My P90X Fitness Story, or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Bring It

February 21st, 2014

About half a year ago I decided I was going to do something about my long-term health. I’ve never been particularly physically fit despite playing sports while growing up. I’m not sure if it was a lack of motivation, or I was doing the wrong exercises, but being a 6’4” large man who has never been able to complete a single pull up without assistance, I was determined to turn myself around. I’m also paranoid about letting myself go and getting sick as I age, so it’s only now in my mid-twenties I realize I have to do something to take care of myself.

At first I was just doing weight lifting like I used to do growing up with basic bicep curls and standing flys. Doing it on my own with no cardio just ended up making my muscles sore, painfully so. A friend of mine turned me on to P90X, a series of workout routines led by Tony Horton, and set me on a schedule to do it regularly. The first week was torturous. My knees were sore from the frantic jumping of plyometrics. My midsection burned from the ab ripper routine. I flailed around ridiculously trying to perform yoga balance postures. At this point, about 99% of first-timers of P90X quit. I decided to be that 1%, and 90 days later I feel like I’m more physically fit than I’ve ever been in my entire life. It feels pretty good, but all it’s done is make me want more and to achieve a more perfect physique. Now my current routine is the Body Beast workout videos, and I’m learning the secrets behind muscle growth with new weight lifting moves and supplements. I have some before and after photos of my 90 days, although at this point I don’t find them satisfactory. By the summer I should have some muscle to show off.

I’m lucky in that I have a home gymnasium to exercise in, as well as the drive to keep maintaining my routines. I have a roommate who regularly does routines with me, and two people is just the right amount of people to maintain a workout schedule. For the first time in my life I have a consistent exercise schedule and it makes a big difference in my quality of life both physically and psychologically. I feel more sociable, more energetic, less hesitant to do the things that need to be done. On the downside, my diet is still horrible, but it’s hard to break the habits of drinking coffee every morning and eating ramen noodles for lunch when I’ve been doing it for years. I still think ramen noodles are delicious.

I’ve also been a little tempted to try more extreme chemical enhancements like testosterone boosters and anabolic steroids. I don’t have any moral opposition to try them despite how they are portrayed in the media. I don’t play major league baseball, so what do I have to lose? In my view, chemicals are just tools to achieve a means to an end. Chemicals do not have morals: they’re neutral bits of molecules that in correct doses produce a desired reaction. Alas, I’m too intimidated by the barrier of entry in knowing how to use them and having the funds to do it properly. I think I’ll save it for when I’m older and have less hormones flowing in my system.

The most common complaint I hear against maintaining an exercise routine is that it takes too much time to do it. Six hours a week may seem like a lot of work, but if you think about all the short- and long-term benefits you gain from working out, it’s obvious it’s one of the most productive things you can do with your time. P90X recently released their third iteration of its series of workout videos that’s geared towards doing workouts in only thirty minutes. It’s a frenzy of squats, stretches and reps, but if you have time constraints that don’t allow you to commit six hours a week, doing three hours a week might be more reasonable. You’ll be saving yourself a lot of trouble later down the road.

The Lurchworld Blog is now accepting bitcoins

December 18th, 2013

See that “Virtual Tip Jar” section on the sidebar? It’s changed now. I’ve decided to ditch Paypal as the middle man and accept donations using the virtual internet currency known as bitcoin. Bitcoins are a new technology that uses cryptography as the backbone of its utility. It’s network is supported by miners who validate transactions and in return they are awarded with bitcoins, a process that is planned to continue until the year 2140. They cannot be counterfeited and transactions are irreversible. You can send any amount of money anywhere in the world to anybody without government or banking interference. Every transaction ever made is backed up by a public ledger called the blockchain. It can be viewed on blockchain.info, which also contains lots of neat features for buying and spending bitcoin. The button I added to the blog uses the CoinBase exchange to accept donations, and users can send bitcoins to my address using either CoinBase or an outside address.

The state of bitcoin right now is a lot like email in the early 1990′s. It’s slow, cumbersome and not a lot of people are aware of it or what it’s used for. I am predicting that once bitcoin software is out of beta and the ease of use is developed over time, it’s value will skyrocket. It’s a better long term investment than any stock out there right now.

It will be a wild and volatile rollercoaster on the way to being internet rich. China’s entrance and now regulatory limitations on the buying of bitcoin has put a crash on the price of bitcoin at the time of writing this post. Before China’s government stepped in, the flood of Chinese money going into bitcoin for the past month raised the ceiling of bitcoin to over $1000 per coin. Now the price is hovering around $550 as panic sells drive the value down, but it’s only in terms of fiat currency. I have no problem putting my money into a deflationary currency that’s not backed by anything because my financial life is dictated by an inflationary currency that’s not backed by anything. In ancient times people exchanged value using what they had as bartering tools, like seashells, jewels and precious metals. Now here in the industrial revolution, the Internet is becoming an all encompassing way to manage finances. Bitcoin is the Internet of money. It makes perfect sense China would have a bitcoin frenzy being presented with a currency free from a central authority. Any freedom loving individual can see the value of having money they are able to do with as they please.

Unfortunately China is not a free country. There is no telling how world governments will react once bitcoin hits the mainstream, when everybody and your grandmother knows what it is. Now would be an excellent time to make an early adopter investment. I’ve often wondered what it would be like to go back in time and invest in Apple or McDonald’s stock. That will never happen, but bitcoin is happening right now. It’s young, it has many trials and tribulations ahead of it, but it is an invention that is straight out of Star Trek. As long as you can spend it on any goods and services you want (sans taxes), it’s only going to go on a long term linear rise in value.

I’m not worried about the government knocking on my door to confiscate my bitcoins. I’m much more scared of some thief stealing my bitcoins. In order to invest in this kind of technology, you absolutely have to do your homework on how to secure your money. Some basic steps you can take:

  • Never invest what you can’t afford to lose. I’ve been following the drama surrounding bitcoin and I’ve seen lives ruined by its ups and downs. You can make a cheap investment of one tenth of a bitcoin, or you can dump your entire live savings into it, but you have to ask yourself: “How will this affect me if the price drops to one cent tomorrow?” If the thought of that makes you ill, or you know your lifestyle and well being would be drastically changed as a result, then don’t invest. This is the wild west where the weak are exploited by the quick witted.
  • Keep your coins on a bitcoin wallet client, NOT an online wallet. A client stores your public and private keys on your computer’s harddrive. If you choose a strong password for your client (see bitcoin.org for a list of wallet clients and bitcoin exchanges), you should be relatively safe from attacks by malicious users. You can even go the extra mile by learning how to keep coins in cold storage using unsigned transactions and watching-only wallets. Online wallets should only be used for short-term spending and not for storage. Only leave money in an online wallet as long as you have to. There are many horror stories of online wallets either being hacked and losing all their bitcoins or the website’s owner shutting down and running away with all the coins. Also stay away from brainwallets unless you know what you’re doing.
  • Research where you choose to spend your bitcoins. There are many reputable businesses that accept bitcoins, but it is also rife with scams. Search internet forums related to bitcoin and read what other people have to say about a bitcoin business. If you use bitcoin while out shopping on the street, wait for confirmations from the bitcoin network before following through with your purchase. Six confirmations is the magic number for a successful transaction, but for smaller amounts under half a bitcoin, two or three confirmations are enough. Don’t forget to pay a small fee (>0.0001 BTC) so you don’t have to wait half an hour to confirm. The long confirmation times are one of the drawbacks of bitcoin in its current state but will be addressed in future versions of the software.

These are exciting times in the world of technology and commerce. The bitcoin revolution, if it isn’t killed off by governments or financial institutions, represents a genius method of storing and transferring wealth. The anonymous inventor Satoshi Nakamoto might go down in history as one of the most important inventors of our time. In an age where every piece of software comes with an end-user licence agreement and Digital Rights Management to make sure you don’t control what you own, the freedom provided by bitcoin is a breath of fresh air, a respite from the toxic sludge of regulation.

New CSS on the home page

October 28th, 2013

I decided to go back and apply some new things I learned about CSS from CodeAcademy. Nothing too fancy, just some borders and buttons. Turns out my facebook like button stopped working, so I gave that an upgrade as well. The code is still a little bit funky because of Dreamweaver working it’s magic on it, but for now it works and I’m satisfied. I want to start adding more pages with some interactive content, but that requires more study in Javascript before I can publish anything I want people to see. I wish I had more to show off but it’s been a slow month. Check back later for some new ideas I’ve been kicking around.

The Wargs Are Alright: A Review of George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire”

October 1st, 2013

This summer I learned what it means to dedicate a long time to doing something, and that thing I did was read the five published books of A Song of Ice and Fire, an epic high fantasy novel series written by George R.R. Martin. I was a sweet summer child and when Season 3 Episode 9 of Game of Thrones aired I saw all my hopes and dreams dashed to bits, and I decided there was no way I wasn’t going to find out what happened next. I started all the way back to the prologue of book one, A Game of Thrones, to the epilogue of book five, A Dance with Dragons, and all I can say is wow. The writing style of Martin can sometimes be a little trite, but the plot twists he writes and the way he portrays his characters into three-dimensional human beings is top notch.

I was surprised to learn the show isn’t even past the third book, A Storm of Swords. I’m quite excited for Season 4 of Game of Thrones knowing all the blood that’s left to be spilled. However violence isn’t the focal point of the series. What makes ASOIAF stand out is its deep and rich history of the world it occupies. Everyone in the land of Westeros and beyond is influenced by the people and culture that came before them. There are established belief systems that individual characters subscribe to, and although they play a prevalent role in the psyches and motivations of Westeros inhabitants, we never meet any actual gods. There are myths and legends of the magical history of Westeros, but at the start of the series magic is considered extinct along with the dragons. What keeps the reader on the edge of their seat is the knowledge that no character is safe from mortal danger. It breaks all the fantasy story tropes, murders them in their sleep and pisses on their graves. The game is cruel but satisfying.

SPOILER ALERT: I’m going to be discussing events that occur in the book and TV series, so if you want a synopsis of what I think and don’t want to read all the tinfoil nonsense, skip to the last paragraph.

When there is no safe haven for anybody and chaos reigns supreme, wild possibilities start to form. The world of ASOIAF occupies a magic space where the seasons move in years instead of months. So right from the start, things are absolutely insane. A long feudal history sets up a brutal society always teetering on the edge of absolute destruction. The most likeable character in the series with the title of the Dragonknight—Rhaegar Targaryen—starts in the story by being dead for years, killed by the current king in battle. This is one of the many ways George R.R. Martin toys with the emotions of the reader. There is no role model hero to save the day, no valiant knight to rescue the maiden from distress, because life is not a song, much to the woe of many a member of the Stark family.

I think this is one of the definitive fantasy series of American literature of this generation of authors. J.R.R. Tolkien gave the British their fantasy magnum opus with The Lord of the Rings, and Georgey boy scored one for team U.S.A. with ASOIAF. The world and events are so expansive that I’m not sure the entire plot can be wrapped up in two more books. The conspiracy of the North against the Iron Throne hasn’t played out yet, Dany is still another continent away not solving anybody’s problems with her dragons, all of the Stark children are displaced many leagues away from each other, Dorne has to have its vengeance for what the Lannisters did to Oberyn Martell, and the damn zombie apocalypse hinted at in the first chapter of the first book still hasn’t happened yet.

But that’s okay because if George R.R. Martin dies before he can finish ASOIAF, I know how the series can end with none of the loose plot lines ever being tied up. At the end of the seventh book, the red comet that foretold the coming of dragons, instead of gently passing on by, crashes into Westeros. The continent is obliterated and the rest of the planet plunges into the Nuclear Winter That Never Ends. Everybody and everything dies. Then millions of years later, the NASA Curiosity rover makes its landing on the crater that used to be King’s Landing. The end.

There aren’t many stories out there that tickle my masochistic side. The video game Dark Souls had a brutal fantasy setting with a depressing cast of tough luck characters, but it doesn’t have the same sense of scale and interconnectedness that ASOIAF depicts. The game of thrones is full of players where every point-of-view character is either a contender for the Iron Throne, or they are a piece of the game being moved around to fill an agenda of another, more clever player. Varys and Littlefinger—both once members of the royal counsel—are examples of players who don’t play a direct role in the happenings of Westeros, but manipulate the other players to consolidate their own influence. They spin a chaotic web of lies and deceit that’s either going to end in complete annihilation or in slightly less complete annihilation where maybe Tyrion Lannister still lives to be king of the ashes. But it’s not really about the destination, it’s about the wild ride on the back of a dragon with reckless abandon for literary ethics.

It’s Hard Out Here For An Inmate: A Review of Orange Is The New Black

August 22nd, 2013

It seems more apparent with every passing day that Netflix is the future of television. Existing media conglomerates refuse to change with the times, and this company that made a name for itself shipping DVDs through the mail is set to fill the void the Internet generation craves to be fulfilled. Technology is always changing, and television executives who refuse to evolve will discover that life does not stop and start at their convenience. Orange Is The New Black doesn’t break any new ground, but the fact that a show with production values equivalent to shows on cable based subscription channels like HBO and Showtime can be produced and distributed entirely over the Internet has convinced me that traditional television is on its way out. This show which takes place in a New York federal penitentiary for women features top tier acting talent, all the adult themes and naughtiness you can handle, and clever writing full of pop culture references and plot twists. If you’re looking for a show that can hold your attention with betrayal and intrigue, this is it.

I was interested to learn that Netflix was producing original series when House of Cards came out. Although I adore Kevin Spacey as an actor and I do enjoy political thrillers, I couldn’t bring myself to commit to the show. The characters weren’t relatable; not everybody can aspire to be a Washington DC power player. The threat of prison, however, looms over every citizen, especially in this privately funded prison industry. One wrong decision, one day being in the wrong place at the wrong time could mean the loss of freedom and privileges, as Taylor Schilling’s character finds out when she does time for being an accomplice to a drug deal which happened a decade ago. The fact that the show takes place at a women’s prison also adds to the drama, as the female inmates learn to survive in a male dominated environment. I grew to really like Pablo Schreiber’s character known as George “Pornstache” Mendez not because he has any redeeming qualities, but because he’s a man you love to hate. He’s an opportunist who frequently harasses, berates and coerces the inmates for his own ends, a thug in uniform. There’s a wide ensemble of inmates with their own stories of how they ended up in Litchfield prison. After watching every episode, I never felt that any of the characters lacked depth.

The plot lines that carry the show are the episodic telling of the individual character’s past via flashbacks while the long story arc of the love triangle between Piper Chapman, her former lover Alex Vause and Chapman’s fiance Larry plays out. Orange Is The New Black even pokes fun at itself at how ridiculous the situation becomes with family and friends of Chapman complaining about how their lives are getting dragged down because of her prison sentence. The best part about this show being on Netflix is that you don’t have to wait a week to find out what happens next. All thirteen episodes of the first season are available to watch any time you want. There’s some worthwhile social commentary in this show about our cyclic prison system in this country and the effect it can have on people’s lives—not just the inmates lives but also the administrators and guards.

Orange Is The New Black has certainly deserved its renewal for a second season. The show isn’t even a third of the way into Chapman’s sentence, and the final episode of the first season is a tantalizing cliffhanger. I’m impressed with the directions Netflix is taking in producing new content for its distribution platform. Audiences now have a choice amongst entertainment sources that goes beyond the traditional cable and satellite subscription services. A little competition will be very good at breaking the mold of reality television shows and poorly produced sitcoms that are so prevalent. Thanks to the efficiency and availability of the Internet, existing television programming will have to improve to keep up, or else no one is going to spend money for outdated platforms. It never ceases to amaze me how technology can have such a huge impact on industries that embrace it. Sometimes the future can be scary to think about, but then I remind myself how lucky I am to see such progress take place.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ /★ ★ ★ ★ ★ (five out of five stars)

The Tracks On Wax Are Top Of The Pops

July 1st, 2013

About a year ago I took a liking to vinyl. I’m not sure what set it off, but I wasn’t getting the same experience I used to have listening to my favorite albums on FLAC files. It seemed so temporary, listening to bit-by-bit perfect recreations of my favorite records I used to listen to on physical CD’s back in the day. I haven’t listened to any compact discs in years, most of my collection worn out and scratched beyond playability. Any day my hard drive could crash and all those zeroes and ones would be lost forever. An earthquake could rattle my computer just enough to damage the two hard drives that store my music collection. What would I do then? Listen to those songs on my iPod? It could just as easily be destroyed. It’s great if you’re on the go but the frequencies are so lacking and hollow, even on the highest bit-rates. There is a superior and more permanent format available, and it stands the test of time.

Vinyl offers its listeners a fuller and more dynamic method of listening to music, along with large shiny gate-folds and big pieces of wax. I can tell when I listen to it that the waveform of a song is more pronounced and less compressed compared to its digital counterpart. The physical medium gives the frequencies room to breathe. I can feel the music when I hear it coming from the needle of a turntable that just doesn’t compare to a CD or a computer file. I like holding the music in my hands and knowing that as long as I store it correctly—away from dust and heat and keeping the records vertical and not horizontal—they’ll last a long time, much longer than a CD which turns into a coaster after ten years at best.

So it’s official I’ve been bitten by the vinyl bug, and after a year or so of collecting I’ve amassed thirty-six records adding up to fifty-three discs altogether. These are tracks engraved in wax that I care enough about that I want to be able to hold them and listen to them on the best commercial format available. It could be even better if I listened to it on magnetic tape, but my local record store doesn’t sell anything on magnetic tape, or even a magnetic tape machine.

Click here to see my record collection on Imgur, and a description of each one will be listed in the order of left-to-right, top-to-bottom.

The Flaming Lips – Here It Is: The first Flaming Lips album, full of the Butthole Surfers inspired fury that makes for good rock and roll. Early hints of the psychedelic and experimental sounds of later works by the band can be heard with sudden stops and starts, and the tense jams that end in freak out bonanzas.

The Flaming Lips – Oh My Gawd!!!… The Flaming Lips: The second Flaming Lips album that ups the ante on the ferocity of the previous effort. It’s got ups, downs, and new instrumentation used by the evolving band. The clear vinyl is a nice touch, the only one of its kind in this collection.

The Flaming Lips – Telepathic Surgery: The third Flaming Lips album where the band starts to get really bold. It’s trippy, it’s rocking, it’s classic Flaming Lips.

The Flaming Lips – In a Priest Driven Ambulance: This delicious pink vinyl is the fourth Flaming Lips album. I bought the first four Flaming Lips albums at a music festival the band was playing as the headliner act. I had a passing familiarity with them before, but after one of the best shows I’ve ever seen I had fallen in love. Owning these albums brings back good memories of that concert.

The Flaming Lips – Once Beyond Hopelessness: Christmas on Mars OST: The loud yet distant sounds of outer space are on this green vinyl. The music from the film Christmas on Mars is at once inspiring and terrifying. This also came with a 45 RPM 7-inch record with the Flaming Lips rendition of “Silent Night”.

Vangelis – Blade Runner OST: Another soundtrack to a film I adore. Vangelis makes heavy use of synthesizers to make future music that not only sets the tone for the movie, but stands on its own quite well. The quality of this pressing is exquisite. My copy has the numbered stamp of “No. 2497”.

Various Artists – Django Unchained OST: This snazzy double LP is the only compilation record of my collection. Not only an awesome soundtrack full of old western tunes and hip hop, but it’s pressed on white vinyl with a mock blood splatter that always brings a smile to my face. The new Ennio Morricone song “Ancora Qui” alone is worth it.

Joy Division – Still: A collection of studio and live tracks from Joy Division, and as you can see I have a thing for Ian Curtis’ poetic prose backed by the three out of four members of New Order. If you want to know what Ian’s life was like back in the early days of punk rock, check out the movie “Control”. Anyways, this record contains some fierce Joy Division tunes, and the only recording of the band playing “Ceremony”, later remade as a New Order song.

Joy Division – Substance: Some of my favorite Joy Division songs are on this album, including “Atmosphere”, “Love Will Tear Us Apart”, and the alternate version of “She Lost Control”. This is essential listening for any Joy Division fan.

Joy Division – Closer: The second Joy Division album full of raw emotion and unconventional new wave songs. It’s a strange, unique record and Ian’s voice shines beautifully.

Joy Division – Unknown Pleasures: The first Joy Division album that sets the mood for Ian’s powerful vocals and the bare bones arrangements of drums, bass and guitar with a little synthesizer thrown in.

Daft Punk – Random Access Memories: You can hear the big budget productions of “Random Access Memories” so clearly on vinyl. Every nuance of the live performances can be heard, a really brilliant offering from the realm of electronic dance music.

Neutral Milk Hotel – Box Set: This set of seven records is a hipster’s wet dream. All the pressings are high quality, and the packaging is gorgeous.

Rage Against the Machine – Rage Against the Machine: The first Rage Against The Machine album, it’s the perfect way to piss off the neighbors. For a picture disc pressing, this record really surprised me. It sounds just as bombastic and heavy as I remember it.

7 Shot Screamers – Keep the Flame Alive: This record is some local St. Louis flavor of music, affectionately known as psychobilly. This band was active during the early 2000′s. They came out with three albums, but this is the only record they put to wax. It was hard to find—I ordered it from Germany. “Keep The Flame Alive” makes me very nostalgic for one of my favorite bands during my teenage years. If you want to know what the lead singer of the band is up to now, look up “Clownvis Presley”.

MC5 – Kick Out the Jams: An original pressing of the 1969 live concert performed by the Motor City Five, one of the jewels of my collection. This pressing is the censored version with no “KICK OUT THE JAMS, MOTHERFUCKER”. I would have preferred the uncensored version, but it’s only one phrase. It’s the music I care about, the raw proto punk that the MC5 pioneered.

Black Flag – The First Four Years: A great collection of punk rock songs by Black Flag good for letting out some steam. The raw power of analogue is apparent when listening to it.

Bad Brains – Bad Brains: The first album by the all-black punk rock group Bad Brains, mixing two of my favorite kinds of music together—reggae and punk rock.

Bob Marley – Legend: Some of Bob Marley’s best songs, and it makes for a very pleasant listening experience.

Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes – Up From Below: A heavily layered folk rock orchestra that sounds like Bob Dylan meets Pink Floyd. It has a very lo-fi feel to it with lots of ambiance and studio noise.

Sun Ra – The Magic City: The oldest record in my collection, pressed in 1966. So old in fact, it’s in monaural. The title track is a sweeping journey through the highways, streets, alleys, slums and suburbs of the magic city.

The Sonics – Introducing the Sonics: Another one of those early proto punk records by this low-key Pacific Northwest band. It’s gritty, raw and loud, just the way I like it.

X-Ray Spex – Germfree Adolescents: A high octane British punk rock record with some quirks, like a spunky female lead vocalist and a horn section.

Parliament – The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein: Funk never sounded so funky before it came out of my turntable. George Clinton’s starchild shines bright on this record.

Sun Ra – Space Is The Place: One of the records I just had to own on vinyl. This crown jewel of my collection is my only quadrophonic recording I own, a wild journey through outer space with many contrasting dynamics. I think this is free jazz at its finest.

The Cramps – Stay Sick: A fun and catchy psychobilly record with the Cramps’ best known song “Bikini Girls With Machine Guns”.

Iggy & the Stooges – Raw Power: The last recording before the breakup of the group, a visceral recording with screeching guitars and Iggy’s demented voice. It sounds great, but on vinyl it’s quite apparent how they mixed out the bass on this album. I would also own a copy of the Stooge’s “Fun House” if existing copies of that record weren’t so stupid expensive (one of the drawbacks of wanting to own vinyl).

Funkadelic – Maggot Brain: A very soulful jam marks the beginning of this album. Every guitar aficionado should hear it. The rest offers up some classic funk.

Tool – Lateralus: Although a wonderful heavy-yet-meditative album, I was disappointed by the quality of this pressing. The pictures on these discs looks fantastic, but I can hear some lacking in the high and mid frequencies on “Lateralus”. It’s plenty bass heavy though, so the rocking out parts stay rocking. The more dynamic bits sound too quiet for my liking.

Television – Marquee Moon: This first album by Television is a rock ‘n’ roll masterpiece with lovely dueling guitars and a very tight groove.

The Sex Pistols – Never Mind the Bollocks Here’s the Sex Pistols: The first Sex Pistols album raises the bar on what loud and furious rock ‘n’ roll is, and the Chuck Berry inspired guitar licks and Johnny Rotten’s adolescent vocals sound so incredible.

Jimi Hendrix – Live at Woodstock: The legendary concert on a three LP vinyl. Need I say more?

The White Stripes – Elephant: One of my hauls from Record Store Day 2013. The all analogue presentation is a glorious thing to behold.

Cut Copy – Bright Like Neon Love: And on the flip side, I have a synth pop album from Record Store Day. The warm tones of vinyl complement this album nicely.

Rob Zombie – Dead City Radio and the New Gods of Supertown: A reverse groove 10” and another Record Store Day acquisition. The vinyl is red like blood, a good choice for Rob Zombie. The A side “Dead City Radio” is a fist pumping anthem rock song, not too bad. However the B side, “Teenage Nosferatu Pussy”, is very meh. The numbered stamp on my copy reads “No. 1357”.

Johnny-O & the Jerks / The Vultures – Spirit of St. Louis: Remember what I said about only having one compilation? I lied, this is another, and also some more St. Louis unique recordings. It’s a 7” with two psychobilly bands playing each others songs. I actually got this record for free from the drummer of Johnny-O & the Jerks outside the Vintage Vinyl in the Delmar Loop. Although I was totally stoked I got a free vinyl, I actually didn’t own a record player to play it on at the time, so I had to wait for years before I could listen to it.

Owning all these records, I can be confident they will last a lifetime and sound just as good as the day I opened the shrink wrapped seal, or lack thereof. My wallet hates me but my ears are in heaven. It’s only a matter of time before I will want to upgrade to new hardware like a better cartridge or a more expensive preamp, but my AT-LP120-USB has enough knobs and dials to keep me preoccupied.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Stimuli? A review of Daft Punk’s “Random Access Memories”

May 22nd, 2013

Living in 2013 feels like living in the future. Devices that were far off into the future gizmos used by Starfleet officers in Star Trek are being made by Apple Computers today. Your cell phone is basically a tricorder. Who knows what technology is going to be like in the 24th century, but in the present you have to take a look back and marvel at how far we’ve come. The music of today has similarly advanced, but its over-compressed frequencies and pitch corrected auto-tuned stars in the spotlight have all but washed out the human element in popular culture. It’s ironic that it takes two men disguising their faces and their voices as artificial lifeforms in order to bring that spirit and energy that made the music from the 1960s and 1970s so special and timeless. That’s an apt word for “Random Access Memories”—timeless—because listening to it is like listening to a time capsule of music outside the continuum of contemporary pop. It fuses the soul and funk of the past with the technology and resources of the present day, and there’s zero doubt that no expense was spared to bring as many sounds and talent into this record. “Random Access Memories” soars across the past 50 years of music and compresses it into seventy-four minutes. It’s a wild ride you share with the two androids from France, and much like the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, David Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars” or Marilyn Manson’s “Mechanical Animals”, it is a loose concept album with every track striking a deep emotional chord, a rarity in music.

Daft Punk seems to have a pattern to their studio albums where one record is solo produced by themselves, and then the subsequent record incorporates collaborators to bring their music to the next level. Their debut “Homework” was a bedroom produced recording using only their know-how in electronic dance music composition. The follow up “Discovery” brought in outside talent to give their songs a little extra flavor. Then the successor “Human After All” went back to the basics of just the two robots playing by themselves again. Now here we are at “Random Access Memories” and Daft Punk assembled an all-star cast of musicians including Nile Rogers, Giorgio Moroder, Paul Williams, Julian Casablancas, Todd Edwards, Panda Bear, Pharrell Williams, DJ Falcon and Chilly Gonzales. To call “Random Access Memories” a well produced recording would be an understatement, so we’ll have to settle for an extremely well produced recording instead. I have not heard a record that was mixed this well since Blue Man Group’s “The Complex.” It’s damn near perfect. I have to give props to the engineers who worked on this recording, they really captured the magic of having so many great musicians together.

The album launches with a funky declaration of revitalizing music in “Give Life Back to Music.” I don’t know whether to call this album electro-funk, or disco, or house, because it’s simultaneously all of these things and none of these things. An emphasis is placed on live performance of the music—and if you’ve listened to Daft Punk’s live albums, you know they shine brightest when they play live—and it gives it a feel unlike any electronic album I’ve heard. This interplay of artificial music and real music culminates in the pivotal track “Touch”, with a heart-wrenching lead vocal by Paul Williams and a huge array of sounds including multiple synthesizers, a live band, an orchestra, a choir, a horn section, and a multitude of other instruments buried deep within the mix. The two vocoded voices of humans Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo are also prevalent throughout the record in a futuristic sounding duet.

“Random Access Memories” draws parallels between the human brain and computer RAM, temporary memory used to quickly access the random variables of a program. The overarching theme of the album is about an android trying to comprehend emotions and sensations. You can hear a struggle to break free from the default programming with songs about love and dancing, and then it finally breaks through in the final track “Contact.” The previous rising vibes of the album climax in a warp through time and space. All the tracks are like a solar system of memories with “Touch” being the central star. The memories of love, despair, nostalgia, joy, longing and craving revolve around the central memory of learning that existence is more than just the sum of one’s senses. That catalyst of the memory of discovering the most basic of the senses—touch—and all the accompanying feelings that come with it set the tone of this epic journey through the mind, artificial or not.

I admit I was skeptical of this album at first. When the single “Get Lucky” came out on iTunes I immediately thought “Oh great, another generic song about getting laid”, but it’s more than that. It’s a song about chemistry, about finding a connection after spending what seems like an eternity searching for it. Some of the disco sounds turned me off at first, but this isn’t your Daddy’s disco. This goes to the root of the funk and groove that made disco explode in the first place. The drums, the bass, the guitar, the piano and the many synthesized waveforms all interact beautifully to create truly danceable tunes. It took a few listens, but it grew on me like a wild fungus. I don’t say this often, but the time and money spent on the hype behind “Random Access Memories” was worth every penny. This is what music should sound like. It should be bombastic, dynamic and interesting to listen to. This makes everything old sound new again, and although that formula certainly won’t work for everyone, Daft Punk made this at the right time and in all the right places with all the right people. It is a serendipitous moment to experience “Random Access Memories” and the only thing that could make it better would be if Daft Punk came to my town to put on a show.

*****/***** (Five out of five stars)

Are You There Jah? It’s Me, Ras Snoop: A review of Snoop Lion’s “Reincarnated”

April 30th, 2013

Every once in a while, the shining stars of the music world choose to reinvent themselves in order to stay relevant. Madonna tried it and she turned into a MDMA addicted cougar. Calvin “Snoop Lion” Broadus Jr. did it and became a pot-smoking rasta as opposed to a weed addicted gangsta rapper. While the jury is still out whether this counts as a worthwhile career move, the new album by the freshly minted Snoop Lion comes at a time when positive vibrations are needed most. The familiar Rastafarian theme of non-violence defines the overall tone of “Reincarnated.” For the first time, I can tolerate a song with Miley Cyrus on it.

“Reincarnated” is not a hip hop album, nor is it a strict reggae roots record. There are heavy dancehall influences using synthesizers to create a bass heavy groove to many songs such as “Get Away” and “Fruit Juice.” It makes “Reincarnated” not such a far stretch for a performer like Snoop Lion, whose previous releases also relied heavy on synthesizers to create his beats. The single from the album “Here Comes The King” has a catchy middle eight that’s sure to complement any buzz the listener is experiencing. It’s a slick reggae record, but “Reincarnated” isn’t breaking any new ground.

The two major themes that come out of “Reincarnated” are consuming copious amounts of cannabis, and loving one another. It falls nice and neat into the reggae music ethos, and whether or not these messages could have just as easily been communicated in the form of hip hop is debatable. In some alternate universe, Snoop Lion might have gone to Jamacia, had a spiritual revelation, gave away all his money to charity and became a bum instead. I’m happy he decided to continue his career and try to make something different. I would have preferred he did something a little less predictable, like make a roots reggae record instead of a dancehall and dub reggae album, but perhaps that would have been too outside of his comfort zone.

I really wanted this record to be the modern day equivalent of Bob Marley’s “Exodus” where every song is a deep track with a little struggle of freedom from oppression thrown in, but this album falls short of that lofty goal. At least it doesn’t do anything to deteriorate the genre. Maybe by the second or third Snoop Lion record, he will really find his voice and deliver the earth shattering record I imagine him producing, but for now we have a slightly above average mishmash of dancehall and reggae tunes. I was particularly impressed by the track “No Guns Allowed” which is a heartfelt plea to end gun violence, and I wish there were more songs like it on “Reincarnated.” I would have been more satisfied if there were more songs about praising Jah as opposed to smoking weed, but in Rastafarian culture those two activities are often one and the same.

The first Snoop Lion album is a good record to chill out and relax to, and certain tracks can make for a good party mix, but ultimately “Reincarnated” doesn’t inspire as many positive vibrations as I thought it would. The deluxe edition contains a few songs that I believe would have helped cut some of the filler if they replaced certain songs in the regular version of “Reincarnated”, so if you are going to acquire this record, definitely go for the extra tunes. This radical change in genres for Snoop may not be your cup of tea, and you can feel justified in that opinion, but I welcome this change in direction. After a couple more Snoop Lion albums, he’ll have the catalogue necessary to really jam.

****/***** (four out of five stars)

I’ve always wanted to look like Mark Twain while blowing shit up

March 30th, 2013

I’m back with NEW HATS, and this time it’s not even a hat, it’s a mustache! A big bushy bit of fur on your lip so you can resemble esteemed author and tugboat captain Mark Twain. Meet the Samuel Clemens!

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If you have a Steam account (and why not? IT’S FREE!), come over to the workshop submission and give me a thumbs up! Click here:

This misc. item was inspired by the Dr. Gordbort set “Novelty Mutton Chops and Pipe.” It has flat planes jutting out of the main model to resemble wild and unruly hairs. My previous hat had a distinct lack of definition, so I wanted to try something different and make a little more geometry. As usual I made a video to go along with it, so sit back, relax and enjoy “Nice Shot Man”:

I’ve got another food-based hat in mind for my next project, so check back soon for another fashionable bit of pixels.

Feel like even more of a BAMF with this hat

March 1st, 2013

So I like Taxi Driver, and I like Team Fortress 2. I can relate to the main character played by a young Robert DeNiro and his slow descent into moral outrage turned murderous anger, and I can also relate to a big Russian man shooting people with his big gun. So without further ado I present this homage named after the protagonist Travis Bickle.

This is a low poly model with a tiny texture of 128×256, which comes to 32768 pixels. I didn’t get every single one, but it should be in the ballpark of 32000 pixels. That’s not much for a video game item. Most hats in TF2 have at least double that amount of pixels. I could have added more geometry and more resolution, but it’s such a small hairdo, I thought I should challenge myself with a minimal amount of bits and bytes. I like how it turned out, and I get better at this every time I do it. I’ll be back with more soon.

Don’t forget to rate the hat at the workshop page,

P.S. I almost forgot: I like to make videos to my hats and I have one for the Travis Bickle too.