Category Archives: Journal

Default – Self reflection etc.

Braid: A Review

Braid is one of my favorite gaming experiences that I’ve ever had. This was a bit of a surprise for me, as it doesn’t fit any of the typical gaming constructs that I find usually appeal to my digital self. It’s a relatively short, independently developed puzzle game. It’s difficult to put the experience I had playing this game into words. It was a total immersion for me.

I felt, on some level, like I was Tim (the main character). The wold of Braid provides creative time manipulation techniques, including slowing time and rewinding time, to help you push Tim on his quest to reunite with his lost princess. Jonathan Blow, the creator of this masterpiece, tells a compelling story that really I think any human being can painfully relate to. Who hasn’t made a mistake and wished they could rewind time and do things differently? The game gives you a chance to experience this. With a storyline that is intentionally vague, your own psyche somehow fills in the gaps of Tim’s past with your own life experiences. You share his quest with him. I somehow shared a part in whatever mistakes he made to lose his princess.

The premise of a lost love and the chance to create a perfect future is something I think the human condition would strive for at any chance. I certainly consider myself a lucky man, and there isn’t alot I would change about my life. But I have experienced darker times, and I think Tim represented that to me. Myself, rewinding through a dark and lonely portion of life, trying to recreate an ideal.

The puzzle portion of the game cannot be commended enough. I found myself wondering how a human mind could create some of these puzzles. And, on top of conceptualizing them; how they could possibly posses the skills required to turn them into a virtual reality using software development and writing code. I’m typically a very impatient person. I rarely have the time or calmness to take on a puzzle game. With Braid, I found myself in a paradox. I certainly wanted desperately to solve each puzzle and continue, yet I dreaded the end of the experience. I refused to look up any walkthoughs or online guides and made sure to solve everything on my own. It was somehow a calming and zen-like state of mind trying to move forward through this game.

The game doesn’t have groundbreaking graphics. But the soundtrack and art, the overall style of the game, are all fantastic. Beautifully painted backdrops combined with an audio composition that embodies a strong medley of longing, hope and optimism – It’s profound.

I really can’t believe that an indie game was capable of having this effect on me, and really all I can do is to say “Thank you” to Jonathan Blow for providing the world the chance to experience this. If you ever read this, I hope you feel a sense of pride in what you do and how you have managed to truly create a world class gaming experience.

If you like video games, and you have not played Braid – You should do so immediately.

SOPA / PIPA – The Day After

1/18/2012 was a very interesting day on the Internet.

I was somehow infatuated with what websites were doing to show their opposition and protest to the SOPA and PIPA bills. I think I liked reddit’s blackout page the best of anybody that I personally saw, but there was certainly alot of creativity across the board.

This blog captured many of the screenshots of big players in the blackout day. They somehow left out my site on that blog, so I’ll go ahead and share what my site looked like with you yesterday.

The most amazing thing, is that I really think this actually worked.

Even GLENN BECK is against it!

This social media age has ignited a fight in the common people. It’s awesome to see. From insane corporate strategies [Netflix], to the occupy movements, to protests that literally changed the landscape of countries: A small spark can ignite a firestorm.

Where the SOPA and PIPA bills will end up remains to be seen, but yesterday was pretty historic. The Internet bonded together and certainly made an impact on a very key turning point in the information age.

Yesterday was supremely significant, yes, but it’s certainly not over. Watch the video. Share it with friends. Use the form to contact somebody and tell them how you feel. Part of the solution.

My Personality

Recently at work we have been trying to improve communications skills and tactics.  As part of that, we’ve had to learn and determine our Myers Briggs personality type.  These personality types are widely researched, studied, and considered a very accurate representation of a person’s traits.

The general idea is that you have to determine your personality traits you have.  For example:  Are you introverted or extroverted?  Do you rely on senses or intuition?  Are you a thinker or a feeler?  etc.

There are various means of self-rating and determining; as well as plenty of online test/questionnaires that make an attempt to determine your personality type for you.  When I self-rated, I came out as an “ISFJ” – which I must say is a pretty accurate description of my personality.  See below:

The ISFJ feels a strong sense of responsibility and duty. They take their responsibilities very seriously, and can be counted on to follow through. For this reason, people naturally tend to rely on them. The ISFJ has a difficult time saying “no” when asked to do something, and may become over-burdened. In such cases, the ISFJ does not usually express their difficulties to others, because they intensely dislike conflict, and because they tend to place other people’s needs over their own. The ISFJ needs to learn to identify, value, and express their own needs, if they wish to avoid becoming over-worked and taken for granted.

However, I was interested to see that I sometimes am rated as an INFJ when I take online tests/questionnaires that determine my personality type for me.  And this personality type does also seem to run quite parallel to mine.  Specifically, one section quite strongly caught my eye:

INFJs may fantasize about getting revenge on those who victimize the defenseless. The concept of ‘poetic justice’ is appealing to the INFJ.

That concept does really ring pretty heavy with me – as most of my favorite movies and TV shows always seem to have some degree of a revenge/justice theme.  I’ve even blogged about it before.

Whether I’m an INFJ or an ISFJ I guess doesn’t really matter that much – but overall it’s been an interesting experience of self-reflection to try and determine and label my various personality traits.  It’s also fun for me to try to guess my friends/family members. So if anyone reading this knows theirs, feel free to comment.

Top Ten: Albums

Music has always been a big part of my life. From my early years recording radio stations to blank cassette tapes, through my Sony Discman and car stereo phases, and onto the digital iPod and streaming of present day.

I’ve started to try to determine my top ten list of albums of all time. Vanbergs and I have had several discussions recently about favorite bands, songs, and various musical debates. This has sparked me to do some soul searching and survey my life as it currently stands to determine which 10 albums have made the most impact on my life.

Behold the following list with a brief synopsis of MY top 10 albums and why I have chosen them. Note that they are in no particular order, as that was simply impossible for me to formulate.

Sponge – Rotting Pinata
The opening guitar riff of “Plowed” alone brings this one into consideration immediately. Sponge has a unique sound mixing harder guitar riffs with punkish uptones and laying down some fairly epic and emotive lyrics to complete the mix. This album instantly makes me think and feel the better memories of my high school times. Plowed is by far my favorite track, but there is not a bad song on this album. Molly (16 Candles), Rainin’, and Drownin’ complete this masterfully diverse album that is always going to hold a special place in my life.

Live – Throwing Copper
Many people claim that Nirvana’s album Nevermind was the fall of the hair bands/glam metal that ruled so much of my child hood. Live’s album Throwing Copper is what converted me. I was never a huge fan of Nirvana to begin with (still to this day, not a fan), but the solid rock background and brilliantly raspy lead vocals on this album tugged me into the alternative rock world. Throwing Copper unleashed Lightning crashes, and not to mention 4 other singles that broke the top 20 of US Alternative Rock charts. By any and all means and measures, this is a highly regarded album. It blazed the trail into the world of rock/hard rock/alternative rock for me as I matured past my hair band stages of youth.

Drist – Bitter Halo
The band Drist is not very well known. They were discovered by me via Vanbergs/Guitar Hero bonus tracks. They have since discontinued as a group, but their Bitter Halo album showcases the spirit and aggressiveness of an independent artist trying to make a name for themselves. The track “Dissolve” is one of my favorite songs ever. Period. I can’t really even put the words in place as to why I love this band/album/song – even though I’ve tried. I can listen to this entire album anytime, any place and not skip a track. That’s hard to beat.

Korn – Follow the Leader
Korn quite simply defined the nu-metal genre. Their Follow the Leader album represents the peak and culmination of me as an adult. This might sound odd, but it’s quite amazing the bond that a dorm full of college men will develop when they unite as one to repeatedly call into MTV’s Total Request Live as many times as possible to vote for Korn’s video: Got the life. Some days it was number one, some days it lost to the likes of Britney Spears or Backstreet boys. But the friendships I made during this all impressionable year are still in tact today. And as “korney” as it sounds, this album played a role in that. Robinson Hall’s 2nd floor class of 1998-1999 has their unofficial theme song. And also Reginald Fieldy Arvizu is their bassist.

2pac – All Eyez on Me
Sure, I went through a gangsta rap phase. What teenage white small town city boy didn’t? I had an expensive car stereo that could really only get a full workout with some serious bumps and bass. 2pac’s quintessential offering is the single best representation of rap ever created. It will never be topped, and it has only gotten better as it has aged. He’s truly a master with lyrics, and I really “feel you” (you feel me??) 2pac. Countless summer nights spent “cruising” with my windows down bumping 2pac over 500 watts and two 12 inch JBL subwoofers will always be the first thing I think of when my sense of hearing starts to get unexplainably worse.

Tool – Aenima
Tool has an undeniable sound. They are one of the few bands that you can honestly say “don’t sound like anybody else”. Their best work (in my opinion) comes from the Aenima album. Stinkfist, Eulogy, Forty Six and 2, and Aenima are all top tier works that a listener just cannot forget. Keenan’s lyrics are very subjective in most cases. He leaves the listener up to interpret exactly what his point is; and this only adds to the impact of the music as it forces it to become a personal relationship. Their music is completely pure and almost tribal, and their talent is unmistakable. The sound of Adam Jones on guitar ices this cake, with his creative palm muting and brutal delivery of seemingly simple power chords. This album is simply epic. And it is only fate that they were slated to play in Grand Rapids Michigan on September 11th, 2001. The show was moved to Sept 13th and it stands alone as one of the most significant events I have ever or will ever attend.

Bullet for My Valentine – The Poison
The Metalcore genre of music combines the speed and guitar riffs of “metal” with a mixture of clean and harsh vocals. This is a sound that many bands/artists simply cannot pull off without sounding very cheesy (A7X, I look in your direction). Bullet for My Valentine’s debut release is one of the best examples of doing this genre justice. The guitars almost act as an additional singer on this album, as the solos are literally world class. Their primary musical focus is on guitar riffs; and this is shown not only by the speed and key of their music, but the versatile use of various guitar tunings. Bullet for My Valentine’s initial album is very widely regarded as one of the top works in Metalcore, and this is without argument. The writing is easily relate-able for me, and its easy for me to put myself into the subject matter of these songs. Even on a first listen, I don’t think you can help but bob your head and sing along.

Mutiny Within (Self Titled)
Mutiny Within is hard for me to justify on this list. It’s a debut album from a new band that hasn’t had much time to blossom yet. But even in that scenario, the talent and composition of this album is superior on all counts. The vocals are nothing short of award winning (wouldn’t be surprised by a Grammy honestly), and the music plays the perfect counterpart. The rhythm, lead, bass, and drums are so highly technical that it’s genuinely unbelievable for all to work together in such a seamless fashion. They are EASILY the best band in their genre of all time.

Taproot – Gift
Taproot holds a significant appeal for me on a few different levels. They put on a fantastic live show which I’ve seen multiple times. Mike DeWolf uses very uniquely distorted guitar effects that give off an almost electro-static feel. Combine that with the far reaching voice of Stephen Richards, and enjoy. Richards’ clean/harsh mix gives Taproot an unmistakable depth that may turn away some “hardcore” fans. I’ll admit that I have even felt this way in the past. But I’ve grown to appreciate the wider range of music and the slower Taproot most definitely is in that category. Their album “Gift” is by far my favorite offering, even though I’ve listened to this band for approximately an entire decade.

Disturbed – Ten Thousand Fists
Disturbed has really achieved a vast following for a “metal” band. They started out as a mockable band with some silly grunting and “suack”ing. But something about their 2nd album transformed them. Somehow we all went from mocking this band to seamlessly loving them. The song “Prayer” is probably the most clear turning point – but they continued through their next release. In my opinion, Ten Thousand Fists is the very apex of the Disturbed bell curve. They started low, rose to royalty, and have fallen hard unfortunately. Pain Redefined, Stricken, I’m Alive, and Sons of Plunder are just a handful of the tracks that define this astounding artistry. The album rightfully debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200. Even their recent decent, I can’t deny the fact that Ten Thousand Fists may genuinely be my favorite album by any band ever.

GTFO Comcast

I’ve spent years dealing with Comcast. I’ve used them for TV and Internet for the better part of 10 years. Throughout this time, I’ve dealt with increasing prices, some fairly despicable customer service, and overall a lack of consumer competence on their part.

I haven’t had any experience with Comcast to rival the level of Vanlandw’s AT&T travesty, BUT their continuously ass-holish persona accompanied by ever-increasing pricing structure have finally become too much for me to bear. For example, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve called for support and ended up with them trying to sell me a triple play bundle with home phone service. Inherently frustrating, I must admit that I fully enjoyed explaining to the representative that I use Skype with a VoIP USB adapter as my home phone, and it is 32 dollars annually for unlimited calling.

Anyways… The event to kick off “operation Comcast BRB” was my wonderful wife purchasing me a new 50 inch plasma TV. Such a television commands a respectable television service to accompany it. As I began looking at Comcast upgrade options, I quickly realized that the digital starter package was way more than I even wanted to consider paying (79 a month to start, 120 after). The digital premier package with ~200 channels was even more over-priced; with a 119 dollar promo rate for 6 months followed by a $165 dollar fee after that. Seriously. 165 dollars a month. This is before adding additional HD tuners or DVR.

The Switch
I knew it was time to make a change, and this had been a long time coming. First and most importantly, I searched for a new television provider. I explored Dish Network, Direct TV, and U-verse. U-verse was most intriguing because I saw them as the likely successor as my internet provider. But, after pricing out package and options I decided on Dish Network. It was hard to pass up. Dish has offered a deal including free HD for life, 15 dollars off for a year, and a wonderful co-worker (chouse) giving me a 50 dollar gift card to dish. Called, ordered, scheduled. 120 channels with HD and a DVR for literally 32 dollars a month.

Dish obviously doesn’t offer internet, so that was my next item to tackle. Options here were fairly limited, and there was never really any other consideration aside from AT&T U-verse. My Comcast speeds had always been amazing. I would regularly test at between 20 and 30 megs download speed; so this did make the switch a bit more difficult for me, but Comcast’s medium level service for Internet starts at 59.99 monthly. They offered me an option to downgrade to DSL speed and still pay 44.99; but there was no chance of this rancid company staying in my future monthly budget. I called, ordered, scheduled install of AT&T U-verse 6MB connection for 40 dollars a month.

Let’s review. I was paying approximately $65 a month for fast internet and for the BASIC television from Comcast (like, 15 channels basic). Any upgrade strategy through them resulted in 100+ dollars easily.

By making a switch to Dish Network and AT&T U-verse, my bill at this point should be somewhere between 80 and 90 dollars. So, I spend 15-20 dollars more per month; and I receive a drastically improved television service and broadband internet combination.

The Install
My installation experiences for Dish and U-verse were not smooth by any means. My dish installer was over 3 hours late past our 4 hour block of appointment time. By the time he had gotten to my home, I had already contacted Dish to complain; and they had credited my account 25 dollars and rescheduled my installation. Even with that, I was relieved when the installer arrived. I was so anxious to get dish going. The install went quickly and painlessly once he got started, and soon I was watching 120+ channels, messing around with my DVR, and basking in High def victory over my red rival Comcast. As the dish installer left, 1-800-Comcast ensued with a cancellation. They tried to sell me home phone service and a triple play as I canceled. This is where I also found that canceling my 17.99 basic television service resulted in my internet price jumping from 44.99 to 59.99. Comcast, this is precisely why I hate you – you raise my price by 14.99 after I get rid of a 17.99 TV service? You are just horrible people; and at this point I couldn’t WAIT to get U-verse internet and rid my life of your wretched ways.

My AT&T U-verse installer got to my home at around 9.30 am (he had a 9-11 window). As he got started, he replaced my wiring from the pole to my home, and began wiring to bring the U-verse internet into my home via the Comcast installed coax (which is awesome on multiple accounts). But, he soon realized he was getting no signal at the pole as he should be. He continued, made phone calls, left my house, came back with various people. In all, 4 people were involved, 3 different AT&T vehicles – one of which was a Bucket truck, and seemingly a neighborhood re-engineering from AT&T’s perspective. Finally, at around 6pm that night, I had mother effing internet.

As soon as my installer left, I again dialed 1-800-Comcast to rid myself completely of this vile and disgusting excuse for a service company. I desperately tried to record the phone call with Google Voice, but for some reason pressing 4 repeatedly would not engage the call recording. I tried probably 20 times to initiate recording, and there was never a time in my life that I wanted something more than to record that phone call. It was monumental.

The representative tried desperately to sell me on a triple play bundle, to plead with me to not cancel in any way possible. I told her that I’ve been down this path countless times, and I don’t want to pay 120 dollars for two services. She persisted, talked over top of me, and finally I flat out said “listen, I appreciate what you’re trying to do here – but at this point I have Dish Network installed and I’m on ATT U-verse internet. Comcast cables arent even hooked up to my home anymore, and I’m not going to sign up for any services with this company ever again.”

This ended the call, and I look forward to my final bill. I will mail a check with it, with the memo “ef yoo”.

The Review
Dish’s TV services are awesome. I had the 120 channels for maybe 4 days before I upgraded myself to the 200+ package. This increased my bill by 10 dollars (42 dollars now instead of 32) – but it was a necessary thing to do. FX, NFL Network, G4, Discovery Health, and BBC America were some must have channels in the 200 package.

Dish’s DVR functionality is also awesome. I wired ethernet to the badboy, and it allows me to remotely access and manage my recordings online, or from my ipod touch (the dish network ipod app rocks). I enjoyed getting used to DVR functionality, and set up recordings for a variety of shows ranging from Jon Stewart’s daily show to Top Gear and The “Steve Wilkos” show… 🙂

One thing that did catch me off guard with Dish, was that the recording on the DVR had to use one of my two TV channels. So, one of the TV’s hooked to my primary receiver HAS TO display what is being recorded. This was by no means a deal breaker for me; but was something that I didn’t expect to happen. I did find out that you can watch other recordings while the DVR records shows, so that alleviates some of the frustration there.

I’m very happy with Dish, and I fully recommend them as a top notch TV service provider.

AT&T U-verse internet is thus far a solid and consistent connection. I pay for 6 megs, and my speed tests will regularly show up to 5.8/5.9 megs. So, I’m getting what I pay for. On the other hand, the 2Wire 3600 gateway device that they use leaves a bit to be desired. I’m not able to customize the DNS and DHCP settings to any degree (much less turn them off like I want to) – but I’m still looking at instituting a work-around for that. I’ll figure out something.

The 6 meg speed shows itself from my usual Comcast 20+ speeds. Downloading an iso or torrent at 500-600k is quite a bit different than my 1-2meg sustainable downloads with Comcast. Saving 40 bucks a month sure puts that in perspective though…. and there’s no way I’m ever going back to Comcast. I hope that company gets oil spilled on it. And nobody anywhere around them will even consider offering Lemon scented Dawn to them.

GTFO Comcast.

The Death of 24

As I previously posted; I have been very unhappy with this season of 24.  More so than in any other previous season, and with greater and greater intensity.

I had decided about 5 episodes in that I was giving myself half of the season; and if 24 did not improve or show signs of turn-around, then I was going to cease watching it forever. (as Vanlandw has stated; I have said this before – sometimes it’s been an idle threat.  But, I did not and will not ever finish watching Season 6).  Well, episode 12 came and went; and all I got was more and more angry at how ridiculous the show has become.   So, while episode 13 was airing last week, I played my new Nintendo Wii.   While episode 14 was airing yesterday, I was watching “Religulous”.  Let me tell you, it feels SO good to disconnect from this show.  I have jumped ship and I will never ever make any effort to swim back.

I can’t help but feel a little bit of sadness here, but the more I think about it –  the more my sadness becomes anger.  24 was a truly ground-breaking series and was undeniably top notch television in it’s prime.  There are few other television programs that can rival 24 in it’s golden years – but the simple fact is that Fox just utterly destroyed this program.  It changed from a gritty drama to a laughable ratings-whore composed of LITERALLY trash.  Well, Fox, the public noticed…  You managed to alienate and infuriate the most loyal fan-base of all time;  Even they can only keep their hopes and dreams up for so long, and Season 8 has proven to be the last straw.  The ratings have dropped, the quality has continued it’s downward tailspin, meanwhile the only thing that has gone up has been the show’s production budget.   Finally; arguably 3 years too late, Fox has decided to put 24 out of it’s misery and cancel it.

So, what went wrong?  What happend?  Why did 24 limp into mediocrity?  Let’s run a comparative; Looking at a semi-similar series: “The Shield” on FX.

The Shield is also a gritty drama.  The Shield has a similar “bad ass” main character – Vic Mackey.  And, it has similar struggles of that main character as their job and life effect their friendships and families.  Yes, the settings and plots are sometimes very different – but 24 could have learned alot from how The Shield bowed out.  The most important thing:  The writers of The Shield never changed the heart of their show.  They never changed plots to try and cater to the masses.  In fact, they gave us scenes that we didn’t even want to see (Lem).  They gave us a final two seasons that were literally gut-wrenching, made me feel sick to watch at times, and genuinely brought me to tears.  It was utter downfall…

But, it was a most epic and decisive series finale as can possibly be had.

24, your death is brought not by skilled and emotional content like The Shield; but rather by your own greed and lust for your success.  The higher your ratings went, the further and more over the top you felt you needed to push the show.  It didn’t take long for you to push too far, to the point where it became a cheesy satire of it’s former self.  You searched for meaning in more/larger explosions, exploitations of your main character, and trying to find the charm you once had.  You killed off the characters that everyone liked while keeping around all the characters that everyone hates.  You bring in new characters to fill in the same old roles.   You put a mask on recycled plot lines hoping nobody will notice, while you combine them and cram more of them in each season.  Well, you did it – and you failed.

You straight up blew it.

You’re on your death bed and I’m not coming to visit you.  I don’t want to see you this way, and I have no desire to see how you meet your end.  I don’t owe you ANYTHING.  You un-deniably suck.  You managed to turn away your best friends at the most critical part of your life, and as far as I’m concerned you can fall into oblivion alone; reaping exactly what you have sown.

Good riddance; gtfo