A Slice of Fried Gold

The Index Card from Hell

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Without 12 evil letters on it, it seems so harmless

For some reason, late yesterday afternoon and early last evening I was feeling like crap. I think it was a combination of huffing paint for a few hours as people were working on our roof at my office and the fact I was intensely tired. One way or another, this led to me crashing on my couch last night at 8:30 and getting somewhere between 10 or 11 hours of sleep (which is awesome). While I was sleeping though, I could have sworn I heard my neighbors discussing brown recluses, but given the fact that I was sleeping and am deathly afraid of spiders (ask my friend Lorna, who one time saw me regress into a 4 year old girl while driving when a spider appeared in my hair) it would have been unsurprising if I had just fictionalized this.

No less, I woke up the next morning rested and ready to take on the world. I showered, ate cereal, took care of some laundry, etc. etc. and prepared to depart. Given that my hands were going to be full, I put on my sunglasses and started moving up the staircase to the door. In the extreme darkness (dark + sunglasses = extreme dark), I noticed something down by the floor. It was an index card next to what looked like a clear cap to an aerosol spray bottle. There was writing on the card. Through my sunglasses I tried to decipher it.

Benji ridicules...bart reschools...and then I remember the "dream" and quickly remove my sunglasses and lean down.

Brown. Recluse. With a question mark after it (evidently there was a level of uncertainty as to what this beast was).

Predictably inside of the cap was a big freaking spider staring at me time six. I wanted to do one of two things: stomp on the cap 800 times or run away screaming like a little girl (much to Lorna's amusement). Instead I get up, slowly walk away, and develop a permanent set of goosebumps.

Why someone would capture that monster and not kill it, I have no idea. All I know is if they are in Alaska now, I'm moving to freaking Antarctica. I hate cold, but I hate spiders more.

The Next Step?

Sunday, June 28, 2009

One of the things that I'm really interested in is the pending death of print. It's not that I want it to go away, as I honestly don't think I'd ever like to read books or comics via digital media, but its impossible to ignore the fact that print news has decreased in relevance over the past decade. That's especially evident in the news sector of print, as you have to ask yourself why you would want to purchase a daily newspaper when you could simply get the news for free and faster online.

With the recent death of Michael Jackson though (this is the one and only time you'll hear about his death on here), something became evident even within the realm of online news. In terms of being used as an aggregator of news stories, Twitter is the next big thing in news. That's not fair actually. It already is the best option for news today, as you can collect news from around the world about all subjects all in one place at incredible speeds by following a few select users.

For example, the Michael Jackson deal. Here's the timeline for how the news spread in my office, starting with 0 minutes as when I found out and moving from there:

0 minutes: See a post on Twitter referencing a report from TMZ that MJ died. I announce to surrounding co-workers "crazy, Michael Jackson evidently died from a heart attack."

10 minutes: Coworker comes from office "Did you guys hear? Michael Jackson had a heart attack!" I share that he died. Response is incredulous statement of "that's not what CNN.com says!"

13 minutes: Another coworker comes out, she heard from an HBO rep that they are being sent home because MJ died and paparazzi was swarming. Their offices are in Westwood which is where MJ was taken into the hospital.

25 minutes: Another coworker comes down to say that she heard he had just died.

37 minutes: Big boss from end of the hall comes down to announce that MJ had died.

That whole timeframe made me realize a few things: if the optimized form of news is via online (versus print), then the optimized form of gathering online news is via Twitter. It combines the best two ways to acquire news into one single form, as it properly pairs word of mouth with the instantaneous transfer of information the online realm allows. Why go to multiple sites to acquire news when you can follow the same news sites Twitter feeds and have it delivered to you. Twitter in a few ways is the real form of the way information is delivered in Warren Ellis' Transmetropolitan.

Clearly I've become some sort of Twitter fanboy, but I'm sold on this entirely. The power of Twitter at consolidating the day to day world is an extremely powerful thing, and I'm really looking forward to seeing what the next step is. Of course, when Twitter shuts down because of the massive amounts of increased traffic this type of thing causes, that makes me realize they need more capacity. Let's work on that, mmmk Twitter?

The Invention of Lying

Some believe Ricky Gervais is a comedic genius. As someone that never actually watched the original British version of the Office, I can't really say one way or another, but I do know I've liked everything I've seen him in, especially his old HBO show Extras. No less, nothing has bowled me over to make me regard him in such a way that I look at him as others do. However, his new film project titled the Invention of Lying really has me hooked.

Co-directed, cowrote, and starring Gervais, this film about a world where no one lies and the first man to pioneer the concept has a remarkably clever concept and a top notch cast (besides Gervais, it includes Jennifer Garner, Tina Fey, Louis C.K, Jonah Hill, Jason Bateman, Jeffrey Tambor, Patrick Stewart, Martin Starr, and Rob Lowe - freaking awesome). The trailer has a Stranger than Fiction vibe to it (which to me is a great thing), and I have to admit I'm really looking forward to it. I hope that it ends up being as good as it has the potential to be. We'll find out September 25th.

Sequestered in Anchorage

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Once again, we actually get a very good band coming up to Alaska thanks to the Moose's Tooth/Bear Tooth connection. This time we have the Hold Steady coming up to play at Bear Tooth on September 17th, which is sure to be a great show as they are considered one of the best live rock bands these days, and they are pretty freaking spectacular recorded as well. Sadly, this comes in at the same time as Portland's Musicfest NW (featuring Girl Talk, Explosions in the Sky, Portugal. the Man, Sunny Day Real Estate, and more), which means I'll have a decision to make.

It'll probably be staying here to see the Hold Steady, assuming they don't cancel.

Please don't cancel!

Best sports/rap remix ever

I have nothing to add to this, besides the fact that it has to be one of the best YouTube videos I've ever seen. You'll love it if you're a sports fan, as DJ Steve Porter combines some of the best moments in sports interviews over the past few years into a rap song (with auto-tune!) complete with a remixed video. Genius. Must see.

Building my core

This woman's six pack has six more pack than I will ever have

I've had a fabled legacy of rapid weight loss and rapid weight gain. Evidently I love oscillating between overweight and underweight, as I continue to do it (quick demo: May 2006 - 272 pounds, December 2006 - 185 pounds, June 2009 - 218 pounds, September 2009 - 200 pounds) all the time, mostly because of an equal distaste for being overweight and an incredible love of food. Right now I'm at my highest weight in a little under three years, so I'm really focusing on getting that back under control with a little help from my friend Joanne. Together we've established goals and this week we started working out to get to that goal.

Part of our routine is that we are alternating days controlling the workout, with one person dicatating precisely what we will be doing on any given day. Essentially what this means is one person will effectively torture the other person, and we will alternate who that person is on a day to day basis. There is really no way this is going to end well, as I sort of see it escalating for months and someone ending up in tears (or with a severe adversity to exercising).

Given that I'm a far superior runner, I of course laid an opening salvo on Monday of chest exercises and then lots and lots of running, in which I stated the rules: start at a decent speed for 2 minutes to warm up, and from there you must increase your speed three times every two minutes, and then you can slow down after the last interval is up. Repeat for 25 minutes. Predictably, my running routine dominated Joanne and I felt victorious. Or at least I would have if it weren't the first time I had worked out in two months and I sort of felt like dying. Perhaps that is what victory feels like? I'm unsure, but I digress.

Given such a stunning opener, I figured Joanne would have laid down in defeat, stating a need to "go to the chiropractor" or some sort of excuse of that sort. However, I evidently underestimated her tenacity or spitefulness, as yesterday she reigned holy hell upon my body.

Here's a hint: when someone asks you if you've ever done core exercises before, respond to them with the following statement - "no, and I do not want to."

Core is evidently exercise lingo for "body death," as while I was doing a series of exercises that involved treacherously balancing on an upside down ball (with flattened bottom to stand on) while doing different weighted motions, I slowly but surely realized I was hurting in a lot of places. At points, I would ask Joanne "why does (insert body part here) hurt?" and she would respond with "because you're exercising that." Core exercising is the ninja of the fitness world - it hurts you without you even being aware of it.

To top that off, I woke up this morning and realized that my abs, hamstrings, shoulders, and triceps hurt. How many different things can you think of that hurt all of those simultaneously? Soccer...car wrecks...sky diving injuries. That's about it. Add core excerises to that.

Excuse me though. I need to go, as I have to ice my entire body.

Cloud Atlas

Monday, June 22, 2009

#7 - Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

This has to be one of the most difficult books to review ever. It's pretty bizarre and is really six stories tied into one (a historical record of a man traveling home from Australia by ship, a seedy story told in letter form of a musician greedily becoming the apprentice to a master, a mystery set in 1970's California about a reporter and a morally depraved fortune 500 company, a psychological comedy about an aging book editor set in the future, a dystopian future in the vein of Blade Runner about a clone that becomes sentient, and a post-apocalyptic study of a primitive future), with each story existing in different times, being massively different genres, and incorporating incredibly disparate writing styles. Really, it's like six entirely different books weaved together by a common theme and one curious birth mark.

Honestly though, while the storylines are all very interesting and the theme becomes clearer and clearer throughout (essentially that if people cannot survive each other, how is the world supposed to survive - or as Mitchell says at the end in response to a characters father saying that his son's life is nothing but a drop in a limitless ocean, "yet what is any ocean but a multitude of drops?"), it really is the language Mitchell uses that makes this book so special. The way Mitchell segues from era to era and adopts the syntax of that time, the way he genre jumps so effortlessly, it's just an unbelievable feat. There would be times I would be reading and immediately want to share even the most simple lines with people around me.

Example: "To the simple man, potato peels are haute cuisine."

That line is freaking fantastic. It is said by an editor referencing his acquisition of some trashy novels while stuck in a retirement home. The book is just full of gems like this, and they are what drives the book onwards.

The stories are written so the first half of the first five stories are told, with the sixth story told to completion, and then the latter half ot the first five stories, and the structure is as superb as the lingo. It's told in a way to keep driving you forward, as you not only want to get further in the current section of the story, but you want to get to the next half of the story you were just on. It is occasionally maddening though, because you'll get to the end of a section and become quite annoyed at the fact the book is temporarily robbing you of the completion of the story.

Really, I've tried to explain it a number of times before, but it really is an impossible book to sell. I can just say that it was one of the most unique books I've ever read, and linguistically speaking it has to be the best book I've ever come across. While it was hard to get this book finished (3 months!!!), it was worth all of the work I put in.

Check it out if you have the chance, regardless of my abstract and less than fantastic review.

Cloud Atlas: A-

Top Albums of 2009 (So far...)

Sunday, June 21, 2009

One of the themes that I revisit most often is music, and one of the most consistent methods of introducing subject matters is via ranked lists based entirely off my opinion. Because of that, it should be unsurprising to readers of this blog that half way through the year I'm going to release a mid-year "best albums of 2009" list. I really just cannot resist the temptations.

So without further ado, here are my favorite albums of 2009 so far, one for each month so far and with the top dog getting special treatment, predictably. Also, if interested in purchasing any of these albums, all of the band names/album titles link to where you can purchase them on Amazon.

1) The Thermals - Now We Can See

I've written up my review on this album already (see that here), so in lieu of being redundant in restating why I love this driving yet thoughtful, poppy but lyrical, and altogether fun album, I figured I would do something out. Instead, I will subject you to my first interview for my blog, as I did an email interview with the Thermals lead singer Hutch Harris. Thanks to Hutch for doing this, and man, I'm kind of awkward with questions.

1. When compared to your other albums, you could say Now We Can See has a much cleaner sound in terms of production and instruments. Was this just the natural progression of your sound, or was it a deliberate change for this album in particular?

1a. Each record we make is cleaner/more produced than the previous one. This is indeed a conscious decision, although you could also say its also a natural progression.

2. A lot of interpretations of Now We Can See perceive the album
as being focused primarily on death. Personally, I take it as what a person learns from death and how to proceed from there, as if it’s The Thermals Guide to Better Living (I’d read that magazine). With that said, what were your intentions with this album?

2a. The intention is usually the same. To make a smart, interesting record that's also a lot of fun. This record focuses on life from the point of view of the dead. I'd say its The Thermals Guide to Better Dying.

3. Since you’ve come together, you’ve released albums on two very influential indie labels, but you still maintain a pretty DIY feel. With a pretty major web following, stellar live shows, and experience producing your own albums, I feel like you would be an ideal candidate to release an album in a similar way to how Radiohead released In Rainbows. Is that a direction you could see yourself heading in?

3a. I would maybe release some material for free on the web, and though I appreciated what Radiohead did with In Rainbows, I don't totally agree with the business model. I dont think the customer should ever decide what the cost of goods should be. I like making a product, pricing it, then it's up to the consumer whether they want to buy or steal it.

4. As I said before, your live shows are an incredibly good time, and it definitely helps that you and Kathy seem to genuinely enjoy live performances. What do you think the key to a great performance is for you?

For that matter, what’s the best show you’ve been to?

4a. For kathy and I, there's no faking it. If we are genuinely excited to be playing a show, we perform as such. Audience reaction is always key for us as well. The more people respond, the better show we put on.

One of the best shows I ever saw was Fugazi, Shellac and Blonde Redhead in Chicago, 1998.

5. If you could play a show with any three other bands, whether they are still together or not (or even alive), who would they be and why?

5a. Probably Weezer, Green Day, and the Breeders. Because I love those bands and they all have double e's in their names.

6. Is there a better post show snack on the planet than Voodoo Donuts?

Love Voodoo Donuts! But never post show. I crave salt after we play, not sugar.

7. When are you coming to Alaska?

Uh, someday... we've tried to in the past but it fell through. Really hope to one day!

2) Beirut - March of the Zapotec/Realpeople Holland

Alright, so technically speaking this is not an album. It is a double EP, but that isn't a big deal to me. Beirut is my favorite artist right now, and this double EP provides variations on the same formula that makes me appreciate Zach Condon and his unique musical stylings a little more.

The strangest thing about this album is the instrumentation has altered almost completely, leaving the Eastern European influenced Gulag Orkestar and the Romania by way of Nice flair of the Flying Club Cup behind but not forgotten, as it is still Condon's sound but explored through new prisms - namely funereal sounding instrumentation from the heart of Mexico and the new to you (but not to Condon) electronic side of his soul. Still captured are the wobbly and delightful vocals and the stunning melodies throughout, but it is as if Condon is preparing us for a move in the direction of the darker sides of his music, as this collection is less light than previous releases.

You could make the argument that this album is where it is at on my list because of my complete and utter obsession with Beirut lately, but I object: perhaps my obsession with Beirut is because he makes really freaking awesome albums.

Which this is, even if it is darker and different.

See my original review here.

3) Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

Pop music is dead. Long live pop music.

I lead with that for one reason: popular music in my mind is at its lowest point, with very few radio hits capturing my ear lately (I'd admit it too - I've admitted on this blog an affinity for the occasional Avril Lavigne and Kelly Clarkson track). However, the genre of pop music that quite often has little to do with what is actually popular is quite alive indeed, as Phoenix is still out there making poppy gems like this album.

This album is light, spry, and toe tappingly delightful. It's as if the members of Phoenix took it upon themself to make radio ready hits that are full of layers of vocal splendor and the jigsaw puzzle piece instrumentation that fits together oh so well, just to prove that you can make pop music that doesn't have to be cookie cutter and something that you've heard over and over. For that reason, I feel as if you owe it to the world to click that link above and buy this album. Honestly. Buy this album.

See my original review here.

4) Passion Pit - Manners

Within minutes of starting up this album for the first time, I texted my friend Erik (who had raved about this well before I listened to it) with this: "It's like Passion Pit made this album just for me! Why did you not tell me this?!" I generally don't respond to music with the immediate reaction to chastise friends and rave about it from the rooftops, but this album made me do just that.

Combine these parts and you have Passion Pit's Manners: pulsing synth, catchy androgynous vocals (along with perfect background vocals), soaring choruses, and the need to perpetually tap your toes. Within one listen (!) I was singing along to the choruses. I didn't even know I could rememeber vocals that quickly! It perplexes me (I'm even having problems not singing along as I just sit here typing this, my coffee shop neighbors would probably judge me so I do not).

Combine that with what may be the best opening four tracks of the year ("Little Secrets" is my favorite, but they are all fantastic) and you have another pop gem, although this one with a much more niche audience than the one Phoenix provides. If the world was a bit more adventurous, you would hear this group on the radio over whoever the current flavor of the week.

Check out some tracks here, namely "the Reeling" and "Moth's Wings" (and for good measure, Erik's favorite track "Sleepyhead).

5) Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion

This is another one I do not want to beat into the ground, as this album came out with so much hype and so much press that it was virtually inescapable for the month of January. Originally, when it came out, I was listening to it near constantly and couldn't get enough of it. Eventually I tired a bit on the latter half of the album, but still quite like it. It's still one of the most brilliantly textured albums I've ever heard, with layer upon layer creating brilliant tracks. I've just ended up not liking it as much as I originally had thought I did.

But it does have a freaking awesome first four tracks: "In the Flowers," "My Girls," and "Summertime Clothes" are three of probably my favorite twenty tracks of the year so far. But three tracks do not make an album.

See my (in hindsight, overly complimentary) review here.

6) The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

The last spot on this list was a tough choice, as I've quite enjoyed a lot of albums this year. So with regards to Antony and the Johnson's the Crying Light, Lily Allen's It's Not Me, It's You, White Rabbit's It's Frightening, and Grizzly Bear's Veckatimest, I present my sixth and unlikeliest favorite album of the year: the Pains of Being Pure at Heart's self titled debut.

The weirdest thing is, this album didn't even hook me until last week. I was at work and I was having a weird day, and one random track came on and completely hooked me with its gothic 80's pop feel. I looked at who it was, and I was shocked. I have to admit, after a quick listen and seeing what Pitchfork said about them (they used my least favorite musical catchphrase in their review - lo-fi!!!), I judged this group perhaps a bit hastily. I thought I saw Pitchfork's new Black Kids (circa EP, not album) and distanced myself quite quickly indeed.

On further listens though, I find myself to be enamored with the dreamy vocals, simplistic yet fitting instrumentation, and the contradictory gothic lightness to the album. It's like I'm listening to a lo-fi Echo and the Bunnymen track with 20 years of musical influence added in (which may or may not be the single weirdest compliment I've ever written). Nothing about this album really leaps out and grabs me right off the bat, but there is a lot to love here if you really give it a listen.

Check them out for yourself here.

The Weekend Edition

Father's Day weekend always tends to lead towards a grand adventure of some sort. Last year we went with halibut fishing in Nikikski, this year it was a motorhoming adventure to Seward with hiking to glaciers, crazy dogs, and lots of rain. But more than anything else, it was an awesome time. What else went down?

  • Having my best round of disc golf this summer at Westchester
  • Year One with Joanne (mediocre, overly long with some random big laughs - go see the Hangover instead
  • A long, delicious time spent at Bear Tooth with Joanne, Colver, Lorna, Megan and Travis
  • Motorhoming to Seward!
  • Hiking in and around Exit Glacier
  • Seward dive bars and coffee shops with my dad
  • Camping at Miller's Landing with family
  • Tons of frisbee action, with some crazy dogs involved
  • Campfire, beer and laughs - Formula for a great time
  • Reading pretty much the entirety of the New X-Men Omnibus by Grant Morrison (just ridiculously awesome)
  • Chilling at Kaladi's
  • Getting all caught up on the Office (end of the worst season yet, but still decent)
Not a whole left for this post, but I did want to wish my dad a Happy Father's Day! We had a great weekend with the family, and I really want him to know how much I appreciate everything he does for me. I'm pretty sure he knows that, but hey, now it's in writing! Can't hide it now!

Happy Father's Day!

The Rise and Fall of Tarsem Singh

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Anyone who has seen film director Tarsem's the Cell (that forgettable psychological thriller that stars Jennifer Lopez) knows the guy makes dynamic looking visuals look easy. Since he released that film however, he had pretty much disappeared and I had forgotten about the guy until about a year ago, when I started reading about a movie of his that he was finding it impossible to release. Although it was made in 2006, the Fall couldn't find a distributor until it was finally backed by two awesome directors: Spike Jonze and David Fincher.

After they got involved, it had a short theatrical release in 2008 and made next to nothing but started drawing some adoring fans, such as Roger Ebert and seemingly the entirety of music website Absolute Punk (a place with a fantastic Entertainment forum with tons of great users). It was released on DVD in early 2009, and after renting it twice before and never watching it, I finally picked it up on Blu Ray and watched it.

I'm going to skip the obvious part of the film to talk about first (the visuals) and go straight to the actual meat of the film. From what I read, a lot of critics and people out there found the movie to be a beautiful bore, to paraphrase. That the story itself was subpar in comparison to the visuals, and that it was all style and no substance. I could see how they would think that, as really, the entire plot is effectively a little girl giving a man a reason to live again, and that is a pretty thin plot (but expanded greatly by using the fictional world Roy Walker - brilliantly played by Lee Pace - creates for little Alexandria - played by newcomer Catinca Untaru). With that said, ultimately the entire movie rests on how you take in their relationship.

To me, you'd have to be a new level of cold not to be roped in by their chemistry, which (aided by Tarsem and Pace's decision to pretend that Pace is actually paralyzed like his character and to never introduce Untaru to Pace but only to Roy) is as intense and natural as you can get on the screen. Casting Untaru and essentially giving her a framework of what is going on and then just letting her react naturally to everything works out incredibly well, and Pace's natural charm works perfectly to keep the movie going and giving it a truly organic feel. The emotion between the characters in the climactic scenes is tangible, and really pulls the whole movie together to be something more.

It'd likely be a very good movie even with average visuals. What Tarsem creates on the screen has to be considered some of the greatest visuals ever conceived for film. The fact that Tarsem did it over four years in 20 different countries and without the aid of CGI makes it completely unreal. Some sequences are so jaw droppingly beautiful, both in terms of the visuals and the musical cues used, that you may have to repeat them just to figure out exactly what happened in the scene. That's how you know the visuals are good - you're so enraptured by what you're seeing you can hardly interpret what you are hearing.

This movie, with the possible exception of Planet Earth, is effectively the reason why Blu Ray was created. To not watch this on Blu Ray is to cheat yourself out of the full experience. For once in my life, I am going to use awesome to describe something and actually use it correctly. This movie is awesome, in the sense that it inspires awe in you as a viewer. I'm very thankful Tarsem spent four years of his life on this, and I think it was time well spent. I highly, highly recommend seeing this film.

If you don't believe me yet, go here to check out the opening title sequence. It is a black and white stunner set to Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 in A Major. Gorgeous. Thanks to the Art of the Title for posting that.

Dolla bills, ya'll

While one of the VP's at my company is out, it's my responsibility to get coffee for the man in the corner office (aka the VP/GM of my department). It's kind of different, but I feel I missed out on my opportunity as an intern to be the coffee gofer, so it's kind of rad in its own right. Plus, there is the added bonus of being able to get whatever I want on the company dime. That only works so well, as the coffee shop the boss of bosses gets his mega breves from makes terrible coffee (but I am knee deep in bagels, boyeeee!).

No less, after nearly two weeks of going to this shop I've started to realize that I may go to a far classier joint with much more respectable clientele. The shop I go to has incredibly efficient baristas who make intensely delicious coffee for great prices, plus they get to know all of their customers. They're the classy joint on the block, and I'm an unabashed fan.

Then there is the place I get the drinks for the man in the corner. The place where on Friday's the baristas have to dress up in themed outfits (alright, maybe the bagels aren't the only good part) and their patrons seemingly do not go for a cup of joe, if you know what I'm saying. Typically, I'd be perfectly fine with it. Sketchy old dudes want to be sketchy old dudes. That's cool! I'll be there some day (let's file that one under S, for sad but true). But still, when you race in front of me and then sit and talk to the barista for 15 minutes about how manly you are (or whatever it is you're talking about) without even buying coffee, and then dropping a hefty tip (evidently a fistful of dollars is not just a Clint Eastwood movie), you are going to draw my ire.

I'm pretty sure these are the guys who aren't allowed to go to strip clubs, so they take the closest approximation they can get and drop singles on them out of sheer confusion. Or they are just sleazy. It's really hard to tell sometimes. All I know is they have it right - that coffee is terrible. I wouldn't buy any either.

Beer League

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Pretty much our teams uniform, minus the ridiculous yellow pants

I've played baseball pretty much my entire life. Not to toot my own horn or anything, but not only have I always played it, but I also have always been good at it. It just came natural to me, especially pitching and fielding. Later on, after my arm started hurting too bad to pitch anymore, I suddenly learned how to hit and developed big power to go with my slick fielding. I think for those reasons (you know, that I was good), it ended up being my favorite sport growing up.

However, after only intermittently playing softball over the previous 8 years with no baseball attached to it, my skills have regressed greatly, and its been reflected quite a bit this year in the beer league softball team I play on. My buddy Jason recruited me onto it, and while we're 5-2 (we just beat the last undefeated team in our league tonight! yes!) I've been pretty abysmal. I rarely play in the field, I keep popping out, and I have the yips so bad while throwing, you would think someone stretched out Yankees era Chuck Knoblauch and threw him out into the field. I'm a complete wreck.

The weird thing is, I'm convinced the reason why I can't hit and just generally don't play as well anymore is because I just don't care as much anymore. When I was younger, I was well known for yelling at teammates, for getting extremely riled up, and frankly, kind of being a pain to be around while playing baseball. But I kept my intensity up, and that helped me become a better player. Now? I'm mellow, I rarely get excited, and I don't think I've said a negative word to anyone at all. That's got to be it. I just need to start getting in people's faces and being a total ass, and then my skills will return.

Never mind. I actually figured out hitting tonight - it turns out when you are hitting, not only is it important to have a good swing on the ball, but it is also important to swing at good pitches. What a novel idea! This entire season I've been psyching myself out because of the new "start the count at one ball and one strike" rule (it is to speed up games) and swinging at bad pitches for fear of never getting a good one. That's led to a flurry of terrible swings on the ball. However, in my last at bat tonight I took the first pitch (very high) and swung at the second one which was at a lower point while crossing the plate. I drove it deep and it was caught, but it was a great swing on the ball with a lot of power.

I've figured it out!

Don't swing at bad pitches!

Wow. It took me 7 games to figure that out. Twelve year old me would be terribly embarassed of 25 year old me, that's for sure. I guess my theory of needing to be mean may have been a little less sound than I originally imagined.

Hopefully this turns around my season, and I'll keep everyone up to date. I'm really enjoying the season at the very least, but I hate being perceived as the bad player. I'm really good. I swear.

The Weekend Edition

Monday, June 15, 2009

If there is no rest for the wicked, then it's official - I'm not that wicked. I spent the entire weekend being a lazy bum, which I've discovered is not my favorite way to spend it to be honest. A lot of my friends were occupied with other things or were "planning their financial future" (I'm looking at you Joanne), so I was left to my own devices. This was kind of lame in the fact I didn't do that much, but kind of nice in that I did a lot of things I had been meaning to do. Such as...

  • Batting practice at the cage with Joanne (I need to not be terrible at softball!)
  • Dinner at La Mex with Jo-Town (La Mex sucks, just like most Alaskan mexican joints)
  • Finally catching up on my epic comic stack (this has been a month in the making, after returning my Europe I had a crazy stack)
  • Coffee with sister
  • Posting the rest of my Europe pics to Facebook
  • Finally starting my Eurotrip blogs (see below for England, the first post)
  • Being robbed of a bad movie night by an absolutely horrific driver who side swiped my friend Brian and then told the cop Brian hit her
  • Going to see Crank: High Voltage instead (see below for mini-review)
  • Finally watching Guy Ritchie's latest RocknRolla on Blu Ray (short review: return to form by Ritchie, convinced that Toby Kebbell from the cast has the chops to be a star)
  • Hiking with Brian, which led to getting poured on for half of it and getting my leg murdered during the other section (still fun!)
  • Softball practice, which led to the death of my other leg
  • Watching the close of one of the more poorly played NBA Finals of recent memory

This poster really captures the movie's feel. Seriously.

I thought about writing up a full review for Crank: High Voltage but I realized that would be a ridiculous thing to do. There are only a few things that need to be said about this movie.

A) As entertaining as the first movie was, this one actually amps up the fun and ridiculousness, and I once again left the theater buzzed from sheer entertainment (only rivaled by the first Crank in that regard)
B) One of the all-time greatest action movies in terms of audacity and entertainment
C) Maybe one of the best guy movies ever (Colver and I raved about it, Lorna seemed confused by our statements)
D) Not a good movie by any means. Definitely a great movie though. Yes, that makes no sense, unless you watch the movie.
E) Jason Statham is the man, and I'm convinced he's the best action star alive today.

So yeah, I freaking loved this movie. It combined perfectly with the Bear Tooth experience, as drinking beer and being able to essentially shout out your feelings during the movie adds to the experience. All in all, I have to say I can't wait for Crank 3, cause god only knows that is happening. Get excited America!

European Adventures 2009: England

Sunday, June 14, 2009

This is going to be a pain in the ass. I think that's why I keep putting it off. There is just so much content to cover and it's so time consuming to do so, but here goes nothing.

From April 10th to May 3rd, I went on a grand European adventure to England, France, Austria, and Italy (with a cup of coffee in Germany as well). It was quite possibly the best three weeks (ish) of my life. I saw an absolutely ridiculous amount of cool and historic things, met amazing amounts of wonderful people, ate delicious food, drank delectable things, and had new experiences up the wazoo (the wazoo!!! that's when you know you are running thing on ways to express yourself, when that nugget comes out).

I don't really think it is fair of me to just do one post covering everywhere (nor would it be fair to you as a reader, given that it would likely me 10,000 + words), so I am going to break it down country by country, with some countries getting more than one post. I was thinking of doing it day by day, but I would probably shoot myself and/or quit in the middle if I did it that way.

So without further ado, my adventures in England from April 10th to April 15th, 2009.

Myself in front of Big Ben and the Parliament

Cities/areas visited: London (and surrounding areas, like Virginia Water and Windsor), Bath, Dover, Canterbury, Stonehenge.

Soundtrack: Loney, Dear's Loney, Noir, Sigur Ros's Agaetis Byrjun, the Flaming Lips' Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Arctic Monkeys' Favourite Worst Nightmare, plus additional random songs throughout

Mike Sobolik, Debra Sobolik, and myself at Windsor Castle

MVP's of England: Mike and Debra Sobolik

Rumor has it that England is the most expensive part of the average European adventure, as the cost of living in hostels and hotels is as magnificent as the country itself, and the food and random knick knacks the average tourist picks up are also quite spendy indeed. I didn't really notice to be honest. Why?

Mike and Debra's place in Virginia Water

Mike and Debra, who are one of my best friends' dad and step-mom respectively, were the best hosts that could ever possibly exist. From the very get go, when Mike picked me up at Heathrow and then took me to the train station to get a walkthrough on how to get to Central London, I knew it was going to be the perfect situation. They provided me with a wonderful place to stay, with their borderline mansion in London suburb Virginia Water (complete with my own ridiculously comfortable bed) being the base of operations for my whole England adventure. Not only that, but they even traveled with me as they had been so busy since arriving in England that they had no chance to travel anywhere themselves, so I had travel partners for Bath, Dover, Stonehenge, and Canterbury, plus people to spend Easter with as we went to Windsor Castle for the afternoon.

It wasn't just how much easier they made my experience in England, it's the fact I knew these people for about a decade and never realized how awesome of people they were. You can't get much more ideal in terms of travel partners than Mike and Debra, and I greatly appreciated everything they did for me.

A "road" in England

Most hysterically treacherous aspect of journey: Driving

Given that before I left, I had planned on just taking trains everywhere. However, after I got there I found out that Mike and Debra really wanted to go everywhere I wanted to go, my train journeys turned into far more inexpensive car rides. While I could have guessed that driving would be weird at the very least (within minutes I realized this, as not only do you drive on the left side of the road, but stoplights are almost non-existent and roundabouts appear near constantly), I didn't really expect the crazy treacherous sections where you could barely call the roads one lane roads.

Look above at the picture: we were off trying to find a castle inbetween Stonehenge and Bath when a car started coming down our ridiculously narrow one way road towards us. This led to a situation where we had to back up hundreds of feet as this woman looked at us like we were crazy people. Note to you lady: we didn't make the insane roads!

However, just because they were particularly crazy does not mean I did not enjoy them. Quite the opposite in fact. The one lane roads were perpetually entertaining, and it made me realize that I really, strongly believe every city should incorporate the roundabout into roads more frequently. There would be long sections of road in which we would hardly even slow down, let alone stop. It was an invigorating way to travel, and I loved it maybe too much.

Charles Dickens, Rudyard Kipling and Thomas Hardy all buried next to each other

Favorite part of any historical site: Poet's Corner in Westminster Abbey

While overall I found Westminster Abbey to be overly commercialized and less impressive than Canterbury Cathedral (now that's how you do it!), the single coolest thing I saw within any site in England was Poet's Corner, which resides within Westminster. Here you can find the burial sites of many famous writers or, at the very least, monuments to these writers. Most sought after is the monument for Shakespeare (who is actually buried in Stratford-upon-Avon), but I found the Chaucer memorial (he's actually buried there as well) and the trifecta of Dickens, Kipling and Hardy far more impressive.

I mean come on, Dickens, Kipling and Hardy are all buried right next to each other! How freaking cool is that! I was completely blown away by it, and found it quite inspirational. Is there anything in the world that could be more indicative of the fact you are a great writer than being buried in Poet's Corner? Near both Brontes, near Chaucer, near Dickens, Kipling and Hardy, near Milton...it's awe inspiring.

Also, one note: Westminster Abbey's English speaking audioguide is spoken by Jeremy Irons, keeper of one of the coolest voices on the planet. Worth the trip just for that.

Myself in front of Stonehenge

Most unimpressive major historical site: Stonehenge

Given that you can't go anywhere near Stonehenge (no closer than 10 meters really), I am not sure if it's really even worth the trip to go see it. It's cool thinking about the history and the "how did they do that?" while standing next to it, but really it's not all that. I really wanted to love it and disagree with travel writers who said it's impressively unimpressive, but I really couldn't do that. Inarguably the best part of it was the rather odd audioguide, which included a section on some of the more bizarre theories on the creation of Stonehenge, including one gem which involved Merlin effectively sub-contracting Satan to bring the stones from all across the United Kingdom so Merlin could properly place them himself.

Because that makes sense.

Loney, Dear

Coolest event: Seeing Loney, Dear at La Scalza in London

Given that I am kind of obsessed with concerts, I felt it was my responsibility to see at least one show while on my trip. London was pretty intense with their concerts, as they had Bloc Party, AC/DC, David Byrne, Frightened Rabbit, and many others playing while I was there. Sadly though, all of those shows were sold out, so I decided to see a show featuring three smaller artists I really was not familiar with. The headliner was Loney, Dear, who I had listened to a bit and liked, but had never really gotten into, so I figured why not? It may surprise me.

Sure enough, I was completely blown away for a number of reasons. Here they are below:

Venue: La Scalza was an incredibly cool, multi-tiered joint that had great sound, a solid light crew, and were relaxed enough that I spent a good portion of both Snowbird and Loney, Dear actually sitting on stage.

Crowd: Very attractive, hilarious, and perfect for people watching. Plus, it turns out that they also knew the artists' music really, really well, as singalong sections were, not to be cheesy, quite magical indeed.

Bands: All three bands were excellent. The Leisure Society led off, and I had never heard them but was completely blown away. They had about eight people on stage playing all kinds of instruments, including a stand up bass, a flute, a violin, and more. Their sound was kind of a more folky, Britishized Decemberists with more traditional vocals. It was great.

Snowbird was up next, and this was a combination of a young southern chantreuse who just sang (beautifully), acted spacey inbetween songs (charmingly so), and moved her hands like she was some sort of blind magician, and a bald man who laid beats down and twinkles on the piano. They had written their music over the previous week and a half, had never practiced together, and that was their first performance, but you really couldn't tell. They were cute and definitely have a lot of upside, for sure.

Loney, Dear was just freaking wonderful. Great banter with the crowd, wonderful moments of interacting with the audience, tight sound, and just a complete delight. They never did their thing in a cheesy fashion, even though artists who rely on interaction so much can easily spillover into th cheese, and that alone is to be commended. Definitely worth seeing if they ever come near you, as they are a stellar band who have a big future.

I just completely loved this experience, and was so glad I could have a British concert experience.

England Wrap Up: So what about the rest of the trip? What was my overall England experience like?

Well, I do have to say that London is officially my second favorite city after the trip. It's just an absolute joy to experience, with culture streaming from its pores and a burgeoning sense of history on every corner. It was also a complete melting pot, surprisingly. The Indian influence was quite prevalent, as one Englander argued that the national food was no longer fish and chips, but chicken tikka masala (to which I say an emphatic "hell yes!").

I experienced what the news called inordiantely good weather for the time of year, with almost every day being over 70 degrees. I managed to sneak into Easter evensong at St. George's Chapel in Windsor Castle with Mike and Debra, which was actually broadcast on BBC2 (totally awesome). I saw castles, cathedrals, amazing landscapes, and incredibly wonderful things nearly everywhere.

Really, I couldn't have asked for a better first experience in England, as I targeted a bunch of things I wanted to see and experience and I managed to see and experience every single one of them. As you'll see in later posts, that will exist in juxtaposition to every other stop I have, and it was the perfect way to start my grand journey.

See below for some additional pictures from my trip.

Bath, which was a beautiful and unique city in southwest England

Platform 9 3/4 in Kings Cross - so ridiculous, so awesome

The keep at Windsor Castle

Definitely the funniest piece of art I saw - a Unicorn and a Lion Kid 'n Play dancing

Myself at the gates of Buckingham Palace

Sweet castle between Stonehenge and Bath - as seen in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves

This guy looked super sad and envious of the people spending $80 on the London Eye

When it's time to party we will party...with children?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

My name is Andrew and I like to party

Andrew WK has to be one of the most awesome and interesting people that has come around in the past decade. After arriving on the music scene early in this decade as one man mixture of AC/DC, John Belushi, and the Incredible Hulk (meaning he really, really liked partying and then singing awesome butt rock about it) and giving one of the single greatest concerts I've ever been to, the guy kind of disappeared for a while after his massively disappointing follow up to breakthrough album I Get Wet (the disappointment is referred to as The Wolf).

Not that long ago though, I found out that he apparently has become a extremely successful motivational speaker who has spoken at Yale and many other universities, and some sort of prophet of positive living via the art of localized partying, or so I ascertain. Which is ridiculously awesome, and fits perfectly into his persona of a dude who always wears the same clothing (white shirt, white jeans) and is always down with life.

Of course, given that he apparently is also some sort of career chameleon and predictably unpredictable, he will soon be hosting a show on Cartoon Network (live action...cartoons?) called Destroy Build Destroy. It is about teenagers blowing stuff up and then taking those scraps and turning them into working vehicles...and then destroying them again, assuredly while WK is yelling at them about partying and having a great time. I can't tell if it's going to be amazing or a complete mess (see below to decide for yourself), but I am extremely tempted to watch it if only because WK is the man.

Of course, this makes me wonder. Why can't Cartoon Network put this show in Adult Swim, call it "Destroy Destroy Destroy" and make it a ridiculously awesome variety show hosted by WK. You can even keep most of the same concept: have WK rolling around the desert blowing stuff up with bazookas and RPG's, playing awesome butt rock about partying and having a great time, and giving motivational speeches to the audience he deserves - America. How would that not be completely awesome?

Still, while we may not realize that dream, I'll take whatever WK I can get, even if it is on a kids show.

And me I've got a crush...

Every year the nation has to find their jam of the summer, something that's perfect for the sunny days and driving with the windows down. Then, every year people who like good music (yeah, I went there) find their own summer jam. Every once in a while though, the musical worlds live in harmony for a short but sweet time and they both fall in love with the same track/album. When the same light, fun and warm track finds its way up and down the cutural lexicon, it's a magical thing, and I think it's going to happen this summer with one of the tracks off the debut album from Discovery.

This album is a collaboration between Vampire Weekend's Rostam Batmanglij and Ra Ra Riot's Wes Miles, and if I could break Discovery into a mathematical equation (as I am sure these two guys would appreciate), it would probably be:

(FutureSex/LoveSounds - fancy dancing) x (Vampire Weekend - Paul Simon influence)

It's going to feature guest vocals from Vampire Weekend's Ezra Koening and Dirty Projector's Angel Deradoorian on two as-of-yet unreleased tracks, plus many other tracks that are just the two Discoverers dropping some smooth vocals over fat (phat?) lo-fi beats. Tracks already released include the good but not great "Osaka Loop Line" (click on title to download the mp3) and the ridiculously funky and fun "Orange Shirt" (once again, click on title to download it) which to me is the clear front runner for the jammiest of jams of summer 2009. Try it on for size, but trust me, you don't want to miss these tasty beats, as soon enough they are going to be inescapable.

Bringing it back

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Zack Morris and Jimmy Fallon

Man, today was a great day for news about the return of lost favorite shows.

First off, last night on Jimmy Fallon (which is turning out to be a surprisingly entertaining show, if only for providing a great foundation for ?uestlove's awesome tweets while filming), Mark-Paul Gosselaar came on entirely in character as Zack Morris (see the link for video and the story) to announce that he and Jesse Spano are onboard for a Saved by the Bell reunion, with just Kelly and Screech yet to sign on (I refuse to to reference them by actual name). Now, while this show wasn't exactly a cinematic masterpiece, it was a massively entertaining one that I probably watched two to four times a day during my formative years - it was on TBS all of the time. So a reunion special would be awesome, if only because Amy and I would host a freaking awesome party for it.

Plus, is anyone else blown away how Gosselaar looks EXACTLY like he did 20 years ago? It's crazy.

The second bit of news is far more exciting and much less unexpected - the return of Futurama! After a couple years of producing feature length episodes, Comedy Central and Matt Groening are teaming up to bring the show back with an order of 26 brand new episodes.

To this I say an emphatic hell yes, as this is really one of my all-time favorite shows. I picked up all of the seasons on DVD a few years back and got entirely hooked, loving the creativity and hilarity, as well as the incredibly real and touching themes they would occasionally tackle. I really can't wait, and am incredibly excited about new episodes starting mid-2010.

Get excited America!

Tweet tweet!

Monday, June 8, 2009

When I first signed up for Twitter around a year ago, I tried it on for size for a while but a combination of things brought it down: not a ton of users, limited experience, and frankly, I didn't really get it. The whole concept of Twitter just didn't make a whole lot of sense in my head. Why would I want people to be aware of everything I do? Seemed like I was forcing people to stalk me, and I was not a fan of that.

Apparently, I've recently grown to forced stalking quite a bit, as I'm sort of addicted to the whole concept. It kind of seems like the entirety of the world has gotten into it simultaneously, as in England you would read about celebrity updates in their tweets and in Italy you'd see half the people dropping tweets whilst perusing the net at cyber cafes.

No less, I think a lot of my interest in it really tied in to the primary subject matter of my previous post, and that's the extreme lack of time lately. When I typically write blog posts that are hundreds of words long, it's hard to find the time in the day to do that when I want to be outside hiking, playing frisbee golf, and barbecuing with friends. But with Twitter, the concept of microblogging that they present is totally perfect for my lack of time. I can share my thoughts in 140 characters or less, allowing for a concisiveness that I've previously never had and forcing myself to edit thoroughly.

It's pretty freaking awesome, and sometimes I feel the need to do it all the time. Really, I can do that because it takes all of 30 seconds to write a great tweet, while it can take me 10 minutes to an hour to write a blog post. The time management aspect of it is just fantastic (for those that want to blog but don't want to spend a lot of time doing it, this is perfect), and I'm really starting to enjoy the community aspect as well. With that said, those that aren't on their I think should join ASAP. When you do, make sure to follow me. I'm davidlharper2 on there, and am looking forward to seeing you on there!

The Weekend Edition

It goes without saying that I completely fail at blogging at this point. I've been back for a month and still haven't written up my travel blogs, I'm barely writing anything on here at all, and Alaska's summer has pretty much sabotaged any desire I have to write. I've been crazy busy on weekends, and weekdays are really dedicated to relaxing outside and definitely not writing. This weekend was exceptional, with Joanne (frequent hangout buddy) stating that it was one of the best weekends she could remember. Damn straight. What happened?

  • Bachelor party planning with Colver, Terry, and David at Humpy's
  • Drag Me to Hell and movie night with Joanne
  • Double feature of Up and the Hangover with Joanne (and Amy, Cate, and Eric for the second one)
  • Walking around town on a beautiful day for the Alaska Oceans Festival, street vendor polish sausages, and beer at Snow Goose
  • Watching Amy almost get murdered by Seagulls as we walked by a baby 'gull
  • Frisbee golf with Amy, Cate, Colver, and Joanne
  • Moose's Tooth for way too much pizza and beer
  • 80's night at the Avenue (awwww yeah!)
  • Picnic by the Coastal trail with Joanne
  • Laying in the sun for 3 hours reading
  • Ballin' and BBQin' with Colver (and Lorna on the latter portion)
  • Finding out that all of the outdoors activities led me to being somewhat tomato like

Once again, I really want to stress how freaking nice Alaska has been this summer. It's seemingly always 70 or higher, we've had unbelievable consistency when it comes to sunny days, and all in all it's just ridiculously awesome. I actually feel guilty when I'm not in the sun, but tonight I'm taking it easy as I feel sick and personally blame the sun. I mean, I'm pretty burnt and I'd say I probably have a fine case of sun poisoning. Lucky me. I did it to myself though, so I deserve it.

I have the feeling this won't be the last time that happens to me this summer, which I'm okay with. If my biggest complaint about the summer is that I had too much time in the sun, then life is pretty freaking awesome.

The (Belated and Extended) Weekend Edition

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Have to get back on track with this bad boy, and after a long (and particularly awesome) weekend it was seemingly quite difficult to do so. What went down this past weekend?

  • Ballin' at the Park Strip with Colver (it's cool, we're just good enough at basketball to say ballin')
  • Playing some frisbee golf at Kincaid (my arm!)
  • Going out on the town with Amy, Jason, and Briana (fun and surprising evening)
  • Waking up really tired the next morning
  • Breakfast burritos with my sister at Middle Way Cafe (the apex of deliciousness)
  • Going to see the glory that is Up
  • Game 6 Cavs vs. Magic/Game 1 Red Wings vs. Penguins with Blaze Town
  • Having a goofy night with Joanne, Amy, and Jason featuring gold, PS's, milkshakes, pancakes, and Justin Timberlake...s
  • Productivity on Sunday! Yay!
  • Softball practice
  • Drinks with Amy and Joanne at Sullivan's
  • Jogging (it's a soft j) with Joanne
  • Crush for Amy's birthday with the full Organization - that's right Amy

So yeah, it's been real busy lately. Even my lazy times are seemingly busy, and my DVR continues to hum a solemn song out of loneliness. Which is okay, because it's freaking nice out and it is okay to ignore that magical box when it is nice out.

Nothing really to add, besides an additional Happy Birthday to my good friend Amy. Given her aspirations to move out of state, this may have been the last one we all spend with her for a while, so it was a good idea to have a good time with this one. Happy birthday Amy, congratulations on joining the quarter century club. It is a great club to be in.