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Sunday, September 24, 2005

--I was angrily awoken early this morning by a squealing example of one of the paint-chip-eating attention whore kids that haunt my apartment complex. I put up with all kinds of things in my day and in my life, but I don't think my urge to kill ever rises as high or as quickly as when some "parent" decides to let their kid wake up everone in the vicinity. The design of the buildings and their close-coupling turns sounds excreted in the middle into a cathedral-amplified ear-grating blare that slices right through the doorways and into all of our lives. And then you get some obvious destined-for-greatness genius repeating the same "DAHH-DEEEE DAHH-DEEEE," honk the clown horn, "SQQQUUEEEEEEEEEEAAAAALLL" routine OVER and OVER and OVER and OVER and OVER as loud as possible. What the fuck!!!!?! This shit went on for fifteen+ minutes at top volume. God, sometimes I wish this were a city where I could just go out and yell "shut that fucking kid up before I make him shut up!!!" But this isn't a city, it's Keller, TX. Some of us don't wake up at 6:00am every God damned day, and some of us would rather your kids drowned in a ditch than hear their insipid screaming.

The result is that I got about FIVE FEWER HOURS of sleep than I wanted to get today. I just turned on the stereo, LOUD, turned on the computer, put on some deer steak and I guess my good night's sleep is over. Thanks, you jackass prick.

--There was another hurricane. Lots of evacuations, which I guess is called for and prudent, but in hindsight it was mostly unnecessary for a lot of folks in Houston. The sum total effect on my area was some clouds (no rain), a little slightly above average wind speed, and the ushering in of slightly cooler temperatures. Not much.

There was a slight rush on gas. I love this quote by some random motorist at a gas station: "they kept the prices low, which is good, but everybody bought it and it’s gone now, which is bad." Yes sir, and I can even plot that on a simple graph if you like.

A meteorologist named Chris Landsea said the impact of global warming is "minimal for the forseeable future." He said the studies indicate global warming could increase hurricane wind speeds and rainfall by about 5 percent -- 100 years from now.

--My first three ebaY sales were all great successes. It was an interesting process. I made a few hundred dollars. Dropped the packages at the UPS store today. Some of the emails I got were puzzling. I wrote that I would only accept PayPal (echeck or credit/debit) and only ship to the US 48, and immediately a guy offers to pay by Western Union if I can ship to Latvia. Huh? Another person wanted to give me about a third of what my item was worth if I changed it to a Buy It Now, since it’s my first sale and “nobody will bid on me.” If you think it’s worth that, why don’t you enter your bid for that right now and we’ll see if you’re right; otherwise, if you’re afraid it will go for more than that, why would you think I would want to settle for that? One person said they had a special needs child and I should sell it for less because of that. Several people wanted to know what all these things do, and honestly I’ve never even used two of them, so I mostly just referred them to the online manual PDFs.

I did learn a few things, though. Timing is important; ending an auction at 4am Central is not smart. Shipping to Canada should be a given. Get the packing and boxing all done right after the pictures are taken, so you’re all ready to go. Learned a lot about the ebaY options and interface. PayPal charges money if payments come in via credit card, but on the plus side you don’t have to wait for them to clear. Upcoming items include a Tascam CD recorder, a pair of boots, a Dreamcast and several games, and my mother’s extremely huge organ. If you could buy contracts on people, I might bid on a contract to kill that damned kid...

I’m currently bidding on two rare Self CDs. More on that below in the “music section.”

--I watched the Battlestar miniseries. Mind-blowing. It's the most mature science-fiction I've ever seen. The miniseries explained a lot, about Gaius' guilt/psychosis, about Boomer, about the origin of the Cylons, about why the technology seems so eclectic. The writers set up complex personality and relationship dynamics that are original and unique among movies/television. It didn't feel like any television show I've ever seen -- it seemed uncompromising, unrestricted by the small screen format or episodic content, and brilliant. I am very, very impressed. Unfortunately, Netflix tells me disc 1 of Season One has a “very long wait.” So I’m moving on to other movies until the demand falls a bit.

The quality is particularly stunning considering what most “Sci-Fi Original Movies” turn out like. And Stargate SG-1/Atlantis, while decent and often enjoyable, just seems campy and half-assed by comparison to BG. And even more incredibly, the episodes of Season Two I’ve seen have been just as serial, epic, and high-quality as the moving original miniseries.

--A co-worker of mine has bought an extraordinarily inapproprate new vehicle!! Taking a look at it I almost thought this had to be some stupid joke. He bought a pickup truck, but not just ANY pickup truck. No, he wanted something big, which is why he looked at pickups, but why stop at a full-size truck? He wanted something BIG. He got a Ford F-350, with SIX WHEELS (duallie or DRW), an 8 foot bed, a crewcab, 38 gallon tank, 4x4 suspension/differential/giant mudder tires, 6.8 liter engine (at least it’s not a diesel!!), mudflaps, top lights, and other doodads.

We looked up some of the dimensions and specs. Of course, MPG is shown as “exempt” or “not applicable.” Probably about 8. Length is 262 inches, width 95.5 inches, and height 82 inches (but I think his is taller because of “upgraded” mud tires and the lighting doodads at the top). Next to all other pickups on the road, this thing TOWERS over them. This would be a fine work vehicle, for towing, carrying, working. But this guy is single, no family, works in an office, never tows or carries anything, admits he won’t go offroad, is shorter and skinnier than I am, and has a 32 mile commute at least ten times a week (back and forth). I’m just floored by the incongruity. Trucks in any form at all make substandard daily commuters in terms of economy, ride comfort, handling, parking ease, etc. But this thing is way out of bounds.

Meanwhile, my dream car has finally arrived: The Porsche Cayman S. $60K+

--Speed magazine did a track comparison of the ’05 C6 Vette and a 589 rwHP Skyline against a stock ’05 ZX-6R and a somewhat trackday-modified ZX-10R (DOT race tires, Ohlins front and rear, rearsets, full exhaust/PC, carbon fiber fairings, stainless brake lines, otherwise stock). Racecar driver vs. racebike rider. The stock 6R beat even the 600 HP racecar. The difference between the 10R and the Vette is just incredible. At times the bike was carrying 40 mph more speed on the track than the Vette. That Vette is no slouch, with a 6 liter/400 HP engine and the lightest Corvette structure ever. Over a race distance the bike would lap the Vette over three times. The bike, with all the mods, would cost you one-third what the Vette would.

--I was at Albertson’s today at a little before 4pm when I started hearing the intercom calling for all employees to come to the front of the store. It kept up for a good five minutes, too. Cloying and cutesy, like it was trying to coax bashful four year olds to come find the easter eggs. After a sufficient number of employees had gathered near the front of the store, a bizarre pro-Albertson’s chant began! It certainly was creepy. It certainly did make me reconsider where I shop for groceries.

I hate Kroger because of the awkward checkout lines and the whole atmosphere of the place, plus I often shop at night and you MUST use the automated checkout (which wouldn’t be so bad if: they replaced the touch screen with buttons, they raised the platform where you place your paid-for items up about two feet, and they didn’t have some weird little man watching your every move instead of checking your groceries for you). But Albertson’s is really letting me down lately. They inexplicably stop carrying my favorite brands or varieties: meatball parmesean Prego spaghetti sauce, lemon custard-style Yoplait yogurt, sausage (only) Red Baron microwave pizzas, wheat spaghetti noodles, pink lady apples, sugar-free Nature’s Own bread, Tilapia fish, regular chocolate Slim Fast, Del Monte unsalted mixed canned veggies, Kraft alfredo variety mac n cheese, and many more. It’s been an ongoing curse, and one of those things that makes you think, just for a second once in a while, that you were actually right when you were 8 years old: you ARE the center of the world, and this everything is just an experiment to see how you react. Truman Show. Bastards. And I still want to kill that kid who woke me up.

Plus they have the all-time best chocolate-chip granola bars as a store brand, and I saw in the Thursday mail flyer that they had put them on SALE. I knew exactly what that meant. It meant I wouldn’t be able to buy them this week. They NEVER have any trouble selling these at the normal price, why the hell would they sell them for LESS? Sure enough, they were all gone, as were virtually ALL the other varieties on sale. See also my arguments about gas prices lately (oh, and on that note, see THIS nicely-written short piece).

--It seems the average next generation (PS3/360/Revolution) game will cost about $15M to create. A lot of that reflects the fact that you need so many people to work on these games for such a long time to actually take advantage of the numbers the machines can crunch. Which do you think is easier to create? A corridor in the original UT or a corridor in the upcoming UT2K7? Of course, making the UT corridor in UT2K7 is just as easy as making it in UT. But nobody wants UT corridors in their UT2K7. They want UT2K7 corridors in their UT2K7. Which means you have to spend a LOT more time making that corridor look damned detailed. You gotta make it look 2K7ish.

It’s the same problem with console games and increasing hardware power. We will absolutely reach a point where the consoles can simply do more than human beings can design for given the restraints of the marketplace and the fact that we don’t live forever. Games will sell for $60. How much will publishers and developers take home from that? What will the break-even point in units sold be? 400,000? A large publishing house can withstand some duds (or cult/niche games) that only sell 100,000 if it has a few that sell 1.5 million (whether cookie-cutter franchise updates or innovative breakout hits). But unfortunately these high costs could lead to less creativity and risk-taking, and more formulaic design.

Formula isn’t always bad, though. Ratchet 3 pretty much followed the same formula as Ratchets 2 and 1, it just expanded and improved on every conceivable aspect of those games. Sometimes evolution is an okay substitute for revolution.

Microsoft’s decision to go without HD DVD will cost them dearly, though. They’re making a lot of mistakes – the two different system packages is another drastic error. We’ll see.

I ordered two games: Burnout Revenge and the first Katamari Damacy. BR just looks like a lot of fun, and I liked the second one as a rental. KD, well, I’m late to the party. I’m looking at Shadow of the Colossus and thinking I might order that and the new Xmen Legends game and also Super Monkey Ball DX. Wish Colossus was on Xbox though.

--I thought THIS sounded pretty cool, so I went HERE, but apparently the program needs XP. Damn.

--Okay, I’m bidding on Gizmodgery and Half-Baked Serenade, two rare Self albums. Gizmodgery is all the way down to $31 on Amazon Marketplace (I’ve noticed a lot of previously sky-high albums dropping drastically lately), so I won’t go higher than that. Gizmodgery is Matt’s masterpiece written and performed exclusively by him on children’s toy instruments (and non-instruments).

Matt had a lot of trouble with the record company. Dreamworks was bought out by Universal. Yay. Universal indefinitely “shelved” the next Self album, Ornament and Crime. Universal OWNS the music on this album. Matt cannot release it. What utter bullshit. They “wrote off” the costs of recording it and will not invest in the manufacturing, promotion, and distribution of it. It certainly doesn’t fit any radio formats, does it? Thus, Matt has left the shit record company and is now working on ANOTHER album. Fuckers.

(If it sounds like I'm being uncharacteristically anti-business, that's not entirely correct; just because I'm pro-business does not mean I have to personally like every decision of every company or appreciate the way all industries are run. The fact is that independent labels and even solo distributors can do quite well -- and hey, that's business, too!!! In many cases, including this one, the corporate business model is not the best one.)

Matt is rather prolific as a songwriter. For this album, he wrote and recorded 35 or so songs. He picked the best ones for the album, Ornament and Crime. The REST have been released for FREE as yet another “b-sides” compilation (a misleading term, though) named Porno, Mint, and Grime. You even get full resolution pics for printing out the CD booklet and inserts. On the cover is a cartoon nipple, a breath savers mint, and a fingerprint, all perfect circles arranged like a traffic signal. Sure, there are a few throwaway songs. But also, some true gems that make me really, really want to hear the new “a-sides” (aka O&C). Download the 192 kbps MP3s and the image files right HERE. Skip tracks 4, 5, 10, 12, 14, and 18. Let the others play (it’s a “b-sides” compilation, not an album, so I don’t have any qualms about excluding tunes). I love how Matt writes a melody and a beat. I love how he flirts with many different genres of music, but in a very accessible way. Damn, the fifteen songs left after my personal culling are more cohesive, imaginative, and musical than much of the garbage out there in the mainstream media.

I ordered a ton of stuff – the games above, the book Satisfaction, the Failure DVD, and a good size lot of CDs. Minus the Bear, New Pornographers, Destroyer, System and Station, Arcade Fire, Kino, Circa Survive, Ours, Autolux, etc. Damn I’m enjoying music. My CDBaby finds – Summer Blanket, Frequency Fall, and Jadies Lantern – are amazing.

I’m seriously considering mobile sound for the motorcycle. Etymotic hi-fi earplug/earbud phones and the Sansa 512 MB MP3 player.

I still want to kill that kid...