Friday, October 5, 2007

"Dark Passion Play" by Nightwish

I recently obtained Nightwish's new album, "Dark Passion Play" (DPP for short). For those of you not in-the-know, Nightwish is a Finnish symphonic power metal band who on all previous albums was fronted by a female operatic vocalist, Tarja Turunen. If they aren't the first, they are definetly the most famous band of their kind to use such vocals.

Due to internal issues, the band replaced Turunen with a more 'traditional' sounding vocalist, Anette Olzon. Fans have been pretty divided over this, even before hearing Olzon sing. Originally I was put off Nightwish because I thought it strange to have opera singing with metal. But once I got beyond that, I fell in love with the music and came to like Turunen's voice just fine. Though I had no allegiance to Turunen I was worried that a non-operatic voice would not be able to withstand the power and bombast of Nightwish's sound.

I was wrong. Gleefully so.

Musically, the album is Nightwish. That is who it sounds like, no one else could of created this album. When put into their discography chronologically, I can see how it logically flows out of their previous album, "Once". DPP follows the heavier, more aggressive, crunchier sound of "Once" and one-ups it. "Once" also was the first album to try to utilize a full orchestra and choir but DPP multiplies that by 10. Where "Once" had an orchestra backing up the songs, the orchestra IS the songs on DPP, making the album a gigantic monstrosity of dynamic sound. Some versions of DPP come with a second CD of just instrumental/orchestral versions of the songs. I've heard a few of these and it is amazing how well they stand up without lyrics or lead guitars to carry the songs through, each song standing well on just the orchestra/choir.

Vocally I think Olzon's voice does just fine. Vocal duties are split evenly across this album between Olzon and bass guitarist/male vocalist Marco Hietala. Hietala previously primarily sung back-up/duets with Turunen but never really got to shine on his own. And shine he does - the man sings as well-if-not-better than the best of them. Aside from adding to the dynamic quality of the album, spreading the vocal load between the two voices helps to ease Olzon's new sound into the music and into the aural image of the band.

Comparitavely, Nightwish still does not sound like anyone else out there. Some fans accuse them of sounding more "pop-ish", likely due to Olzon's more traditional singing style and the 'catchiness' of a few of the tunes ("Amaranth" is the only one that comes to mind). I have to argue with this and point out that this is by far the heaviest, most aggressive album they've made. Furthermore, Nightwish is a symphonic power metal band - by definition power metal is epic and melodic, often more "positive" sounding. I can pick out a dozen pre-Anette Nightwish songs that could be considered "poppy" but aren't by diehard fans simply because the vocals are operatic (and in itself, operatic vocals are not traditionally "metal" either). So I think the argument is largely based on the fact that people just hate change.

Personally the album makes sense to me. There are songs on here Turunen could of sung but others I just don't think she would of worked out for. Olzon's voice adds an element of flexibility to Nightwish; there are just some songs that would be crushed under the weight of operatic vocals. And with enough attitude, a more traditional vocalist can fill the gap left by the missing "epicness" of operatic vocals. So I am perfectly happy with Olzon's voice. I also like that we get more of Marco's vocals on this album as well - and that's saying something for me, since I normally prefer female vocals.

Conclusion: I love this album. I don't have to stretch to accept it at all - it just makes sense in the flow of Nightwish's growth. The album works on a whole and most of the songs stand alone on their individual merits. We'll see how it stands the test of time but after a few days of listening to it, it is swiftly becoming my favorite Nightwish album.

Bye Bye Beautiful - obvious lyrics spitting with anger. I wish I could write songs this well for the people who have done me wrong.
Amaranth - catchy or not, this'll be one of those concert favorites like "Nemo", "Bless the Child", and "Wishmaster". This is the song people are judging the whole album on, which they shouldn't, but it's still a great song.
Sahara - I like the subtle nature of this song. The chorus has this understated power that love. I think Olzon's vocals shine best on this track.
The Islander - written by Hietala, an accoustic sea ballad. It gives me chills. There have been a few other accoustic songs in Nightwish's history and this is the best. My favorite track. Olzon's backing vocals are the cherry on top.
Last of the Wilds - instrumental Celtic influenced song with fiddles and pipes. A rousing song - something Runrig may of done if they were metal. Love it!

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

"Ciao, Baby" by theSTART

When my friend Trey and I were in Denver we hit a few Hot Topic stores. At one store they were not playing the usual thrashy, growly music and I was liking what I was hearing. It was a band called theSTART and it was their new album, Ciao, Baby!. I had to have it.

I ordered it from and got it yesterday and I listened to it 5 times in a row (this is unusual for me). I love it. For me it is instantly accessable and catchy without being trite, already-done, or simplistic. theSTART is neo-80's new-wave/punk. When I first heard them I immediately thought of electro-goth duo Collide (Collide is much darker and has an industrial, rather than new-wave, flavor, and they also utilize middle-eastern tones). After a few listens I now think that its better to describe theSTART as a mash of Garbage, No Doubt (for vocals and pep), Goldfrapp, and Siouxsie & the Banshees. Funny enough, theSTART has opened and toured with Garbage and the Birthday Massacre as well as Front Line Assembly, all bands I think they can relate to and all bands I like.

The use of digital bass, heavy and buzzing, is reminiscent of Goldfrapp and middle-era Garbage. The vocals and plucky guitars are punk influenced. Some of their atmospheric keyboards/guitar is reminiscent of 80's Blondie and Siouxsie & the Banshees. The vocalist, Aimee Echo, sounds similar to Dale Bozzio from Missing Persons, according to my musically encyclopedic sister. Or for you non-80's folks, reminiscent of a raspy Gwen Steffani (No Doubt), as far as vocal dynamics and range.

The whole album is a highlight but if I have to pick a few "must-listen" tracks, they'd be:
Wartime - Goldfrappish, modern beats, off-kilter catchyness
Runaway - catchy, singalong, frentic 80's punk
Blood On My Hands - attitude, catchy, definite early punk vein in the guitars/vocals, lovely rasp
Dance Revolution - dark, boiled down. Sounds like a Siouxsie & The Banshees song with Gwen Steffani lyrics/beats thrown in

Positive with attitude, light enough to be a great summer album with dark enough 80's threads to make it good for the turning seasons (if you find your music seasonal, which a lot of mine is - no B-52's in the winter, sorry). Love it. :D

Scrapped Princess

Here's the Wikipedia entry for Scrapped Princess. (if you read that Wikipedia article, don't read past the "Story" bit - the character profiles and everything below are rife with spoilers). I bought the boxed set (6 discs in one plastic box - the best deal for your money). In Japanese and English, though I always watch my anime in Japanese with subtitles.

Scrapped Princess is about this 15 year old girl, Pacifica, who was born to the royal family and then ordered to be killed as a baby when a prophecy from the Church of Mauser was made saying she would become "the poison that destroys the world" upon her 16th birthday. Well, she wasn't killed and was instead sneaked to a family who raised her as their own. Their parents now dead and the Church of Mauser aware that the princess lives, Pacifica and her two older adopted siblings, Shannon (a very awesome swordsman) and Raquel (a wizard), take to the roads to escape.

The story takes place in a high-fantasy type world, swords-and-horses kind of place with a *very* slight steampunk aesthetic, mostly in terms of clothing technology. As the tale wears on, though, sci-fi and high-technology creeps in as we discover more about this worlds past. It's pretty neat - I'm guessing this whole world and society is post-apocalyptic, only the sci-fi apocalypse happened 5000 years ago.

The characters are very three dimensional right from the start. And none of them are stereotypical - I honestly haven't seen characters like these in any other anime yet. Pacifica wears pink and acts the spoiled princess, but under it she's honestly a sweet person, very caring about others, and is SUCH a tomboy (reminds me of Aeryu from "Simoun"). Raquel is the tall "Sachiko/Sakaki" looking older sister - she's very quiet and can seem absent minded but as you learn more about her powers, you start to realize that she's just extremely understated and has WAY more awareness and power than anyone lets on. And Shannon, the older brother, is the biggest surprise - I thought I'd hate him. I thought he'd be the gruff, "dark horse" brooding swordsman. But he's not - he's the housekeeper, OCD, cynical, mother-bear of the group, quickly becoming my favorite. Side characters are just as interesting, too.

The story is neither dark and heavy nor silly and over-the-top. No high-pitched voices anywhere, no goofy faces. Humour is actually more realistic (often in the form of sarcastic comments between the siblings). The plot is detailed and complex and only halfway through I'm having fun guessing at what is around the corner.

The music is also very good, fitting the setting and era (i.e. no bubblegum pop or heavy metal or anything uncharactaristic of existing technologies for the most part) - and the animation itself is high quality stuff, from Studio BONES (the folks who brought us Wolf's Rain, Fullmetal Alchemist, and Cowboy Bebop). I'm starting to see a trend with BONES productions in that they're rock solid in all departments - characters, animation, story, music - everything. It's a whole package.

Conclusion: I'm only halfway through but I'm really fond of this anime already. It's solid: no single element is carrying the series on its own. I'm made to care about the characters and I'm interested in finding out about this world's past. Halfway through, it is worth watching. And heck, I even got my anime-hating sister to watch and even enjoy it thus far, so it must be good, right? :D

Friday, August 24, 2007

Spork Spork Spork!

I randomly stumbled across this strange eating implement one day on and after reading colorful reviews I decided I had to try one.

And try I did – I was on a photoshoot this past summer and the photographer had one of these sporks, made by Swedish camping gear maker Light My Fire. I was able to briefly try out the spoon-end in some potato salad but did not get to try out the sporky-fork/knife end. Grr. So last week I stopped by REI and picked up a lime green spork for $3 (you can buy a set of 4 for $9) and have been trying to remember to use it for as many meals as possible to get a good feel for it.

Light My Fire Stats:
Heat resistant PC material
Machine washable
Extremly durable
Civilized colors
Weight: 9 gr
17 cm

I am rather fond of the spoon-end. It's deeper than most spoons and so holds more than you'd think - very good for people who prefer the larger spoons in their silverware sets (which I do). I like it especially for cereal and soups. It is good for potato salads, too.

The fork is a bit unwieldy, but then so are most wide-tined plastic forks. I had roasted cauliflower and chicken and was dipping both into ketchup. Admittedly, roasted/baked cauliflower is a bit rubbery so I think any non-metal fork would have issues with that. The chicken was much easier to stab, though the fork had shallow stab-depth for the large pieces of chicken. The chicken itself was a whole breast. Because the knife serrations are on the side of the fork, unless you have a second spork with you, you have to use your fingers to hold your food while you cut it with your spork. By that point you either a) could of done with just a normal fork and knife or b) eaten the item with your fingers (I mean, you're probably camping anyway, right?) As it was, I had to use my fingers. The serrations worked okay but I'll have to test it on more foodstuffs before I make a decision on it.

I justified my purchase of this spork by declairing it my way of not using any more disposable plastic utensils. Lately I've been eating a lot of deli salads that require flatware of some sorts and I just hate throwing away those spoons and forks. (Still need to find a way to circumvent those plastic containers, though). It's something of a novelty item, really, though as advertised you can put this spork in your kid's lunchbox or keep it in your backpack/purse for those times when you need a spoon/fork. Making it a double-ended utensil cuts down on bulk and minimizes the clutter of multiple utensils, though it can be messy switching back and forth between ends during a single meal.

Is it worth it? For me, probably not - I don't travel much and there's metal flatware both at home and the office so I really don't need my own spork. If I travel more or go on more picnics/roadtrips/etc. then I'll probably be taking it with me. It's novel, it works better than a true spork, it's sturdy, and I paid $3 for it so it BETTER see some action. ;)

Monday, August 20, 2007

Picross DS

A review of Nintendo's PicrossDS

Picross DS Wikipedia article
Nonogram - Wikipedia article about nonograms (what Picross is)

About Picross
Picross is a puzzle game that is often described (and not just by me) as a cross between sudoku and minesweeper. Basically you have a grid in which you need to fill in squares in order to make a pixel picture. Easy mode grids are 5x5 and Normal mode grids (so far) are 15x15 and apparently they can go up to 20x25. The grids start out blank (unless you choose to start with a hint). From there you must figure out which squares to fill in by looking at numbers along the top and left sides of the grid. The numbers tell you how many squares are filled in that row and in what groups.

For instance, a row may have the numbers 5 3 3 next to it. That means that there is a group of 5, a group of 3, and another group of three squares colored in - each with at least one blank space in between them (groups cannot be touching, obviously). So you compare the info of the rows with the info of the collumns and based on how much room you have, where those squares should go.

Some of them are easy. In a 15x15 grid, if you have a row that's "5 4 4" then you add those up in your head (13) plus one blank at least between each number for a total of 15. That means that the 5 and the second 4 MUST be touching opposite sides of the grid. Nice.

If you're patient, you can use lots of logic to fill everything in without time penalties (if you guess wrong then you get penalized minutes to your time score). I'm not very patient so I choose to have a hint at the start.

Picross DS fun stuff
Each level is themed so you can kind of guess some of the things you're trying to 'draw'. Like, one level was all African animals, another was fruit, another was sea animals, etc. Being able to guess pixel pictures is handy for when you get stuck and have to guess at a square placement.

Each puzzle starts out as a complete mystery so you have NO idea what you are drawing. Once you've completed a puzzle, though, it gets a little icon in the menu so you know what it is. It also records your best time for each puzzle so you can try to beat your best times on each puzzle.

Each level has its own theme for the squares, which is fun. Easy mode levels were 'apple' themed, so each square was like a red (square) apple and when you clicked on it you whittled it to a core. The African animal level's squares were grass patches so when you filled them in, it mowed away the grass. Apparently there is a bubble-wrap level - I can't wait for that one. Should you dislike a level's theme you can revert to the generic blue-square theme.

There's also a head-to-head time-challenge mode, a daily-picross mode, and you can download puzzles via Wi-Fi. Also, in normal mode, once you've completed a row of puzzles, you unlock the ability to do a quick special level, of which there seem to be two kinds. The first kind involves giant flying pixels that you must tap quickly to 'tag' - needing to tag a certain number of them before time runs out. The second kind involves drawing the shown image (in a grid, of course) before time runs out.

There seem to be 135 single-player puzzles from what I read online (not counting what you can download.

You can turn off the music but keep the sound FX.

You can save your progress on one game at a time - when you turn on your DS it will ask if you want to restore your game so you don't have to go through the menus to go back to it.

Not good stuff
Each cartridge only holds scores and stuff for one person, unlike games like "Brain Age" that have multiple slots for multiple players.

By default, on larger puzzles you have to zoom in (it shows you the larger puzzle in the top screen) so as you fill in squares, the screen floats around to keep you centered. If you aren't careful, this can cause you to tap the wrong square and incurr a penalty. However, I discovered that by using the D-pad you can turn this off. Nice.

If you like games like Sudoku and minesweeper and you like stylus-based games (you can use the D-pad for this game, too) then Picross is a fun game. I find it addictive - and it's $20, so it's one of the lower-priced games (new). Reccomended.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Clif nectar® cacao bar

I am not normally into the whole energy bar thing. I prefer to obtain my nutrients from foods I recognize as actual food. But there's something to be said for having some handy munchies with you on a hike or bike ride. My problem is that I cannot eat grains (especially corn), casein, or soy. This makes finding a replacement for the traditional granola bar somewhat of a challenge.

Earlier this week on a whim I went to the energy bar aisle of my local grocery store. There are so many kinds it boggles the mind. I noticed the word "Organic!" plastered over a lot of the boxes and thought I'd read some labels and see if there weren't any that were Kara-friendly, as I like to say.

Sure enough, the Clif nectar® series of energy bars are gluten/soy/wheat/dairy free and are made only with ingredients that are also gluten/soy/wheat/dairy free (dunno why they seperate wheat from gluten in that statement...). I got the "cacao - organic chocolate, fruit & nut bar" that is "dark chocolate walnut" (it's hard to pin down the name - there are several sentences on the package). And in fact, there are only 5 ingredients total:
• organic dates
• organic walnuts
• organic unsweetend chocolate
• organic cocoa
• organic vanilla
(may, of course, contain bits of shell or pits)

The bar is kind of on the small side, 1.6oz/45g - but the wrapper is pretty (that counts for something, right?) and is designed to make you feel that you are saving your health, the rainforest, and small children in Antarctica by purchasing and eating this energy bar.

I don't care so much about the nutrients - I just care that it's putting something into my stomach to stop hunger. So if you want to know those things you'll have to go read your own package. I do, however, care about taste. The bar itself looks remeniscent of a fudge brownie and kind of smells like one, too, albeit with a bit of a Fig Newton-fruity-sweetness hint to it. It tastes like mashed up dates with dark chocolate and tiny bits of walnut. Which is what this is. The bar counts as two servings of fruit because that's what it is - mashed up fruit that resembles... not.. fruit.

Overall it's not bad. I haven't had a regular Clif bar in years or even a PowerBar but from what I recall this Clif nectar® tastes a sight better. If I could eat granola I think I would stick to granola bars but for my restricted diet these are something of a treat.
3 out of 5 stars for gluten-eaters
4 1/2 stars out of 5 for restricted diet folks

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Vibram FiveFingers: Surge

My Vibram FiveFinger Surge shoes got here Tuesday. I was very excited about these shoes - I originally read about them on and then scoured the internet for reviews of this peculiar footgear. This link in particular was very interesting in what it had to say about foot health and how we are NOT built to wear shoes - how going barefoot is the healthiest thing to do for our body. If only we had a way of protecting our feet from modern day debris...

Enter the FiveFingers. They protect the feet allowing for them to move as if you were running around barefoot. Because the shoes act as a protective glove, all of your normal foot muscles are activated when you walk - muscles that atrophy from wearing shoes. FiveFinger fans tout the benefits of the shoe, saying they have increased foot strength, cured foot and leg pains, better balance, better posture, and more. Beyond that, the shoes sounded like fun to wear - they are so light you hardly notice you're wearing shoes at all.

Now, as a kid I grew up in the countryside where I could run around barefoot quite a lot and I love to go camping where there's no danger of glass or metal to cut my feet on so I can run around without shoes and feel the dirt beneath my feet. So these shoes sounded pretty awesome to me.

As I said, I got the Surge model (the middle, grey ones in the picture). They are the thickest pair with neoprene fabric to keep your feet warmer in cold water. The extra fabric also provides the feet better protection from stray branches and thorny things on trails, which is why I chose these. That and Alaska is cold.

I'd read all about people's first time wearing these shoes so I was prepared. Putting on the FiveFingers (FFs for short) for the first time was interesting - getting each toe into its slot was weird but once in the toes felt fine and I didn't feel strange about having 'stuff' between each toe. In fact, I didn't really notice much at all - which is saying something as I'm one of those people who detests anything being between their toes. Overall, the FFs literally fit like gloves, nice and snug around the arch, around the toes, and around the heel. I was a little worried about my smallest toes as they didn't quite reach into their slots but I found that as I wore the shoes around my feet spread out a little and so it wasn't an issue at all.

For the first two days of owning the FFs I wore them indoors only since they can't be returned if they've been worn outdoors. There's not much variety in surfaces in a house and office to show the worth of these shoes but it was enough to make me confident that they at least fit well.

This evening I finally took 'em outside. I ran around the backyard lawn and it was like I could feel the give of the ground beneath my feet, wheras if I were wearing normal shoes it would of been... well, the way hardpacked ground feels in shoes. I immediately was aware of how you have to move differently in FFs - you stay up on the balls of your feet just like if you were barefoot. It takes some getting used to because you're aware that you have something protective on your feet so you're wanting to put weight on your heels, but that causes jarring to the bones just like if you were barefoot.

Next I had to take them down to the river. I hopped on my bike - that was strange, too. I don't ride my bike "properly" in that the pedals rest beneath the arches of my feet when I ride (I don't use toe clips). So just like if I were barefooted, I had to use the balls of my feet and kind of grip with my toes a little to pedal.

At the river I experienced all kinds of terrain. Dirt trails with tree roots, sand, gravel, mud, water, cement blocks, boulders, tree stumps, turned earth and woodchips... All of it was so sensual. There's no way to experience it than to wear FFs. You simply do not get any sensation of texture wearing regular shoes but most of this terrain would shred and bruise bare feet. It was amazing and felt so wonderful to sense the give and texture of everything I walked on and yet have my feet protected. The woodchips and turned earth were a particular delight - and just like I've read everyone say I felt more a part of the environment I was in. The river gravelbed with its golf ball sized gravel was uncomfortable to walk on causing a bruising feel, just as it would barefooted, except did not cause any lasting pain. And the neoprene in the shoes insulated my feet well enough against the cold Matanuska water. I didn't spend much time in the water as I honestly didn't want wet feet. I'll have to try these out specifically for water at a later date and report back on drying time and things like that.

As far as balance and motion go, I haven't felt this agile since I was a kid. I was leaping up onto treestumps and logs at odd angles that I would of slipped and fell from had I been wearing shoes. I could feel the specific angles, textures, and edges of everything through the FFs and grip a lot of it or dig my toes into it. The closest thing to it would be to be totally barefoot.

I was gone for about an hour and now that I am home already I can feel the muscles in my feet starting to ache from being used. Vibram reccomends taking it slow with this footwear and slowly increasing ones usage of them in order to build up and strengthen the foot muscles.

The only cons I have with these are that the neoprene isn't very breathable, but there's no in-between model so I'll suffer. Also, the seam down the back of the ankle kind of rubs awkwardly on my left leg sometimes - I'll have to tape it.

Other than that, the straps work great, the Surges are very lightweight and kept my feet warm. Also, I'm having an easier time putting them on the more I wear them - my toes know where to go now. :D

The FiveFingers were everything I thought they'd be and I'm delighted to own a pair. I'll be wearing them as much as possible before the snow flies. If you think any of this sounds fun and you spend any kind of time outdoors and generally want or like going barefoot but can't then I totally recommend these shoes.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007


I finally watched all of the 2004 BeeTrain anime Madlax. This is from the same studio that gave us the anime Noir and .hack//SIGN

In short:
• Long and drawn out story, could of been done in 13 episodes rather than 26.
• Action was not as interesting or creative as "Noir" and for being second in a set of three "girls with guns" anime (following "Noir" as the first), there wasn't near as much gunplay - it was very secondary to the plot.
• More characters than "Noir" with more intwined connections. Much more complex plot than "Noir".
• Music was a cross between "Noir" and ".hack//SIGN" and not as good as either though it's by the same composer
• The ending was lackluster and didn't make the journey seem worth it.

The story
We first meet Madlax, the title character. A 17 year old assasin-for-hire in the fictional, civil war-torn country of Gazth-Sonica. She's supernaturally good at what she does but is also a kind, almost light-hearted person. She doesn't remember anything from before 12 years ago and is searching for her father. The first word she ever remembers remembering is "Madlax" which she takes as her code name.

The second episode (and for a few eps onward) we meet the other main character, Margaret Burton. Margaret is a 17 year old school girl, who looks much younger than Madlax, who also cannot recall anything from before 12 years ago - the first word she also recalls is "Madlax" but doesn't know what it means. She's kind, very gentle, and kind of eccentric and has a paranormally accurate "gut feeling" about things. She is an orphan and lives alone with her ever-protective maid, Eleanor. Margaret is also good friends with her next-door-neighbor/tutor, Vanessa. They all live in the fictional Paris-like country of Nafrece.

Margaret has a book written in some bizarre symbols she cannot read. She doesn't know why but this book is very important and she doesn't let anyone see or touch the book. However, her book is missing some pages and she is compelled to find a whole copy. This leads to an underground mafia-like global organization, Enfant, to learn about the existance of her book - and they want it BAD.

Margaret has dreams or visions and gut feelings that often are connected to what Madlax is doing or feeling and we aren't sure why that is - somehow their pasts are connected by Margaret's book. But how? Why? By the time we realise the two women are connected, halfway through the series, do we even CARE?!?

Comparison to Noir and .hack//SIGN
I'm comparing "Madlax" to "Noir" and ".hack//SIGN" because they're all by BeeTrain and because they have similar elements.

Noir and .hack are extremes on a single spectrum. Noir has very little dialogue and lots of action. .hack//SIGN has nothing but dialogue and very little action at all. Both have a mystery plot. Noir's is semi-supernatural but only in the skillz of the main characters. .hack has a more interesting mystery, which is what carries the entire series - plus it has much more character development.

Madlax is somewhere between the two. It has action where Madlax is involved but a lot of dialogue about the plot as far as everyone else is concerned. It's more political stuff, which gets really boring particularly because we have no idea what is going on. There's a supernatural element which is more annoying than anything throughout the whole thing - every episode has scenes of the burned out ruins where the showdown 12 years prior had taken place and we have no idea what its about until the last five episodes. It's annoying and uninteresting to me.

Madlax has way more characters than Noir, of course, which has three, but just about as many as .hack. The characters develop to a degree but not as much as in .hack//SIGN, which concentrates on the characters' friendships and developing bonds which are the ultimate secret to unravelling the mystery in that series. I found myself not really caring about any of the characters in Madlax except for Madlax, Vanessa, and Margaret. The rest could go jump off a cliff.

The music was so-so. It was all done by Yuki Kajiura, who did the music for Noir, .hack//SIGN, and Mai-HiME. The music was way better than that for Mai-HiME and was a cross stylisticaly somewhere between Noir and .hack//SIGN. Not much of it really caught my ear the way either of those two series did and there were no single stand-out tracks as with all three of the other series I mentioned.

The animation itself was pretty good - not too many talking heads and hardly any repetition. In that respect it has Noir beat.

Seeing as how this is the second installment of the "girls with guns" trilogy, there were some interesting paralells. Besides the fact that there are two main characters who are girls, they both resemble their previous incarnations of Kirika and Mireille of "Noir". The seiyu for Margaret is the same as that for Kirika. The personalities are different, though both Margaret and Kirika act and "seem" younger than they are and are both spacy and quiet - AND both Kirika and Margaret are the true centers of either show. The sniper woman in this series acted like the envious Chloe of "Noir", though she wasn't near as psychotic or talkative, they both had a music-box chimey theme. And both series had books in them that were the secret to the whole thing. The book of Les Soldats in "Noir" told of the maidens of death, and the three books of truth here in "Madlax" explain the power behind Margaret and Madlax.

By far I prefer Noir. Though the first 6 or so episodes of Noir are dreadfully repetitive, once beyond that the series takes off at a good pace and has a satisfying build up and conclusion. It's even good upon a rewatch. "Madlax" dragged til the very end. It did kind of pick up a little beyond halfway through as far as the plot coming together but the action and plot development dragged horribly. The climax took about five or six episodes and the finale took two, and the very end was less than satisfying. Though it was perhaps more realistic and "human" than Noir, I by far prefer the stylistic, artistic, subtle uniqueness of Noir. And I'm not disliking "Madlax" simply because of "Noir" - I'm disliking Madlax on its own merits. And it just does nothing for me.

I mean, I can watch slow anime and be entertained -- "Aria" is a great example of a super slow-paced anime that manages to keep me engrossed. Madlax was slow paced when it felt like it should of been FAST. That's a huge difference and not a good one.

About the only thing going for Madlax was Madlax herself, the few eps of just her and Vanessa, and... uh... that's it. Thumbs down. :\


Saw the film Equilibrium this past weekend - has Christian Bale and Taye Diggs in it. Pretty good movie. NO spoilers below

Takes place after the 3rd World War, which destroys nearly everyone and everything. It was so horrible that the remaining government decided to do away with human emotions, since it was human emotions that led to the fighting and the wars - and humanity cannot withstand another world war.

So they invented this serum stuff that everyone injects three times daily or so that inhibits emotion. The city they all live in is pretty high-tech, surrounded by the skeleton buildings of the bombed out old city from the war. Everything is colorless, everyone wears blacks and greys - there's no uniqueness. Things are done for efficiency's sake. Our main character, Mr.Preston (Bale) is a Cleric - the highest order of the police/military force. Clerics are like super-assasins. Think "gunfighting martial arts" remeniscent of "The Matrix" except it's all down to a science, not gut-luck. Preston is THE best Cleric there is.

The job of the Cleric is to hunt down sense offenders -- humans who refuse to take the emotion inhibitor and who feel emotion. Some of these humans try to fake their way along with everyone else in the main city, and others live out in the 'wilds' of the dead city, collecting art and pretty things and generally trying to be human but having to always hide.

The movie follows Preston as he discovers his partner Cleric (played by Sean Bean) is himself a sense offender and must kill him himself. But not before his partner says some things that stick with Preston. Distracted, the next day Preston accidentally breaks his last remaining dose of the inhibitor. Rather than getting his dosage renewed, he for some reason decides to see what happens without it. And slowly begins to feel emotion. Is it good or bad?

You can guess where this goes.
The message is both underplayed and overplayed to a degree - kind of like "V for Vendetta" but futuristic post-apocalyptic and darker. The two films go well together, I think, both being about what happens when governments go too far in controling what makes us human, what makes us free. So the story is good, the action is good (the gunfights, once they explain why they work the way they do, are good) and definetly attention-keeping. Christian Bale did a good job with his character - particularly the subtleties of feeling emotions for the very first time. Taye Diggs, on the other hand, pissed me off - I didn't like him in this film at all. Diggs plays Preston's new Cleric partner. He seemed to show emotion when Clerics are not supposed to - although its possible the inhibitor doesn't perfectly inhibit EVERYTHING and that Digg's character was feeling anger without knowing it. *shrugs*

Anyway. Good film - two thumbs up from me. :)

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

A Quiet Mind

This is the site for the A Quiet Mind podcast. It's a very relaxing, quiet, meditative series that focuses on learning to quiet your mind and gain a more relaxing perspective on yourself and the world around you. It's not rooted in any particular spirituality or mode of psychology at all, either.

Each episode is roughly around 10 minutes long - a perfect length. Just long enough to be informative and thought provoking and just short enough that you can slip in an episode before work or before bed. I've found the meditations so far to be very helpful in lowering my anxiety levels and gaining perspective on how I interact with others and with myself.

I should note that Robert Jackson, the narrator, does not sugar coat anything. AQM is not a cheerleading pep-talk about being positive. For me, a very logic-based person, this is refreshing and appeals to my idea of common sense. I think the frustrating thing about sugar-coated "You can DO IT!" therapy is that they make it sound like it should be SO easy, "all you have to do is think happy thoughts!" So the moment you fail, you beat yourself up for it. But not so in AQM. Jackson kind of tells it like it is - all we can do is to live in the 'now' and be happy with that - and he tells us how to go about this and reminds us that it takes time. It is a very reassuring, forgiving podcast and I like that.

I cannot reccomend this podcast enough.

Thursday, July 19, 2007


This is pretty nifty: SimplifyMedia

It is a plugin for iTunes that allows you to share your iTunes library by streaming your tunes to friends who also have SimplifyMedia. It's like instant messenger for iTunes in that each person makes a username and then you can add up to 5 computers under your name for sharing. You can have up to 30 friends.

SimplifyMedia is a cinch to use. I installed it at work and at home so I can stream music from my home computer to listen to at work - especially handy if I forget my iPod. I also had Trey install it on her laptop up in Fairbanks and that worked, too.

• Easy to install/set up/use
• As long as SimplifyMedia & iTunes are open and running, you can share your library with other SM friends or with yourself
• Perfect for showing friends songs without having to up/download anything
• The songs stream at the bit rate they exist in its library - they aren't down-sampled
• Private friend list so ONLY your allowed friends and you can access your tunes
• Songs can only be listened to, not stolen or manipulated or re-arranged in any way
• it's for Mac and PC and works seamlessly between the two
• it's FREE

• it IS streaming, like net radio, so the faster your connection, the less re-buffering you have to suffer
• it doesn't show playlists within the selected library
• Songs can ONLY be listned to, not copied
• it's still in beta so there's the possibility of glitches

Trey is on a bad connection plus wireless so it was a bit more difficult to listen to her library - it kept having to rebuffer all the time. So I wouldn't use this to sit and listen to her library just to be listening - I'd use SM to browse for new music from her. :) In contrast, my connection at work is really fast and my home computer connection is slow DSL but I didn't encounter any rebuffering except perhaps at the start of a new song. Otherwise it was just like listening to my native iTunes library. Very nice. :)

* Location:home
* Music:"Manakin" - Delain

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Transformers [film]

Today we went into Anchorage, spent entirely too much money (kind of) hitting every store we normally go to, and ended with seeing Transformers. The film in short (no spoilers):
• Best effects/CGI I've seen in a film, ever.
• Lots of nods to the original series - this film is geared toward adults who runneth over with nostalgia.
• Simple plot with obligatory action movie elements that always piss me off: computers and hackers not being at ALL realistic, the government and soldiers not being realistic, and humans always able to outrun EVERYTHING.
• Lots of humour - it was a lot smarter than I thought it was going to be and not at ALL "for kids".
• The film slowed down noticeably when the main human characters (Sam, Michaela) or the Transformers weren't on-screen.

All in all, I was pleasantly suprised. I only really go to the theatre to see things that a) I may never find on DVD and b) things that are fun to see really, really big and loudly, the second of which often can conflict with my low tolerance for lower-brow films. I tend to like my films to have brains. I wasn't expecting much but the film was a lot better than I thought it was going to be. And it's probably way better if you were a Transformers fan as a kid (which I definetly was - I can still sing the theme song and name half the Autobots and Decepticons). My inner child squiggled with glee when Optimus Prime rolled in to fight Megatron - I honestly felt relieved for the good guys, heh. :)

So yes. Definetly worth seeing in the theatre.

Monday, June 25, 2007


Most of you probably haven't heard of Splashdown. My sister discovered them back in the 90's so I've been listening to them for about 8 years now. Sadly, difficulties with their first major label resulted in there being no major label releases of material as well as the demise of the band itself.

Splashdown independently released three+ albums worth of stuff before this happened and a fourth album worth of material (with a lot of remixes - one by Rhys Fulber!) after. The songs were never signed over and rather than have them moulder on some shelf, the band has given permission for their songs to be freely downloaded online.

This is the point of my post.
You can download their entire discography HERE. That's roughly 50 songs.

It's hard to describe them. Splashdown is a 3-piece with female vocalist. Their music is described as a unique mix of electronica, rock, jazz, with middle-eastern influences. Melissa Kaplan's vocals are kind of jazzy with the ability to flit from note to note with middle-eastern dexterity. The bass is dynamic and at times jazzy. Crunchy percussion/keyboards can be Björk-esque. I can't think of anyone they really sound like.

If I have you, I recommend listening to these songs for a taste:

"Halfworld" from the Halfworld EP
"Charming Spell" from the Redshift EP
"Mayan Pilot", "Dig" are both more jazzy, from Blueshift
"Elvis Sunday", "Games You Play" are more pop-rock from Blueshift
"Waterbead" from Blueshift & "Beguiled Mark II" from the Halfworld EP are both crunchy electronica/rock
"Karma Slave" - good aggressive, grungy rock sound
"Asia at Odd Hours" from Possibilities is more electronica pop, more polished

There are multiples of several of the songs - they're all different versions. Like, I prefer the original "Ironspy" (Halflife) to the newer one (Blueshift) because it has more grit (very subtle). Also, "Beguiled" was redone as a gutsy, dark song that is mostly percussive in "Beguiled Mark ii" - the revision being much much better.

Anyway - it's sad to see such an awesome band's music left adrift on the net. It's really solid stuff and it is beyond many of their fans that they were not signed earlier in their career. But at the time there wasn't anyone else really like them that I could think of and the music industry has been playing it really safe since the mid 90's and arguably earlier.

If you like strong female vocals with a slight jazz edge, electronic crunch, dynamic and interesting bass lines driving everything, you might like Splashdown. Some of their songs like "Presumed Lost", "I Understand", and "Lost Frontier" sound like they could of been on the radio - they have that air of familiarity, so at first glance they seem radio-friendly but you start checking out the rest of their stuff and you see they're really kind of unique. IMHO. ;)

And hell, it's FREE. :D

Saturday, June 16, 2007

The Fountain [film]

My sister and I watched The Fountain last night.

I won't say what it's about exactly because that ruins the mystique and kind of sounds cheap when its described when in fact it is a deeply multilayered, beautiful film. The symbolism is present in every frame - the lighting, the colors, the composition of each frame, the storyline itself. It unfolds and unfolds. Oh, and I really liked the music - though if I had the soundtrack, I'd probably cry every time I heard it. ;)

Hugh Jackman was fantastic in this film - his emotions were not over the top at all, they were subtle, deep, heartfelt, and real.

The effects were fantastic - if you watch the DVD extras you find out that there's hardly *any* CGI in the film! All the cool outer space nebula textures and things were actually all macro-photography of chemical reactions in petri dishes - so all looks and moves in a natural, organic way. The flower sprouting part was mostly done with physical props and effects - the tree-climb was actually done. It all just made everything that much more realistic so that you could sink into the film.

I warn you that it is a very very sad film - make sure you have tissues on hand. At the same time, though, it's kind of positive and just so beautiful that I didn't come away too overwhelmed or sad. "Beautiful" is the key word.

So yay! I don't know if I'd watch it over and over again - probably preferable to watch it with a partner, if you have one. But definetly worth watching, IMHO.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Pacific Northwest Coast Art Books

Pacific Northwest Coast Native Art Books - remember how I said I locally ordered those three books, one called "Learning by Doing" and the other two called "Learning by Designing", volumes 1 & 2? Well, they are fantastic books.

Looking at Indian Art of the Northwest Coast
Learning by Doing Northwest Coast Native Indian Art
Learning by Designing Pacific Northwest Coast Native Indian Art, vol.1
Learning by Designing Pacific Northwest Coast Native Indian Art, Vol.2

"...Doing" is literally a classroom in a book - it's for teachers to Xerox into handouts for students for learning basic forms. I am a little beyond it but it has good "how to learn" info and has good practice for basic forms, which I'm still a little sloppy at. It's like drawing circles - it's hard to make them symmetrical and 'perfect' looking but if you practice long enough they become more natural. Same idea.

"...Designing", vol 1. is my favorite by far. It goes into all the basic forms (ovoids, U-forms, S-forms, eyes, salmon-trout heads) and how those make up basic parts (heads, arms, feet, bodies, faces, ears, etc) and what characteristics make up the major animals (Raven, Bear, Wolf, Orca, Eagle, etc.) and has dissective how-to's for how to go about designing a salmon-trout head, an orca head, etc. VERY useful to know what order to draw each thing in so that you can begin inventing your own designs. What's more, it chops up the entire Pacific Northwest Coast into four quadrants of art style - because there are HUGE differences in all of them (Tlingit, the furthest north, looks NOTHING like Salish, which is the furthest south). And through every single excercise and element the book constantly shows how a north coast element is different from a mid coast, west coast, and south coast element.

The second volume gets really technical and has lots of interviews with artists and things. It doesnt have much in the way of lessons or how-to's except for one big "how-to" for a generic Wolf, Orca, Thunderbird, Raven, etc. I think it will be more useful later on. Right now I've been practicing basic forms and find it to be calming and meditative. :)

Another good book is Northwest Coast Indian Art: An Analysis of Form by Bill Holm was extremely helpful. This book does not go into detail about meanings of the designs or even how to do them - it explains the 'rules' of how NWC is put together - the principles of design, figured out by years and years worth of reverse-engineering by comparing hundreds of examples of NWC art and seeing what is done and what is not done.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Linksys Routers - a review of support

Got DSL and a router for Xmas. Went to set up the router and only one computer could connect through it at a time to the internet - whichever computer connected first got the connection. Called the ISP, they tried to get me into my router, but no browser could get into its configuration page ( They said to call Linksys.

Called Linksys, got someone who I could barely understand (I think ALL their call centers are in Asia). They tried a ton of ways to get me into the router to no avail. Though they do not support Macs and have zero literature on their routers and Macs, the woman on the other end was quite knowledgeable. However, she couldn't figure it out and pronounced the router to be faulty and so had us send it in to them for a replacement (we'd lost the reciept).

Got the new router, went to set it up. Still couldn't get into the configuration page. Did a massive Google search on Macs and this model router - finally found some info on how to set up Network Prefs to get into the damn contraption. Was able to get into the router but had no clue how to set it up. Was stuck with three options:
1) connect to internet 1 computer at a time directly through modem with PPPoE settings,
2) connect to internet 1 computer at a time through router with PPPoE settings with inability to access the router, and
3) connect to just the router and its config. page but not the internet.

Once into the config page I still had no idea how to set it up to let me be ON the net AND to have more than one computer connected at a time.

Called my ISP. They had no clue what to do - as soon as I said "Linksys" she went on a sympathetic tirade about all the problems customers have with Linksys. Seems I wasn't alone but I still had my connection problem.

So I started a thread on the MacOSG about my problem. A few screencaps later the knowledgeable folks there had me up and running both my computer AND my sister's on the net.

The Solution
• Uncheck PPPoE options in the Mac's Network settings.
• Enable DHCP on the Mac - being sure to enter in my ISP's DNS numbers. Turn on the router and let it connect to me. Good!
• Using a browser, go into the router's config page (
• Set it up for PPPoE, enter in settings given by ISP. Enable DHCP.

Voila. Now we are both online, my sister and I. :D
I have the wireless function turned off for now since neither of us has an Airport card (we had thought Kais had one in her iMac - she plans on getting one soon so we don't have to trip step over the cable in the hallway).

Linksys sucks, but I guess that was a given. What was most amazing to me is how simple this was and yet the Linksys techs, with all their techie knowledge, had no idea what the problem was. One minor thing - pointing the Mac's network settings DIRECTLY to the router in order to access it, or knowing that PPPoE enabled will not allow a person to access their router. *headdesk* Thank god for the MacOSG.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Fullmetal Alchemist

Last week I finished watching the 51 episodes of Fullmetal Alchemist (FMA) and it was awesome:
• Great voice acting (Japanese)
• Good quality animation for a series - not a lot of reused frames or overuse of stills at all.
• Good soundtrack
• Great characters with nice character development and motivations across most of the board
• Awesome storyline - no loose threads, every plot element comes full circle over the course of the entire series.

Synopsis for those who don't know
FMA takes place in an alternate version of an early 20th century Europe and follows two teen brothers, Edward and Alphonse, who are talented alchemists in search of knowledge (and the fabled philosopher's stone) that could help them gain their original bodies/limbs lost in a horrible alchemy attempt at bringing their mother back from the dead. Their journeys lead them to uncovering all sorts of mysteries that twine into the brothers' own pasts.

I was really impressed at how solid the storyline was. With some of the longer series I've seen (most under 38 episodes) there are places where the story lags a bit. The most common pattern I've seen is that the first 6 or so episodes are a little slow and don't play as strong a part in the story as a whole as do later episodes. Not with FMA - the story starts off strong right away and I'd say all but maybe two episodes were integral to the series as a complete storyline. It didn't feel like I watched 51 episodes - it was just such a solid story it flew right by. Also nice is that they didn't run out of funding toward the end like with Neon Genesis Evangelion, which ruined that series for me. So the quality remained high throughout.

FMA would make a good anime for folks who don't normally watch anime. It takes place in more of a European culture so doesn't require knowledge of Japanese culture, which is sadly a put-off for some non-anime fans. FMA also blends humour in nicely, though it does use stylized faces for overly cute/silly bits, which I know some folks also don't like but is totally normal for most anime fans. I thought it helped keep the series from being overly heavy and brooding.

My only regret is that there isn't more, other than the movie "The Conqueror of Shambala" and apparently some OVAs (need to confirm this). I just bought it on and hopefully the universe doesn't continue to prevent me from watching it by keeping the DVD from arriving. ;)

9 out of 10 stars, highly reccomended.

Friday, June 1, 2007


I am getting tired of Photobucket's clunky interface. While I was working on putting art onto my Blogspot blog I realised I don't really have a clean collection of ALL my art in one spot. When I first started dabbling online I tried creating collections of my stuff on Geocities, but that place is crap. Photobucket is okay but clunky. I looked at Flickr but it's owned by Yahoo and Yahoo is pretty anti-Macintosh so I don't like using any of their products. Picassa, on the other hand, is owned by Google, which is Mac-friendly. And it integrates well with other Google applications so I'm going to begin collecting all my art into albums on Picassa and relinking stuff to there.

Also turns out you can download something that integrates iPhoto with Picassa online - since the Google Picassa application doesn't exist in Mac format yet.

So far I like Picassa. It's not as clean or high-end looking as Flickr but it does the job just the same and it integrates better with, since is owned by Google. Another fun element is the ability to mark your images on integrated Google Maps. Handy if you want to give folks an idea of where you were at when you took a certain photo.

Linking directly to images is clunkier than Photobucket, though. Gotta figure a way around that...

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

iTunes U

This is the best: check out the iTunes Music Store (iTMS) and in the upper left hand nav box you'll see a link for iTunes U at the bottom. This takes you to the iTunes U central area where a dozen or so universities have started putting college courses, lectures, and other podcasts online for the public to download for free.

Psychology, business, technology, art history, quantum physics, social sciences, language, literature, stuff on how-to like teach and write - there's months and months worth of stuff to listen to and learn. Pretty cool!

Some of the universities are a little on the slim side as far as content goes. Stanford and Berkeley were my two favorite spots for downloads, having not only the most total but also the most in liberal arts and social studies, though there are some goodies in some other places (Seattle Pacific, which seems to be Christian, has some interesting stuff on the Lord of the Rings as a Defence of Western Civilization). Stanford has a few lectures by the Dali Lama in both the Philosophy and Spirituality sections. Berkeley had a neat section for the study of sex and sexuality in history.

And most of these are pretty hefty - many weighing in close to two hours apiece. I downloaded a whole bunch to pick through while I'm at work. I've got a lot of spare mental time on my hands doing thoughtless work and these are perfect for keeping my brain busy instead of drifting off into thoughts that can often lead in a depressing direction. ;)

Anyway, thought I'd spread the fun news. For those of you still in college this may be depressing news but for me, I miss the charge my brain would get after a good day's learning at school. ;)

Saturday, May 12, 2007

What the Bleep Do We Know?

I tried watching this once before but it's such a deep documentary/movie you really have to concentrate on it - if you're not into it, you'll fall asleep. And this time I was able to and I think I got a lot out of it.

The beginning is a bit too broad, I think, so it takes a little while before it starts to get specific enough to pull you in. It starts on the universal level, talking about quantum physics and how matter works and then eventually gets to how that relates to us as humans and how quantum physics shows how we as ENERGY and MATTER can affect everything around us, even with thoughts. And very importantly, how we affect OURSELVES with our thoughts. Very heavy stuff but it really hit home there at the end with all this re-wiring of my brain I've been going through and gave me new ways of doing that.

"Down the Rabbit Hole" is the extended version (not sure what they added) and it comes on 3 or 4 DVD's, double sided so that you can watch the whole thing as-is, you can watch JUST the scientific interviews, JUST the story elements that paralell what the scientists are talking about, etc. You can also watch it in a random order each time if you like. Kind of cool. Also fun for me is that nearly the entire thing is filmed in Portland, Oregon: tons of shots on or near the MAX, the zoo tunnel, Goose Hollow, Pioneer Square, and just various points throughout the city that I don't know the streets to but recognize it all and have been there. :D Fun!

Since I watched this, I've been finding books and talks and podcasts galore that all connect over the same things - the quantum physics of how everything is energy and anything is thus possible... It has all helped to change my thoughts toward positive thinking for the better. Amazing.

Monday, May 7, 2007

American Doll Posse

I've listened to this album once and 2/3rds through so far. For me, Tori's music can be chopped into three sections: Early: LE, UTP, BFP; Transition: FTCH, TV&B, SLGs; and Modern/Epic: SW, Beekeeper, and now ADP. Although, "classic" Tori for me includes the first FOUR albums. Before I get going, let it be known that I prefer oldschool Tori, those first four albums. But I've found things to be liked in her later stuff, too - I just don't find nearly as much of it as moving as her earlier stuff.

Folks on said that if you liked The Beekeeper, which was pretty mellow, organ-inspired, that you'd maybe not like ADP. Good thing I really disliked The Beekeeper (I only listened to it once, sorta kinda). ADP is definitely still "Modern" Tori, as it were - her vocals still aren't as pretty or coherent as anything from her earlier stuff and still not near as angry as anything from BFP (which I think is her angriest as it seems the most true from her heart of all her albums for me). But this album definetly comes from an angry place. What's so different about it is that it's so heavily political. Odd that I FIND it odd, coming from Tori. R.E.M. or Indigo Girls, sure, but Tori? It *should* be expected of her, really, so I am unsure why I find it odd.

Whenever I listen to anything of hers (ever since "To Venus & Back") I try to pretend I've never heard anything from her before TV&B. It makes it easier. For "Modern" Tori, the album is pretty good, albeit very long at 23 songs. On first listen, if I am patient, there is something interesting and dynamic about nearly all of the songs so I do look forward to getting to know them better. I kind of wish she'd enunciate better - I mean, Tori has never been one to really enunciate lyrics but most fans kind of get the hang of her off-kilter pronunciations of things. But I think even the most talented Tori-translator will be put to the test with this album. Good thing it comes with lyrics in the liner notes. :D

Definitely an aggressive album - she's seriously using the whole band and it's fun to hear her do that, to let everybody really rock out. She's channeling the Beatles White Album and other '68 era artists in rolling style rock and she's not pulling punches in her political accusations while doing it, too. Oddly, some of my favorite bits from this album so far are the little "intermission" songs, the little 1-minute ditties. They're not the bubbly oddities of "Mr.Zebra" but they allow for little bursts of "we don't quite fit in like a normal song" that are delicious enough to make you wish they WERE longer, much like good ol' "Mr.Zebra". My favorite song off ADP so far is in fact one of these songs, "Devils and Gods", which is a mandolin piece - another oddity, Tori singing to a solo instrument that is not played with keys. A beautiful song with VERY poignant lyrics:

Devils and Gods, now that's an idea
But if we believe that it's They who decide
That's the ultimate detractor of crimes
'Cause devils and gods
They are you and I
Devils and gods,
They are you and I.
Devils and gods,
Safe and inside.

So I'll be giving this album a good, heavy listen and we'll see how it holds up later on.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

The Practice of Happiness

I read this chapter about trust in a book called The Practice of Happiness by John Kehoe - the dude who wrote "Mind Power". I don't care what you think about positive thinking and books about it. All I know is that I've been good at negative thinking and it hasn't gotten me squat other than depressed. And I'm tired of it. So what do I have to lose from trying to think positively? Sounds funny when I say it that way.

This book has been pretty helpful in getting me through some rough patches this summer. It makes some good arguments for positive thinking - I mean, what do we have to lose by trying to be happy? Particularly when things seem like they can't get any worse?

"The Practice of Happiness" is a very short, quotable book - good for reading in chapter-by-chapter spurts. It's more of an inspirational read than a "how-to" read, like Kehoe's other book Mind Power in the 21st Century.

Thursday, March 29, 2007


Yet more reasons to hate MySpace:

1 • There's SPAM! Can you believe it? People can't really go around auto-spamming LJ. Far as I know it's too complex to really do that. Well, that and there's no LJ e-mail, but still. If I wanted SPAM I'd use a Yahoo email account.

2 • Regular users randomly message you with L337 hatemail! What the hell? I mean, it can be easy enough to be flamed here on LJ but it's MUCH easier to get such folks banned from LJ. Myspace doesn't give a shit about people's blog-well-being.

3 • interface? what interface?

4 • design? what design?

I could go on. Ugh, I HATE how every one or two click steps there are in LJ take 3 or 5 clicks in MS. Literally. I am not making this up. It's like Windows Vista asking you to apporove some inane action and then letting you know you did it okay. So:

1) click to initiate action (do the action)
2) click to approve the action (click)
3) Does this look good? (click)
4) action approved (click to get to an actual menu)

That's just to POST. In LJ you:
1) click create post (do the post)
2) click to post it. (click)
3) window rerouting you to chosen journal view (click to choose)

So one less but it somehow feels like 2 less clicks.

Then there's the general quality of blogging there. Which is next to nil. But then again, of the 7 people who have me friended on MS, only two of them actively seem to blog. No, correction, one of them doesn't blog, she only writes those Bulletin things, most of which are memes (ugh!) and the other mostly writes things I cannot read. So there really isn't ever anything for me to read. So in the end, this whole excercize is just one overblown, annoying e-mail wannabe program. I should stick to my guns and only use real email to contact people and LiveJournal to blog about personal things. Ugh.

In other MS news, I did find a CSS hack to force MS to look halfway decent. You have to be logged in and over 18 to see it - [I hated MySpace so much I deleted my account - couldn't stand it]

Also, if you have Firefox, you can install Greasemonkey, which then allows you to install user scripts that do nifty things. Like block all the ads in MS. Block the "cool new people", "cool new videos", New authors, books, comedy, etc. There is a script that, and this is the BEST, removes ALL customizations, forcing all profiles to appear like basic MS profiles. Does wonders for legibility, should you be forced to spend much time in MS. Haven't quite found a script that makes actual blog spaces legible, though.

But all that hassle... Does nothing but make me appreciate LJ that much more. :D

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Pan's Labyrinth

We saw Pan's Labyrinth this weekend. In short, with no spoilers:
• DARK and very violent. Had to cover my eyes for many many parts.
• In Spanish (which enriches the film so much) so subtitle-haters beware
• Ofelia's fantasy plot may seem unconnected to the violent Spanish war setting but when the two are combined at the end create a much larger metaphor for innocence and war. Watch it and think about it.

In conclusion, though I hate violence and bugs, the textures and mood were very well done - I didn't know much of ANYTHING before going into this film so it was very exciting. Kind of a positive-sad movie in some ways. I really liked the fantasy side of it a LOT and the larger metaphor has really stuck with me. A very heavy film, I don't know if I'll rewatch it anytime soon but definetly worth a watch.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow

Today I bought Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow for my DS. It is way cool.

I've only ever played "Symphony of Night" before so I don't know how Castlevania games are across the board. The graphics on this game are great - detailed, rich, and crisp, even on such small screens. The character movement is just like Alucard in "SoN", or at least very close to it. (Re-reading the above article, this probably due to the fact that they used a lot of sprites from "SoN", which explains a lot.)

Apparently with most Castlevania games you are one of the Belmonts and you only ever have one weapon throughout the entire game for the most part. "SoN" was a bit different because you were a Dracula descendant and you could choose between hundreds of types of weapons you got off dead enemies. You can do that, too, in DoS. Yay! So the equptment works the same.

One thing that is pretty neat is your ability to capture souls. Most, if not all, creatures in the game have souls that they "drop" every once in awhile that you automatically absorb, giving you a new ability. The more of each kind of soul you absorb (say, bat souls) the more powerful that ability becomes. This kind of replaces Alucard's four abilities in "SoN". There are four categories of souls and you can have one of each type of category equipped at a time. Familiars are back, too, but they are a type of soul you can equipt -- same with the various weapons of Castlevania fame (dagger, holy water, cross, axe, diamond...) - those are replaced by soul weapons. I haven't gone very far in the game and already I really like this new soul system - it's highly customizeable for different players. Say, by killing bats you can obtain the bat familiar. By killing Wargs you obtain a kind of warg fang bite thing that does a lot of damage. Using souls uses MP, which is the only thing you ever use MP on - well, that and special weapon attacks. You aren't casting spells like "Soul Steal" all the time like in "SoN".

Another interesting thing is that boss enemies can't just be killed - they have to be sealed. You must take them down to zero HP, which causes a Magic Seal thing to appear on your screen with the pattern of seal you must now 'cast'. You use the stylus on the touch screen to quickly draw the pattern you just saw in order to seal the boss permanently. Failure to draw the symbol correctly means the boss regains some HP and you have to take it back down to zero before you can attempt to seal the enemy again. You learn seals BEFORE hand and have the ability to practice them at any time you like. And they're pretty simple in the beginning so it's not that freaky. In comparison, the non-mandatory spells from "SoN" were WAY more difficult due to the directional pad not always doing what you thought it should of done. ;)

I also really like having the two screens on the DS. While you run about the castle, the map is constantly displayed on the upper screen. VERY handy. And apparently this is the largest castle of any Castlevania game made yet. I am so very excited.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Microsoft Word

Have I ever mentioned this? How much I detest Micro$oft Word? My dislike is not based on who makes the program, either. It's based soley on poor interface and poor document handling, etc. I seriously have no idea how the masses put up with Word — well, no, I take that back. The masses who all blindly suffer daily from using Microsoft software are obviously used to torturing themselves - no, they actually LIKE it.

Word is so cumbersome to navigate and get anything built properly. There was a time when I knew how to use Word but that was several years ago. I do recall knowing how to use it well enough to create fancy little newsletters for a class project in highschool. I can compare what I felt learning Word with what I felt learning, say, QuarkXPress – industry standard software for page layout. XPress (often called "Quark", though that's like calling Photoshop "Adobe") is to Word what graphing calculators are to simple, basic calculators, at least in terms of what the two programs can do and are used for.

But Learning Quark was WAY easier. Hmm. Shouldn't that say something? Shouldn't learning to ride a tricycle be more simple than learning to drive an 18-wheeler? Apparently this isn't how things go in the software world.

Anyway, my gripe with Word is that everyone USES this vile software to transport text around the globe. And it SUCKS. It REFUSES to give up its vile formatting when imported into a more dependable and versatile program. It drives me NUTS when I get text from a client that I have to lay out in Quark and I must first "de-Word" it, much like picking the ticks out of a newly adopted dog from the pound (or one would imagine). I go through the little song and dance of resaving the file as plain text so that when I put the text into Quark, I don't have to go through weeding out the bizarre residual glyphs from Word formatting. GAH! Sure the process takes only a minute to re-save but when working at a fast pace, minutes count. And the longer the document and the heavier the formatting, the longer the weeding.

Every flipping book, magazine, newspaper, and most newsletters you read were designed in something like Quark or InDesign. Not Microsoft fucking WORD. And yet Word refuses to be functionally helpful to those who are *actually* IN the business of dealing with WORDS. Does anyone else see the irony here?

Seriously, if i have to open Word again one more time today I am going to throw something heavy.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Kyoshiro to Towa no Sora

So, I got as far as 6 episodes into Kyoshiro to Towa no Sora:

The Good
• So far it is easier to follow than Kannazuki no Miko (KnM) was.
• We also got a solid explanation for the existence of the Absolute Angels (this series' Orrochi) which was also nice.
• The mecha are more interesting than KnM's. They look better and fight more interestingly.
• Evil Psycho Lesbian leader of the evil Absolute Angels.
• Kuon (Chikane) is in love with and not abusing Himiko (Himeko). What a first.
• Already some of the Angels have some depth, as of episode 2 (particularly the Chikane/Himeko clones - Kuon/Himiko)

The Bad
• Everyone else has very little depth
• Obnoxious stereo-hetero couple as the central romance.
• SO much fanservice. Nudity abounds with way more bathing and molestation than is neccessary in two episodes than would be tolerable for an entire series. Gawd.
• Music (opening/ending) SUCKS. At least KnM's themes were worth downloading, imho.
• There is mecha, which although has an explanation, the explanation is still a weak reason to have it. The series would work much better if the characters just had swords - same way KnM would of worked better.
• Evil Psycho Lesbian leader of the Absolute Angels. Can we be more stereotypical?

The parts that are ressurected from KnM:
• Chikane and Himeko - as bad guys (Angels)! *gasp*. At least they're in love and kiss.
• Oogami Souma - obnoxious dude is now also a bad guy (Angel).
• Catgirl chick is back though she's blended with some other manga/anime character.
• The scarred up meathead dude is also back. Yay.
• The Evil Psycho Lesbian leader of them all reminds me of the nun chick. Hmm.
• Kuu is a lot like Himeko - totally clueless about her surroundings and has super low self esteem.
• Kuu also has a dykey roomate like Himeko did. Only this one for sure is a dyke.
• Pointless mecha.
• Takes place in a town that symbolizes all the same stuff the town in KnM did.

The story was really horrendous til we got to Kuon/Himiko, then suddenly there was some depth, albeit minor. I think the creators are weighing heavily on KnM for backstory/back-character development for Kuon/Himiko. I was hoping for more continual development there but the segments on those two are so far and few between (and short) that the pain of the rest of the series just wasn't worth it. The main character, Kuu, is WAY more annoying and pathetic than the original Himeko, if you can imagine that. And her obsession with her 'prince' is just sad. Stereotypes abound with gender roles and sexualities. Love between girls is at first something to be disgusted by but upon reflection, something that is beautiful and thus should be exploited (although I must say, the kiss between Kuon and Himiko was very nice: loving, tender, and beautiful). Any hetero couples must be fantastically gorgeous: any long-lasting couple will include a male who is at least two feet taller than his female partner, be a total gentleman, and be tall dark and handsome, and the female should be super girly, blonde, self-concious, shy, and have no self-esteem.

This story was so shallow I couldn't bear to watch another episode. Even for Kuon/Himiko I could not bear to push on. It just wasn't worth it - and I tried HARD (you've SEEN some of the stuff I've made myself watch!) So by far one of the worst anime I have seen. Even Iczer One was better because it was at LEAST so ridiculous as to keep me watching out of sheer shock. And that's saying something.

2 out of 10