Saturday, May 27, 2006

Hollywood Lacks New Ideas (Take heart, take heart, O Bulkington!)

Hooray for the Memorial Day blockbuster. O big, flashy, cost-80-million-to-make-but-probably-pulls-in-100-million number... where would the country be without you? And as I was viewing my choice of Memorial Day blockbusters, I realized that there's nothing original going on here. We're not just talking about recycling plotlines (a new one of which we've not seen since Shakespeare, and even the Bard himself ganked a lot from Aeschylus and his ilk)... we're talking straight-up repitition of concept. Almost all new movies you see today are 1) remakes of existing movies; 2) movie adaptations of existing plays, comics, video games, or books; 3) sequels to existing movies; or 4) film adaptations of true stories.

Think about it. Big movies of right now: X3. Mission Impossible III. The DaVinci Code. All fit into the above categories (and in fact X3 is both a movie adaptation of an existing comic and a sequel to an existing movie). Movies that have been nominated for or won Oscars in the recent past: Return of the King. Ray. Munich. Capote. Brokeback Mountain. King Kong. The Aviator. I could go on, but the point is made. I'm not saying they're bad movies or anything... just, dare I say, unoriginal?

So how about that X3?

Review: X-Men: The Last Stand

In the sequel-happy state of affairs in which we find ourselves, The X-Men series is perhaps the only one for which I have seen all of the movies. The thing is, this isn't so much out of some huge love for the X-Men concept. It was out of being in the right place at the right time... as in "I've got X-Men on DVD. Want to watch it?" Then, "On second thought, I don't really feel like watching The Matrix Reloaded. Let's see X-2 instead." And most recently, "Hey Matt, what are you doing today? We're watching X3."

The thing about the X-Men movies is they're not too bad at all. Never having been a huge fan of the superhero concept, and recently becoming bored with action movies, I'd expect this series to be something that I pretty much shrug off as mindless entertainment. And it is mindless entertainment, but at least it's actually entertaining mindless entertainment. One piece of high praise I have for these movies, and for X3 in particular, is that I was actually impressed by the special effects. Where certain other movies lauded for their special effects didn't impress me to say the least (eg King Kong), the effects in X3 were quite good. Like Magneto lifting the Golden Gate Bridge. Absolutely amazing. Between that and Jean Grey's atomokinesis (and heck, Jean Grey herself), this movie is visually impressive.

Even without being a superhero buff, it's pretty obvious that one concept that differentiates X-Men from other superhero settings is the moral discussion of difference from mainstream society. Where most superhero settings are focused on one or a handful of protagonists, in X-Men, there's an entire subculture of "mutants," giving rise to intellectual debates about integration, toleration, etc. This is especially evident in the third movie, where one of the two main plotlines involves a so-called "cure" for being a mutant. Ethical dilemmas abound! While this is hardly Crime and Punishment, you've gotta give some credit to this movie for wanting to make us think, if only secondarily to watching stuff blow up.

The other primary plotline shows the apotheosis of Jean Grey, who doesn't hesitate to go from loyal friend of Xavier to evil servant of Magneto to "Ah, screw it, I'm just going to disintegrate everything." Her transformation gives rise to yet another debate, this one discussing the proper use of restraints; self-identity weighed against "this psycho is going to blow up all of California if we don't stop her." Not that that would necessarily be a huge loss.

As usual with the X-Men movies, the acting was merely solid at worst and quite good at best. Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart? It's like a geek actor dream movie. (Given the movie's events, it's questionable whether Stewart will be reprising his role as Charles Xavier in a hypothetical sequel, which would be a huge loss.) Some moments were especially cheesy. The whole Rogue-Iceman subplot... I don't care. At all. Magneto wondering "what have I done" after doing plenty of mean and downright evil things--like going as far as to tell Mystique (who saved him earlier in the movie) that she wasn't one of them anymore? Ridiculous.

Of course, "Don't you know who I am? I'm the Juggernaut, bitch!" was brilliant. There's a flash dubbing of an old X-Men cartoon somewhere on the Internet (I don't have the link; if you've got it, let me know) that features that exact line... and seeing it in the actual movie was amazing. All in all, a highly entertaining movie... not award-caliber, not inspiring, and not revolutionary... but so what?

And no, the point of that review was not so that I could use the word "apotheosis" in a sentence and make a pretentious literary reference while doing it. Really. I promise. (But a dozen points if you can name the reference, without Googling it.)

Currently listening: Comfort Eagle, Cake

Thursday, May 25, 2006

What the heck just happened there?

I'm talking about the Lost season finale. Like most episodes of that show, it answered a few questions, but for every question it answered, it asked two or three more. I'm going to attempt to do for Lost what I did for 24 earlier, but I'm afraid this is going to be much more toward listing questions asked than astually formulating hypotheses. Spoilers, of course.

First, something I figured out. Think back to the "Lockdown" episode. Locke and fake-Henry are trapped in a section of the hatch during the lockdown so that they can't access the computer. Locke is stuck under the blast door. He tells fake-Henry that something terrible is going to happen if he doesn't type in the numbers before the countdown reaches zero. So fake-Henry crawls through the ducts, and a few minutes later, the countdown resets. Fake-Henry tells Locke that he didn't do anything, that he didn't type in any of the numbers. However, we now know this to be a lie. Very bad things happen inside the station (and off the island, too) when the button is not pressed. Therefore, fake-Henry has to have pressed the button. He then lies to Locke, telling him that the place is a lie.

The most obvious theory is that fake-Henry has every idea what happens when you don't press the button, he didn't want that to happen when he was inside the station, but for whatever reason he didn't want Locke to think that pressing the button does anything at all. How does fake-Henry know this? Another theory is that fake-Henry doesn't actually know the effects of not pressing the button, he wants to find out, but he doesn't want that to happen with him in the hatch. So, he manipulates Locke into doing it for him.

Now, questions that were raised from the season finale, and ones that still linger from earlier:

The big one: what in the heck is going on with the Others? We found out that Mr. Friendly's name is Tom, and that Mrs. Klugh's name is Bea. They aren't in charge of the Others, but they both have some measure of authority. We also now know that fake-Henry is more important than either one of them, but whether fake-Henry is the "He" in charge of the Others, or if fake-Henry merely answers to "Him," we don't know.

Why do the Others have a Dharma hatch mockup at their camp? Furthermore, is that really the Others' camp? Walt says the Others aren't who they say they are. Tom has been wearing a fake beard for months (apparently at the suggestion of fake-Henry). So there is evidence that the Others are faking things; maybe that entire camp is a fake.

How did the Others get the boat (and fuel for it)? How do they know about the Pala ferry? Where does the Pala ferry go (more on this later)?

Are Michael and Walt off the show now? What's significant about compass heading 325? It's not a permutation of any of the Numbers; it's not an exact directional heading (315 would be exact northwest. 325 is approximately northwest by north.) Are they actually going to be rescued? The Others have made several bargains in the past and kept them all, so I see no reason why they won't be rescued.

Where's Sayid at this point? Last we saw of him, he opened the mockup of the Dharma station door. If the Others ever return to that camp, they're not going to be very happy to find a gun-slinging Iraqi there...

What's up with the four-toed statue? This is a nicely obtuse reference to the Numbers... but where did that thing come from? Who built it? Is it broken or merely unfinished?

Where's Cerberus been lately? Assuming the general theory of "island monster=Cerberus=black smoke" is true, we've not seen it much at all lately, since it appeared to Eko earlier this season. On the Blast Door Map, does "CV" in fact mean "Cerberus vent," as has been speculated? What was the Cerberus malfunction that the aforementioned map referred to?

How extensive is DharmaTel? Are the shutdowns that are mentioned on the map on some sort of schedule? It would seem like this is the case, and that's what Locke experienced in "Lockdown." Does the supply drop coincide with the lockdown?

How can Radvinsky be traced back to the original Dharma Initiative? Were he and Kelvin part of the Initiative? Or did Kelvin make his way to the island in some other manner, and he was added to the staff in the same way that Desmond was when we arrived? For that matter, was Radvinsky even part of what was originally going on there? Why did Radvinsky edit the orientation tape, and why did he hide part of the tape in another hatch?

Widmore. Shady as hell. First, we've seen that the island isn't just a snowglobe as Desmond claims; observers from outside the island can and do notice what's going on there. How deeply is Widmore connected with Hanso and Dharma? Already we've seen references to Widmore (Widmore Construction and Widmore Labs). I'd be willing to bet that Widmore knows something about what's going on on the island. Penny Widmore evidently knows to look for a magnetic anomaly, and the only way she'd know that would be through Dharma and Hanso.

Remember the power cable that goes off into the ocean that was discovered in season 1? What ever happened to it?

Desmond, Locke, and Eko. Dead or alive? Keep in mind that we don't actually have any idea what Desmond's turning the key did. Can we assume that it caused the magnetic fluctuations to stop permanently? Maybe Dharma actually built an electromagnet at the site of the Swan? I don't think so much involving Desmond's backstory (including Penny, the Portuguese guys, and Widmore) that may have an impact on season 3 would have been revealed had Desmond not lived.

My theory for what's going on here:

The Others are tied, somehow, to the original Dharma Initiative project. This would explain the Pala ferry and the fact that fake-Henry seems to know the consequences of not pressing the button. Their real camp is in a Dharma station (one of the stations whose name we do not yet know, but the symbol is probably a door). According to the Blast Door Map (which we now know to have been worked on by Desmond, Kelvin, and Radvinsky), things started to go badly for the Dharma Initiative in the mid 1980s. The "AH/MDG incident" occurred in 1985, and Cerberus "malfunctioned" sometime around then as well. We also know that the Hanso Foundation stopped funding the Dharma Initiative in 1987 (which is, coincidentally, when Rosseau showed up on the island). So, the "incident" made the Dharma stations stop working--we know the Staff, at least, was abandoned at this time. Maybe the Swan was the exception to this abandonment? Someone must have been pressing that button since 1985. Radvinsky?

Either way, the people who we now know as the Others stopped participating in the Dharma Initiative's research, banded together, and formed their own weird little civilization. Between 1985 and 1987, Hanso and Dharma tried to get it under control, but failed; this ultimately led to Hanso stopping funding Dharma in 1987, and Hanso trying to distance itself from Dharma and the island. Now, fake-Henry thinks that they're the "good guys" because only they know the truth about how evil Alvar Hanso is.

So how did Hanso come to fund the Dharma Initiative at all? Magnus Hanso (whose "resting place," according to the Blast Door Map, is the Black Rock) was Alvar's father; he was the captain of the Black Rock. Alvar first came to the island while he was looking for his father. At this time, he became aware of the strange electromagnetic fluctuations coming from the area around the Swan. Hanso decided to fund the Dharma Initiative to study those fluctuations.

At any rate, it's going to be a great 3rd season, if in fact season 3 continues the great quality and suspense that season 1 and 2 had. The only downside? Four months of no Lost.

Currently listening: "Los Angeles, I'm Yours," the Decemberists

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

24 Questions, Predictions, and Hopes about 24

First off, spoilers. I mean, duh. You can't not talk about a season finale like that.

Secondly, the Chinese coming back in the last ten minutes of the show? Brilliant. But it also shows how compelling the rest of the show is. Before the start of season 5, speculation was rampant about how the Chinese were going to play into the storyline. They didn't. And because the story was so engaging, people stopped focusing on the Chinese to look at the matters at hand. And when the Chinese reappeared... we were all shocked, even though we should have seen it coming.

Questions (mostly pertaining to the end of season 5):

1) Henderson: dead or alive? This really shouldn't be an issue, and in fact it wouldn't have been, if one of the lead-in segments (I think it was around 5:52 am) hadn't shown Henderson's body on the submarine. I can't think of another situation in which one of the panes in a 24 lead-in was focused on a dead villain. I was fully expecting Henderson to show up during the 6 am hour; he didn't, which lends credence to the claim that he's really dead. I think having him survive two direct shots to the chest would be cheesy, anyway.

2) What happened to Wayne Palmer? One minute he and Aaron Pierce are busting up some Henderson goons with automatic weapons, and the next nobody seems to know where the heck he is.

3) How is Graham related to what will happen in the future? I like the character; I think he's exactly right for an evil criminal mastermind. His character obviously has a lot of similiarities to Max, the villain revealed to be behing Peter Kingsley in season 2. Both are wealthy businessmen with oil interests; both are somewhat disconnected with the actual events of the day, instead running things from an undisclosed location; both have the ear of an important official in the US government. But Graham had much more of a speaking role that Max ever did, which is why I think he'll rear his head again.

4) Who sold Jack out to the Chinese? Popular speculation seems to think it was Logan, but I argue that Logan was nowhere near lucid enough in the last few hours to contact the Chinese and set up a plan to catch Jack. Besides, if he did that, he would be practically admitting to the Chinese that he had failed to kill Jack like he had said he would. I think it was more likely Graham, who clearly recognized the danger Jack posed and wouldn't be above revenge for souring the day's events.

5) What happens to the political landscape of the United States? Clearly, Hal Gardner is going to take over as acting President. I'd be willing to bet that Logan doesn't stand through a long impeachment but, like Nixon (after whom the character was clearly modeled), will step down from office, and we'll never hear from him again. Will Gardner have been through an election cycle, having already won or lost the presidency?

6) What's going to happen with CTU leadership? It chages every season, so why not again? Buchanan has done a respectable job (read: let Jack do his thing and look the other way), which is usually rewarded in 24-land with "you're fired."

7) Why is Jack "too valuable to kill?" What are the Chinese going to do with him?

Predictions (for season 6):

8) Jack isn't going to China... or at least he won't be there at the time that season 6 starts. He'll be at the Consulate in Los Angeles, or on a ship in international waters. It wouldn't work for a major character on the show to be completely gone from the United States.

9) Jack's "value" to the Chinese isn't a political value; the Chinese are going to use Jack as a spy to infiltrate the United States for them.

10) Because we already know that Jack doesn't care if the Chinese kill him, the only way the Chinese can coerce Jack into doing their bidding is to threaten Kim and/or CTU.

11) While spying on the United States, Jack unconvers a terrorist plot against America. This plan has nothing to do with the Chinese: fitting the "every other season" pattern, it's Muslim extremists this time.

12) The only way Jack can get his information to American officials is to send it through Chinese channels. Because there's always a "we can't trust Jack" sentiment in the upper levels of government, the new president will not think that Jack is telling the truth, simply because it's coming from Chinese sources.

13) There are people who do believe Jack: his small but loyal and talent band of followers at CTU. This probably includes Chloe, Buchanan, Audrey, and possibly Mike Novick.

14) Speaking of Novick, the current president will retain Novick as chief of staff and Pierce as a special agent. Novick is too compelling and Pierce too heroic to be lost to a new administration.

15) And just to add a conspiracy element to the mix, the terrorist plot that Jack uncovers while spying for the Chinese has some connection to Graham. We've not seen the last of him.

16) Of course, Jack eventually foils the terrorist conspiracy. But he does this at cost to some members of CTU. At the end of the day, everyone who didn't trust Jack toward the beginning finally realizes "hey, we should have listened to this guy all along." Then, there's a twist explaining why Jack won't be working at CTU for the next eighteen months. Oh wait... that's not so much a predicition as a guarantee.

Hopes (for season 6):

17) Morris! Chloe? Married? ...what? As if that's not an interesting storyline on its own, Morris seems to be a really interesting guy. Now that the cat's out of the bag, you can't just throw this guy away, and I want to see more of the backstory.

18) No Kim. Things ostensibly related to Kim, whether or not they were actually related to Kim (eg, the phone call at the end of season 5), have gotten Jack into more trouble than anything else on the show. She's annoying and distracting from the main plot.

19) Less Audrey. I know there's some perception that Audrey needs to be there to show that there still is a human side to Jack. But characters like Chloe, David Palmer, and Tony have shown that Jack is capable of emotion... and I've never cringed any time one of those characters showed up on screen.

20) Buchanan gets some (from Karen Hayes, as we began to see in the season 5 finale). He's already shown himself to be a competent leader of CTU, and let's face it: the guy deserves some quality time that doesn't involve simultaneously fighting terrorists and someone in the government, all the while trying to balance the fact that he knows Jack is right with the fact that he gets reprimanded or worse for just letting the guy do is job.

21) More needle guy. I think his name was Richards? He was CTU's resident "get information out of the captured terrorist" specialist. Often, the threat of bringing Richards in was more than enough to get a confession.

22) More Curtis. The guy's the director of Field Ops at CTU, so I want him to... I don't know, lead some field ops? He had some of the most impressive non-Jack moments (eg. taking down Henderson) in season 5, and I want to see even more of those in season 6.

23) Miles gets his. That bastard ruined evidence against Logan, just because he wanted some promotions. Sure, he did become a victim of the Jack choke-hold and the Karen Hayes slap, but I want a more definitive "Miles was fired and will never be back at CTU."

24) Jack catchphrases continue. Because what would 24 be without "Damn it!" and "We're running out of time!"?

And a quick poll question: favorite moment of the finale? Mine was Jack (hopefully) killing Henderson on the sub, very dramatic and evocative of the end of season 1.

Currently listening: English Folk Song Suite: Intermezzo "My Bonny Boy," Vaughan Williams

My dad proposed a very convincing answer to the "what happens to the political landscape" question. The timeline seems to work out such that the country should have been through an election cycle. Hal Gardner, seen as a relic from the embattled Logan administration, decides not to run. Furthermore, the country's confidence in the Republican party is shattered after Logan. Sensing some nostaliga for the good old days of the Palmer administration, the Democratic party nominates none other than Wayne Palmer, who defeats the Republican candidate in a landslide.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Summertime Entertainments

At this point, I would do well to explain my feelings regarding the "Wii." If you have not heard, this is what Nintendo is choosing to call their next-generation console. It's the most original of the names of the new consoles, but up against "Xbox 360" and "Playstation 3" that's not exactly saying much. The previous name for the system was "Revolution," which was inherently superior to "Wii" because 1) "Revolution" actually means something, 2) Even better, "Revolution" actually describes what Nintendo is trying to do with the system (ie, it will be a revolution in the gaming community because it's supposed to appeal to a population outside the traditional gamer), and 3) "Revolution" does not sound like the noise a 3-year-old makes when he's riding the Scrambler at a shady carnival that's just set up shop in the local strip mall parking lot.

I don't think "Wii" is disastrous. I don't think this hideous excuse for a name will hurt any sales--people who are interested in the system for its play content are still going to buy the system if it's called "Moose Crap" or "Damnation Straight to Hell" or "Tiananmen Square Tank Guy." That said, it's certainly not going to help sales. You're probably thinking that this is some artifact of the Japanese naming process. It's an interesting theory, but the fact is that "Wii" is not a phoneme that exists in the Japanese language. The reason for changing the name is ostensibly to avoid abbreviation (eg, GCN for the Gamecube, which stands for "GameCube: Nintendo" but might not be apparent to casual gamers) and localization (who the hell knows what "GameCube" comes out to be in German). "Wii" is "Wii" everywhere. Unless, of course, you're in Germany, where it's going to be pronounced "Vee."

And despite the amount of ridicule I choose to heap upon this system, I am still very interested in buying it. Playing old Nintendo games through the "virtual console"? New versions of Smash Brothers and Mario Kart (and presumably Mario Party) which you can play over a network? New controllers, but the ability to use the old ones for certain games? Sounds awesome. And at a price point at half that of the PS3... "Wii" or "Revolution" or "Tiananmen Square Tank Guy," I'm gonna buy it.

Review: Bound Together

The concept of the "remix" is one that in most cases I fail to understand. Let me get this straight. You want me to listen to a song, but instead of the version that I know and like, this version has a techno beat in the background and people muttering obtuse phrases on top of it? Huh?

The one case, however, that a remix actually makes sense, is for video game music. Most video game music has the underpinnings of enjoyable music, but it's too short and falls back on a loop of itself before it could be fully explored. Thus, the remix attempts to augment the good start of a song and add to it until it becomes listenable on its own. And this is generally successful, as seen in Overclocked Remix. Pieces like the Morrowind title, One-Winged Angel from Final Fantasy VII, and virtually everything from Chrono Trigger are reinterpreted and converted from what used to be background music into something that you would actually stick in your CD player or in your iPod on purpose.

And it was from a link off of Overclocked Remix that I came across Bound Together. This was a remix of Earthbound music, and not just a song or two, but an entire album worth. First, a word about Earthbound. This game, or Mother 2 as it's known in the context of the rest of the series in Japan, is probably my favorite video game ever. Humor, replayability, allusions and references, and--yes--room for philosophical speculation come together in an absolute gem of a roleplaying game. We're on the verge of Mother 3, a successor (if not a direct sequel) to Earthbound being released in America. The Earthbound fan community is one of the most loyal and faithful video game communities that I have ever interacted with. Therefore, given the legitimacy of video game music remixes, the appreciation (and near reverence) I have for Earthbound, and the past history and quality of Earthbound second-party content, it was without much trepidation that I downloaded Bound Together.

All in all, it's tough to give the compilation a wholly accurate review. It an immense accomplishment in places, nearly but not quite brilliant in some, and mediocre at best in others. Ultimately, Bound Together is most successful when it doesn't stray too far from the original Earthbound music. Some tracks, like "Sweet Dream Lullaby," "Paula Wanna Cracked Bat?," and "Zombie Lounge" (all of that makes a lot more sense if you've played Earthbound) are quite good because they are true reinterpretations of the Earthbound music, while a few other tracks whose names escape me are too much "techno beat in the background" and too little "song I know and like." One track, called "Da Black Market," especially stands out, as it's rap based on Earthbound. And it's not as bad as it sounds... in some of the verses. Some (the first and third, if I recall correctly) are actually quite cleverly written, some are unintelligible, and the last completely falls short when the topic of the rap becomes the cartridge. Two tips: if you're going to include lyrics in a remix, make sure they are understandable to whomever is listening, and if you run out of material, stop while you're not too far behind. The latter could really apply to the entire album... but if you're a fan of Earthbound, I definitely recommend checking this out, as it's certainly the most original and spirited take on the Earthbound material I've ever seen or heard. Whether that's a good thing or a bad one is up to you.

Review: Guild Wars

"You're a bit late here. That game has been out for a year." Of course I know that. But I only recently started playing it. To tell the truth, I've always wanted to get into an MMO. I screwed around on a friend's Everquest account back in the day, I played Ragnarok Online before its free beta run got closed... and that's about it. The monthly charge was the biggest turn-off: I didn't want to plop fifteen dollars a month for something that I might only play a little bit--or feel compelled to play it because I was paying so much. Guild Wars, though, doesn't charge anything to play besides buying the game itself. I'm not really sure why it took me so long to get into Guild Wars then, but I'm glad I did wait.

According to a friend of mine that has an extensive history with MMOs, which one you play doesn't matter nearly as much as whom you play with. Furthermore, Guild Wars isn't any significantly better or worse than any other MMO, ones for which you pay fifteen dollars a month included. Despite this, there seems to be a lot of elitism and rivalries among MMO players. Like when Final Fantasy XI came out, a lot of MMO devotees refused to play it because it wasn't a "real" MMO. And a friend of mine who plays FFXI says that a lot of people try out World of Warcraft, get bored with it, and "come back to eleven." Whatever. I'm just enjoying playing this game with my friends, and I'm enjoying even more the fact that I don't have to pay a monthly fee for it. Like other games, eventually I'll be bored with it, but that's the thing: I can simply stop when I'm bored with it. And pick it up later if I want to. Free of charge.

Currently listening: Greetings from Michigan, Sufjan Stevens

Thursday, May 11, 2006

When I do my best work

2 am, of course. Seriously. During the summer (and other periods where I can sleep to a reasonable double-digit hour) I find it easiest to put all of my thoughts down in a cohesive manner at some reasonable single-digit hour in the AM. (See: first Kingdom of Loathing ascension... that was at about 3:30 am.)

So, time for a quick lesson and a review.

I neglected to do my homework. I'm not talking about forgetting to do some of Professor Dodd's Aplia bitchwork. This is as in me saying "Oh, it's a PCIe card! Those don't need power hookups." My research? Exactly two PCIe cards that I've installed, neither of which needed a connection to the power supply. This was a woefully inadequate sample size, particularly regarding the higher-end of the graphics card market. So now I get a fun chore, viz. upgrading my power supply!

It occurred to me about the time I was taking a Philips screwdriver to my computer case to determine how to dismantle my current power supply that maybe I'm in over my head?

Review: Rosenrot

I didn't even know until three days ago that Rammstein had released an new CD. I bought it two days ago. It did not dissapoint.

The best thing to be said about Rammstein is that, despite slight deviations about their "mean," their sound is pretty much the same as it's ever been. I can't point to a Rammstein CD that's my favorite or least favorite, and that's the hallmark of a great band. Their quality is consistent, and it has been over the last twelve years. Sure, Rammstein has varied its tempi a bit, added more languages, including English (marginally successfully), Russian (more successfully), and now Spanish (amusingly--you'd just have to hear it). But their music isn't any worse now that it was on Sehnsucht or Herzeleid. And for that matter, aside from the greater variation, it's not hugely better either. What you see is what you get.

Listeners, always clinging to their precious genre labels (see "alternative rock"), have of course tried to categorize Rammstein. "Industrial," they call them. Or "thrash rock." "Dark metal" and my favorite "Tanz-metall," which is apparently "Dance metal" in German. Show me the dance where they play Rammstein... all right, maybe don't, because it would probably be pretty scary. My point is, don't try so hard to group bands. Rate them on their sound, their artistic merit, not on their categorization of similarity to other bands. That said, if you've not heard Rammstein, they're a German band that would be most broadly, generally, and accurately classified as "metal." I can appreciate evoking the "industrial" genre too. And, despite your feelings toward metal or industrial (or heck, toward Germans), they're really good.

As for the new CD, it's almost all quality music. "Benzin" is apparently some quite clever social commentary about addiction to gasoline. If you're fluent in German, feel free to confirm or deny that for me. "Rosenrot," "Wo bist Du," both very good. And then we get to "Te Quiero P**a!" If you're about as familiar with Spanish as I am, this means nothing to you as an obscenity or anything else that would merit replacement of "ut" with "**" in the middle of the word. Evidently the title of this song (in slang--Babelfish doesn't even recognize it) translates to "I want you, whore!" And (again, despite the subject material) it's the best song on the album. Rammstein plus bullfighting music in the background? Oh, yeah.

Currently listening: Shuffle in iTunes, which has produced "Vertigo," Jump Little Children; "Suteki Da Ne [orchestrated version]," Nobuo Uematsu (from Final Fantasy X); and "The Last Time," the Rolling Stones.

Quantization: An Engineer's Quandary

Here's a list of terms: "Dressy casual." "Business professional." "Sunday attire."

Those terms have something in common: they refer to what you are supposed to wear to a specific occasion, and they're dreadfully nonspecific.

I, for one, like to know in advance what I should wear to an event. I hate being dressed to nicely, or not nicely enough. And so, to prevent this, people organizing events have taken to coining inane terms like the ones I mentioned. The big problem with those, of course, is that they're completely subjective and relative. To be a literalist about it, what if my business doesn't dress the same as another one? What if I'm Jewish, and Sunday attire is basically the same thing as Monday evening attire? The bigger problem, of course, is the individual perception of what is "dressy," what is "casual," etc. Theoretically, these terms form an axiomatic basis, with each one having a commonly accepted and agreed upon definition... but I, for one, have never heard an objective definition of any of them.

So, my engineering sensibilities enter into the situation, and I realize the only sensible situation is quantization. You can have clothing levels 0-5. Here's a quick summary of the clothing levels, as they apply to men's attire (women, I'm leaving it to you to fill in the gaps because I would have no idea where to start).

Level 0: What I'm wearing right now, for instance. This is literally anything you want it to be. Sweatpants and no shirt is an example. Note that this level is not generally acceptable for most public outings.
Level 1: What I will be wearing after I take a shower. This is jeans and a t-shirt, or it might include shorts if it's warm. What most people would choose to wear in most situations that do not require a greater clothing level.
Level 2: Generally, a bit nicer than clothing level 1. We're looking at nicer than jeans and a better than T-shirt: polo if it's warm and a sweater if it's cold, maybe.
Level 3: Now comes the first mention of that dread male accessory: the tie. At clothing level 3, a tie is not required, but it is acceptable (not that any man would choose to wear a tie given the choice not to). Dress pants and a dress shirt.
Level 4: Suit, or some other clothing combination involving a jacket and a (shudder) tie.
Level 5: Tuxedo, or whatever else you have that makes you look ridiculous, but it's generally accepted to be ultraformal.

Now, invitations can specify "Clothing level 2-3" instead of "Sunday attire." Or "Clothing level 3-4" instead of "Business professional." "Clothing level 5" instead of "Black tie." You get the idea. And now it strikes me, the number of invitations I've received that have said "Attire: Dressy, men should wear dress clothes but no suit required." What they were trying to say all along was "Clothing level 3."

See? How hard is that?

Currently listening: Rosenrot, Rammstein

Friday, May 05, 2006

So Long, Farewell; or: The Long Kiss Goodnight

If memory serves me rightly, this is about the time of year for those weekly pilgrimages to the shrine to the College Board, wherein the supplicants perform three hour rituals of tearing open the correct set of plastic wrap and getting hand cramps from writing many consecutive essays. I remember well my days of prostration before these idols: eight months of work, culminating in three hours of test-taking, resulting in a single number by which our worthiness would be judged.

College isn't much different, really. Except it's four months of work, not eight.

In honor of the conclusion of my first year at Georgia Tech, I have the following grievances against the Institution to offer:

1) Water. Anything to do with water is a problem at Tech. You think I'm making that up? I've got evidence:
a) Water fountains. We're talking "splash you in the face every time you try to take a sip" here.
b) Bathrooms. Take a shower? Okay. Be prepared for sudden unexpected temperature changes and pressure changes any time anyone flushes the toilet.
c) Floods. Whenever it rains, you seriously can't get anywhere on campus without walking through standing water.

2) A lack of intellectualism around campus. As Professor Uzer said, "We do not have time for intellectual pursuits at this institution." Apparently at lots of prestigious schools, important and interesting people come to lecture. At Tech, we get professors from other schools who talk about some mathematical concept so esoteric that the only people who actually understand what the hell is going on are other professors. No politicians, no writers, etc.

3) The Ratio. This goes without saying. Girls are constantly trying to slant this by using the "well, if you take out guys that don't do anything but play video games, it evens out" line. I counter that with the "well, if you remove girls that either have or don't want a boyfriend, it does whatever the opposite of 'even out' is" line.

Aside from all of this, though, I have little to complain about. And that's good, because I have three more years of little complaints to make.

Currently listening: "Spain," Chick Corea