spent a week at Disney World in Florida, which was a return trip for me.

It was pretty cool to me to check the differences between the two. One might assume that they were simply East and West versions of the same thing. Well, yes and no. For a number of reasons, the parks are similar, but not identical.

Two of my favorite retro signs together, Disneyland and Denny's.

Walt Disney World was an attempt to correct a major flaw of Disneyland: limited space. As Disneyland grew in popularity, other businesses moved in around it. The Magic Kingdom is much more spread out than Disneyland and several of the signature landmarks (the princess castles, Space Mountain) are noticeably larger in Florida.

On the other hand, I'm pretty sure I read somewhere that Disneyland was still thought of as the definitive Disney park and the rides in California reflected this fact. Even if this isn't true, that's how it seemed to me for the most part.

Unfortunately, we only got to ride two of my top four favorite rides. Pirates of the Caribbean is definitely better in California (even if all the skeleton stuff happens at the beginning of the ride, which doesn't make much sense to me) with a second drop and a whole scene missing in Florida (plus they still have "We wants the redhead!"). And, after about 27 times through, I had to admit, the completely different Disneyland Space Mountain trumps the one on the other coast.

Best I could do for WDW. Sorry.

As for the rest, well, it seems like Disneyland is a bit more in touch with its history than the Magic Kingdom. Like Mr. Toad's Wild Ride? Go to Cali. Want to see the Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Room closer to what it was (the show is shorter than originally)? Again, California is the place you gotta be. Sure, there's some things axed in Disneyland as well (Peoplemover, Carousel of Progress) but, for the most part Disneyland is a lot more like the Magic Kingdom I remember.

While I appreciate times change and some of the rides are woefully outdated (Mission to Mars, anyone?) it's really not necessary to get rid of things that still work. And while the changes made to Pirates probably make it a better ride, the injecting of new characters and licenses into things "just because" drives me nuts. I noticed a lot less of that at Disneyland and found myself spending a lot less time sulking over changes than I did in the Magic Kingdom. (I'm still kind of nervous about what they're doing to It's a Small World though. Yes, I really like that ride in all it's Mary Blair/'64 World's Fair glory.)

While Disneyland itself might not be as impressive in scope, I found the rides to be better and less tampered with than those at the Magic Kingdom. On the other hand, Disneyland only boasts the California Adventure as a second gate while Walt Disney World adds Epcot (which was more impressive in the 80s,) Disney/MGM Studios*, the water park, Animal Kingdom and the resorts.

If I had to chose one over the other, it would easily be Disneyland. I have to admit, by day three I was starting to feel like we'd done it all (going at off peak time rocks.) Disneyland is somewhere to go on vacation while Disney World is a vacation in itself. However, we ended up with annual passes so we'll be back.


*sidenote: the Florida Tower of Terror blows the Cali one away. Both are fun, but you can tell the Disney/MGM Studios version was put up before they came to their senses and realized it was maybe too complicated of an attraction to run stably. Still, the differences are huge and I'd risk having the ride not running to get the superior expirence.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Universal Studios Hollywood

We went to Universal Studios out here in Cali. It was a pretty fun way to spend the day. The studio tour is a classic, though from what I understand it was a bit more on the actual studio stuff back in the day. It was kind of sad to see the hole in the ground from where the studio fire was, but apparently they're rebuilding. (Of course, that says nothing for the mystery of what stored film or audio materials were lost, but I doubt that info is ever going to be readily available.)

The Simpsons' ride is really fun. It's a "flight simulator" type ride with the best looking CG Simpsons I've ever seen. Of course, there's a million in jokes for long time viewers of the show. I have to wonder how much of that was lost on the Japanese businessmen that were riding with us the last time through.



The Jurassic Park ride was fun too. It was really a typical boat ride with a huge drop, but it was done well. Some of the dinos are starting to show their age a bit, but other than that, it was pretty cool.

Saw the 3D Terminator 2 and Shrek shows and since I dig 3D stuff, these were cool. T2 3D has dated better than I would have thought, though it is kind of a 20 minute condensation of all the things ridiculous about those movies. (This might possibly have the highest density of Schwarzenegger quips of anything the man has ever done.)

We saw all the shows except Waterworld. The effects stage one was my fave. I think the effects show has the distinction of being the only thing at Universal that doesn't throw water in your face. They should put a sign up as you walk in reading "Welcome to Universal Studios, you will get wet." I'm not sure what that's all about, but it's interesting.

It was also interesting, but not surprising, at how little the classic Universal monsters appear in the park. There's the haunted house thing with the Frankenstein lab and there were Frankenstein and a rather good Dracula walking around. But for the most part, the movie monsters that were a huge part of the studio's legacy are kind of demoted to second tier.

The thing that got me the most about the day was that we could come in the middle of the week in non-peak season and still be surrounded by assholes. The park was nowhere near capacity. There was no need for people to crowd and push and be inconsiderate, but it didn't seem to stop anyone. Granted, I have a low tolerance for crowds, but even Kristen was ready to get away from people by the end of our stay.

And, I should mention that we went through the City Walk shopping district on the way out where I found this crazy bootleg Godzilla in one of the shops.

Bootleg Godzilla from universal studios

I'm guessing this is supposed to be meltdown G from Destroyah. Hard to tell as it's pretty off model. There was a smaller one (a little smaller than 6", this one is a little smaller than 12") that even had a tag with Godzilla and a shot from one of the movies on it! Pretty ironic that on the grounds of a studio well known for aggressively protecting it's own intellectual property, you could find some blatant rip-off of another studio's. (Doubly ironic when you consider Universal co-produced King Kong vs. Godzilla.)

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Just a technical note.

If the posts look weird, it's because I'm attempting to blog on the phone via Flickr. We're out in L.A. and I feel it's my duty to bring you up to the minute details of what's going on.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Mexican Lobby Cards








Many many many more here. Guy is a dealer, I guess. Pics are kind of blurry and low-rez, which is a shame. But prepare to waste an afternoon on this one.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

I think I need to slow my roll.



I've been up on this big purge still with regards to my media collection. I just hit a wall with all this stuff and needed to clear some of it out. Do I really need a jillion CDs, 500-some-odd DVDs, 400+ Atari 2600 Carts, etc., etc., etc. Maybe this doesn't happen to everyone, but it happened to me. I mean, I have the Highlander on Laserdisc! I'm asking you, in this day and age, who needs that???

Up to know, I've purged a lot of stuff without incident. I'm talking probably close to 1000 cds, perhaps as much (if not more) 12" vinyl, countless videogames, old magazines, books and on and on and on. I think the last batch got me though.

I realized I had a save pile that got mixed in with the stuff to go. Ok, first time that has happened. The embarrassing part about it is, I'm 99% sure one of the CDs in that pile would have been by the band of the person who I sold the CDs to, who happens to be a friend. Whoops. (Antionio, if you see this, yeah, the Thin Fevers CD wasn't supposed to be in that stuff.)

I've also hit the first twinge of wanting to hear something I got rid of. Considering the amount of stuff I've ditched and that I started this project a while ago, I'd say that isn't doing too bad. Besides, if I'm still jonesing to hear some Ramones a week from now, well, I know where my old CDs ended up.

In related news, I'm quite a fan of Delicious Library. I was a user of Readerware back in my PC days, but my RW catalog was far out of date and Kristen was going to upgrade her Delicious anyway. Plus she bought a version bundled with a Bluetooth UPC scanner that I'd need additional software to run with RW.

A lot of people don't get the point of Delicious and software like it, but for someone with a large media collection, it's a massive help. Not only am I doing an inventory for insurance (the flood kind of renewed that idea for me) but also just to check what the heck I actually own. Once upon a time, I was actually really good at reeling that kind of stuff off the top of my head. Now, not so much.

A couple of complaints about Delicious: one being that it only takes info from Amazon. Readerware has a laundry list of sites it pulls info from so if Amazon has incomplete or missing info, you can find it else ware. It's also a little too easy to get ahead of yourself scanning and then discovering one of the 57 things you just scanned wasn't at Amazon.

My biggest complaint though is that there's no direct way to create a blank entry. You have to go to the search box and then choose blank entry rather than just hitting apple-n or whatever. This is going to be a real problem as I'm contemplating cataloging my vinyl and I'm pretty much going to have to enter it all by hand. I'm considering doing the records in Readerware (which, I think, will pull info from an LP site now anyway) and then exporting it to Delicious.

And speaking of Readerware, the biggest differences between these two programs (as best I can tell) is that Delicious is much prettier, only pulls information from Amazon and will publish a site of your collection to .mac, err... Mobile Me. Also, Delicious will handle videogames, toys and "gadgets" whereas Readerware only does music, movies and books. The videogames thing is a huge plus for Delicious in my eyes and was probably going to convince me to switch even if Kristen hadn't already been using Delicious.

Still, I don't have a huge amount of complaints about it. Oh, if you want to nose around in my collection, here it is. Enjoy.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Last of the Old School Record Dealers

I was thinking last night about this Paul Mawhinney story (see yesterday's post for the latest) and why it's hit such a nerve with me, especially given that many of my comments might sound very cold and calloused. While I don't know Mawhinney personally, I am 99% sure I know the type of person he is, and it's seeing the demise of his type that makes this story so interesting to me.

I've been collecting records since I was a kid. I could say I've been at it seriously 20+ years. Back in the late 80s, I attended my first record show. At the time, that was the primary way you bought records, other than mail order. There was no eBay, no GEMM. You had local record stores (if you lived in a hip enough town,) dealer's lists/ads in the back of Goldmine and shows.

Information was a bit harder to come by back then. There were price guides, all of which deserved to be treated with a bit of skepticism as the writers were always dealers. Other than that, you had to rely on talking to dealers and fellow collectors. You had to trust prices you'd see at shows and conversations you'd have there. You also had to learn to separate the BS from the truth, because 90% of the dealers would have you believe they had nothing but the rarest gems that they were doing you a favor to take your money for.

At the last show I attended (which was a while ago,) I remember hearing a lot of dealers crabbing about eBay. For years, these guys had been the rule makers in this game. If they told you a record was rare and worth $100, it was up to you to prove them wrong. Without the Internet, that wasn't always easy. Not only that but you didn't find a great deal of variation in price. Everyone checked everyone else's list out and there wasn't a huge deal of undercutting. Same with the shows (not to mention all the real deals happened before the doors ever opened to the public.)

When eBay came along, not only was it easy to find a dozen copies of a supposedly rare record, you could look through the completed auctions to see that the average price was a fraction of what that guy at the show wanted. You also had a kind of shopping anarchy. While reserve auctions are always an option, for the most part, people would list things and they'd see for what people were willing to pay rather than what some bearded guy with a pot belly (and they always were bearded guys with pot bellys) says it's worth.

I'm not saying that these guys were shady, but they certainly had the advantage in the days before the Internet. The rise of eBay gave people like myself a peek behind the curtain and painted a much more accurate picture of what things were really worth than the old system where the people with a vested interest in the value going up dictated the prices.

If you're still with me, you're probably wondering what this has to do with our friend and "cultural preservationist" Paul Mawhinney? Well, Mr. Mawhinney strikes me as one of the last of this dying breed of old school dealers who seems to think we're still living in pre-eBay times, the times when guys like him dictated how much this stuff is worth. I also think, in spite of attempts to paint him as some sort of protector of culture, the man cares about money first and foremost.

Now, why would I think that about this guy I've never met? Well, part of it is a hunch but, watch that video I posted yesterday. It starts with Mawhinney manhandling a record from the late 1891 (I'd really expect a collector to handle records, especially one so old, better than what we see here) and asking this camera "how can something that old not be worth a lot?" Notice how he refers to his collection as "merchandise?"


"This has gotta be worth a lot of money, right?"
Well, maybe it was before you got your oily fingerprints all over it.

And money is never far from the surface when he's discussing these records. Never once do we see anything about which record do you enjoy listening to, which one gives you the most joy, but he is quick to show us the one worth the most money. That how I remember a lot of those dealers too. The dollars always came before what was in the groove.

As for money, I'm constantly amazed that in all the commentary surrounding his story, rarely does anyone ask where his figure comes from. His "archive" has been for sale since 1993(!) according to this Pittsburgh Business Times article. Considering this collection has been pawed through many times by people who would know, I feel pretty confident in saying if the value was accurate, it would be gone by now.

I'd also like to point your attention some first hand accounts from people who have been to Record-Rama, Mawhinney's store. This thread on a collector's board and this random blog post are kind of interesting. (Back in February, I had read more posts like those, but I didn't have the foresight to bookmark them.) These stories are anecdotal and should be taken with a grain of salt, but they sound a lot more like a hard nosed dealer than an archivist collector .

A lot of people remark that some museum or library should purchase the collection. Putting aside the issue of what public institution has the kind of money Mawhinney is asking, what is a museum going to do with a couple million records? Even as a donation, this would be a huge burden on an institution just to store it and I'll bet he'd have a hard time finding someone to take it (assuming he's still insisting on keeping the whole thing together.) I don't think many libraries have records anymore and considering were talking about an all but obsolete medium, making this stuff available to the public would involve a lot of money and time.

In other words, this stuff as one huge collection is nearly worthless to anyone other than Paul Mawhinney. But that's something Mr. Mawhinney seems reluctant to see, even though he's coming up against this face to face. I think even the most stubborn dealers I used to know from the shows would have just opened the doors and had a fire sale by now. I have to wonder how much Mawhinney could have made if he'd done just that, especially had he done it closer to when he first tried to cash out, before the market really went south.

While I don't doubt that Mawhinney enjoys music, I have a hunch that he enjoys the physical record as much, if not more. There are still people like him out there, there are fewer and fewer each year and his predicament illustrates pretty clearly why. The value of most records is still tanking and who in their right mind wants to invest that much physical space to something that is just sitting around devaluing?

It's not that "nobody gives a damn," Paul. The world just doesn't see these records as being monetarily valuable as you do. If you wish your archive to be available to the world after you're gone, you have that power, but you're going to have to forget about the money. Besides, you've had potential buyers looking at this for for fifteen years, you told the Library of Congress to take a hike and eBay didn't come through. Don't you think maybe it's time to move on?