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Time

June 2, 2010

Time is a funny thing. It eludes us so easily, and yet without it, we’d all be lost. How would we know when to wake up? How would we know when to show up for work or a dentist appointment? It makes you wonder. If time didn’t exist, or if we simply chose to ignore it, would we be better off, or worse? If our lives weren’t so intricately bound to a schedule based on time, would we be more happy, or just lost and confused?

From personal experience, it’s refreshing once in a while to let loose the chains and not worry about looking at the clock on the wall. I’ve travelled to Cuba twice and the Dominican Republic once, and it was nice to not be concerned about the time of day. I just didn’t care. I figured if the sun was up, it was daytime, and when the sun went down, it was night-time. The only time we had to look at a clock was for our dinner reservations. Granted, when you’re on vacation, things are a little different. There’s no concern, because you’re not really under any pressure to accomplish anything other than your own personal relaxation. That’s not a bad thing, but in the real world we spend most of our time working to make a living, so the amount of actual free time we have is pretty scarce.

Consider my situation: I wake up most mornings at around 7:30-7:45am, and then hop in the shower, maybe grab a bite to eat and then I’m out the door by 8:30. I spend an hour commuting into work, and then spend the next 8-9 hours there. After work, which is usually between 6 and 6:30pm, I leave and then spend another hour commuting back home. I get home between 7 and 7:30pm on most nights, and if I’m lucky, Lorrie is home before me and already has dinner on the go. If not, I spend the next hour or so making dinner, sometimes longer. Lorrie rolls in, sometimes as late as 8:30pm, and we either start eating the dinner I made, or go out for dinner if there’s no food in the house. By the time we’re done eating, it’s already after 9. If we decide to clean up the kitchen, that takes another half an hour, so call it 9:30. If Lorrie works early, she’s usually in bed by 11 at the latest, so that leaves us roughly an hour and a half to do something we actually want to do. Sometimes we have more time and sometimes less depending on the day and what time we get home, but on most nights if we can fit a movie in, we’re lucky. What’s scary is I’ve heard of much worse situations. People that work 60-hour weeks. People with kids that dont get any sleep. People that have mutiple jobs just to make ends meet.

Twenty-four hours in a day hardly seems like enough time to survive anymore. So what’s the solution? Longer days? I dont think time is the problem so much as the way in which we percieve it and how we set our priorities. We try to lay blame on time itself as though it can be held accountable for our shortcomings. The reality is the passage of time is something out of our control, and there will never be more than twenty-four hours in a day to accomodate our needs. So how do we know what to do with the time we have and how to set our priorities? There’s no universal answer to that question, unfortunately. Setting priorities is something I’ve struggled with for years. Trying to decide what’s most important, or what’s the most valuable use of my time. Do I do the things I want to do, or do I do the things that need to be done? If I do the former, responsibilities get neglected and the house turns into a disaster zone. If I do the latter, the house is clean, but I’m miserable because I feel like a slave. It’s a tough balancing act, and I don’t know if I’ll ever get it right. Should I really play an hour of Rock Band when there’s a pile of dirty laundry in the closet? It’s more like a pile of guilt. A big, festering pile of guilt, calling my name as I’m struggling to get five stars on Panic Attack.

There’s so much pressure to be productive these days, and I think a lot of that comes from our employers; companies that want us to be making the best possible use of every second that we’re on their clock. But we’re meant to do so much more than produce results on a balance sheet so some chief executive can buy his or her yacht. And when I say “do so much more,” that doesn’t actually mean doing that much more. Doing more could mean sitting in a rocking chair and reading your favorite book, or taking a walk through the park. The problem with modeling your life after your employer’s work ethics is that the results dont line up. Companies want you to be productive and efficient because it makes them money. But if you spend your days off applying the same principles, trying to accomplish as much as possible in as little amount of time, you’re not going to be any richer. You’re going to be exhausted, and come Monday morning, you wont feel like you had a weekend at all.

In the end, I don’t think there’s a simple answer to handling time, but in the end, the only thing that’s really out of our control is time itself. So what does that leave? Maybe it’s time to break out that list of priorities and go through it with a fine-tooth comb. How many things on that list are truly important? How many of those things could be moved to next week, or next month, or off the list altogether? What about adding a few things that aren’t part of your normal routine? How about on your next day off, you just don’t look at a clock, and plan to not have a plan. Wake up when you wake up. Eat when you’re hungry. Do what makes you happy. Go to bed when you’re tired. Shelf your busy life, just for a day.

I just realized I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time writing this note, but I don’t care. :)

~B

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An Ode to Super Metroid

June 12, 2009

smetroidbox

Every once in a while the human race is graced with a video game that is so polished, so immersive and captivating that you find yourself going back to play it again and again.  Fifteen years after its release, I still get cravings to play Super Metroid.  Of course, my Super Nintendo has long since passed from this world into console heaven.  But thanks to the introduction of video game emulators I can play this game as if I were still thirteen years old, holed up in my room for hours on end, drinking litres of Faygo cola and then regretting it later because of the eruption of zits it caused on my face.  For those of you that have played this game, feel free to join me in the tipping of your hats to one of the most significant titles ever released on a home console.  For those who haven’t played Super Metroid, I’m going to try my best to encapsulate all this game has to offer in a magazine-style review so that you may be persuaded to try it out.  After that, do yourself a favour and download ZSNES, the foremost Super Nintendo emulator for PC.  Once you’ve done that, you’ll need to find the Super Metroid ROM file.  This may be tricky because Super Metroid is on the list of games protected by the ESA, and finding a legitimate free download of the ROM wont be easy.  This is due to the fact that Super Metroid has been released on the Nintendo Wii  as a download for the Virtual Console.  Even so, it’s well worth the $10.

First, a brief history lesson on this game seems prudent.  Super Metroid was released on the Super Nintendo in April of 1994 as a follow-up to Metroid II, which was released on the original Gameboy two years prior.  The Metroid series was first introduced to us on the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1987, and has since gone through many iterations on various Nintendo consoles over the years.  While the Metroid Prime series didn’t hold much interest in me, some of the old glory was restored when Metroid Fusion and Metroid: Zero Mission were released on the Gameboy Advance.  Both those titles are excellent and are definitely worth checking out  if you’re like me and cling to that old-school 2-D platforming action.  Super Metroid will always be numero uno in my heart, though.  So without further ado, let’s get into the meat and potatoes of why this game is still such a gem in a world dominated by first-person shooters and regurgitated sports titles.

Graphics: 5/5

Super_Metroid_Mother_Brain_tankSo let’s be honest – video game graphics have come a long way since 1994.  You don’t need to have your cataracts removed to see that.  I’m not going to try to convince you that this game will hold its own against, say, Killzone 2 for the Playstation 3.  I would even go as far as to say that Metroid Fusion and Metroid: Zero Mission for the Gameboy Advance probably have better graphics overall than their SNES counterpart.  But we’re talking about a piece of hardware that was released in 1990, in an age where consoles were commonly ranked by the amount of on-screen colours they could display (256 for the SNES, the most of all the 16-bit consoles).  The main CPU of the SNES puttered along at 3.5Mhz.  I think I can tap my index finger faster than that.  Hardware limitations aside, this game looks fantastic.  From the intro sequence to the ending sequence when the ship blasts off from the planet, and everything in between, this game is total eye candy.  The amount of detail in the animations is stunning.  The plethora of colours used to paint the various areas of planet Zebes is astounding.  The enemies are plantiful, and in some cases huge – two full screens tall.  And despite the SNES’s reputation of having a slow CPU (those Sega goons always liked to poke fun at that fact), I don’t ever recall this game having an issue with slowdown.  Just wait until you acquire the Speed Booster in Norfair, and you’ll see what I’m talking about.  But through and through, this game is all about attention to detail.  You can see it in all areas, and it really shows what a polished product Super Metroid is.

Sound: 5/5

I remember reading the review for Super Metroid in GamePro magazine way back in 1994.  If I recall correctly – and I wouldn’t necessarily trust my recollection abilities – sound was the only area where this game didn’t score a 5/5.  I cant remember if GamePro had a separate rating for sound and music, but I’m going to combine the two anyhow to make things simpler.  So why am I giving it a 5/5?  Maybe it would be easier to explain why I think GamePro magazine didn’t give it a 5/5.  I think they failed to look at the big picture, and let me explain what I mean by that.  Technically, one could argue that there are SNES games out there with better sound effects.  I think that’s pretty much a given.  Many of the sounds are muffled, and sometimes dubbed (ie playing back the same sound sample either slowed down or sped up in different scenarios).  Musically, Super Metroid didn’t win any awards for original score.  Most of the music lacks any kind of creative or foot-tapping melody, and will start to get repetitive as you search for hours on end to find all the items in the game.  However, what the music and sound effects lack in technical prowess, they add immensely to the overall atmosphere of the game, which is what got me hooked from the get-go.  Combined with the visuals, the sound adds a whole other element of feel to Super Metroid that you don’t see too often in games today.

Controls: 5/5

Super Metroid (JU) [!]_00008It’s probably getting obvious at this point that I’m going to score every category 5/5.  The controls in Super Metroid are definitely no exception.  Simple, responsive and effective.  That’s the way a game ought to be, and that’s part of the reason why I have little patience for so-called “next-generation” games.  If a game takes me longer than an hour to learn how to play because there are three dozen different button combinations, chances are I’m going to lose interest before I start having fun.  And that’s what video games were designed for in the first place, right?  To have fun.  Why do you think the Wii is still selling out?  Because it has a controller with twenty-five buttons on it?  No.  Because it has a multi-core processor that can crunch enough numbers to beat Gary Kasparov at a game of chess?  No.  I realize I’m on a bit of a tangent here, but this just proves why applications like the Virtual Console on the Wii, or the ability to download classic titles to your PS3 exist.  People go back to these games because they were simple, and fun.  Pick up your controller and start playing.  Getting back on track here, even compared to other Super Nintendo games, Super Metroid has excellent controls.  Using the Speed Booster may take a few tries to get down, but overall, you wont find yourself mashing buttons in any way.

Fun Factor: 5/5

What do I really need to say about this?  The fact that I’m writing this article proves that this game has enough replay value to keep coming back to it after all these years.  Even though I’ve memorized where every missile, super missile, power bomb, energy tank and reserve tank are located, I still have fun ripping through the various areas of Planet Zebes in attempt to complete the game in as little time as possible.  Check out some of the speed run videos on YouTube.  If you think I’m addicted to Super Metroid, some of these guys must practice for hours to complete the game in under 30 minutes.

Total: 20/20

Hehe, wow…  I just read through this article and realized what a video game nerd I am.  Truth be told, the only game I play nowadays for the most part is Rock Band 2.  I don’t have nearly as much free time as I did back in 1994, so I’d consider myself a casual gamer at best.  And in this day and age, it’s pretty hard to impress me.  I just bought a PS3 last Christmas largely because of Rock Band 2, but I certainly didn’t buy RB2 becuase of the graphics.  These next-gen consoles (well, mainly the PS3 and Xbox 360) are supposed to have all this processing power, but I have yet to see something that really blows me away.  Wipeout HD and MLB ’09: The Show came close, but everything else I’ ve sampled has been just OK for the most part – better than PS2, but not by leaps and bounds by any means.  This is one of the reasons why I like the Playstation Network so much.  At least you can download demos and try the games out before you spend any money them.

In the mean time, while you’re downloading the demo for Fight Night: Round 4 (which has incredibly frustrating controls, by the way), why not find yourself a copy of Super Metroid and relive a little piece of history?  You wont be disappointed!

~B

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Blackberry Etiquette for Dummies

April 16, 2009

crackberry

I’m normally not one to generalize, so I’m going to throw this out there right off the bat: I don’t believe that all Blackberry owners share the same behavioural characteristics.  In fact, the following guide on Blackberry etiquette probably only applies to certain types of people, namely corporate big-shots, celebrities and other narcissistic egomaniacs that still believe  owning a smartphone is the answer to their boring, socially-bereft lives.  It’s not difficult to spot them in our society.  Simply look for a hunched-over figure, staring like a corpse at a 3″ screen while fumbling with miniature buttons and a glowing white pebble that loosely resembles the look and functionality of a trackball.  I’ve attempted using one of these things out of pure curiosity.  Let me tell you, there’s nothing convenient about having to rotate the scroll “orb” 3-5 times in order to highlight an adjacent icon.  Nor is it convenient to type a full-length e-mail on a keypad with Tic Tac-sized buttons using only my thumbs.  I’d rather try to cut my own hair with hedge clippers.  Here’s a thought, RIM: Instead or spending millions in research developing a long-life battery containing enough harmful chemicals to re-enact Hiroshima, why not just make the buttons on your keypad a little bigger?  People will spend less time typing, deleting, then typing again, and they don’t have to worry about their wireless device exploding in their palm due to some sporadic chemical reaction.  If sending e-mail wirelessly and having a quasi-functional QWERTY keypad are the only benefits to owning a Blackberry, I’ll pass, thank you very much.  And yet some people spend more time with these things than their own families.

At any rate, here’s a quick guide to Blackberry etiquette:

1.  First and foremost, if you’re going to own RIM’s flagship of inter-human communication, simply storing it in your pant pocket will not suffice.  You will need to purchase a Blackberry “holster” that will clip to your hip.  It is highly recommended that this holster have a magnetic flip-top for quick removal of your RIM device.  Having to fumble with your holster to remove your Blackberry is uncool, downright embarrassing and frowned upon in the Blackberry community.

2.  Once you’ve spent some time with your new Blackberry Pearl, Curve, or what have you, now is a good time to solicit it’s superior functionality to non-owners, or “outsiders.”  Make sure they realize the benefit of such things as custom ring tones, a full QWERTY keypad and the uncanny ability to check the 7-day forecast from the palm of your own hand.  Remind them that even though they may not use all of the device’s 2,043 features, except to show other outsiders, it’s always better to have and not need rather than to need and not have.  And if they ask why the data plan would end up costing them nearly as much as their mortgage, gently tell them that you can’t put a price on convenience.

3.  Once you’ve garnered a decent list of contacts and are receiving a consistent flow of PINs, e-mails and text messages (if you’re receiving a text message, it’s likely from an outsider, so here’s another opening to solicit), it’s probably time to start practicing your Blackberry game face.  This face, which should ideally mirror a rendition of your lifeless cadaver in a morgue, is an important visual cue to would-be conversationalists.  It’s a non-abrasive way of telling someone (without actually telling them) that you’re involved in an exigent repartee that can under no circumstances be interrupted.   And while outsiders may initially be taken aback and consider it rude, over time they will understand and learn to avoid verbal contact with you while you have your Blackberry game face on.  No one likes to be around a loose-lip while they’re going pee.  It’s awkward and distracting.  Feel free to exercise use of this analogy where necessary.

4.  While the former item addresses situations in which you’re in the process of sending a PIN, the following outlines behavioural characteristics to adhere to when your Blackberry receives a PIN or phone call during a conversation with an outsider.  The main thing to keep in the back of your mind is that no matter how important the conversation may seem, it should never be prioritized over an incoming PIN or phone call.  That being said, there are a few ways of approaching this situation, all of which are acceptable, but they may trigger different responses from your outsider friend.  The easiest and most common method is to simply remove your Blackberry from its holster and immediately divert your full attention to it without uttering a word.  The outsider may attempt to continue the conversation with you, in which case you can keep them at ease by occasionally nodding your head, and saying things like, “Mmm hmm.”  If it’s a phone call, then it’s probably best to make some brief eye contact with the outsider, and then turn and start walking in the opposite direction.  An alternate technique to this method – and studies prove this method to be slightly more acceptable in the outsider community – is to raise your index finger upwards before taking the call, as if to say, “One minute.”  In theory, the outsider will believe that you are merely taking a brief detour from your conversation with him or her, but in actuality there is no guarantee that the conversation will ever pick up where it left off.  In fact, it ought not to.  You’re far too important to be wasting time on small-talk.  The last method, although widely recognized to be the most acceptable by outsiders, is considered the least efficient and may directly affect your ROP (Rank of Importance).  This method involves interrupting the conversation gently by raising a hand and pronouncing, “Excuse me, I need to take this.”  The Blackberry community tends to consider this method a last resort, and should only be used if the other methods fail.

5.  As a Blackberry owner, it is imperitive to stay on the leading edge of technology.  Thus, whenever RIM releases a new Blackberry model, it’s in your best interests to purchase the new hardware as soon as it hits the market.  Doing so will not only help you to minister to outsiders in a new and savvy way, it will also boost your ROP instantly, as nothing advertises your corporate preponderance like a flashy new piece of hardware.  Keep in mind that the transition may require purchase of a new holster.

And there you have it.  Happy PIN-ing.

~B

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You’re Fired, Rick

April 9, 2009

Economic downturn, recession, depression…  Whatever words you use to describe the current state of the economy, chances are that not a day goes by where you’re not involved in some sort of discussion of the topic.  Chances are that if you’ve actually taken the time to find and read this article, you’ve already been handed a pink slip yourself.  Maybe it’s just a temporary lay-off, or maybe it’s permanent.  Maybe you saw it coming.  After all, corporate execs typically frown upon such things as lack of punctuality, spending too much time chatting at the water cooler or using the boss’s laptop to check your Facebook profile.  Nowadays companies are much more likely to implement cost-saving measures and trim the fat off their staffing levels.  Roles are being combined; salaries are being slashed.  Not even upper management is safe anymore.

Enter the life of Rick Wagoner, former CEO of General Motors.  Now arguably, holding the title of Chief Executive Officer merits a certain amount confidence in your job security.  One could make the reasonable assumption that at that level, the only person that could fire you is, well, you, unless the following criteria are met: One, during your nine-year reign you somehow contribute to the company losing 10% of its market share, causing a $60 drop in share price for an overall loss of $85 billion.  Two, this man happens to walk into your office to talk business:

Barack Obama

It officially sucks to be Rick Wagoner.  Granted, I’m sure he’s not hurting for cash.  You don’t make a $1.5 million salary and not make some good investments.  But why use a warhead to destroy an ant hill when a shovel will do?  I can’t think of a more humbling experience.  Isn’t there a board of directors that can take control of the company if profits are plummeting?  Didn’t they think to enact some emergency powers after the first $42.5 billion were flushed down the corporate toilet?  Maybe Barack was just miffed because his Yukon XL broke down on the way to Camp David, but whatever the reason, being fired by the President of the United States can’t be good for your reputation, or your resume.  Good luck finding another job, Rick.  Just don’t have anyone call the White House for references.

~B

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Chris Cornell – Superunknown?

March 27, 2009

Add an Imagehttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pBjBFEByEDE

If you are a fan of Chris Cornell, follow his solo work and can boast a modest collection of material from Soundgarden, Temple of the Dog and Audioslave, then you’re probably aware of the release of his latest solo project, Scream, which hit store shelves on March 10th.  You’re also probably aware of the huge backlash this album has received from fans and critics alike.  This brings us to one of two scenarios: One, you’ve already picked up the album, listened to it and are trying desperately to cope with reality, or two, you’ve heeded the warnings of the critics and whining of the fan-boys and avoided the album altogether.  If the latter holds true, I invite you to click the link above and sample the title track from this album.  Be forewarned – if you’re expecting a rock album that even remotely resembles anything Chris has involved himself with in the past, I recommend a frontal lobotomy to clear your mind of such foolishness.  Because that’s what it will take to listen to this album all the way through without cringing as though someone were running their fingernails down a chalkboard.  I’m not normally this blunt about an artist or band that I like.  Even if their new material is a sidestep from what I’m accustomed to, I try to approach it with an open mind and not judge an album until I’ve listened it through a couple of times.  Scream is more a sky dive attempt than a sidestep, and time will tell if the parachute deploys in time to shield the impact.

There’s a lot of change going on in music and movies, and I’m still trying to evaluate the collateral damage and decide if it’s change for the better or not.  There’s no shortage of shock factor out there.  Most of you have probably heard of Joaquin Phoenix’s decision to quit acting, quit shaving and quit talking during during interviews on late-night shows to pursue a career in hip-hop.  You may as well tell an astronaut to work in a salt mine.  Considering that, I guess I shouldn’t be all that surprised that Cornell has made this sonic shift from rock to shock.  As they say, if you want to succeed in this world, you must be willing to embrace change.  Chris Cornell appears to have embraced it, but will the fans?  I’ve spent a considerable amount of time reading reviews and comments on this album, and unfortunately the conclusion I’ve come to is that most people are probably going to turn a deaf ear to Cornell’s latest musical effort.  Nonetheless, I’m going to try to breathe some life back into this album with a little bit of objective criticism.  I’ve listened to Scream a couple of times now, and since working the OMGWTF’s out of my system, I can take a step back and appreciate the good things about this album – and there are good things, you just need to open your ears.

I’m not going to do a track-by-track review of  Scream.  There are plenty of reviews and blogs out there that do a fine job of tearing this album apart one track at a time.  It’s no wonder why musical artists are under so much pressure.  There’s so much negative, violent feedback about this album from fans and critics that you’d think Chris Cornell had personally visited each one of their homes, left a bag of flaming dog crap on their porch and then stole their car after ringing the doorbell.  People are using terms like “sell-out” and “mid-life crisis” to explain the alleged aural train wreck that they’ve endured.  Let’s examine these accusations for a moment…   I think it’s reasonable to assume that Chris is a pretty smart guy.  He hasn’t enjoyed the twenty-some-odd years off success he’s had as a rock artist without making some right choices.  That being said, I’m sure there there was a moment or two where he lied awake in bed, staring at the ceiling, thinking that there was at least a small chance that teaming up with Timbaland to create club anthems backed by his vocals may not hit it off well with the fans.  You just don’t do this sort of thing and not think it through.  For me, that in itself is proof that he hasn’t sold out to anyone.  If Cornell’s primary goal were to sell albums and make money, he would’ve reunited with Soundgarden and embarked on a revival tour, which seems to be a trend with aging rock stars that can’t afford to take their private choppers to the beach anymore.  To me, a move like that would reek of a mid-life crisis.  On the other side of the coin, if he’s looking to tap into a new fan base, then this metamorphosis into a new genre may pave the way.  Again, time will tell, as most club goers probably wont recognize the name Chris Cornell.

So let’s delve a little bit into the material itself.  There’s no question that Timbaland’s fingerprints are all over this album.  This is evident from the moment you start the first track, Part Of Me.  As you listen to the strange cacophony of sound coming from your speakers, the satire of the cover art photo of Cornell smashing a guitar begins to set in.  Guitar riffs are replaced with a myriad of synths.  Kicks, snares, toms and cymbals are replaced with computerized drum machines.  Cornell’s voice, while immediately distinguishable, is heavily layered, looped and processed.  The dance club aura of the opening track is punctuated by lyrics that echo, “That bitch aint a part of me” over and over again.  For die hard Chris Cornell fans, that in itself would be enough for them to eject the disc and angrily set it on the bottom shelf, never to be opened again.  Part Of Me doesn’t waste any time with superficial, drawn-out introductions that are designed to serve as a lubricant for helping people adjust to change.  Rather, it approaches the listener with the delicacy of a wrecking ball, shoving this new sound in your face in a prideful, remorse-less way that suggests Cornell has been infused with some new-found angst.  Of all the hurdles on this album that listeners will be asked to overcome, by far Part Of Me will be the first, and biggest one.

While Part Of Me sets the tone for the rest of the album, I don’t believe it to be a good spokesperson for it.  For an easier transition to Cornell’s new sound, I would recommend checking out the title track, Scream.  In my opinion, it’s the best track on the album, and deserves a good listen.  Other less grunge-defying tracks include Long Gone, and Climbing Up The Walls.  All of these songs still contain some shock factor, but have less of an in-your-face approach.  All three songs are charged with an infectious melody, a subwoofer-moving beat and of course Cornell’s unmistakable voice, which sounds as good as ever.  You wont hear him try to span four octaves, but there’s no question that his voice is the shining beacon amidst the murky layers of drum beats, synths and reverb.

After you’ve listened to those three songs (more than once, I hope), recovered from the initial shock and eased yourself into Chris Cornell and Timbaland’s latest collaboration effort, then you can approach the rest of the album.  Admittedly, there are tracks on Scream that hold absolutely no appeal to me, but this can be said for any album.  As an interesting benediction, Cornell ends Scream off with a “hidden” track, Two Drink Minimum, which is apparently co-written by John Mayer.  Once again, we ride the train of metamorphosis to a raw, uncluttered blues offering that almost seems like an afterthought to the album as a whole.  If Scream came in like a lion, it certainly goes out like a lamb, or for some, maybe like a dog with its tail tucked between its legs.

Whether you’re a fan of Chris Cornell or not, I truly believe that Scream has something to offer beyond the superficial, post-modern dance grooves that the album is accused of promoting.  I’ve read posts by bloggers and critics that claim you will either love, or hate this album.  I disagree entirely, because I can at least speak for myself when I say that I neither love, nor hate Scream.  Is it different than what I’m accustomed to hearing from one of my all-time mid-nineties grunge heroes?  Yes.  Is it a bold and ambitious move that has a moderate chance of failure?  No question.  Do I think any less of Chris Cornell as an artist, accuse him of consorting with the enemy (Timbaland) and being a sell-out?  No way.  For me, there’s enough good material on Scream to justify the death-defying transition of genre.  It’s unfortunate that most people will dismiss this album as nothing more than a failed attempt at a Vulcan mind meld between a rock venue and a dance club, but what can I say?  Most people adhere to the old adage that states, if it aint broke, don’t fix it.  So why did Chris Cornell spend twenty years building his reputation as one of the industry’s most prolific rock artists, only to pull a one-eighty and release an oddball like Scream?  Only Chris Cornell knows, and only the fans have the power to decide if it’s worked for him or not.

~B

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Fall Melancholy – An Annual Happenstance

September 18, 2007

As a child, I remember it starting somewhere around the third week of August. That grueling feeling that situated itself somewhere between my sternum and small intestine, slowly and steadily eroding the euphoria of being on summer vacation. The feeling was a cross between mild nausea and being short of breath, almost as if someone were stirring the contents of my stomach with a spoon. It would happen only occasionally at first, but then as the passing days crept closer and closer to Labour Day weekend it would happen more frequently, stealing away from the usual elation of summer activities. In a sense, summer ended for me after a month and a half.

It wasn’t difficult for me to spot the signs. The shortening of the days. The way the sun hung lower in the sky after dinner, casting unfamiliar shadows across our backyard. The coolness of the night, and the dew that usually followed the morning after. The shifting of the winds that spoke of an inevitable change coming, a change that I was powerless to prevent. And then of course there were the “back to school” commercials in all their sadism. It all seemed so cruel to me that I had to endure this emotional crash every year, trading hot summer days and fun for months of frigid weather and incessant work. My mother seemed unaffected by all this, and I always wondered how she managed to avoid utter depression in spite of the circumstances. She used to tell me that one day I would learn to appreciate the autumn months, and that there was real beauty in the change of seasons that I was ignorant of. I didn’t buy into it at the time.

After two decades of watching the seasons change, I still get a tinge of that feeling, only now it’s not despair. Granted, school has been taken out of the equation, but the end of summer always makes my heart sink a little lower in my chest. Coming to terms with that doesn’t seem as big a deal to me as it did all those years ago, and I find myself accepting that it is what it is: A yearly transition beyond my control that speaks of the intricacy and wonder of God’s creation. Now that I can truly appreciate.

~B

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Movies – More Than the Sum of Their Previews?

March 20, 2007

I love movie trailers. In fact, sometimes I love the movie trailers more than the movies themselves. It just hit me the other day that there must be something terribly wrong with this recurring phenomenon. Lately, it seems to me that movie makers are pouring all their creative effort into trailers that will suck viewers in, making us succumb blindly to the power of the silver screen. These trailers showcase all the highlights and special effects in a gripping one-minute segment designed to smack you senseless with cinematic anarchy, so that we have no choice but to cough up $9.75 and be herded single-file into a stuffy theater like mindless zombies. After being bombarded with fifteen minutes of other trailers (thus, starting the vicious cycle all over again), we’re often left with a film that seems no better than the original preview, being spread out over two hours of mediocre plot and character development, and lacking any kind of substance whatsoever. Did I miss something? Because apparently I wasted two hours of my life on a plot that could be annotated in a sixty-second commercial.

If you’re looking for specifics – and there are numerous ones to name – the particular movie that drove me to write this post is “300.” Now, I realize that everyone is subject to their own opinion, and I don’t claim to be a renowned movie critic, but come on… I feel like someone pick-pocketed my $9.75, used the money to buy a fake pair of designer brand sunglasses and then sold them to me for $100 at a pawn shop. It was like getting a drive-by wedgie, and not even catching the license plate of the vehicle. It was like finally getting the Redeemer in Unreal Tournament, only to be sniped a second later by some panzy camper. Am I getting my point across? I felt decidedly ripped off watching this movie. Both times. If you haven’t already, see the trailer. It’s absolutely epic. I hadn’t felt so pumped over a movie trailer since Terminator 2. It contains no less than the following: Persians falling off a cliff, Gerard Butler yelling like a madman, strange creatures, women dancing around erotically and horses galloping in slow-mo with a sunrise backdrop. I didn’t think there was any way for this movie to not make me want to line up at 3:30 for the 9:30 show. Kudos to the Warner Bros. They certainly made a believer out of me…

I’m not going to turn this into a movie review, because that’s not the point of this post. I will list the good things about it, though. First, I like Gerard Butler as an actor. I think he’s incredibly talented and diverse, and his Scottish accent is heart-warming. He does an excellent job of portraying the brave, if not maniacal, king of Sparta. Secondly, seeing an army of 300 Spartans with six-packs definitely instills some motivation to hit the gym. That, and after leaving the theater I felt like I could meet Jet Li at the bus stop and stomp him into the ground, kind of like the feeling you get after watching a Rocky or Jean-Claude Van Damme movie. Thirdly, although they weren’t choreographed as well as some other medieval movies I’ve seen, some of the battles were cool. There were a number of slow-mo decapitations and dismemberments that will stick with me for a while. Beyond that, I honestly felt like they could have left out the entire intro, and the subplot involving the queen, not to mention the hunchback Spartan and quirky commentary by the one-eyed dude. In a nutshell, you get to see the battle of Thermopylae unfold in all its gory, and you learn of the underlying theme of bravery and sacrifice that eventually led thousands of Greeks to stand and fight Xerxes for freedom. Xerxes isn’t a god, by the way, but he is strangely homoerotic…

300 broke records for ticket sales in its opening weekend, and continues to dominate the box office – a testament to how good the trailer is. I’m serious… Get quicktime (www.apple.com/quicktime) and see it for yourself. Film companies aren’t dumb. One may tend to think that a mediocre movie with a fantastic trailer would decline rapidly in ticket sales after the first weekend. Not so… I’m willing to bet that even if the average person was told by a friend that the movie sucked, after seeing the trailer he would have to see it and find out for himself. They’ve made their money. On the other side of the coin, there are fantastic movies out there with trailers that don’t do them justice. This is because they have too much substance to fit into a one-minute segment. Movies than win at the Oscars don’t double and triple their production costs on opening weekend, but they do eventually get the recognition they deserve. I guess it all depends on your goals. Do you want to make a good movie, or do you want to make money? I think I’ll buy Adobe Premiere and make myself an explosive movie trailer, get it circulated on TV and have viewers come into their local theaters and pay $9.75 to watch a 2-hour documentary about a guy and his conversation with his shrink. I’ll be rich for sure.

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