Monday, March 17, 2008

Is a golden eagle tougher than a regular one?

Here it is, Monday morning, and I find myself filling out the brackets on my company's NCAA basketball pool.

Since I know less than nothing about basketball, I have devised an ingenious system for determining the winner of each game. I take the mascot for each school, and decide who would win in a battle to the death.

Portland State versus Kansas? Well, the latter may be a "no-brainer" favorite, but let me tell you: a Viking will kick the shit out of a Jayhawk any day of the week. Xavier against Georgia? You have to go with a well-trained Musketeer over the unwieldy Bulldog.

There are a few schools that seemingly chose intentionally ambiguous names just to throw me off. For example, Stanford's team is apparently known as "The Cardinal" (referring to the color, not the bird or the Catholic posting). And they're playing the "Big Red" of Cornell. Since it's hard to figure out who would win in an epic clash between two shades of red, I went with Cornell because they at least have a cool-ass bear on their logo.

Despite this, I anticipate a 97% accuracy rate.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Soul Coughing it ain't

The new Mike Doughty album is absolutely terrible and should never be listened to by anyone, ever, for any reason. I heard it this morning, and I'm now hastily trying to invent time travel so I can go back to yesterday and hit myself with a shovel before I can listen to the album.

I apologize for this post's accompanying picture, but it was the first thing that came up when I searched for "crappy music" on Google image search.

Friday, March 07, 2008

The best TV show you're not watching

Were it not for the amazing premiere of Pushing Daisies in the fall, I'd assert that Breaking Bad is without a doubt the best new television series of the 2007/2008 season.

Don't worry. You're not the only one who hasn't heard of the show, or brushed it off because it was some un-hyped new series with an ambiguous name running at an odd hour on AMC of all places.

But you've definitely missed out. If you don't know anything about Breaking Bad, I'll break it down for you, here's a quick overview of the premise: The main character is Walter White, a brilliant chemist who, due to a nearly paralyzing fear of failure (and a few other reasons that we find out later in the series), throws away a rewarding career as a research scientist to teach high school Chemistry. Between his wife's unsuccessful attempts to publish a novel, a teenage son with a physical disability, and another baby on the way, he is barely able to make ends meet on his teacher's salary. When Walter is diagnosed with terminal cancer, he struggles to find a way to ensure his family's stability after he's gone.

After going on a drug bust "ride-along" with his DEA officer brother-in-law, Walter realizes that he can potentially use his knowledge of chemistry to create his own crystal meth lab and bring in enough money to leave behind for his family. Unfortunately, he has absolutely no knowledge of the drug game at all -- or, really, anything even remotely resembling "street smarts". Through a series of coincidences, Walter teams up with a former student (who narrowly avoided the aforementioned drug bust by being next door having sex with the neighbor's daughter at the time) and goes into business as a narcotics producer and distributor.

When I mention that Bryan Cranston -- the father from Malcolm in the Middle -- is playing Walter White, you might get the wrong idea. There aren't any sight gags or slapstick moments in Breaking Bad; the underlying sense of humor is morbidly dark, and would be right at home in a Coen Brothers movie. The fact is, in the six short episodes that have aired so far, Cranston has established himself as a truly amazing actor. Walter White is an eminently believeable character, and you find yourself empathizing with his plight and wishing he'd make some better decisions for himself. The acting throughout the cast is nearly on par with the lead character's, avoiding the whole "wow, I wish they'd stop showing this character's subplot" scenario (see also: Lost).

The writing is also incredible throughout the series. The dialogue is almost perfect, and the producers made a conscious choice not to censor anything out just to shoehorn the show onto basic cable. AMC dumps out of curse words occasionally, but they leave as many in as they cut out. During a recent interview on the Ron & Fez show, Bryan Cranston joked that they only get two "shits" and five "goddammits" per episode. After watching the series, I've found that he wasn't too off the mark. There are also several dark moments in the show's plotline that range from uncomfortable (feeding the habit of a bunch of deteriorating, self-destructive meth-heads) to downright disturbing (disposing of a dead body in a way that the authorities will never discover it). The fact that AMC has the balls to show all of this, more or less uncut, gives me a lot of respect for a network that I'd long ago written off as only good for watching old Steve McQueen movies.

Sadly, the first season of Breaking Bad was cut short by the writer's strike. If they don't get a second season, it will be a travesty on the level of Fox's cancellation of Wonderfalls. And Firefly. And Futurama. And Family Guy. Hey, fuck you, Fox!

Wait, where was I?

Oh, yes. By posting this blog entry, I'm hopefully doing my part to ensure another season of this amazing series. If you can catch it in reruns, you owe it to yourself to check it out. Otherwise, be sure to grab the inevitable DVD release. Breaking Bad is an absolutely stellar program, and I can't think of anyone who would be reading this blog who wouldn't enjoy every second of it.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

I just want to bang on the drum(s) all day

When I first tried a pre-release demo of Rock Band at the local Wal-Mart, it was the drums that really drew me to the game. After all, I'd already been through two-and-a-half Guitar Hero games, so the guitar and bass, while highly anticipated, were nothing new. And since my previous spirited attempts at singing have been classified under the Geneva Conventions as a "war crime", it left only the percussion role to get excited about. Pounding out the beats on Faith No More's "Epic" for the first time convinced me that I would buy this game at any price, and probably pour an obscene amount of money into buying all of the downloadable add-on songs for it.

Months have passed since that fateful day in the Garden Section, and I've worked my way up to the "hard" difficulty on Rock Band's drum tour. As fun as playing pseudo-guitar is, nothing makes one feel like a rock god nearly so much as nailing a tough drum sequence on Radiohead's "My Iron Lung" or Smashing Pumpkins' "Cherub Rock". The similarity between hitting Rock Band's grey rubber pads and playing on a real drum kit is worlds closer than what you'd experience trying to go from a plastic guitar to a real six-string. The fact that there's a correlation (if somewhat tenuous) between playing a video game and making real, actual music makes drumming a unique and engrossing experience.

For you other fake-drummers out there, there's a great article on sticking over at ScoreHero. Aside from (hopefully) helping me improve my game a little, it's also reinforcing the fact that I'd be nowhere near the "knowing what the hell I'm doing" level if I were to play real drums.

But it's still okay to pretend, right?

Monday, March 03, 2008

NIN from the great beyond

I was extremely surprised to wake up this morning and see the following thread title on the Something Awful forums: "New Nine Inch Nails album materializes out of the aether".

In case you haven't heard: Over the weekend, Trent Reznor dropped a two-disc Nine Inch Nails album completely without warning. Entitled "Ghosts I-IV", it's a four-volume, two-CD set of instrumental-only tracks. The entire first volume, "Ghosts I", was uploaded to popular BitTorrent sites accompanied by request that filesharers buy the other three volumes if they enjoy the first one. $5 entitles you to a DRM-free download of all four volumes, while $10 scores you a physical copy (there are also $70 and $300 signed special editions for die-hard fans).

In my opinion, it's a fucking genius move. A big-name band ditches its record company, releases a new album completely out of the blue, shares a sizeable portion for free on the Internet, and doesn't attempt to gouge buyers with ridiculous record company prices. Granted, it's not an entirely original concept -- Radiohead released "In Rainbows" for the ambiguous price of "it's up to you" late last year -- but to do it with no advance warning and no record company support at all ("In Rainbows" was released through normal retail channels two months after its Internet debut) is extremely ballsy.

My main worry is that even considering the band's openness toward the filesharing community, the album is going to be pirated. A lot. Given Reznor's disappointment with the treatment that his Saul Williams collaboration, "Niggy Tardust" received, I hope that he continues to forge ahead with his industry-independent business strategy.

I'll definitely be dropping $10 on the new album. If enough fans purchase "Ghosts I-IV", other artists will take notice -- and hopefully recognize this as a new and viable way to distribute their music.