Known Johnson

July 30, 2008


Filed under: General — Tom @ 8:33 pm

Sometimes something so unintentionally funny comes along that it becomes simply epic, and this article on Wired about a lake of oil discovered by NASA on Saturn’s moon Titan certainly qualifies. You really owe it to yourself to read all of the comments – they feed off of each other, growing more and more ridiculous and referencing each other until the end. It’s a rare thing that such a serious topic sprouts something so comically timely – they hit pretty much every hot-button topic out there today. Bush, Iraq, abortion, the existence of extraterrestrial life, gas prices, even Seinfeld, Star Trek, and Chuck Norris, not to mention a few visits from the grammar police. I actually found myself laughing out loud.

July 29, 2008

Let’s make a deal

Filed under: Music — Tom @ 11:07 pm

Wow, that worked out well. I mentioned Monday that I picked up that Kubrick box at Costco (for a mere $34.95) and I would put the three two-disc special editions that I got last Christmas, which are included in it, up on Amazon. I did so by Monday night and now, Tuesday just a bit before bed, I have sold all three for just over $30 after Amazon takes their cut. Not bad – a box set for $5 (give or take a few dollars – tax, etc.)

Not only that, I also was engaged in something I kept a bit quiet just because I didn’t want to influence anything – you never know who is snooping around via Google. I mentioned last week how I picked up the Black Sabbath Rules of Hell box for $34.95. Well, at Best Buy it comes with a free bonus disc including 5 live tracks taken from a live album released exclusively by Rhino Handmade which sold out in record time – almost instantly, in fact – and now it’s worth BIG money on Ebay. I happen to own this live album, so I decided to see what would happen if I put the bonus disc, by itself, up on Ebay – and, yes, I made it extremely obvious that the auction was solely for the bonus disc. Tonight I have my answer: that box wound up costing me about $11 after the auction was over. That’s right, some fans who couldn’t get the Rhino live album and apparently can’t get the Best Buy exclusive were happy enough to pay $24 for this short live disc. “Want” and “need” are two really interesting phenomena that drive human beings. I won’t speculate too much because my own motor operates on a peculiar mixture of that fuel. I try to balance it out by being clever, like above, at least some of the time.

Dylan wants to be Trent Reznor, misses the mark by so much

Filed under: Music — Tom @ 4:47 pm

Bob Dylan is releasing another in his ongoing series of official bootlegs in early October, this one focusing on the period from Oh Mercy through Modern Times. Sweet! says I, as I’m getting a little tired of the archeology – I like Dylan’s more recent output the most. Blasphemer, I know. Sorry – aside from Highway 61 Revisited, Blood on the Tracks and, for some weird reason, New Morning, I don’t really care all that much for his older stuff.

I’m getting off track. There is to be a two disc version that culls material from not only the studio sessions for those albums but also live material but . . . and this is where I fume a bit and start drumming my fingers on the desk to indicate my displeasure, for a mere $111 more, fans will get a third disc of material and a couple books of photos and other junk. Seriously. Go read.

Now, I know what you’re thinking – you’re thinking about how I bought that deluxe edition of Nine Inch Nails’ Ghosts I-IV earlier this year, aren’t you? There are some differences here. First, Ghosts could be had in its entirety free. FREE. The Creative Commons license on it entitled anyone to make a copy of the whole damned thing and give it to anyone for any reason. Not sell it, but give it away. (And yet people chose to pay to download it, or, even better, buy the expensive boxes. Cool.) The box simply gave you nice packaging – there is very little in the box itself that is not widely available on the internet. Multitracks? You can find ’em, but they’re in the box. The box was simply something for fans to buy as a statement of interest. You bought it because you wanted it, and I wanted it unlike pretty much any other music-related thing I’ve ever seen. I bought it. I love it – I love walking in and seeing it every day. It’s a beautiful thing.

The thing with it is there is no “dangling carrot” – I bought it knowing there was nothing extra to be gained by buying it. All of us who bought it did so with the same knowledge. Making that kind of decision is tremendously freeing. It feels wonderful to not feel like you have to buy something to get the extras. It was bought to have, plain and simple. Dylan and/or his people aren’t seeing this.

I don’t blame him for not offering the material for free, but I do blame him for standing behind this ridiculous pricing scheme. There is no justification for this. Make the box available for die-hards if you want, but make available a simple three-disc version for a bit higher price for people like me who simply want the music. I don’t care about the 150 page photo book of singles. I don’t need it. That, to me, appears to be the one and only unique feature of this set. What else is pushing the cost up so high? I know it’s not the extra CD itself. Packaging? Put the extra disc in a cardboard sleeve and stick it in the little box that the set will come in, as other bonus discs have been inserted in the past. Nothing extravagant need be done to include the music of the third disc. But we’re apparently not going to get it . . . unless a certain big-box store with a blue and yellow color scheme and a price-sticker for a logo might happen to have a plan to include it as a bonus. You never know. But if so, they’re being remarkably gross by not telling people that it will be available in a cheaper version – there are die-hard Dylanophiles who want this disc who will go out of their way to get it, but don’t really care about the expensive package.

I imagine, and hope, that if it doesn’t work out that there is a store-exclusive on this third disc, that the third disc’s contents are spread far and wide across the internet the minute they become available, and it would be even more fulfilling if, in addition to mp3s, lossless formats like FLAC files were utilized so that no quality is lost. It would just be so satisfying to see a greedy campaign like this deflated like it should be. If it were to be done right, they could count on a majority of Dylan fans happily handing over money for three discs of this material. As it is, I see a lot of angry fans decrying yet another wrong-headed move by an out of touch older performer. Maybe it’s early enough that it’ll get through and a cheaper three-disc package will suddenly appear – you know, “Oops, we forgot to mention this one . . .” Kind of like Neil Young and his big Archives box set proclamation: “NO CDs, just Blu-Ray and DVD.” Except now that the internet has gotten through yelling about being forced to buy Blu-Ray players just to watch his music, a very minor addition to the press release came out this week and included the original version of the set – CDs will now be released, probably because people yelled about it for the past three months. You know, kind of like this: “Neil Young, we like LISTENING to your MUSIC. We don’t want to LOOK at you.” Let’s see if something similar happens with this Dylan thing.

Everything That Happens Will Happen Today – Eno & Byrne

Filed under: Music — Tom @ 9:13 am

Looks like the new Eno & Byrne album may only be available on David Byrne’s website – go here and you get a little video to watch from David and a box to drop your email address into which will later give you more info and a free song. The background music that is playing is not what you might expect if another My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts is what you were hoping for – this sounds much more like Byrne’s introspective stuff than the odd, off-kilter experimental stuff they did together. And that’s just fine with me. “Odd, off-kilter” is great sometimes, but the Eno-produced Talking Heads albums are some of my favorite albums of all time, so . . . “more please.”

July 28, 2008

Sick or something?

Filed under: General — Tom @ 10:49 pm

A first: Amanda’s first movie this weekend, Wall-e. We really didn’t know if she would be able to handle it, as we’ve actually never sat and watched a feature-length anything with her, but she apparently watched Finding Nemo with Alissa’s mom one day and all was well. But being in a theater is a different experience. It went well, but the last 30 or 40 minutes found her attention waning – it’s not quite the kids’ movie that Disney wants you to believe it is, despite the overwhelming number of cute robot designs.

On a completely different note, I feel like I’m constantly having to update something related to the Ipods we own. I’m sure that’s not a coincidence, right? This week, I have come to the conclusion that the Ipod adapter that mates to my truck’s stereo to give me the rich, clear sound I demand (as opposed to crappy FM modulators) is failing in some aspect. I don’t know how or why – I just know that if you play the same CD as something on the Ipod, it is very noticeable that much of the right channel does not play correctly, and subsequently much of the bass is absent. I checked it out in Alissa’s car, which has the same setup, and it plays as expected, so it has to be the input box we both have in our vehicles. This sucks. So, another one has been ordered from an authorized Ebay reseller. Yay – I get to sit out in my hot truck in the hot garage this hot weekend.

Amanda was home sick today, or something. “Sick or something,” I mean, no one knows what it was. She woke up with a horrible cough, the kind that leads to, as she puts it, “spitting out,” a process known to everyone else as “puking.” Alissa and I only have a very small window of time to make diagnoses in the morning, and in that time she was coughing to near “spitting out” many times, which leads her to not want to eat anything for fear of “spitting out.” My parents are watching her this week after nearly a month of Alissa’s parents watching due to various things – vacation, surgery, etc. – and I just cannot send a sick child over to my dad who is recovering from pretty major surgery. Not that he can’t handle it – he can. He’s doing incredibly well, but I’m not going to inflict any extra suffering on him, and I was imaging how Amanda’s awful coughs would feel for him, who has a handful of very tender just-healing wounds all over his stomach. We made the call and decided Amanda was staying home. I had a sick day remaining for the rest of August (our fiscal year refreshes in September) and this is why we have them. And Alissa’s parents need the break, too.

By about 10:30, Amanda all but better. The occasional cough surfaced, but it was obvious that she was basically okay. We watched Toy Story (this went over better than Wall-e) and played, and when I thought she was doing okay, I figured she could go out, so we went to Costco, and this is where I diverge entirely from this line of thought.

Pay attention, movie lovers: Costco has a very limited number of the Kubrick Collection for (sit down for this) $34.95. I saw it, fondled it gently, lovingly, and then put it back. By the time we came back around the store, I was on my Iphone, checking out prices on Amazon for the set and individual releases of 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, and The Shining (the individual films I own.) I came to the conclusion that even if I got only $8 or so selling them on Amazon, or even less, it would make complete sense to buy the set. (I always figure in “opportunity cost” into my realistic view of owning something for a while – regardless of how many times I may have gotten to watch or listen to something, I have had 8 months to do so. Making back $24 of a $35 set is more than worth it.) So get to Costco and pick up a set NOW if you love Kubrick and don’t own these two-disc sets yet. This is why I own an Iphone. So I can stand in the middle of aisles at Costco and check prices on things at Amazon that I already know I should just buy, which is exactly what I did. Splurging is good for your health, by the way.

Funny enough, later in the day, I found myself with a tickle in the throat and a persistent, annoying cough. Sick or something? I don’t know.

July 26, 2008

Self promotion

Filed under: General — Tom @ 10:00 am

Self promotion

Something tells me his business might be struggling.

July 25, 2008

The last lecture

Filed under: General — Tom @ 12:33 pm

Randy Pausch has died. If you didn’t know who he was, don’t feel so bad – until not too long ago, neither did I. I ran across a video of his “Last Lecture” at Carnegie Mellon University, an honor given to departing professors in which they sum up their lives and time spent at the university. His was more than a mere lecture. It was the story of his life, and it is amazing.

One of his great joys in life was winning the big stuffed animals at carnivals. It’s a pointless, often expensive endeavor, but the joy is in trying something ridiculous. I have noticed that it seems like everything in people’s lives lately has to have a reason and a justification, and that’s just not right. Some parts of life are purely for entertainment, regardless of how impractical they may seem.

I often look at people who get quoted with a distrustful eye – quotes are so often taken out of context and taken wrongly – but when it comes to Pausch, there can be little doubt in the simple wisdom he doled out:

“When you see yourself doing something badly and nobody’s bothering to tell you anymore, that’s a very bad place to be. Your critics are your ones telling you they still love you and care.”

“The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough.”

I especially like the latter – it goes against the “everyone deserves everything” mantra so common today. Not everyone deserves everything, and so few people want to work for anything. It’s saying two important things at once: work for something hard enough and you’ll get it, and know what’s important enough to work that hard for, because some things just aren’t worth the struggle. As with most things, it’s harder to do than say.

It’s a real shame that the only reason we all know about Randy is because he was dying. His speech wouldn’t have meant anything if he had remained healthy – it also wouldn’t have happened for a long, long time. Death has a way of refocusing things, of course, and Randy’s then-impending death made his amazing life stand out to many people. It would be great if the lessons he has tried to impart before he passed made an impact, or at least changed a few people from following the greedy, self-centered paths trumpeted by things like The Secret and other slimy snake-oil schemes like it. Unlike them, Randy was focused solely on improving yourself. In closing his Last Lecture, he put it this way:

“It’s not about how to achieve your dreams. It’s about how to lead your life. If you lead your life the right way, the karma will take care of itself. The dreams will come to you.”

July 23, 2008

Lesser of evils, pt. 2

Filed under: Music — Tom @ 10:53 pm

After that long spiel about the Black Sabbath remasters yesterday, I gave a good listen today to the remasters of U2’s early trio of albums, Boy, October, and War that came out this week. Like the Black Sabbath discs, this is another “lesser of evils” challenge. While last year’s beautifully-packaged expanded remaster of The Joshua Tree is practically a textbook example, these are a little more along the lines of your typical, albeit light-handed remaster – they’ve been compressed and EQd to modernize their sound. But is it all bad? I’m not so sure.

See, I’m not sold on those old discs being definitive. Sure, they’re beautifully dynamic – you can crank them up and you get a wonderful, colorful display of sound that doesn’t really feel like it’s doing any harm to your ears (don’t be fooled, however!) Great bass, clear, smooth highs – this is typically what makes old CDs (and vinyl) such a pleasure to listen to. They sound incredible loud. Seriously – go crank up “I Will Follow” or “New Year’s Day” from those old discs and tell me they don’t feel great loud. But . . . there’s this veil of age over them. I don’t know exactly what it is, but it’s like an audio-haze, and that’s exactly what these remasters correct . . . at the expense of those wonderful dynamics that made the original issues so great. These new ones don’t have those dynamics – compression, even light as it may have been applied here, has seen to it that the headroom on the CD has been done away with to make space for more volume overall. What you get is more detail in general, sure, but you lose the pop Larry Mullen Jr.’s drums used to have. They’re there, of course, but they don’t stand out – they don’t make you stand at attention – like they used to. The problem is, as with anything in these “loudness wars,” is that everything is louder, making individual things like Larry’s great snare sound, less noticeable. That’s a damned shame. And totally unnecessary.

So what’s the verdict? I don’t know. Beautiful packages, great collections of b-sides and outtakes (well, except for War – man, I didn’t need that many versions of “New Year’s Day” and “Two Hearts Beat As One”) struggle to outweigh some slighting in the sound department.

Will the new remastered disc 1s replace my originals? I really don’t know yet, but I can say this – I haven’t really closely listened to these first three albums in ages, and this has been exciting. These albums show a fierce, defiant U2 that we never quite heard again – not that they sat on their laurels, but they were hungry and they were fighting to make a name for themselves. The next time we heard them this hungry was Achtung Baby, when they once again had something to prove – and that was the last time they sounded that desperate. U2, as much as I love them, needs to recapture the energy of being hungry and desperate again. I have enjoyed a lot of what they’ve done since Achtung, but it hasn’t had quite the same bite – and it’s because they overcame the hurdles they faced and proved themselves with their then-new sound. They keep saying they want to reapply for the job of “best band in the world,” but I think they really need to work for it again.

July 22, 2008

Lesser of evils

Filed under: Music — Tom @ 11:29 pm

I broke down, gave in, caved . . . I bought the new Black Sabbath box today, the very cheesily titled Rules of Hell, which begs the question: is the Dio-Sabbath era band trying to overcompensate for something with their one-uppings themselves in “evilness”? Really, doesn’t this sound pretty ridiculous? OOoooh, the rules of hell, huh? You know, I don’t recall the Ozzy-era Sabbath having to be this overtly evil – they just were perceived that way.

I’m getting off the point. I’d wanted to wait and see what the consensus was, sound-wise, before diving in. But then I gave Heaven & Hell and Mob Rules, two great albums, a listen today. And that’s when I decided to flip a finger at the loudness wars for one time – these two albums, or at least these two widely-available pressings of these two CDs, sound like ass, and the tracks from these on The Dio Years best-of last year sound pretty damn great in comparison. Loud? Yes, but not ridiculously so. “Ballsy” is a term I don’t know that I’ve ever uttered, but that’s a great way to put it. The original of H&H is weird sounding – thin, little bass presence, with an odd EQ that does not flatter it. This, surely, is not the way the album was meant to sound. Mob Rules just has a husky flatness to it that I have never enjoyed. The music is great, but the presentation is pretty bad. Maybe there are some sins committed in the name of modern mastering with The Rules of Hell, but I’ll take the big, beefy bass and clarity over the tinny anemia of the older issues.

As for Dehumanizer? Well, it didn’t really need to be remastered, but it has similarly been beefed-up, bass-wise. It’s not awful, but it seems unnecessary – the album sounded fine. I guess, if you have to apply some logic to it, it fits in, sound-wise, with the other two albums now, despite being recorded a decade later. I can’t say much about Live Evil, never having heard it before, but it lives up to its reputation as a sadly crippled live album – it was born with bad sound, and no amount of remastering, EQing, or other mysterious massaging can help it. It’s just an oddity. Glad to have it, but it’s no match for the Rhino Handmade Live At Hammersmith, that’s for sure.

Once in a while you just have to throw your hands up in submission. I give a big shrug here to audiophiles that might want to be snarky about the old Dio-Sabbath CDs being superior to these. Maybe you have some old, expensive Japanese or West German imports that blow these away, but I don’t feel like spending months of my time and $40 each to procure them. $35 to get all five discs here in very listenable versions sounds like a deal to me.

Unintentionally dirty advice to my three year old daughter

Filed under: General — Tom @ 9:52 pm

“You have to stop sucking on it before you take it out of your mouth or it will spray all over you.” This said in response to a straw in a cup of milk that kept spritzing her with milk every time she took a drink.

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