Saturday, May 28, 2011

10 Favorte Albums

I was intending on having this done to celebrate the release of Okkervil River's new album, I Am Very Far. However I'll say I was busy and didn't get around to finishing it until now. The only rules for this list are no compilations and no live albums (unless that album is mostly unique material.) Here you have it, my 10 favorite Albums:


1. No Name Face- Lifehouse

This probably gets the spot due to tenure. It's very close between 1 and 2 in my mind, but I've been listening to No Name Face for a very long time. I was in freaking 6th grade when I got the CD. I've listened to it countless times and it hasn't gotten old yet.

Favorite Song: Quasimodo

Runner-up: Simon Ranking: 13 (208 plays)

2. Black Sheep Boy- Okkervil River

Okkervil River's strongest album, at least in my eyes. It is a really brilliant concept album and I am definitely a big fan of a good concept album.

Favorite Song: For Real

Runner-up: A Stone Ranking: 4 (298 plays)

3. More Than You Think You Are- Matchbox 20

Matchbox 20 seems to be a forgotten band to me at times. I absolutely love their music, but I always forgot about them when I'm asked who I listen to. Top to bottom this is a fantastic album.

Favorite Song: Downfall

Runner-up: Feel Ranking: 62 (66 plays)

4. Continuum- John Mayer

I've listened to this album a lot. It's a blues album that actually became popular in 2006, which is a pretty impressive feat in itself.

Favorite Song: Belief

Runner-up: Stop This Train Ranking: 1 (461 plays)

5. American Idiot- Green Day

There was a very long period of time where this was pretty much all I listened to. I have very developed theories in my mind about the story. Seriously, I could discuss this album for hours

Favorite Song: Whatshername

Runner-up: Letterbomb Ranking: T-2 (362 plays)

6. Rubber Soul- The Beatles

Rubber Soul is the fusion of the early Beatles and the later Beatles. I don't think it's The Beatles' most remarkable album, but it is definitely my favorite.

Favorite Song: I'm Looking Through You

Runner-up: In My Life Ranking: 23 (144 plays)

7. Mean Everything To Nothing- Manchester Orchestra

I really love how this album flows from track to track. The songs are all pretty deep and heavy, but it never gets very choppy. It is also the album I've been obsessed with most recently*.

Favorite Song: Pride

Runner-up: Tony the Tiger Ranking: 36 (104 plays)

8. Swoon- Silversun Pickups

This is the only album on the list that has a track on it that I skip every time I listen to it. "Draining" is its namesake. It drains from the rest of the album, but fortunately the rest of the album is strong enough to take it.

Favorite Song: The Royal We

Runner-up: It's Nice to Know You Work Alone Rankings: 16 (178 plays)

9. Keep Them Confused- No Use For A Name

I went through a pretty big Punk phase when I was Middle School. No Use For A Name is the band that has stuck with me from that phase, because this album came out long after that phase. They are definitely the most lyrically grown-up punk band I know of and this album delivers with protest songs and thoughtful commentary.

Favorite Song: There Will Be Revenge

Runner-up: It's Tragic Ranking: T-2 (362 plays)

10. Dizzy Up the Girl- Goo Goo Dolls

Not only is this a great album musically, but I think this has the best cover art of the bunch.

Favorite Song: Amigone

Runner-up: All Eyes on Me Ranking: 12 (206 plays)

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- probably isn't the most brilliant measure for how often I've listened to songs from albums. I do listen through albums a lot in my car and I've never been able to sync my iPod to my computer that scrobbles. However I do love looking at stats, so I'll share the list with you: All-time albums plays

Tell me what you favorite albums are in the comments.

Thanks for reading and please comment.


*I can say I'm obsessed with I Am Very Far at the moment though.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Gaming Tuesday- L.A. Noire Review

I really don't feel comfortable getting too in-depth in talking about this game yet. I feel like L.A. Noire is particularly spoiler prone. I don't think I can give a little bit away to illustrate a point without people being able to figure out the bigger storyline. So, I think I'm going to have to make this shorter than my reviews have been in the past. I'm going to make a big general statement to avoid constantly doing this:

In that one mission where your chasing this man or woman who you found in that one place. The way that chase comes to a conclusion, that was well done.

A quick refresher on how reviews work here. A game starts with 50 "Nerd points" and I add or subtract (pretty arbitrarily I might add) points for things I like or dislike. I've only used this "official" model two games to this point. I should probably do some more, but for now here's a bit of perspective on the scoring:

Call of Duty: Black Ops 82.5
Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood 78.5

This method is really just a gauge of my initial reaction to a game. I mean, I did end up giving Game of the Year to Brotherhood, so opinions can change. But enough of that, let's get to L.A. Noire.

As I stated earlier, I'm not going to give concrete examples as to why the story is great (+20). It manages to flow very well without conforming to the usual way open-world games work (+1). The story really had me engaged and I didn't want to stop playing, because I really needed to know what would happen next. The story definitely falls into Film Noir cliches*, but I don't think that's a detriment.

The gameplay mechanics are solid as one would expect with a rock star game (+2). It controls like Red Dead Redemption and Grand Theft Auto IV. The thing I was probably most impressed by was how Bondi and Rockstar managed to keep it fun while you controlled the Good Guy (+1). Interrogation was an area that particular concerned me coming into this game, but I think the system that's in place works very well (+4). The player has to think, understand the context of the interview and be able to read, at times, subtle movements to get it right.

There is something that is holding this back from being one of the premier games for this generation of consoles. There is just a sloppiness to this game. The story is brilliant. The character are well developed and the voice acting is good. However, there are a lot of little things that tend to glitch out (-2). There are disappearing cars and people. On occasion you will teleport out of the car instead of doing like a normal person. I've experienced random frame-rate issues that seem to have no rhyme or reason. There's nothing major wrong, but it lacks the polish the Red Dead Redemption had.

One final fault with L.A. Noire, is that it's not as friendly to completists, such as myself, as a game like it ought to be (-1). The Rockstar Social Club does help (+.5). However, during the very long story there is little time or opportunity for collectables. It's not that awful, because I expected to spend more hours collecting after completing the story than I did playing the actual game, but a little head start would have been nice. This is just another minor thing.

L.A. Noire is a great game. It offers an excellent story in a gaming world that is now so often without great campaigns to play, because of the emphasis on multiplayer. It's minor flaws certainly are nowhere near game-breaking, but they show a lack of crispness that one should expect out of such a big title from a big game developer. L.A. is a brilliant game and though I may sound critical, I highly recommend it.

75.5 Nerd Points

Thanks for reading and please comment.

*I was acutely aware of those cliches, because I had a lecture about Film Noir just a few days before the game was released. Talk about timing.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Re: Education and Appreciation

The challenge has been issued:

This isn't exactly meeting it though. I lack the resources at the moment to do a video response, so a blog post will have to suffice. So prepare for a long-winded/rambling/overly political rant, Emma:

I don't think it's fair to begrudge professional athletes for making millions while a more important profession goes underpaid. First, athletes, actors, T.V. personalities, etc may not be as important as teachers, but their value to society is clearly high. People are willing to pay to see them and sports definitely serves a significant function in society. Second, their pay isn't taking money out of teachers pockets. Professional athletes may be extremely wealthy relative to us normals, but their wealth is little compared to those who pay them.

Those who flaunt their wealth, athletes and actors, aren't the reason that wealth is so concentrated in the United States. They make for an easy target to show the messed up priorities of society. They make loads, but they generate loads more. The super-wealthy get the massive amounts of revenue, but none of the hatred.

*This will come around eventually... I think*

Public education lacks any real influence. It is something politicians love talking about, but rarely is anything ever actually done to improve the situation. It is a popular idea to reform the schools and improve teacher salaries. The problem is that there isn't really an effective lobby for public education. Those who actually have influence* don't really care about the schools though. Their children don't need public education and they surely don't want to foot the tax bill of an improved education system.

Education can not and should not be made profitable. Even the most conservative, laissez-faire economist agrees with that. Therefore it must be funded and there is no monetary return**. Society greatly benefits from public education, but to those with enough wealth to improve it public education is a wasteful investment.

It'll take a brave and powerful politician to get meaningful education reform through. It's not that I think that all politicians are bad/corrupt/arrogant/*insert negative term here*. I actually think quite the opposite. Most are well-meaning, but one can't keep his or her seat without playing the game, at least somewhat. Otherwise he or she is bought out of his or her seat and end up not being able to do anything at all. So many ills could be solved with 100% public financing of political campaigns and that's certainly not exclusive to education.

So, improving the schools is popular, but nothing is being done about it. It is easy enough to pass it around. The Federal Government likes to leave education and it's funding to the states. The States like to plead poverty and leave it to the districts. The Districts have varying resources and need better funding from the State and Federal governments to actually make improvements.

I think at the very root of teachers being undervalued is the stereotype of the profession. Namely that teachers were traditionally women. Society didn't and in reality still doesn't value 'women's professions' nearly as highly as those that were traditionally dominated by men.

I don't really have a brilliant idea for how to fix the problem. It's the system and as much as I advocate revolution, it's not likely to happen anytime soon. I think a big step would be a dramatic increase in Federal funding of schools. I know ideologues spew nonsense about the big, bad Federal Government being too involved in the schools and all the little Nazis that would produce. I'd like to see a sizable chunk of the Federal budget given to education with some string attached with the main control remaining local.

Thanks for reading and please comment.

*Thinly veiled way of saying super rich.
**There is if you take a very long view about it, but that more for idealistic college kids than it is for business men.

The video I was responding to:

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Gaming Tuesday

Two things to discuss today. First, the announcement of Assassin's Creed: Revelations. Secondly the news that L.A. Noire will come on 3 disks for the XBox 360.

*Spoiler Alert: There are going to be spoilers about Assassin's Creed Brotherhood in this part. So, if you're watching Hank Green's Let's Play or just haven't played the game yet, see you on the other side.

I was rather surprised to hear the announcement of a new Assassin's Creed game for this year. I thought that Brotherhood was simply going to be means to an end to better set up Assassin's Creed 3. I didn't expect Assassin's Creed 3 until fall of 2012. Also surprising was the fact that this was another game with Ezio as the main character.

(Final warning, The next words you see will be the biggest spoiler of Brotherhood)

I don't understand how they're going to pull off getting Desmond back into the Animus after he he killed Lucy under the Coliseum. That's going to take some explaining. I don't think, "Minerva, The Roman Goddess, told me to do it, but only I can see her" would actually fly. Then there's the fact that the thing you had been trying to find had been found. I can't get how it's going work out. We've got the Apple of Eden, Desmond has just stabbed Lucy in the heart, but let's got a mess around a bit more in the animus.

This entire renaissance era thing is really cool. I'm glad that there's going to be another game in this style. However, it doesn't seem to fit the story line. I think this is more of an attempt to hop on the annual game release train by Ubisoft. It also may just be another test for multiplayer for the big release of Assassin's Creed 3, when/if it comes.

If they do succeed in making this fit the storyline, I'd be happy if they could keep the game from moving to the modern setting entirely. Personally, I'd like it move to the French Revolution from the Renaissance. I don't think Assassin's Creed will work that well in a totally modern setting. I think the modern storyline is best used to supplement the historic one.

Spoilers are over

L.A. Noire is coming out on both the XBox 360 and PS3, which would normally mean that the two systems get roughly the same game. However, L.A. Noire has a massive amount of data that an ordinary DVD disc cannot handle, but a Blu-ray disc can. That means that the XBox 360 version of the game will come on 3 discs.

I'm curious as to how exactly this will work. Will there just be disc changes? Or are two of the discs going to have to be copied to the hard drive and you play on a main disc?

L.A. Noire must be a truly massive game. It might be the first video game to take full advantage of blu-ray technology. I'm curious if this is leading to improved graphics, or a bigger environment; I suppose it could be both. I use Red Dead Redemption as my standard and that game had both ultra-realistic graphics and a very large world. If it needs 3 discs, I can't imagine how much better it could be.

If this does become a trend, I think Microsoft may have their hand forced on producing a new console. The XBox 360 dominated this generation of video game consoles to this point, but its choice of HD DVD instead of Blu-ray may make PS3 become the better choice until the next generation. I wouldn't expect Microsoft to have a completely new console for many years to come, but wouldn't be surprised to see a new 360 with Blu-ray Technology.

Thanks for reading and please comment.


Monday, May 2, 2011

Bin Laden's Death

Super late night and probably short post.

A celebratory reaction to a persons death is acceptable only in very rare cases. Not when a political opponent dies. Not when a rival athlete dies. However, when a mass murderer who has added nothing but fear and misery to the world dies, celebrations are appropriate.

Osama Bin Laden's death should cause jubilation to a lot of us; especially those who are roughly in my age range. The attacks of September 11th, 2001 is the dividing point of most of our lives. It was a childhood horror. A day where our security was shattered. It is a day we will tell our children about, but won't want them to know the true horror of it. Bin Laden was to blame for that. His plans created the world we were forced to grow up in; one where I'm forced to notice airplanes in the sky and have the thought of terrorist attacks in the back of my mind whenever I'm out of my house.

It's not that this really changes the world. Bin Laden is not really the head of Islamic Extremism or of all terrorists and never really was. He couldn't actually run his organization and remain hidden for almost 10 years. The terrorist threat is just as real and imminent* as it was before he died.

A lot of people are reacting to this news with fear though. They are afraid of the reaction of Bin Laden's followers. That feeling means you've allowed him to impact your life. We don't need to be afraid. If they were able to pull off an attack, they would've. They're already pissed off people and the images of Americans celebrating isn't going to drive them over a cliff, because they've already hit the bottom.

This hasn't changed my views on American troops staying in the Middle East. The question of 'why' they are still there remains. It's nice for the United States to have a party due to the death of an evil man, but this shouldn't be justification for our troops to remain deployed in Afghanistan any longer.

I also really doubt this will have a unifying on our politics either. The two sides are already posturing for credit. Any sign of giving the other side credit is viewed as weakness by partisans. So this weeks fight will be over whether Bush or Obama deserves the credit, but it's just a prequel to the Debt ceiling and budget fights yet to come.

Thanks for reading and please comment

*Not that attacks are actually imminent as in happening soon.

P.S. I sincerely hope I got through this post without accidentally typing Obama Bin Laden. It's a lot easier to make that mistake than you might think. However, Fox News isn't forgiven, because they just happen to make that mistake every time they use Osama Bin Laden's name in a graphic.