Saturday, April 19, 2008

A hilarious write-up on the Yugo, one of Time magazine's 50 worst cars of all time:

Malcolm Bricklin, head of the Bricklin SV1, wouldn't be satisfied until he had forced every American to walk to work. To that end, in 1985, he began importing the Yugo GV, which turned out to be the Mona Lisa of bad cars. Built in Soviet-bloc Yugoslavia, the Yugo had the distinct feeling of something assembled at gunpoint. Interestingly, in a car where "carpet" was listed as a standard feature, the Yugo had a rear-window defroster — reportedly to keep your hands warm while you pushed it. The engines went ka-blooey, the electrical system — such as it was — would sizzle, and things would just fall off. Yugo. Or not.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Irritating Lack of Opinion that comes with a B+

Rolling Stone magazine, regarded as the pop culture benchmark for the music industry this side of the Atlantic features album reviews of freshly released music every two weeks in their magazines' issues. Most people will probably only recognize half of the artists that the Rolling Stone covers because, to their credit, they do expose a lot of unknown acts to the spotlight by reviewing their work. A favorable review will do wonders for a band that had previously only seen their exposure go up via their myspace page.

However, in the last month, three albums have been released that I have been waiting for with varying degrees of anticipation. The Black Keys' Attack & Release, Gnarls Barkley's The Odd Couple and The Raconteurs' Counsolers of the Lonely.
Each of these albums received a 3 1/2 star rating from Rolling Stone. Generally speaking, a 3 1/2 star rating is considered 'good' out of the possible 5 stars that there are to earn. However, each of these albums represents a progression in each bands' musical evolution, and I fear that Rolling Stone is incapable of offering a true perspective on these albums' worth when comparing next to the latest remix album from Taylor Hicks.
So, rather than alienate their indie/alternative/underground audience (such as it is) by either lambasting or lauding the albums, they assign an inoffensive rating, certain to disappoint as many as it impresses. In an election year, it seems a great example of political expediency.
I try not give too much credit to Rolling Stone, for as much as it claims to ascribe to its origins during the rebellious age of hippy-dom, the fact of the matter is that it has become such a big and influential part American culture that true artists and musicians would be wise to shun its influence and refuse any allegiance. A crucial part of the rock 'n roll recipe has always been the destruction of the empire that preceded it.


Saturday, April 12, 2008

Something Worth Traveling to the Netherlands For

In a time when we hear about the endless troubles facing the American Automotive Industry, there seem to be an endless line of explanations as to why our domestic vehicles are taking a back-seat to foreign-owned and imported vehicles. While explanations seem to be in endless supply, one simple fact (as a younger, potential auto buyer) is that often times foreign vehicles have a much higher value/cool ratio than their domestic counterparts. The success of the auto brand Scion is evidence of this fact: value-pricing coupled with a surprising level of amenities wrapped in a stylish package.

So then imagine my surprise when I happened to see a commercial for the 'New' 2008 Ford Focus sold overseas. Here is a photo of the 'new' Focus currently available to the masses here in the U.S.:

...and here is a picture of the 2008 Ford Focus currently available in Europe and Australia:

Here's an even cooler version that you can buy, known as the Focus Cabriolet:

And in today's fuel-conscious buying mode, imagine how well a car like the Ford Fiesta would sell opposite vehicles like the Toyota Yaris or the Honda Fit:

But it's not just the small economy vehicles that Ford is inexplicably saving it's style for. In the latest James Bond film installment, Casino Royale, Bond arrives in the then-concept vehicle Ford Mondeo. It is now available in dealerships, and looks like this:

This is America's version of the Mondeo, known as the Five Hundred:

It would seem that the Ford Motor Company is saving its retarded step-children for sale in the U.S. and sending their more stylish, award-winning (no joke) vehicles to overseas markets. I have to ask: why? I wouldn't think twice about purchasing another Ford vehicle if they looked like their European cousins. As it is, Ford seems to be pursuing a sales tactic based on a golf-cart mentality that is promoting their vehicles as pragmatic people-movers, rather than dynamic and fun to drive vehicles.

Friday, April 04, 2008

There is a short list of items that will force me to run to the grocery, drug store, head shop, etc. immediately because I've unexpectedly run out.
Most items I'll force myself to do without until my next convenient trip to the store, but sometimes you just come across those few necessities that make modern life impossible to be without.

Considering that it is a short list, one would think it would not be the hardest trick to keep these items in constant supply.

You, dear reader, don't know me very well.

It is certainly not a matter of pride nor joy, but I believe myself incapable of several basic human awarenesses that the rest of you take for granted. Things like brushing your teeth, washing dishes, vacuuming... Perhaps not tasks that we enjoy, but the benefits they reap ensure that you will continue to perform them.

I, on the other hand, will suddenly look down at my feet one day and wonder why I'm feeling dried tuna fish crumble between my day-three-of-five socks on the carpet. It's then that I realize that I've forgotten yet again to vacuum, do the dishes and do the laundry.
This immediately throws me into a deep depression that prevents me from actually doing any of these chores and can only be remedied by playing Call of Duty.

So, imagine my surprise this morning while performing my morning constitutional that I should turn to my left and discover that I have completely exhausted my supply of toilet paper.
(Always afterwards do I think to look.) I instantly replay the above scenario in its entirety and realize that I also lack the ability to make shopping lists which would ensure that I reminded myself to buy toilet paper as I wandered down aisle after aisle at the supermarket.

Several questions come to mind: how is it that my TP consumption has skyrocketed in the last couple of months? I'm used to a strict diet of 8 squares a day (and yes, the end goes over the roll, not under!) so how could I have shot through a roll in under a week?
When I've had female guests in my home, I'm used to seeing half a roll disappear in a couple of hours. ( I don't understand it, but I accept it.) However, there have been a severe lack of females in my home, so this was not a suitable explanation.

Well, T. there just isn't a way for you to come out of this looking good.

I just don't consider it until its an issue, that's all.

Most people will go to the grocery and buy their week's groceries at once to include meats, dairy, grains and all other appropriate food group items. Among these groceries will include light bulbs, kleenex, household cleaners and toilet tissue. When purchased as a group, no one can chastise or bring attention to the fact that you are buying Preparation-H or extra-strength deodorant because it is all traveling in a herd.

But when you're the guy who comes in to buy a pack of toilet paper singularly, there are only two possibilities:

Either you're a mischievous person on his way to cause trouble with some local property

or, you're too stupid to look at the roll before you sit down.

There's that quiet understanding between purchaser's and cashier's eyes as you wait in line. He/she knows. He/she may even decide to prolong your check-out slightly, in order to see how bad the situation has become.

You can stand there, meet their gaze levelly, hands in your pocket, nonchalantly eyeing the tabloids, confident in the knowledge that all human beings use toilet tissue, or you can do what I did:

Stare intently at the cashier with an expression somewhere between fear and anxiety, hands rammed deeply into jacket pockets, as though you were holding your very insides from bursting through your shirt front. Add a slight shuffle with your feet in order to express a heightened awareness of your body's inclinations.
He/she can show mercy at this point and just ring up the stupid toilet paper and let you leave in dignity, or they can have a conversation with you and ask you if you have exact change and if you're having a good day, if you went to the season opener, making sure that the people in line behind you understand that YOU are there to purchase toilet paper. Nothing else. Just toilet paper. What an idiot.

Satan finally decides to take my outstretched money and hand me a plastic bag containing the toilet paper (although I partially expected him to hand it to me attached to the top of a pole decorated with colorful streamers.)

Dear friends, let us not be confused any longer as to how much toilet paper we have remaining under the sink. In the same way that we take care to know how much milk remains or how long the battery in our laptops will endure, let us always be mindful of our posteriors. And, if you're ever in the DC area, watch out for the horned cashier who takes joy in the torment of his customers.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Po' boy sketches mk. II

Rejected Camouflage Pattern #34

The Coolest Xbox gamer you would EVER hope to meet...

More Bad News from the Hip-Hop Frontier

My TV happened to end up on BET for a while this afternoon and I was struck by the further distillation of "hop hop" music into a ubiquitous murmur of rhythmic noise.

Exhibit A: Lil' Wayne's Lollipop - yet another sex-as-candy innuendo love-grind features Lil' Wayne and bevy of hoochie girls rolling around a light cityscape in a stretch limousine. I honestly thought I'd tuned in during the song's bridge - the mood seemed so transitional and ambiguous. After listening for a few more bars, however, I realized this was the song.
I believe myself to have very broad limits in defining music, and my tastes are eclectic and varied. That being said, calling Lollipop a hip-hop song is like calling a doorbell a symphony.

(Let's not get theoretical here - I know there are those who would argue for the virtues of doorbells.)

This particular track demonstrated some disturbing trends which I feel should be brought to light for conscientious listeners everywhere.
The track Lollipop was produced using the now-familiar thick, heavy "southern-style" beats that have come out of cities like Atlanta and Nashville. While they may be great fun to blast out your neighbors while at stop lights, their complexity and originality is only a glimmering shadow of the pioneering hip-hop music.

Still, like radio-friendly top-40 hits, these artists mix and produce their music to sell - featuring hooks and catchy rhythms galore. This is good business.

However, unlike all music up until this point, this was the first time when I was unable to hear a discernible solo artist. Quite astonishingly, Lil' Wayne's vocals were multi-tracked and mixed down into the surrounding music so that I honestly expected the real artist to come on and start rapping on top of Lil' Wayne's ostinato.
Still, after listening for another minute, I realized that this was the song, and this was the artist and this was the music. And this was one sorrily disappointed music fan.

This is a sign of our music culture: as iPods have become a universal accessory for all ages and all demographics, musicians and producers have responded by crafting their tunes to play well to America's suddenly all-mobile listening habits. Gone are 80% of dynamic contrasts. Aside from a fade-in or -out, ipod listeners can not be inconvenienced by the trouble of having to adjust volume constantly to accomodate the roar of life around them. However, when you play this music at home, on your stereo for your private enjoyment, suddenly you realize how much this music sounds like a background soundtrack to a bad television program. It is merely a murmur, built for you to keep step with it, and help "groove" along, but not complicated or interesting enough to force your ear to have to listen and distract you from your otherwise already complicated life.

This may seem a luxurious compliant to most, and for the most part, they would be right. It is a small irritation on the zit-covered existence of daily troubles, but the further we slip away from appreciating true art in any form, the worse we are as a culture.

I can't get inflamed about this, however, because I have to believe that real art and real music will survive as it always has. In ten years we will have forgotten about Lil' Wayne's Lollipop (thankfully) and will only remember this decade in sweeping generalities, the way we regard the 90's as 'Grunge' and think of Classic Hip-Hop as Run DMC, despite the hundreds of other influential musicians who worked during that pioneering time.

I await music's next revolution with baited breath, and can't wait for this drought of musical sterility to pass.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

You gotta practice machines, too...

For those of you paying attention, this would be an example of overactivity when it comes to how much ink is on the paper. The smaller the image gets, the more confusing it becomes.
The Undertaking of Project #756.4

In effort to remain productive, useful and utilize resources, I have begun a campaign to develop, learn and research an until-now unexploited potential gold mine: cartooning.

Sure, it's fun. Sure, it's easy. To do poorly, that is.
Sure, every church bulletin/sermon notes page since I turned 5 has been decorated.

Let's see if we can't use it for something more...
The premise:

Do free-hand drawing every day to build up skills with pen and ink that will benefit in the subtle storytelling art form of cartooning.

The rules:

10 - 15 minutes are permitted per drawing. This must include pencils and inks. It mu
st do its best to convey in the simplest shapes possible the point of the drawing. In other words: the goal is to maximize the economy of line in showing the viewer what is happening. Great cartoonists do this so well, it's uncanny. Us poor ones just slop ink on the page and hope something comes out of it.

Different types of tools will be used in experimenting with different techniques, attempts and style, etc.

Right now, the weapon of choice has been a regular Sharpie marker. The goal: to get a wider range of textures out of the felt tip beyond what I would scribble on top of a cardboard box. Then again, that might look cool. I should try that...

I will do my best to post a drawing here every day. (Ala The Creatures in My Head) to gauge reaction and hopefully see a side-by-side improvement as I muddle through this.

I give you the Carnivorous Parking Meter:

The Dude Who's Way Too Excited About Riding the Toy Airplane:

...and of course, Ugly Alien with his Rat-on-a-Stick:

Apparently I shall have to suffer through all sorts of torments in order to get this done. Most of them are technologically related (busted scanner, computer programs that can't seem to comprehend the simplest task I ask of it...) but through it all, I shall persevere to bring you my rendition of a singing toilet.


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

As a Follow-Up to My Last Post

...mentioning some of the innocent, harmless music being made today, here is the balance point:
the grimiest, dirtiest artists I could find.

The Bumblebeez
Australian Hip Hop Troupe features a motley crew of white kids (and girls!) with some of the messiest, infectious collections of noises I've heard recently. Overblown and distorted, everything sounds like its playing through a blown-out boom box. And that's why its so cool! Content is much less a factor, as you can barely understand what the various emcees are mumbling into their $2 microphone.

Mickey Avalon
Jewish New York-born rapper has about as uplifting an attitude towards life as one could expect from a posting with this title. His songs are about a complete loss of faith, prostitution, comparing the size of his genetalia and various sex moves known as the "Jane Fonda." A gifted lyricist, he does something not a lot of emcees bother with: articulate. Even with his whiny, pouty son-of-a-b**** attitude, he makes you join his effort, rather than hate him.
"Toy Shop" Girl Musicians Are SO In Right Now.

First (if one can remember with me,) it was Regina Spektor, a Russian singer/song-writer who had quirky, unusual pop songs featuring a great deal of acoustic instruments and simple, innocent melodies. Needless to say, these weren't songs about self-mutilation, anarchy or dead puppies.

This past year we saw a huge surge in the popularity/number of these "toy shop" musicians. Feist even managed to pull a 'best new artist' Grammy nomination out of the whole ordeal. Sarah Bareilles and Yael Naim are using the same recipe: one part attractive (not glamorous) girl, one part piano, one part hooky melodies. Shake liberally and serve chilled.

The last two names mentioned in the above paragraph have certainly seen a huge boost in exposure due to their music's use in nation-wide commercials. Ms. Bareilles in Rhapsody Music's satellite music channel, and Ms. Naim in Apple's latest commercial for the iBook Air.

While this is the latest, freshest thing to emerge on the musical scene, it will certainly soon tire just as quickly since labels have obviously figured out the road to success and are quick to submit their own verse of the same song.

The characteristics of this music are unique. While so much music getting air play is production-laden, guitar-drenched, woofer-kicking schlock, this music seems absolutely refreshing. A great deal of acoustic instruments, quaint, almost comic and whimsical arrangements at time make you smile a little bit while considering the light-hearted innocence of the song itself.

This is what comes up when you put "Pork rind buttercup" into a Google image search. What other wonders will we discover next?

Thursday, March 06, 2008

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way Home From the Office

Happy at having finished a rehearsal early, the orchestra poured out of the school where rehearsal had been held and filed to their cars by ones and twos.
It had been raining off and on throughout the day and vehicles that had been sitting unused for most of the day showed the usual symptoms: wet brake pads and swollen door seals. As I reached my car, I, as I always did, stuck my key into the lock of the hatchback - where I commonly put my instrument while in the car.

Much to my surprise, after turning the lock, I looked down at my hand to see that only 60% of the key remained in my hand. The rest of it had hilariously decided to jump ship inside the lock, not only denying me the ability to get inside my car, but also the ability to drive home.

Thankfully, at that moment, two other violists happen to walk by and see my look of shocked bewilderment as I held up the half-key for their inspection. Surely, they had to be laughing on the inside. To be polite, they both seemed quite genuinely concerned, but if roles were reversed, I know it would've taken some amount of self control to point and laugh.

Thanks to the wonders of the modern age, the number for my insurance's roadside assistance was pulled off of a internet-capable cell phone and I called their handy-dandy automated "hang on" phone system while they tried to track down a locksmith that could come out and do the work.

Already ten minutes have passed, and the great majority of the other musicians have all left. I am invited to sit in my friend's car while we wait and find out how many days it will take for the locksmith to arrive. Staying true to my fortune, I realize that the only (apparently) useful theft deterrent my car has is a computer chip contained in the key itself, which once engaged in the ignition, allows the motor to start. Without this chip, my car is nothing more than a stylish paper weight.
Finding a locksmith that could replace the key with a compatible key chip inside took longer, and, as it turns out, meant that they would have to drive from Zimbabwe. But, "they should be there in about 40 minutes." (ha ha)

The school where we had rehearsed had since locked its doors, the janitors undoubtedly going home to their warm beds and the thought of joyously returning to their work the next morning. My friend (and her warm car) began to realize that she had to start heading home.

Looking around for any sign of civilization, I spotted a beacon of modern convenience: a Seven Eleven convenience store across the street from the school. Its fluorescent bulbs burned bright into the night, welcoming me with all of the assorted surreal sugar-coated shrink-wrapped 2 for $3 offerings I could ever imagine.

I walk in, viola on back, prepared to wait out the remainder of my "40 minutes" by the magazine rack near the front door. This way, when the phone call comes at precisely 10:29, (40 minutes) I will be able to dash out the door, across the street and to my car to meet the locksmith. Ironically enough, I find myself looking through the Auto Trader, wondering how much extra remote access would cost on a new car...

10:45 - Having exhausted the Auto Trader, RV Trader and Motorcycle Trader, I've resorted to staring out the window, making an unusual eye contact with the customers as they pull up in front of the store, a mere four feet from where I stand, staring straight back into their headlights. One starts to wonder if the man without a coat carrying a large black case on his back who deliberately stares down customers would be making any friends tonight...

11:15 - An automated courtesy call from my insurance company wants to find out if my help has arrived yet. Press 1 to talk to a representative.


It turns out that the lock smith is just crossing the bridge into Virginia which will still give me a good 30 minutes to ponder my life choices while I decide whether to look at XL, Lowrider or Elle.

12:00 - A call on the cell phone from the locksmith himself! He tells me that he's just made it to the intersection where the school is located, but he realized he doesn't have the computer he needs to program the new key, so he has to return to the locksmith mothership to get it. (Again, in Zimbabwe.) "Hang tight!"

FYI - The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition is on newsstands everywhere. And, Avril Lavigne makes the cover of Maxim, and Car & Driver features a cover article about the new Pontiac G8. Some cheaply produced periodical named Shooting laments the passing of the .223 ammunition and I watch the same group of 3 - 8 guys come into the store three times and buy half of the beer that they have in stock. For a Wednesday night, it's quite a party...

1:00 - My body is shutting down. Tired, hungry and crabby, I'm sitting on a plastic bag full of over-priced logs for the rich man's fireplace, trying to stay interested in a one-page article about zany office character's bracket choices for March Madness. Also trying to stave off any undue suspicion from the two Ethiopians working the late shift.

1:30 - another courtesy call from the insurance company - this time I'm put on hold (why not?) only to find out that
indeed, the locksmith has in fact driven to another state in search of an Excalibur-computer. Fantastic.

1:50 - Finally, a phone call from the locksmith, driving around the school looking for my car. I meet him at my car and show him the nub of a key that I had left.
Interestingly, as surprising as the act of snapping the key off had been, retrieving the tip of the key from the lock on the trunk took an entire 35 seconds.

As our project progressed, keys cut and programmed, the locksmith and I began to talk and I found out that he had served four years in the military and had gone and done a tour in Iraq. Sensing our camaraderie, this locksmith decided to tell my some war stories of his time over in "The Sandbox."

I don't even feel I should write the story down, for the protection of all involved. Surely it is a story he should not be re-telling for his own safety, but also because of the potential legal proceedings he could become involved in as questions would arise about Law of Armed Conflict and the Geneva Convention.

It made me wonder: as frustrated as I have been by the experience of seeing the nominally stupid population that makes up the enlisted core of the Air Force, (and assumptions regarding the other branches of service) it puts me in a bind: I rely and trust upon these very people to complete their missions which will ensure the safety and well-being of the United States, and yet I often find the attitudes and actions of these soldiers, airmen and marines as individuals to be ridiculous, childish, dangerous and, for lack of a better word, stupid.
Why is my job in a situation where we're treated like brain dead infants and told how/where/when to do everything? It's because of this locksmith who met me at a parking lot at 1:50 in the morning.
This is saddening, frustrating and perplexing, and I'm not sure what to make of it.

The other thing I wondered about was whether or not I wanted to be standing in the middle of a parking lot with this guy at 2 AM in the morning...

Thankfully, I was home by 2:30, a mere $360 dollars less and not a bit wiser for the experience.

A note to Ford: Please install a form of theft deterrent that will allow me to have a replacement key fashioned that will cost less than 10% off the vehicle's worth. Thanks.

And for all of you kids who are thinking about opening your trunk: use the release switch by the driver's seat - just to be safe.


Thursday, February 07, 2008

Best Films of 2007

Since everyone's been absolutely pestering for my highly influential opinions on the high-water mark of last year's cinematic offerings.... are the greatest, most entertaining, most elevating and most exciting films of 2007 according to the Grand Poobah:

300 - Frank Miller and Zak Snyder team-up create visually compelling and instantly influential film about the 300+ Spartan warriors.

Grindhouse - Tarantino and Rodriguez tag team unsuspecting
audiences and deliver double-featured dose of smoldering goo left over from their childhood film fantasies.

atatouille - Pixar's batting average remains staggeringly high with this whimsical Parisian tale of a kitchen infestation that- for some reason- doesn't make its audiences run screaming into the theater lobby.

Transformers - The best alien-robot-invasion movie I've seen in a while. Its greatest success was pulling off the balancing act between stupid and fantastic. Looking forward to the sequel. With recent memories like Spider-Man 2 and X-men 2 in our rear-view mirror, we have reason to hope that Optimus won't have to save the day by using his can opener function.

Hot Rod - Has come as close to repeating the insanity and intangible humor of Napoleon Dynamite as anything else I've seen. Off-the-wall and deliciously reminiscent for those of us who grew up in the 80's, Andy Samberg makes an under-the-radar hit that will make us smart ones continue to tune in.

3:10 to Yuma - Glenn Ford classic gets a post-Unforgiven makeover. Cowboys are allowed to be simultaneously emotional and filthy. Terrific performances by Crowe, Bale and Prince create a compelling and thrilling tale of a great underlying morality that packs six shooters.

The Kingdom - Political action/thriller throws FBI agents into the midst of the turmoil in Saudi Arabia to solve the murder of American citizens at the hands of terrorists. Simultaneously an informative treatise on the political and social chasms between us and a great suspenseful thriller.

American Gangster - Ridley Scott continues to show an incredible ability to distill a gripping story out of complex circumstances. Denzel Washington's Frank Lucas is endearing and exciting and yet violent and terrifying. Beyond the performances by Crowe and Washington that pulls you emotionally into the film, watching the timeline of America's drug use is saddening and incredible.

There are obviously a few films that were released in '07 (limited) such as Juno, There Will Be Blood and Michael Clayton that are receiving a lot of critical attention. I've not seen these yet, but aside from Juno, I believe these films will fall in line with the overly dark, dramatic stories that Hollywood pundits love to adore even despite certain aesthetic shortcomings.

But if you're looking for a good rental for the weekend....


Okay, I'm tired of being an adult now.

I'll go back home and stop pretending now.

I'm tired of the responsibilities, the bills, the expectations, the disappointments, the losses, the fears, the anxieties, the risks, the dangers, the further expectations, the follow-up expectations and the resulting disappointment.

Whether it's as simple as getting (another) bill in the mailbox, realizing that you haven't yet made the phone call to Sallie Mae or being paranoid, laying in bed at night asking yourself through half-consciousness if you remembered to set your alarm so you don't show up late for rehearsal. Because after all, you can sound like crap in rehearsal, but if you show up late, that'd be a problem. Or gritting your teeth every time a credit score commercial comes on the TV or radio and makes you afraid that you'll never qualify for that $4.5 million dollar home loan for the modest 2 bedroom rambler you've had your eye on.
And if that weren't enough, you have to worry about your rate of hair loss, what your friends and (even worse) strangers think about your 'unique' hair patterns, what you smell like, whether or not the clothes you cover your lumpy pasty white body with are clean, whether or not you could afford to put 1/4 tank of gas in the car this week, if you remembered to write down that last purchase in your checkbook register, turn off the oven and feed the goldfish.
Or, you could try struggling with the impending doom of personal failure - sensing that you've not accomplished what you wanted/are capable of and now you're in a place where there's no option for you to change course.
Adults are weird. They say one thing, and mean another. The sooner you learn this subtle language of subtext the better you'll do. But don't try and keep a young kid around to translate for, because it only points out how stupid and redundant your lifestyle is. In the effort to not offend or confront, we complicate things on average 147% more, requiring an addition .5 amount of effort to accomplish anything at all.

Yes, despite all of the amazing wonderful freedoms adult brings, I'll exchange it at the counter for the chance to go back to scarfing macaroni and cheese for lunch, cramming an afternoon of imaginary war against the trees in the backyard and spending 5 hours laying my stomach, building the world's unseen wonders out of Legos.

I'll gladly even set fire to most of my possessions, if it'll help you out.


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

So I'm feeling pretty good today...

I have made quite the exchange within the past four days that has netted me not only some fine audio equipment, but a 400% return on my investment. How's that for some easy math?

Last week I found someone selling a pair of ancient speakers that they had bought new, and had listened gently to for the past 25 years. They had since moved on, and were hoping to get rid of some excess things.

I drive over and was elated to see that these legendary Japanese babies not only had been kept in pristine condition, but the owners had kept the original packaging along with it.
It was the perfect scenario: Middle-aged couple seeking to begin their midlife crisis together determine to shed remnants of their early life together. Rather than concern themselves with what the market may be for these speakers today, they put them up for a quick sale, and the first voracious buyer who will come to their home is welcome to drag them away for a mere $50.

I bring my new 35 pound (a piece) treasures home (in their boxes, by the way) and get them set up at home. The speaker's massive 16" woofers are probably the biggest I've ever seen. These speakers consume a huge 160 watts a piece, and were pretty much designed to be aural jackhammers. Neighbors be warned.

Within a few hours of my purchase, I happened to notice yet another middle-aged couple selling some speakers for $25! I decided this was too good to be true, and drove out there and picked them up (even heavier - 45 lbs a piece with gorgeous solid wood cabinets) and plugged them in next to the monsters.

After a little bit of listening, I realized that I really didn't have much use for two sets of these massive speakers (duh.) and I should try and sell one of the sets. I already knew I much preferred the second set that I'd purchased. and so set about trying to set a price on the 16" woofer-monsters.

Initially I just considered re-couping my expense, but decided to make a little bit more back, knowing I'd easily find someone to buy them anyway. I posted their sale on my local classified web page and waited.

The next morning I got an email from a fellow audio geek who suggested that I had vastly under-priced these speakers, and could get a lot more for them. I asked him how much he thought I could get? He estimated between $200 - 250, since I had the original packaging, after all.

I decided to see if anyone would be interested in the speakers at a price of $200.

Within the day, I had an email from someone who was interested, and willing to trade some other equipment (something I'd thrown out as a possibility) plus cash.
After a few emails, we had settled on the exchange of a set of Dynaco cabinets (see photo) in 'excellent' condition and $100 cash.

I've been trying to figure out how far ahead this puts me. I wish I could do math like this all of the time - put in $5 and get out $20, but I don't imagine it'll happen often. Aside from the cash being more than I invested, I'll also be getting a set of legendary stereo speakers which I hope I will fall in love with like I did the second Japanese set that I found for $25.

Today I plan on selling my booger on ebay and making a million dollars. You all should bid, and drive up the market value.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Headline reads: World of Warcraft dweeb seeks over twelve hundred dollars for fictional computer game character. Parents embarassed, doubtful to have son married before 45th birthday.

All I can say is... "wow." Actual post from DC's craigslist

WoW 70 Human Lock - T6 Attuned - Well Geared! - $1250

Reply to: xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Date: 2008-01-07, 5:27PM EST

I've decided to end my WoW career and move on to bigger and better things. I have put huge amounts of time into this character getting him the best available destruction gear in the game. Which is all except for about 5-6 items that are minute upgrades and off of illidan etc... Anyways, I have a TON of gear for all possible builds. My affliction gear includes some of the better rare pieces for the spec, which will be listed below. If by re socketing some gems and changing some enchants it is possible to have over 1340+ spell damage which is pretty top notch for a raider. I also have pretty decent pvp gear, 431 res, 1000 spell damage at the spec, the gear will also be listed below. EPIC FLYING MOUNT included, Onyx Netherdrake, Silver Nether Ray, and Swift Red Gryphon. Other characters on the account - 60 gnome rogue, ok gear, was working on leveling him (has alot of rested xp.) Comes also with a little over 1400 gold and all raiding potions/elixirs/flask that will also be listed below.

375 Herbalism
365 Engineering
375 First Aid

PVE / raid build destruction gear (0-21-40, succubus sac)

Destruction Holo-gogs (meta-12 Spell Critical and 3% Increased Critical dmg - 5 dmg 6 stam)
The Sun King's Talisman
Mantle of the Corruptor (2x10spell critical gems, 18 spell power, 10 spell crit)
Ruby Drape of the Mysticant (20 spell penetration)
Robe of Hateful Echoes (2x 10 spell hit, 1x 5spell hit / 6 dmg, +150 health)
Mindstorm Wristbands (+15 spell dmg)
Studious Wraps (4spell hit / 5dmg, 4spell crit / 5dmg - 15 spell hit enchant)
Belt of Blasting (10 spell hit, 5 dmg / 6 stam)
Leggings of the Corruptor (10 spell crit gem, 35 spell dmg 20 stam enchant)
Blue Suede Shoes (12 stamina)
Ring of Endless Coils
Band of Eternity (honored)
Xi'ri's Gift OR Shiffar's Nexus-Horn
Sextant of Unstable Currents OR Airman's Ribbon of Gallantry
Fang of the Leviathan (+40 spell damage)
Jewel of Infinite Possibilities
Tirisfal Wand of Ascendancy

Spell dmg: 1090
Spell Hit: 201 (15.93%)
Spell Crit: 27.12% (with talents, 32.12%)
Penetration: 20
Health: 9455
Mana: 8940

PVE / raid build affliction gear (42-0-19, UA - destro reach)
**abnote - i made 2 helms, one with each meta**

Destruction Holo-gogs (meta- 5% chance next spell half cast time, 12 spell dmg)
The Sun King's Talisman OR Ritssyn's Lost Pendant
Mantle of the Corruptor OR Illidary Shoulderpads (both with 18 spell dmg, 10 spell crit enchant)
Ruby Drape of the Mysticant / Brute Cloak of the Ogre-Magi (20 spell pentration on both)
Robe of the Shadow Council (+150 health)
Mindstorm Wristbands (+15 spell dmg)
Studious Wraps (4spell hit / 5dmg, 4spell crit / 5dmg - 15 spell hit enchant)
Belt of Blasting (10 spell hit, 5 dmg / 6 stam)
Leggings of the Corruptor (10 spell crit gem, 35 spell dmg 20 stam enchant)
Blue Suede Shoes (12 stamina)
Ring of Endless Coils
Band of Eternity (honored)
Icon of the Silver Crescent
Quagmirran's Eye OR Void Star Talisman
Fang of the Leviathan (+40 spell damage)
Jewel of Infinite Possibilities / Orb of the Soul-Eater
The Black Stalk

Spell dmg: 1342 shadow (i did the math of how i would re socket / enchant)
Spell Hit: 144 (11.41% + number of talent points in suppression)
Spell Crit: 19.34% (without any points in devastation)
Penetration: 20
Health: 9342
Mana: 8801

PVP / SL/SL build (26-35-0, siphon life, soul link)

Merciless Gladiator's Felweave Cowl (18 stam 5% stun resist, 15 stamina)
Veteran's Pendant of Dominance (4 res, 6 stam)
Gladiator's Felweave Amice (15 spell power, 8 res, 5 spell damage 6 stam +3 res bonus)
Cloak of Subjugated Power
Gladiator's Felweave Rainment (+150 Health, 12 Spell dmg, 12 stamx2)
Veteran's Dreadweave Cuffs (8 res, 2 spell dmg bonus)
Merciless Gladiator's Dreadweave Gloves (15 spell hit)
Veteran's Dreadweave Belt
Merciless Gladiator's Dreadweave Leggings (25 spell dmg 15 stamina)
Marshal's Silk Footguards (12 stamina)
The Seal of Danzalar
Seal of the Exorcist
Medallion of the Alliance
Void Star Talisman
Merciless Gladiator's Touch of Defeat
Merciless Gladiator's Endgame
Fang of the Leviathan (+40 spell damage)

Spell dmg: 1003
Spell hit: 41 (3.25%)
Spell crit: 11.47%
Health: 12360
Mana: 8245
Armor: 2350

Other Gear/Trinkets

Core Felcloth Bag (epic 28 slot shard bag)
Blade of Twisted Visions (no enchanted - got it to test spell haste)
Ring of Recurrence
Full T4- Fully enchanted and socketed for affliction
Exalted Violet Signet of the Archmage
Medallion of Karabor
Skywitch's Drape (slowfall cloak)
Riding Crop
Engineering Transporter Trinkets (toshley's station, gadgetzan)
Orb of Deception
Commander's Badge
Violet Badge
Haloween Helm

What's in the Bank
Tabards for every Exalted Faction
1x Primal Nether
Not many Enchanting mats (stack of arcane dust, some greater planars)
Extra Flying and Riding Mounts
41 Badge's of Justice
Ornate Khorium Rife Schematic
60-90 of each Battleground Token
20 Slot Herb Bag
24 Slot Felcloth Soul Shard Bag

Raiding Pots/Elixir's/Flask's included

50 Adept's Elixir's
50 Elixir of Draenic Wisdom
30 Charges of Superior Wizard Oil
3 Flasks of Pure Death
1 Shattrath Flask of Supreme Power
30 Blackened Basilisk (+23 spell dmg food)
60 Heavy Netherweave Bandages
1 Mana Potion Injector (20 pots)
10 Superior Healing Potion
10 Superior Mana Potion

Ok, now the rogue... i wont go into too much detail with this character as he is just an alt.
Started out as a lvl 29 twink which i enjoyed but wanted to try to get him to 70.
Comes with lvl 60 Epic Mount

Ebon Mask
Sentinel's Medallion
Shadowcraft Spaulders
Perfectly Balanced Cape
Jerkin fo the Untamed Spirit
Shadowcraft Bracers
Shadowskin Gloves (+15 agility)
Highlander's Leather Girdle
Petrolspill Leggings (30 stamina, 10 agility)
Sure-Step Boots
Aquamarine Signet of the Monkey
Blackstone Ring
Insignia of the Alliance
Rune of Duty
Krol Blade (15 agility)
Mirah's Song
Ironstar Repeater

Attack Power: 711
Crit: 19.99%
Hit: 6.00%
Dodge: 25.94%
Health: 4123
Armor: 2175

Willing to go over any questions about the account through aim / msn / ventrilo / email. thanks for your interest!

Copyright © 2008 craigslist, inc.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

It's fun falling in love again...

Isn't it great when you find a new hobby or interest that suddenly consumes entire days and a substantial portion of your expendable income?

I think so.
It's happened before, and I hope it'll happen again, but today, the obsession du jour is vintage high fidelity audio equipment. Or more precisely: high-end audio equipment from 1960's and 70's that used to cost a great deal of money.

Many enthusiastic geeks regard audio equipme
nt built during this time to be superior even to today's all-digital components. These individuals, while knowledgeable and convincing, typically live in their parents' basement and subsist on a diet of Tab and Hot Pockets. Their acceptance is generally not to be sought after.

But in the interest of my personal mantra "Take the Good, Leave the Rest" I am obliged to tell you that despite their refusal (or inability) to acclimate to civilized society, these so-called 'Audiophiles' have hit on something quite special: These stereo systems do sound amazing.

For me, this odyssey was born out of a desire to find a record player that I could use to play a growing number of obscure classical LPs that I was convinced I would never find on CD.
In the words of author Patrick McManus, I lept whole-heartedly into a sequentia
l vortex from which I yet to emerge. Here's how you can follow along at home:

Step 1: Buy insanely cheap vinyl records at your local thrift store. Have some reasonable doubt that you've ever seen Charles Munch's Schubert 9 on CD as reason to splurge that 50 cents. After all, where else will you find this one-of-a-kind performance? ("They don't re-release these things on CD! I can't get this anywhere else!")

(Note: The dangerous combination of words 'one-of-a-kind performanc
e' is the permission slip that a music collector will throw down at any opportunity. Not only does it convince the buyer him/herself that this is an absolute necessity, but it indirectly accuses any other party of trying to stand in the way of one's musical education and development.)

Step 2: Take vinyl home and place in chic-looking pile next to your book case, or on the floor, if you prefer, with the most notorious album on top, so anyone who walks by will think "ooh, that person's really into their music." (I suggest going with something a little of the beaten path - the Beatles are too over-done, even though I keep my Revolver handily nearby anytime a babe visits.)

Step 3: Realize that you actually don't have any way of playing these records. Sure, having them all standing in a row is cool, but your musical prowess is being doubted by those who came by to admire your Revolver and find out that you don't have a record player to play it on. Embarrassing. So, in order to keep your dignity (and that prestige that began when your friends began looking to you as the barometer for 'cool') you must seek out a record player!

Step 4: First things first. Your first Google search tells you that the Hip Kids don't call 'em record players anymore. For the aficionado, these machines are referred to as turntables. You file this information away for future nonchalant conversations with girls. (Guys will just think you're an idiot.)

Thrift shop prowling comes up earl
y in any quest for vintage equipment. Aside from online auctions/sales, it is the best (and often the cheapest) place to find all of the stereo equipment that your neighbor's grandparents left behind in their attic after they moved to Phoenix.
I would recommend thrift shops for your search - not only are you familiar with electronic equipment's location in your local thrift shop, (due to your scavenging for obscure LPs,) but you will quickly learn that the greatest thrill associated with audiophile geeks is the hunt.

There is probably no sadder, more pathetic display than the nerd having triumphantly returned from the Hunt, a dusty amplifier trussed and carried over the shoulder and placed gently on the nerd's bed, awaiting for its meticulous cleaning which will restore the amplifier to it's original specification. The nerd will take great care in seeking out an original operations manual on the internet (supplied by other nerds) and will then spend the rest of the evening gloating to yet more nerds across the globe about his magnificent find. For indeed, the hunt is not only the acquisition of the prey, but also beating everyone else t
o it.

So, once you have found a record player, you must perform an improvised dance of thanksgiving in the aisle of the thrift store and then greedily snatch it off the shelves and sprint to the check-out, lest another nerd by hiding amongst the shoes (a popular breeding ground) waiting in ambush.
You gleefully drive home, thinking about how fantastic your records are going to sound and how cool you will be and how much your friends will love you. You find some Clapton on the radio, and make a mental note to find some Hendrix on vinyl.

Step 5: comes in two parts. The first part occurs when you get the turntable home, gently clean it and go to plug it in, only to realize that you have nothing on the back of your current stereo that says "plug record player in here." After a moment of agonizing frustration, trusty Google tells you that you must have something called "phono plugs" in order to connect your record player - I mean turntable- to your dinky Aiwa. Your stereo must also be capable of providing the amplification power the turntable requires in order to get the music from the needle, all of the way to the speakers.

After your tantrum subsides, part two of step 5 can begin: the first real step into a calculated obsession with vintage audio equipment.

What begins as the desire to play a recording of William Primrose begins to blossom into a gleam in the eye while you look at photos of Pioneer receivers and Kenwood amplifiers. It is a gradual process, but one moment you are concerned with your reputation with your friends, and the next you have been sucked into a world dominated by the dateless masses who yearn only for the singular experience of hearing Jimmy Page's guitar solo in Black Dog in perfect reproduction. It is normal at this time to lose a bit of hair, gain 30 - 35 pounds and begin eating Chef Boyardee 17 meals out of the week.

Step 6: Begins when
you finally decide upon which piece of audio equipment you require in order to continue living. Without it, you are a vacuous tomb of a human being, incapable of thinking about anything else for more than 27.6 seconds. If you can only hear the records, you know everything will be okay.

Because of their ready availability, most blossoming nerds will decide upon a receiver, which not only includes an amplifier, but also a radio tuner, capable of dialing in not only the standby AM stations, but also the new-fangled luxury known as FM.
There is much to consider: Date of manufacture, reputation of the brand, wattage rating, reliability of hardware, ease of repair/replacement, etc. Finally after all of this, you will settle on an object of your desire. For me, it was a Pioneer SX-424 being sold with original manual and packaging by the original owner. (Packaging and manuals will earn serious nerdpoints.)

A handsome unit with simulated woodgrain finish and a sleek array of knobs across its face, the Pioneer SX-424 made its debut in the mid-70's. Right in the golden age for audiophile consideration. A hefty 20-something pounds, the face lit up whenever the power was on, and when the receiver was searching for signal, little needles would licker back and forth inside different meters, letting you know that it was deliriously happy to be doing its job. A modest 15w per channel, but capable of driving speakers much larger than that. Sold as a 'bedroom' or 'secondary' receiver, it was intended for smaller rooms.

I had come into posse
ssion of a pair of large stereo speakers from the 80's that had been used and abused by fellow college students. As such, I wasn't expecting too much from their performance, but when I hooked it all together, I was not prepared for how much volume 15 watts apparently produces.

Gleefully, and with a minimal loss of hearing in my upper dynamic range, I plugged the turntable into the phono plugs on my new beauty and turned everything on. At last! To hear the first strains of Thickfreakness pouring out, or the bombastic first chords of Toscaninni's Eroica!

...yet after a few seconds you start to hear something uncomforting: distortion. A lot of it.

This can't be right. The nerds never mentioned in the midst of their adulation of vinyl recordings that the recording quality actually sucked! No, this can't be right. So a frantic inspection of cable connections ensues, and eventually you resign yourself to the fact that something is simply wrong with your equipment. And even more depressing: you are incapable of fixing it.

Step 7: is a mild depression, usually lasting a few days, but it can endure if the nerdling has very little else to do in life. It's best to just take a few deep breaths and barrel through.

Step 8: You do research. A lot of it. You discover that the average level of education amongst audiophile nerds is
post-doctorate studies, with at least 4 years being devoted to electrical engineering or astrophysics.
You discover why your LPs sound bad, (an infinte list) and what remedies you can try (an even longer list.) Audiophile-nerds show no lack of ingenuity when confronted with a problem with their stereo equipment. Everything from a $2,300 LP washing machine (for reals) to a stylus repair kit using nothing more than a tampon, four rubber bands and a philips screwdriver.
But after all of this research you only learn one thing: your old stereo and your hastily acquired turntable suck.

Step 9: Involves a lot of waiting. Whether its waiting for money to spend on solid wood speaker cabinets or waiting for the exact model of pre-amp to come up for sale, once you know what you want, there isn't much you can do except wait for one to arrive. Of course if you know of an elderly couple who happens to own one of these particularly rare stereo systems, they should know that brake lines have been known to sever randomly if not checked regularly.

Step 10: is something they should develop a support group for. If one can be addicted to shopping, it can be no less true for audiophiles. A full-blown case of Audiophilia (a soon-to-be diagnosable disorder) will consume thousands of dollars annually, not to mention the late nights spent up online sniping last-minute auctions on a set of foam rings for the 15" woofers on a set of Cerwin Vegas you found at the Salvation Army last week. It is a traumatic existence which can be controlled by one with exceptional self-discipline or a small pocketbook.
It would not be unusual to find an audiophiliac acquiring a pair of KEF Celestes in the morning and by the evening have traded them away for a Sansui G9000 and a NM copy of Miles Davis' Sketches of Spain. Obsessive, yes, but arguably a fantastic trade.

It is an entire un
derworld built and controlled by those living in it. Scavenging over the left behind electronic remains of yesteryear, searching for the elusive component which will complete their collection and bring fulfillment to their soul. When this most impossible of goals is achieved, those select few are taken to the high chamber to assume a place amongst the uber-nerds, where they govern in benevolence over the rest of nerd-dom.

It is a slippery slope that quickly spirals out of control into a dusty, forsaken wasteland of musical and technological history, explored only by those with the fortitude (and enough time on their hands) to learn and exploit what these magnificent machines were capable of.

A testament to how the audiophiles got it right: Some of the most expensive audio equipment you can buy today has nothing to do with high-definition digital surround 7.1 puffery. They are turntables that will cost you thousands of dollars - just for the table. A quality stylus will cost you thousands more. Despite decades of unuse, vinyl recordings are seeing a resurrgance, not only from current musicians, but new pressings of old recordings so that your old worn-out copy of Live from Folsom Prison can be enjoyed brand-new again.

There is a very legitimate reasoning behind this style of music-listening. But we'll save that for another time. There's a set of Dahlquists that someone just posted on craigslist and I want to see if they'll take my SX-850 in trade... and my Hot Pockets are done in the microwave.


This is a great photo. I don't know which member of my family took this, but kudos. It turned out great...

Commercials are causing me to really crack up.

This can not be good.

Whether its a sign that I will feel the desire to go out and buy Old Spice or just that I'm spending too much time alone, I feel a certain apprehension about feeling a little excited when that cable company commercial comes on with the "highspeed rats" running loose in the laboratory. And the then the technician quietly admits only a vague confidence in his safety around these beasts. Ha ha! It gets me every time.

...uh oh.

So it either becomes an issue that my particular demographic has divulged too much information about our psyche to the advertising companies and we are now walking around with bulls eyes on our wallets, or I'm slipping into a dimension of madness inhabited by talking cars, sticks of deodorant and mutated lab rats.

Either way, this isn't a real great scenario.
Playing with my new camera.
Vinyl records and a Technics turntable provided courtesy of me.