Saturday, December 25, 2010

Five year travel plan

2010 is the first year since 2005 that I have not taken a big international trip (no, Montreal/Quebec does not count).  I tried to go to the World Cup in South Africa this year, but that ended up not working out.  I'm not terribly sad about that, though.

Anyway, I've come up with a (very) tentative plan for trips for the next 5 years (assuming that my life continues pretty much on the same path that it has been going).  And one of them isn't international...
  • 2011 - Europe (Amsterdam, Berlin, Munich, Prague, Zurich)
  • 2012 - Europe (Moscow, St. Petersburg, Helsinki, Stockholm, Oslo)
  • 2013 - USA (Western road trip with stops @ Grand Canyon, Highway 1, Yosemite, and Yellowstone)
  • 2014 - Brazil (World Cup)
  • 2015 - Middle East (Turkey, Israel, Egypt)
Consider this an invitation to join any of the above.

Monday, December 06, 2010

28 was a good age

Overall, my 29th year on this planet (while I was by convention aged 28) was a pretty good one, even despite a break-in at the homestead.  I think a lot of the good feelings can be attributed to my new-found BFFs in the EAT crew, so this is basically a shout-out to them (you know who you are).  I was lucky enough last night to bring them all together with my mother and brother, who constitute half of another part of what makes life so awesome these days - my family (sorry you couldn't be there Nedu and Pa).  And I even had a couple of semi-stable non-platonic relationships during the past year, which is an atypical accomplishment if you know my history.

So here's hoping that my final year with the dreadlocks goes as well as, if not better than, the last one.  And that I can avoid having to commit suicide or pay for a vacation in 10 years (it's a long story that only a select few would appreciate, so don't ask).

Monday, November 01, 2010

A new view on voting.

'Tis the eve of the mid-term general election, so it's also time for my political post for the year.  And this time around, I've basically given up on political candidates.  I've long held that my life would not be too significantly different if either a Democrat or Republican won any particular election that I've been a part of.  And we all know that voting for an independent candidate is a wasted vote these days.  The final straw was probably all the unsolicited mailings (a complete waste of paper, if you ask me) and phone calls that I received in the few weeks leading up to the election.  So I'm done voting for people for legislative and executive offices in government (and pretty much any position where a party affiliation is listed on the ballot).

But this does NOT mean that I'm no longer voting.  I just will be voting for the things that I think matter.  For example, measures that are put to a popular vote certainly matter.  I don't think a vote on a ballot measure is ever a wasted vote - in this case everyone's opinion counts equally on an issue that matters.  I will also be voting on whether to retain the judges in my district.  In the past, I abstained on these because I had no idea how to vote on any of these.  However, thanks to Lester Kyles, I have been made aware that the Missouri Bar association rates judges based on surveys given to lawyers and jurors in their cases; see here.  Unfortunately, the Bar seems to almost always recommend that every judge be retained, even when they have significantly lower scores than their peers.  There also seems to be a saddening correlation between a judge's low score and his/her race (I assume/hope that lawyers and jurors are not generally racists), but I digress.  Needless to say, I will be not be voting for all judges to be retained.

Lastly, in case you're interested, here's how I think I will be voting tomorrow morning:

Monday, October 04, 2010

It sucks being a victim.

Bear with me while I vent a little...

So I get a call at work this morning and the ADT rep informs me that my burglar alarm is going off.  My first thought is that my brother or my mother accidentally set something off.  I tell them to alert the police just in case, while I give my family a call.  I call Ma - no answer; probably not at my house.  Then I call Chike - he left shortly after I did and set the alarm.  So this could be the real deal.

And it was.  When Chike and I arrived at the house there were two police officers waiting.  The burglars had kicked in my front door and taken my TV and one of my computer monitors.  I was in shock.

Since then, I've had a few hours to calm down and try to set things in order.  A contractor is putting the finishing touches on my replacement door frame (with better reinforcement this time around), and my insurance claim has already been processed (they'll mail out a check to me first thing tomorrow).  I might even be able to make it to my class tonight.  And thankfully I have a home alarm, or I would have more than I did.

As you can tell, I'm trying to look on the bright side of things.  I would have lost most of the little faith that I had left in humanity if it wasn't for the people who have helped me along today.  But the truth is that it still hurts.  Not so much that my electronic gadgets were stolen (and we all know how much I love gadgets), but the feeling of being utterly violated.  I've taken my security for granted for so long, even when I hear similar stories from friends about being burglarized.  It's totally different when it happens to you.  And it sucks.

I guess I don't have much else to say than that.  Hopefully the next (of my lately infrequent) post returns to concerts or tech gear or something superficially philosophical.  I'm not even sure that I'll post this...maybe after a night or two to sleep over it.

Update: I guess I should post this after sitting on it for a week.  I'm obviously a lot calmer than I was a week ago, and things are pretty much back to normal.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Phoenix @ The Pageant (8/9/2010)

2009 was a huge year for Phoenix.  Even though they've been around for over 10 years, it wasn't until the release of last year's Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix that they finally broke through (Stateside, at least).  And now they're kind of like a big deal.  And everybody loves them.  Except for Jim Kolpack.

Toro y Moi was the opener for the show.  They hurried through their set, finishing in under 25 minutes of their allotted 30.  I did finally find out how to pronounce the name of the band - the "Moi" is pronounced as it is in French.  No, they're not from France (like Phoenix is) - Chazwick is from South Carolina.

I fully expected Phoenix's setlist to be loaded with songs from Wolfgang, since it would be likely that many in the audience had not heard much, if any, of their previous stuff (including myself - I had only listened to each of their previous albums once or twice).  And that is exactly what happened.  In fact, it utterly dominated their setlist, and they played every song from it.  Which is a good thing, since their other albums (in my opinion) are not as good.  Of the other songs, I did recognize one - "Everything is Everything" - though not until the chorus because they were playing a "reduced" version (vocal and guitar only) of it.

The sound quality started out a little imprecise (it didn't seem crisp, and the instruments overpowered the vocals), but improved as the show progressed.  The surprise highlight of the show was "Countdown", but that may be because it was the first one that they seemed to nail sonically.  As expected, they closed with "1901".  Thomas' foray out into the crowd during the reprise, however, was not expected.

Other observations:
  • Oddly, one of the guitar players regularly switched guitars during the beginning of songs (i.e., after the song had already begun), instead of doing so in between songs.
  • Thomas thanked the crowd a lot.  It almost seemed like he was in disbelief that Phoenix had made a big enough breakthrough in the U.S. to sell out a show in a medium-sized city in the middle of the country.
  • I would not recommend this concert for epileptics - they had several kinds of seizure-inducing strobe lights.  I don't know how they can even play their instruments with all that going on.
Here are some cell phone videos that I took:


Friday, July 02, 2010

I apparently am not a very good samaritan.

Something very awkward happened to me about a week or two ago.  I was stopped at a traffic light when I noticed via my peripheral vision a bit of a commotion in the car sitting to my left.  I normally take great care to avoid eye contact with other drivers while waiting for lights, so I tried to ignore it as best as I could.  However, when the front passenger door opened up, I had to steal a few quick glances over to try to determine what was going on.

From what I could tell, there was a young black man in the drivers seat and a young black woman in the front passenger seat.  There also appeared to be a young child (no more than 5) in the back.  The woman seemed to be struggling mightily to try to get out of the car, but the man looked to be holding her back - I think by the wrist.

This went on for what seemed like a minute, but was probably really only 10-15 seconds - I wanted to get the eff out of there.  The thought did occur to me to perhaps get out of my car and try to help defuse the situation, but I quickly shot that idea down by reasoning that they likely would not want me interfering in their business.  Plus I was scared that such an act would put my own person in danger - the thought of the man drawing a gun on me even flashed across my mind (which makes me kinda feel like a horrible person).

Anyway, as soon as that light turned green I booked it out of there.  I'm pretty sure I made the right decision (though I'm still struggling a bit to rationalize it based on some semi-plausible moral principle, e.g., that of utility), but I kinda wish that I was a "better" person than some of my reasoning in the situation would indicate.  Oh well.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Tool @ Family Arena (6/26/2010)

Videos barely do a Tool show justice, so any words that I use to attempt to convey the awesomeness will fall short.  So just take a gander at a couple of the videos I recorded:

(Sorry for the dumb and high bitches that kept knocking my arm on this one.)

Their setlist was mostly composed of songs from Ænema and Lateralus, with only a couple from 10,000 Days (I expected more from the newest album, though I guess it is 4 years old) and one from Undertow.


Saturday, June 26, 2010

Passion Pit + Tokyo Police Club @ The Pageant (6/23/2010)

Both bands (Tokyo Police Club and Passion Pit - I only caught the last couple of Brahms' songs) were pretty solid.  Neither blew my mind, but neither disappointed either.  I was more excited about TPC going in, but PP put on the better show - maybe it was the fancy lights, or the crowd really getting into it.  I wish TPC had played a couple more of my favorites.

Here's a video of one of my favorite TPC songs off the new album (Champ):

Because Mr. Angelakos whined about audiences taking pictures and videos at shows (he said something to the effect of appreciating the crowd in St. Louis getting into the music instead of holding up cell phone cameras), I didn't take any videos of Passion Pit.


Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Temper Trap @ The Pageant (6/9/2010)

Note to others: if you misplace (or in my case, never receive) your ticket from Ticketmaster, The Pageant box office can print you off a new one...even if you call Ticketmaster after the show has already started when you realize that you don't have the ticket.

So, yeah...I missed Warpaint (the opener)...but I wasn't too broken up about it.  As for The Temper Trap, they put on a pretty solid show for a group with only one album out, and despite a somewhat sparse audience.  Mr. Mandangi certainly does have an incredible vocal range.  And he has inspired me to play a drum with water on it.  I managed to capture one of my favorite songs from 2009 (which happened to be on the soundtrack of my favorite movie of 2009):


Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Caribou @ Firebird (6/7/2010)

I was a little worried before this show that it could turn out to be two electronic-based artists (Toro Y Moi and Caribou) with good studio music but horrible live acts.  Thankfully, I turned out to be very wrong.

The show was scheduled to start at 8:30, and I showed up typically late around 8:40...even though I wanted to catch Toro Y Moi, as I had checked out his album and liked what I heard.  Unfortunately, there was a pretty long line to get into the small venue, and I ended up waiting about 20 minutes before getting in.  I caught a few snippets of his/their music whenever they opened the door to let a few people in at a time, and was able to finally enter in time to hear the last couple of songs.  The touring version of the band had 3 members - Chazwick on guitar/vocal, a drummer, and another guy.  From what I caught, they seemed pretty good.

Between sets a few audience members took advantage of the intimacy of the venue, and were able to talk to, take pictures with, and get autographs from both Chazwick (Toro Y Moi) and Daniel (Caribou).  When Caribou came on, they had four members on stage - Daniel on guitar/vocals/keyboard/drums/percussion, a bass player/back-up vocalist, a guitar/keyboard player, and a drummer.

Even though I was off to the side of the stage with a partially obstructed view and less than optimal sound (the tiny venue was pretty packed, so this was the only way I could get a semi-decent view without being a jerk), I could still appreciate what a great show this was.  They actually performed all the songs - both the older, more guitar based songs (which I was less familiar with, having only listened to the old albums once) and the new, more electronic songs on Swim (which will almost certainly make my list of top 10 albums this year).  If there were any pre-recorded samples or backing tracks, I couldn't tell.

As for highlights, pretty much everything off the new album rocked.  And even some of the old stuff did as well.  "Kaili", my initial favorite from the album was definitely a high point (despite the extended ending), and a couple of others ("Sun", "Bowl", "Hannibal") rose in stock after the live rendition.  If any song disappointed the slightest bit, it might have been "Jamelia", which is my current alternate favorite - the live version was actually pretty true to form, but for some unknown reason I expected it to be somehow better.  The other thing that irked me a little bit was that they, apparently like too many musicians for my liking, had a penchant for overly extending the endings of some of their a wall of sound thing that kinda works maybe the first time, but not too many times...and not when you drag it on and on...and overdo the dueling drums thing (except for the very last song - that was kinda cool).

But was a pretty great show.  Good enough to buy a t-shirt afterward.  I wish had a decent enough view to record a couple of songs on video, but you can't win them all.


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Remind me next time not to use my cell phone in Canada.

I can't say that this came as a surprise, because I fully expected it.  So this isn't really a rant.  But when I was in Québec City last month I used Google Maps on my phone to find the hotel when we got lost on our way there.  And once I had already taken the plunge I decided to look up the meaning of flashing green lights in Canada.  And, coincidentally, I happened to receive a phone call during that time.  At the time I estimated that I had used between 5 and 10 MB of international roaming data, and expected an additional charge of between $50 and $100 on my next bill.

Well, I just received that bill.  The additional charges are as follows:
  • $1.58 for 2 minutes of international voice roaming (@ $0.79 per minute)
  • $82.52 for 5498 kB of international data roaming (@ $0.015 per kB)
In case you're curious, AT&T is my wireless provider.

I fully knew that this would happen, but I agree with Galen's remark that it's a little ridiculous that cell phone companies charge this much for international roaming.  It clearly does not cost that much to send a few megabytes of data through the tubes, even if it is in another country.

So my advice if you are a smartphone user traveling to Canada, or another country...  Don't expect to use the smartphone services that you have grown so attached to*.  Alternatively, you can buy an international data plan - AT&T offers monthly add-ons between $25 for 20 MB and $200 for 200 MB.  I actually did this when I went to South America, and it worked out alright (though I still payed extra for roaming in some areas that weren't covered).  You can add and remove these features at any time without any penalties, but you get a prorated cap limit depending on when you do so.  If you have a GSM family phone you could also try buying a local SIM card that may offer data at a cheaper rate.

It's too bad that AT&T doesn't define "international" the same way that American Airlines does.  Galen still had to pay the fee to check his luggage because AA only allows a free bag for "international" flights...and Canada is *not* international to them.

* UPDATE - As Joe P. astutely pointed out, I forgot to mention that you can still use your smartphone at free Wi-Fi hotspots.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Now that Apple's killing Lala...

Remember when I dedicated an entire blog post to singing praises to the music website Lala?  And remember how Apple's acquisition of Lala frightened me at the time?  Well, Apple's shutting Lala down at the end of the month.  Boooooo.

So now I need to find a new music discovery tool.  A couple of days ago I signed up (or re-signed up, since I had an account with them before they reinvented themselves) for MOG.  It's kind of like Lala, except not free ($5 a month) and with a smaller catalog.  On the plus side though, you can listen to any song as many times as you want on MOG, and their queue management is better.  There are other services out there that offer similar capabilities (Zune, Rhapsody, etc.), but there's a pretty obvious reason that I initially picked MOG over them: it scrobbles to

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Pearl Jam @ Scottrade Center (5/4/10)

Remember when I was a huge Pearl Jam fan-boy?  Yeah, so that was about 7-10 years ago...before I became completely immersed in the Radiohead phenomenon.  This concert brought back a few memories of the past.

First off...Band of Horses.  Did you know that they're from Seattle?  By the looks of them on stage (guitarist wore a cowboy hat, singer had a southern twang), I would have guessed that they were from somewhere in Texas.  Anyway, I enjoyed the few songs that I recognized from whichever of their albums I own.

As for PJ...those dudes have way more energy than they should for being in their mid 40s.  Jeff was spinning all over the place while Mike showed off the best kick-jumps in the lead guitar biz and Eddie did his dangle-from-the-mike-stand thing.  Ironically, one of the high points was the crowd singing most of "Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town", which is a softer ballad.  They played a lot of material from their earlier albums...which is good because that stuff is better than the new material.  Too bad Mike still does guitar solos that are way too long (Eddie took a smoke break during one) and they feel the need to end most songs in dramatic epic fashion.  Overall, it was about what I expected from them.


Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Jónsi @ Métropolis (5/2/2010)

I don't have too much to say about this show (nor do I have the time right now to do an extended write-up), but I concur with Galen's assessment that this was the best show that he has seen in a while.  Musically, it may not quite match up with the Mew show in December, but the visual spectacle made it at least as good an overall experience.  The stage set-up was just about the most creative and awesome that I've ever seen (you can kind of make it out in the videos below), especially in a smaller venue.  I enjoyed all of the songs that I recognized from the album, but the new (to me) ones didn't quite resonate as well, as they were mostly softer acoustic pieces.  As beautiful as Jón Þór's voice is, I prefer it when there's more music in the background.

My favorite moment of the show was 3/4 of the way through "Go Do" when they slowed it down and lit up the audience, and everyone went nuts.  I encourage checking it out in the video below, but it does not come anywhere close to doing it justice.  I get goose bumps when I watch the video, listen to the song, or even just think about it.  Other highlights included "Sinking Friendships" (which trumped the album version) and "Around Us" (which had an awesome piano lead-in that segued unexpectedly from the song before).  On the other hand, "Boy Lilikoi" was a bit underwhelming, but still quite good.


Monday, April 12, 2010

Atoms For Peace @ Aragon Ballroom (4/10/2010)

My friend Brian proclaimed earlier this year that I owed him accompaniment to a Radiohead concert the next time they go on tour.  I gladly promised to oblige because (a) Brian is one of my favorite people and (b) he basically introduced me to Radiohead.  When Thom Yorke announced his solo tour for this spring (under the band name Atoms for Peace, which includes RHCP bassist Flea and Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich), Brian and I eagerly made plans to attend one of the shows in Chicago (we missed out on the WASTE pre-sale, but were able to score 2 each in the regular sale), but he made it abundantly clear that this did not absolve me of my duty to see Radiohead with him (since this is only 1/5 of that band).

Fast-forward to the day of the show...  Ticketing for the event was completely paperless - a novel idea that ended up being well executed.  When Brian and I showed up around 7:10 to grab a bite beforehand we noticed that the line to get in was really long (it snaked all the way behind the building), so we started freaking out.  We had planned to each grab our pair of tickets and then wait for our guests (Adam and Lisa), who planned on showing up around 7:30.  I got in line while he went to the pizza place to grab a couple of slices.  By the time he returned with the pizza, we realized that the line was moving really quickly.  We also found out that because it was completely paperless we had to enter as soon as we got to the front of the line.  So we ended up getting out of and back into line a few times before Adam and Lisa showed up.  Adam arrived first (with Drew and Tony), so I went in with them while Brian waited for Lisa.  The procedure to get in was pretty smooth - once you got to the front you were patted down (though not very thoroughly) then you handed your credit card (that you used to purchase the tickets) to an attendant who swiped it and confirmed the number of people who could enter for your purchase.  Once I went through I understood why the line moved so quickly.

As for the musical aspects of the show...  I had never heard of the opener - Flying Lotus - a dance/electronica/hip-hop DJ.  He did sample a couple of tunes that I recognized - "Machine Gun" by Portishead, and "Reckoner" by Radiohead.  I probably would have appreciated his music more if I was in a more relaxed setting, and not standing around waiting for Thom Yorke.  Also, as with many electronic artists, there wasn't much to the performance aspect of his show.

The first part of Atoms For Peace's set was an in-order performance of Thom's solo Eraser album (I had suspected that this would be the case, based on setlists from a couple of shows from last year, but I had not kept up with the earlier shows on this tour).  "Eraser" was a solid start to the show, but the timing on "Analyse" seemed a little off at the beginning; thankfully, it was all sorted out by the second half of the song.  Unfortunately, "The Clock", which is my favorite song on the album, was pretty disappointing live - the heavy electronic beat did not translate well to a live rendition.  "Black Swan" was solid, "Skip Divided" did not impress (though I often skip it while listening to the album anyway), and "Atoms For Peace" (my second favorite) was pretty good.  Surprisingly, the last three songs of the main set were probably the best of the nine.  "And It Rained All Night" might have been my favorite song of the night and their performance of "Cymbal Rush" turned one of my least favorite album songs into a winner.

The encore started with Thom doing three solo songs (one brand new - "A Walk Down the Staircase") on guitar and piano, including Radiohead's "Everything in its Right Place" (which caused the crowd to go nuts).  I was amused when the crowd tried to clap along to a beat that is normally provided by a bass drum during the full band rendition of EIIRP, but failed miserably (I assumed this was because white people generally don't have rhythm, but to be fair I think I would have had difficulty finding that beat myself).  The rest of the band returned for four more songs, including excellent renditions of "Paperbag Writer" (a Radiohead B-side) and "The Hollow Earth".  Unfortunately, they ended on a down note (in my opinion) with an unnecessary jam at the end of "Feeling Pulled Apart By Horses" - that's the first time I can recall seeing Thom do something like that.

All in all, it was a pretty great show.  I thought that a few songs didn't translate that well live, but I was surprised by a couple that came out even better than in the studio.  Brian thoroughly enjoyed the main set, but lost a bit of interest during the encore since he only recognized one of the songs.  In the end, it's obviously clear that (despite a couple of covers) this was a Thom Yorke show, and not a Radiohead show.  So I still owe Brian that Radiohead show.  There's an outside chance that I'll get a chance to pay that debt later this year, if not next year.  I'll keep my fingers crossed.

Here are a couple of videos that I shot with my cell phone.  The first one is "Atoms For Peace".  Unfortunately, the audio is not that great on this one.

The audio for the second one, "The Hollow Earth" is better.  Unfortunately, I only got the last two-thirds of the song.


Monday, March 15, 2010

One reason I'm a "belligerent" atheist.

I must qualify that claim because I don't really go around picking fights with theists.  And I've kinda beat this topic to death lately so I'll try to keep this short...

Anyway, this is related to a question Galen and Tim brought up the other night regarding why I've become so "belligerent" about my atheism (no, it's not because I hate all Christians).  This thoughtful video highlights an aspect of it that we didn't discuss, though I don't think I would make the claim that atheists are persecuted to the same extent that the blacks or the gays were.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Home electricity monitoring with TED 5000 and Google PowerMeter.

Being a tech geek who also hugs a few trees in his spare time, it's expected that I would be interested in a home electricity monitoring system.  Throw in a Google application for this, and I'm naturally going to be all over it.

I recently acquired the TED 5000C from The Energy Detectives, which has support for Google PowerMeter.  The system works by hooking up a monitor in my circuit breaker box.  This transmits usage data via the electric wires in my house to a gateway that is simply plugged into any outlet.  The gateway is connected via Ethernet to my wireless router, so my computer can access it via web interface.  The web interface provides up-to-the-second real-time monitoring of my energy consumption, as well as the ability to see how much that energy costs (though I have not yet set up the pricing portion of it).  After the electrician installed the monitor in my circuit box, we tested the system out by cranking up the oven and stove, and the blue power line on the graph shot up instantly.  I recreated this for the second-live graph below.

 The home screen.

The history screen.

The second-live graph.

The hour-by-hour graph.

The gateway also sends data to Google Powermeter, which provides an iGoogle gadget that can be used to monitor my home power consumption from anywhere on the web.

The 5000C model also includes a desktop display unit that shows usage statistics.

The monitor is actually pretty easy to install.  In retrospect, I could have probably done it myself in a couple of hours, but it was easier to have a professional who knew what he was doing.  If you're familiar with electric wiring, you could have it all hooked up in under an hour pretty easily.

So, what's the point of this exercise?  I'm not completely sure yet.  One of the selling points is that through monitoring you can more easily see the ways in which you could save on your electric bill.  But I'm mostly in it for the cool factor.

Friday, March 12, 2010

HD PVR - recording satellite HD with Windows Media Center.

Recording HD video from cable and satellite set-top boxes to a media center PC is not nearly as easy as it should be.  Digital HD signals (HDMI, DVI) are encrypted (using HDCP), so only authorized receivers can process them.  This doesn't work out so well for people (like me) who don't want to pay the cable or satellite companies a monthly fee for DVR capabilities, especially when we have a PC that can perform this function while giving us more control.  CableCARD was supposed to be the solution for us, but (a) it was not widely adopted (b) it required renting the card from the provider (and I thought part of the point was not paying them for DVR).  Of course, there are plenty of tuner cards that record non-HD content from set-top boxes and free over-the-air HD (basically, local channels).

The best solution that I came across was Hauppauge's HD PVR.  It's a small external box that converts component inputs (YPbPr) from the set-top box to H.264 video that it streams to your PC via USB 2.0.  However, this is not supported by Windows Media Center straight out of the box, and the software that comes with it is pretty terrible in comparison.  Fortunately, there is a software package called DVBLink that allows for WMC integration (for an extra $40 on top of the $200 for the HD PVR).  It basically creates virtual tuners in WMC and then streams the HD PVR output to them.  The setup process was not completely intuitive, but it wasn't too bad either.  If you can follow directions from the website, it should go alright for you (I, however, get a little impatient sometimes and make bad assumptions).  All in all, hooking up the HD PVR and setting up all the software took me somewhere around 3 hours, including time where I played around with some settings.

So here's my analysis after watching my first recording (NBC's Thursday night line-up):

  • HD satellite TV fully integrated into WMC!  This includes watching, pausing, and recording TV, along with Guide information.
  • No monthly fee for DVR service.

  • $240 price tag - this would take 2 years at $10/month savings to break even.  May be worth it in the end.
  • Setup is not seamless, but shouldn't be too bad for someone who has a media center PC (especially if you built it yourself).
  • Video quality maxes out at 720p or 1080i due to component inputs (note that cable/satellite HD quality doesn't go higher than this anyway).
  • External box that sits on top of the computer, as opposed to an internal card.
While it seems like there are more cons that pros, none of the "cons" are really that bad at all (hence the quotes).  I'm pleased with it so far, after only one night of use, and I think most people in a similar situation would be as well.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Welcome to "Shades of Black".

While migrating the blog from my 1and1 hosting service to Blogger's servers (due to their discontinuation of FTP publication), I've renamed the blog and made some other enhancements.  Thank you to Jerry Pipes for suggesting the new name.  Thank you as well to Nathan Rosenstock for suggesting another name that I almost chose.  Despite the change in location, the blog URL only changed by one character and a slight rearrangement ( ->  Hopefully this yields a better reading experience...

Sunday, February 28, 2010

My revised plan to save the world.

This is not one for the faint of heart, though it is less so than my initial two iterations of plans along the same lines (which are too harsh to post).  The inspiration for this comes from a debate held earlier today at the St. Louis Ethical Society, which I caught wind of through the St. Louis Atheist Meetup Group, concerning the following question: "Should China's One Child Policy Be Adopted in Other Poor Countries?"  The debate itself was not very good - the only halfway-decent speaker was a pro-life Missouri Lobbyist on the wrong side of the question.  Presentation skills aside, though, the two on the good side (both members of Citizens for Global Solutions of St. Louis) outlined a good argument for the protagonist view.

First of all, I should point out that this argument is pointless unless you accept the fact that the world population is excessive, and thus a contributing cause of many of the problems we face - the earth's resources are finite, after all.  And according to the below Wikipedia rendition of a graph from a recent UN report projecting population growth, things could get worse unless some action is taken:

The CGS members' view, set forth in a handout, was that there are three (though they combined #2 and #3 into one) reasons for recommending the one-child-per-family policy in poor countries:
  1. China was able to greatly increase the well-being of its own citizens by use of this policy.  Other poor countries could do the same.
  2. China also greatly helped to limit the population growth of the world as a whole, thus preserving (or rather, minimizing the destruction of) the natural resources available worldwide.
  3. Policies of national governments are one of the major factors in dealing with the population problem.
They also provided a few qualifications of their position.
  1. Although their claim is a normative one, they do not advocate that poor countries should be compelled to adopt the policy - they believe that it should be evident that such in a policy is in their best interest.
  2. They recommend flexibility for particular situations - e.g., minorities and families in rural areas - when adopting the policy.
  3. They recommend the use of strong financial incentives and public opinion in implementing the policy.  This includes making population control measures (condoms, birth-control pills, tubal ligations, nonsurgical vasectomies) freely available and offering privileges (free education, subsidized health care, guaranteed unemployment income) only to first-born children.
  4. They expressly reject the use of abortions, instead recommending that unwanted babies be made available for adoption by rural families (where additional labor would be useful).
  5. They recognize that the policy should be brought to an end if a country thinks that some unanticipated situation requires a change (e.g., an epidemic or natural disaster).
Of course this plan is not without potential problems.  The opposition brought up the following worries:
  1. First off, such a policy may seem to amount to a restriction of freedom, and this would probably be the case if implemented in a brutal, authoritative fashion.  One might be able to justify strict enforcement, and therefore limitation of liberty, by some utilitarian argument - thus overcoming the harm principle.  Regardless, the plan set forth relies on economic incentives, allowing people to choose not to comply at the risk of losing these incentives.  My worry, though, is that this may be a naive view: poor and uneducated people in these countries may not understand enough to make what I take to clearly be the proper choice.  There's also the worry that people will try to cheat the system.
  2. The lobbyist pointed out that China resorted to forced abortions and other brutal measures to implement the policy.  This may be the case, but the CGS does not advocate the use of abortions.  As mentioned above, implementation would be mostly financially driven.
  3. Another worry by the lobbyist is that unborn females would be targets for abortion since parents would prefer their single child to be a male.  In China this has resulted in a 1.17:1 ratio of males to females in the latest generation, which he claims has caused Chinese men to resort to illegal trafficking of women from neighboring countries.  Even if this is a pervasive problem, which I doubt, there is a logical limit to its effect.  At some point people have to realize that aborting females is a bad idea.  Maybe not being able to marry off their sons will be a way of sparking this realization.
  4. Yet another counterpoint was that China has too few young people to support their aging parents and grandparents, especially as life expectancy increases.  While I can sympathize to an extent, I would choose the problem of not being able to care for old people over that of having children continuously born into inescapable poverty.
All in all, I believe that the basic idea of such a policy is a sound one, and that it should be adopted in the Third World.  Furthermore, the arguments presented against do little to weaken it.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

I need a new name for the blog.

Google recently shared the news that they will no longer support publishing on Blogger via FTP, meaning that I will no longer be able to host my blog from "my" server (I use the quotes because I don't really own the server - I'm basically renting server space from my hosting service, 1&1).  I'm somewhat ambivalent toward this news.  On one hand, I lose the pseudo-ownership I have when the files are on "my" server, where I have access to all of them in their raw glory.  On the other, having the blog reside on Google's servers means that I can integrate more of the features and widgets that they have available.

While I'm moving the blog (which I'll probably be doing in a month or two), I figure it's a good time to come up with a new name.  I created the current name "Blog" when blogging was a relatively new phenomenon (here's my first post ever from back in 2004, though I doubt that link will still work once I move the blog), and I did not really take into consideration what a name might signify.  In truth, the name is not really that horrible - it's just the blog section of my site - but now that my feed is integrated into different applications on the web (Facebook, Google Reader, Google Buzz) it is grossly lacking in descriptiveness..."Oh, look...there's a new post on Blog.  What the hell is Blog?"

So to all three people out there who occasionally glance at my blog, I am seeking your help in coming up with a new name.  The name should be relatively unique (so that the blog can be easily identified) and somewhat interesting, but should not pretend to be something that it is not.  I will illustrate with a couple of examples:

"Obi's Blog" or "Obezma's Blog": While these make it pretty easy to figure out what's going on at the blog, when I read them I think "Blah!".

"Alternative Brotha" or "Casual Elegance": These have both been used to describe my style of being.  While I don't necessarily like to be pigeonholed by a description, I will admit that I do take these two principles into consideration in doing some of the things that I do.  The problem with these names, though, is that they seem too ambitious.  They almost sound like a place where you could go for daily/weekly tips on how to live such a lifestyle.  I don't post nearly that regularly or frequently, and I don't really have any advice to give anybody.

So in short, give me an interesting and unique name that doesn't generate expectations.  And...go!

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Lala - my not-so-new favorite thing.

This post is long overdue.  If you have seen any of my recent activity online (Facebook, Google Reader, or certain posts about top music), you might be aware that I have become an avid user of Lala.  The short story: Lala is a free online music service without advertising.  The longer story follows.

You can read Lala's official story about their features at their How it works page.  I'll expand on what I like about these main features, and one additional minor feature, to show what I think makes Lala pretty awesome.

  1. Play over 8 million songs for free.  They have a pretty extensive music catalog, of which you can play any song for free once.  After the first free listen, you can listen to 30-second clips of songs you don't own (you can always listen to full-length songs you own - see #2).  I especially like that they organize music so that it is easy to queue up albums, which is how I prefer to listen to music.
  2. Play your music, anywhere on the web.  You can match your music collection on your computer to Lala's catalog so that Lala recognizes what songs in their catalog you own (no, it does not matter how you came to own the music).  If you own it, it can always play it for free on the web.
  3. Discover new music through friends and experts.  They've got some social networking and cataloging aspects.
  4. Buy new music starting at 10 cents.  You can buy any song as a "web song" for 10 cents.  This gives you unlimited plays of the song via the web, but you can't download it to your computer.  You can also buy songs for download, usually for 89 cents.  Note that if you have previously bought a song as a web song, you only have to pay the difference (79 cents) to buy it as a download.  The song files are DRM-free variable bit-rate MP3s.  In my experience the bit rate is usually around 240 kbps, which is excellent unless you're an audiophile.

    I will add here that Lala's download prices are pretty phenomenal in comparison with the competition.  For example, here are some comparisons with two other major MP3 vendors for four new album releases that I bought this past Tuesday (yes, I went kinda crazy):

    Four Tet - There is Love in You
    iTunes - $9.99
    Amazon MP3 - $6.99
    Lala - $6.49

    Charlotte Gainsbourg - IRM
    iTunes - $9.99
    Amazon MP3 - $7.99
    Lala - $7.49

    Basement Jaxx - Zephyr
    iTunes - $9.90
    Amazon MP3 - $6.99
    Lala - $6.49

    Jaga Jazzist - One-Armed Bandit
    iTunes - $8.91
    Amazon MP3 - $6.99
    Lala - $6.99

    As you can see, iTunes is kinda ripping people off (though I will concede that they pioneered the MP3 selling business and make selling/buying music very easy for both producers and consumers), so it's a good thing that I don't even have an iTunes account set up.  I used to use Amazon MP3 quite a bit, but I have more recently been buying the majority of the music that I purchase through Lala
  5. Scrobbling to!  Listening to music is pretty much worthless to me unless I can scrobble it to, my ultimate music listening cataloger.  Without this minor feature I don't think I would have begun using Lala nearly as much as I do now.
I've actually been a Lala member since early 2007, back when their main thing was trading CDs, though I never really used it.  They've since dropped that business model and are now a digital music service.  I rediscovered them this past fall when Pitchfork started using Lala to share music that they reviewed and Google started including Lala previews in music searches.  Since then I've been using Lala to check out new releases, listen to recommendations from friends, and listen to my collection from work (don't tell Boeing).  It has greatly contributed to the amount of music I listen to and to the amount of music I actually purchase.

I was a bit disappointed in December to hear the news that Apple acquired Lala.  Although Apple appears to have used Lala technology for at least one good purpose (providing browser-enabled previews for iTunes songs), my fear is that Lala will be absorbed into iTunes and I will lose some of the features I have come to love.  For example, I'm pretty sure this would result in increased music prices.  Also, if the web streaming becomes part of Apple I think Boeing will get wise to the goings on pretty quickly as users jump on board, and therefore block it.  I hope these worries do not materialize.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Skinny jeans are ruining mens' fashion.

For me, at least.  I'm not saying this because I think skinny jeans are stupid - some people (though not all who wear them) pull off the look very well.  I am not one of those people.  I have what I like to call a "black people butt" and "black people hips".  Besides making me feel like I'm wearing figure skating pants, they tend not fit over my butt all the way (or at least not as much as I would like pants to fit over my butt).  I'm also partial to a wider leg opening that falls over the shoe, instead of showing off my shoelace knot and socks.

Skinny jeans don't directly affect me since I don't really ever wear jeans, but the skinny/slim trend has moved over to pants.  This in itself would not be a problem either, except that all the creative effort into making interesting pants is now diverted to making interesting skinny pants.  And there aren't many people out there making interesting mens' pants in the first place.  Every cool-looking pair of pants that I have seen over the past few months has been of the skinny variety.  Case in point: I've ordered 3 pairs of pants off (one of very few places I've found that has interesting pants for men) only to return them because the fit is too skinny (even though I took care to check that they are not described as skinny or slim).  Maybe I should just resign myself to the fact that Diesel does not make pants for black people.

So if you see a pair of cool-looking non-skinny (preferably boot-cut) pants out there somewhere, let me know and I'll be all over it.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Top Albums of 2009, Part 2

We saw in Part 1 that Phoenix topped the aggregate top albums list.  In Part 2 we'll break down all the individual top 10 lists.

Brian George (Obscurity Award, WTF?! Award)

1. Converge – Axe to Fall
2. The Juan MacLean – The Future Will Come
3. Agoraphobic Nosebleed – Agorapocalypse
4. Future of the Left – Travels with Myself and Another
5. Pissed Jeans – King of Jeans
6. Girls – Album
7. Shackleton – 3 Eps
8. Khanate – Clean Hands Go Foul
9. Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
10. The-Dream – Love vs. Money

Christy Cronin

1. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz!
2. Manchester Orchestra – Mean Everything to Nothing
3. Metric – Fantasies
4. Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
5. Passion Pit – Manners
6. Arctic Monkeys – Humbug
7. Coconut Records – Davy
8. The Big Pink – A Brief History of Love
9. She Wants Revenge – Up and Down EP
10. Matt & Kim – Grand

James Kolpack (I Didn't List Phoenix Award)

1. Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion
2. Atlas Sound - Logos
3. Office - Mecca
4. The Thermals - Now We Can See
5. Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest
6. Flight of the Conchords - I Told You I Was Freaky
7. Papercuts - You Can Have What You Want
8. Max Richter - 24 Postcards in Full Colour
9. Bear in Heaven - Beast Rest Forth Mouth
10. The xx - xx

Jason White

1. Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
2. Wilco - Wilco (The Album)
3. Pearl Jam - Backspacer
4. Manchester Orchestra - Mean Everything to Nothing
5. Them Crooked Vultures - Them Crooked Vultures
6. Green Day - 21st Century Breakdown
7. Monsters of Folk - Monsters of Folk
8. Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest
9. The Decemberist - The Hazards of Love
10. Mute Math - Armistice

Obi Orjih

1. Mew – No More Stories...
2. Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion
3. Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
4. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It's Blitz!
5. Pictureplane – Dark Rift
6. Röyksopp – Junior
7. Metric – Fantasies
8. Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest
9. Fuck Buttons – Tarot Sport
10. Doves – Kingdom of Rust

Robert Schwartz (I'm With Obi Award)

1. Mew - No More Stories...
2. Regina Spektor - Far
3. Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
4. Beirut - March of the Zapotec/Holland EP
5. Metric - Fantasies
6. Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion
7. Grizzly Bear - Veckatimist
8. Bon Iver - Blood Bank EP
9. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
10. The Mountain Goats - The Life of the World to Come

Top Albums of 2009, Part 1

The results are in.  My cloud has determined the top 10 albums (actually 12, since the last 4 tied) of 2009.  Ignore all other top 10 lists (except maybe Metacritic's, which actually shows you everyone's list) and only pay attention to this one.

Each participant submitted a personal top 10 list, and I aggregated them using a 10-to-1 point system to generate the list below.   Here's the list of critics:
Brian George
Christy Cronin
James Kolpack
Jason White
Obi Orjih
Robert Schwartz

Since there are 6 individual lists, the maximum possible number of points for a single album is 60 points (if it was number 1 on everybody's list).  Without further ado, here are the top albums:

1. Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix [35 points, 5 lists]

2. Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion [24 points, 3 lists]

3. Mew - No More Stories... [20 points, 2 lists]

4. Metric - Fantasies [18 points, 3 lists]

5. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - It's Blitz! [17 points, 2 lists]

6. Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest [16 points, 4 lists]

7. Manchester Orchestra - Mean Everything to Nothing [16 points, 2 lists]

8. Converge - Axe to Fall [10 points, 1 list]

9 (tie). The Juan MacLean - The Future Will Come [9 points, 1 list]

   Regina Spektor - Far [9 points, 1 list]

   Atlas Sound - Logos [9 points, 1 list]

   Wilco - Wilco (The Album) [9 points, 1 list]

Check out Part 2 for each critic's individual list.