Tuesday, May 29, 2007

A four-drive-thru night

Ugh. I feel like a pig... Although I really shouldn't. I am not proud of this (well, to look at it this way) but I ate from four drive-thrus tonight. No, I'm not prone to pigging out. Well, here's what happened and how.

Last week I promised my wife that Tuesday (gonna be Wednesday by the time I get this posted) I'd bring her dinner, whatever she wanted, no limit. She just had to text me the time she was going to lunch at work, and what she wanted. Little spontaneous things like this are golden for keeping a marriage interesting months or years after the honeymoon's over. Take it from a guy who's been married almost 11 months.

So I'm playing pool with my brother-in-law, and on my second beer (Bud Ice, in the bottle) when Jen tells me she's on lunch at 8 - and she wants KFC's honey BBQ boneless wings, potato wedges - and a vanilla shake. I don't eat at KFC, but I at least know they don't have milkshakes. I play a couple more games of pool, sober up (I had time) and I'm off.

There was virtually no wait at Burger King, where I got the shake. Same thing at KFC. I mean, there was one car ordering, but as soon as I came to a stop, they pulled up. And they weren't up at the window but a minute or two - same story, both places. I wasn't feeling like anything, so I got nothing for myself. I got to Jen's workplace a little early, so I had a couple potato wedges, and when she finally did get out there I tried a little of the shake. So that's two fast-food places I can count, even though 95% of it was for my wife.

On the way back, I got mine, and you know this. Taco Bell for me. Bean burrito, add jack sauce (which is Baja sauce most everywhere else); beef/potato burrito; soft taco supreme. I get back almost home, and my brother-in-law wants to go to McDonalds to get my sister-in-law some food. This is where my night gets interesting.

We go through the drive-thru, and order a strawberry shake (for me, making 4 places I ate from), a chicken BLT meal for my brother, and a chicken wrap and fries for his girl. We get up there, pay... First they shorted us an order of fries. The lady rudely looked at us because we didn't pull out - finally asked us what our problem was. Very rude. So she gives us the fries, so we pull out. John looks in the bag, tells me they gave him a cheeseburger instead of the chicken wrap. So he goes back in - I can't confirm this, but to hear him tell it, he cussed out everyone behind the counter, said they were all a bunch of dumb motherf***ers and couldn't read worth a sh**. This isn't a guy you wanna piss off. Well, he got the chicken wrap, but by the time he got home, he realized they gave him a McChicken instead of his larger, more expensive chicken BLT - and kept his receipt. So he's talking about going down there tomorrow. I really hope he doesn't get locked up, but that's his way. You just don't cross this guy unless you got a really good reason. But I guess that goes for anyone. Getting an order wrong is one thing - they were busy - but just messing with someone for the sake of doing so, seems pretty stupid to me.

But that about sums up why I don't like McDonalds to start with. Sure, they got good shakes, OK fries, and a couple good things - but their whole business is based around charging premium prices for garbage food and appealing to kids. In the pizza business it's the same with Chuck-e-Cheese, but at least those aren't as successful. I do applaud McDonalds for their charity work - that's always commendable - but on the consumer front they're trash. For what you pay, they ought to serve better food - they should at least try to compete with Burger King, which is OK for a burger. Them and Wendy's. We don't have Jack-in-the-Box out here, so the best we have is Hardee's (aka Carl's Jr.), but you pay for that.

So now I don't feel like eating anything, and I really didn't eat all that much, I just ate later than I should have. The plan was to make Jambalaya tonight, but I didn't feel like it. I called Jen and she didn't either, so that works. I hate cutting up the chicken, and there's a couple other parts I'm not too fond of, but the end result is more than worth it. That's on my to-do list, write about that, exactly how I make it and all.

...So I thought I'd list the songs as I listened to them. Stuck with country/rock/classic rock, but the sixth one was just "random". I don't necessarily recommend Lady Sovereign, but a few of her songs are fun to listen to.

Songs listened to while writing this blog...
1. Rascal Flatts - Stand
2. Rascal Flatts - Life is a Highway
3. Lynyrd Skynyrd - Sweet Home Alabama
4. Lynyrd Skynyrd - Call Me the Breeze
5. Bob Seger - Old Time Rock n' Roll
6. Lady Sovereign - Random

Monday, May 28, 2007

'Twas a good day...

...although I got no sleep. None at all.

I got off work Sunday morning at the usual time. Filled my tank for $2.99/gal- it had gone up to $3.25 at some stations for a couple days, but it's right around $3 if you know where to look. And I've taken to filling my tank twice a week, so I don't worry about running out. My gas station of choice is in Greenville. I work in Greenville, but I live 20 minutes away, so I don't like to have to put $5-10 in to carry me till I get to Greenville again.

So I get home, it's about a quarter to 7 (AM). I'm not really tired, though I was the night before. I'd drank another of those WWE RAW energy drinks, and while it didn't do anything for me at the time, here I was 10 hours later with no desire whatsoever to sleep - and I'm a guy who loves his sleep. I'm not really endorsing it, but the stuff does seem to offer energy in the long term, so next time I have to drive more than 8 hours in one stretch, I might grab another 4-pack.

It's about 11AM when I decide to turn in, but I'm not really tired. Instead I wake my wife up, gently as I know how. Turns out she's not all that tired either, so we decided to make the most of the day. She'd gotten about 5 hours of sleep, and me with no sleep at all, we made our plans. They changed a time or two, so I'll just focus on what we did do.

We got in the car, drove up to Jen's sister's place, pick her and our nephews up - they're 4 and 7. We went to Burger King for lunch, but we didn't eat then. Instead we headed east, past Bath (which is supposed to be the oldest town in North Carolina), past the even smaller Bayview, to the free ferry. For whatever your purpose, the state of NC funds free ferries across some of the waterways in this state, and this one we ride purely for the fun of crossing a river. If you look at a detailed map of North Carolina, follow I-40 through the upper-middle of the state to Raleigh, the state capital. Continue west along 264 through Wilson, to Greenville. Follow that west and you'll come to a great river - you can either end up on the north or south side. Coming home I'm south of the river. Coming into the town of Washington, from Chocowinity, we cross the river where it's still narrow. Following the river (a sound now, I think) along the northern bank is where we come to the northern ferry terminal, and the southern one is in Aurora, NC, east of Chocowinity on the southern bank. Aurora's farther from Chocowinity than Bayview is from Washington, I think - so I think the ferry goes a little southeast. But all in all it's a fun trip.

So we get back to my sister-in-law's place, drop her off and sort of trade her for her boyfriend (of 6 years, they're just about commonlaw married - I just call him my brother-in-law anyway) who has to go to his mother's to work on a car, which is just on our way. The ferry was a surprise to the kids, who had never been on one, but the real surprise is at the new theater in Greenville - where we're going to see Shrek the Third.

Of course, the movie was good - seemed about on par with the last two. Wasn't quite as good as the second one, which I remember as being amazing, but a little better than the first one, which I remember as being sort of average. I like the series; they're fun to watch.

We made an extra stop at Barnes & Noble, one of my favorite stores, being a somewhat avid reader. I wanted to pick up the K-PAX books by Gene Brewer. Maybe you recall the 2001 movie with Kevin Spacey about the mental patient, Prot (rhymes with throat, not tot) who believed he was an alien, and gradually convinced his fellow patients and even the doc? I'd seen it when it first came out, bought it on DVD when it was new, but never knew there was a book, or series of books. Just a week or so ago, though, I watched it again with my wife, who hadn't seen it. She looks it up on IMDb - she looks up all movies she sees on that site - and reading the trivia and all she learns about the books. I've always been fascinated by Prot's story, but never thought to see if there was any more. Just looking at Brewer's site, I get the impression he's going to be writing above my level, but I'll give the first two books a shot anyway. The third is a trade paperback only - twice as big, twice as expensive. I'd pay the price if the book was good, but I'm most comfortable with mass-market paperbacks (what most people envision when they think "paperback book"; trade paperbacks are almost or are the size of hardcovers, which I don't read because of the awkward size).

Well, B&N didn't have the K-PAX books (for shame!) but I had them order it (no obligation, the guy told me 4 times) so I picked up a Sudoku book. I'm really getting hooked on those puzzles. Even the easy ones tweak my melon. I picked up a variety-puzzle book at the store last week, and solved the first Sudoku after a couple hours. After getting one cell on the second one, I spent a few hours, not finding any more. I eventually cheated and got a few answers, but felt bad about it. One of my co-workers (who we call Fireball) had a Sudoku book (almost got that one, as a matter of fact, but wanted to be different, so I didn't) and I copied the Sudoku for her. She started to do alright but made a few mistakes, and eventually got frustrated with it and tore it up. Think you're good at Sudoku? I'll put it up here. You'll have to copy this to Excel or write it down or something, but here you go.

8 _ 4 _ 6 _ 5 _ _
_ 6 _ _ 7 _ _ 1 _
7 _ _ _ _ 1 _ _ 9
_ _ _ 8 _ _ _ 3 _
3 _ _ 6 2 4 _ _ 5
_ 8 _ _ _ 3 _ _ _
5 _ _ 1 _ _ _ _ 2
_ 4 _ _ 3 _ _ 5 _
_ _ 1 _ 4 _ 7 _ 3

So there you have it, nice and purty. Looks easy enough with four already done in the middle and two corners. I'll give you a hint: the opening move involves placing a 1 in the upper left box. After that - have fun.

If you don't know Sudoku, it's simple. There is no guessing - it's all logic. There is no math - the numbers' relationship to one another is entirely irrelevant. If you can come up with 9 symbols, or letters, you could use those. Anyway, each row and column must only contain one each of the numbers 1-9, and the nine sub-squares must also contain 1-9. So to place that first 1, we have to see where a 1 CAN'T go. The 1 from that upper-middle square takes out the whole bottom row, and the 1 in the upper-right square eliminates the middle row. That leaves one cell, and it's the right one. You can try to solve a Sudoku by line, by column, by square, or just do what I do and go around the board looking for the next move by simple elimination.

Wow, what a tangent. So I get that book, and of course I'm starting to feel the effects of being up so long without sleep. So I stop in the adjoining Starbucks, and pick up a white chocolate mocha, Venti size (that's Large in Starbucksian), with a double shot of espresso. The lady told me there was already a double shot, so I had her put 4 in. I was of half a mind to ask for 10.

So I get back to the car, and we take the kids to the store to see their mom (she works there) then drop them off. Jen and I go to Taco Bell but on the way she decides she wants something else. I get my stuff - if you want to try something great at the Border, tell them to put Baja sauce (or Jack sauce, at some) on your favorite menu item. It's the sauce on the Baja gorditas, a spicy mayonnaise-based sauce (like thousand island) but with pureed peppers and other hot stuff. It's especially effective in bean burritos, but make sure they also put the red sauce that's supposed to be in there - those beans dry out fast.

So she wants Stromboli, which I can't tell the difference from a Calzone, but whatever. She orders that, gets her Italian fix, and we sit down to watch another movie. Epic Movie, just came out - we didn't think it would be all that good and it wasn't, but I was so tired I didn't want to see a good movie, I just wanted something to focus on to keep me up. My target sleep time was midnight. I dozed a little in the car, I dozed a little during a part of Shrek 3, and I dozed off maybe a third of Epic Movie (it wasn't hard, the movie sucked). And I made my target bedtime of midnight.

And then I woke up around 8am. Between writing this and a couple miscellaneous tasks, here we are at 9am. Jen's mowing the lawn, and I might catch a quick nap - or not. Either way, we're going to her sister's again. My plans involve a few games of pool and some beer, but Jen's thinking volleyball or badminton. I'm thinking the four of us at the Blackjack store around a pool table or 2, but Jen's thinking of the girls and the guys going off their separate ways. That would work, but John and I shoot pool by ourselves just about every Monday. These two sorry sons-of-...well, you know - at work keep talking big at work but can never make it down there to give us some variety and challenge, so I'd like to shake it up a bit. Later, I'm going to make my famous Jambalaya, and Monday Night RAW is on at 9.


Friday, May 25, 2007

Debunking online relationship myths

By now, it seems like everyone's been in an online relationship. Oh, it doesn't have to have come as far as mine - cross-country visits, driving across the country, getting married, trying for kids - but a relationship, at the base level. Talking to someone regularly, knowing their name, building a... profile, if you will, of them in your mind. That's not even friendship yet, just an acquaintance. But the rather politically correct media has spun a few tales about online relationships, and some just aren't true.

1. Anyone who talks to a kid online is a predator.
Completely incorrect. Now, true, there are people who meet kids online to trick or force them into a sexual encounter - but that's only an extreme. In message boards and chat rooms everywhere, kids log on just as much or moreso than adults, depending on the topic. A forum dedicated to Nintendo's latest handheld is going to attract a lot of Pokemon-loving grade school kids, but it's also going to attract Nintendorks like me who have been playing Nintendo games since 1987, when the NES came out. If you stay on topic, only talk about the games, for all you know you could be in your 40s getting advice from an 8-year-old who happens to have been playing it longer.

But even in general chat and off-topic message boards, kids openly post, as kids. I have never been on a message board that had an adult-free kids room. I've also never met anyone who was known to be below... OK, let me think about this for a second... 10 I think. I know I've met a couple 12-year-olds, 14 isn't uncommon - but to read and write and use a computer and understand online communities, 10 is a bare minimum, 8 and 9 being an extreme. Most of the time, kids talk about some of the same stuff adults do.

I've seen kids post as young as 13 in anything-goes uncensored forums, where topics of a sexual and profane nature were allowed. Although I have seen kids swear, generally they swear less, in a topic people are swearing in, less than the adults. Maybe they're being monitored, but kids much more often than adults are forced to conform to a more polite, less profane personality, at least from what I see. In topics of a sexual nature they hardly ever say anything. Oh, I know they read it. But we're not talking about 1950s kids, we're talking about now. They know stuff I didn't even know till I was in my 20s, and I'm not that old - coming up on 28.

I've also seen a lot of adults show these kids respect. Their ideas are valued as much as anyone. Who you are online is somehow apart from your age, your race, your gender or sexual orientation, your religion, etc. It's more about what you say, a little of how you say it, more of the ideas you present, support, and/or oppose. I've even seen a kid - boy was probably 14 at most - running his own online business, I think it was web development, some kind of programming. He knew more than I do, and helped me a couple times, I think. I remember the dude wanted to buy his girlfriend an iMac at one point - he had money of his own that he was earning. Had his own computer, paid for the internet access himself. Kid was probably paying rent.

So it's not all negative. Yes, there are bad people out there with bad intentions for good kids, but that's everywhere. The Internet is not entirely a bad place for kids, and it offers them many more opportunities than threats. Wikipedia, Google (like Google Earth), homework/study sites, and even game communities to help with the fun stuff. And apparently they can even make money, start saving for college.

2. The Internet isn't global, that's all a myth.
Oprah - who I have nothing against - had this show, and she was talking about this couple. Oh, how did it go? Guy gets on AOL, starts talking to a girl. They get talking about personal stuff, he says he just moved to... I think Houston, TX. She says, cool, I'm from Houston. They talk more, he says he'd just come back from some club. She says wow, I've been there. I live like a couple blocks away in some apartments. He says me too, this 10-story complex called whatever. She says whoa, I live there too, on the 8th floor. He says he does as well. They exchange room numbers - they live right next door to one another, had for about six months. They get married, have a few kids, blah blah blah.

Yeah right! Come on now. How stupid do they think people are?

Sure, it's possible. Anything's possible. But if you get in a chat room, up on a message board, and you ask for an ASL Check (Age, Sex, Location check), don't be suprised if you're the only one from Hicksville, KY up there. Don't be surprised if nobody's in your state, even if you're in CA or NY. Oh, after a while you might see someone a few hours away. But the Internet is global. If you're new, prepare to meet people from other states, or other countries. Off the top of my head, I'll name places I've met people from.

Alaska, California, Wisconsin, Texas, North Carolina, Illinois, Oklahoma, New York, Germany, India, England, Scotland, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Russia...

And I'm sure there are others. Haven't talked to anyone in the Middle East (besides India, I mean the hot spots) or Asia, so far as I know. Or Africa. But all of America, Canada, Europe, and Australia are all well represented. The Internet is global - it's just about everywhere but on the ocean or the poles - but then surely satellite can get through.

3. You need a commercial dating service to find love.
The hell you do! Jen and I met on the official message board for the rock band Disturbed. The site/board were free to access. We paid for Internet access, but no third party. And for the record, that "free personality profiler" eHarmony offers, is bogus. I heard it from a few people that they spent 20-30 minutes doing it, answering questions about their personality, opinions, habit and manners, stuff like that, only to get a message that says that their profiler or whatever only works with a small portion of the population - that's why it's free. So those who got past that message had to fit some pretty stiff criteria - according to them, most of the population is undateable - or at least unmatchable.

Most of these services categorize people based on some common factors, again, like opinions, personality, habits, manners, etc. Smoker or non-smoker? Drink, yes or no? Like cats? Like dogs? Play board games? Play sports? Do this? Do that? You fill it out and narrow down the dating pool of the desired gender by what matters the most, but - oh, to contact someone, you gotta pay five bucks, and we accept Visa, Mastercard, or PayPal. Nice. Heh. Well, wake up Cupid and eHarmony customers, and smell the java beans. You wanna find someone with similar interests? Look for a fairly big (5,000-10,000 members is good) community dedicated to something you LOVE. A book/author, movie/actor, game, sport, car - whatever. Post on-topic, but check out the offtopic lounge. Don't even join if it hasn't got an offtopic lounge or two. Feel out the community and if they have a good gender mix, make yourself at home. And that's one avenue - you might want to have a few.

But then, the old rule applies - you'll have better chances finding someone if you're NOT looking. I wasn't. My father had passed away a couple months prior, and I joined the DMB (Disturbed Message Board) in July 2002, but didn't become active until later in August, into September. Jen joined a few days before me, and was active from the start. As her name was Silent Jo and she had many more posts than I did, I asked her why Silent was in her name. Apparently that's when she first noticed me. Other than that she was really nothing to me then, just another name. I had a falling out with the community and announced my departure. A stupid thing to do as I would later learn, but this was my first time. As anyone who makes a "goodbye topic" does, I checked back a week later and scoffed at all the "good riddance" posts. A few pages down, Silent Jo says something like "oh great, the one really interesting guy on here leaves". So I became interested in her. I came back, patched things up with those I had a problem with, and set out to learn more about this person who I would marry not four years later.

You can't recreate that! Stuff just happens sometimes.

4. The First Amendment protects you.
Basically, the answer is no, it does not. The complicated answer is that the First Amendment only protects you from censorship by the government and that private corporations (or other individuals) can censor you all they like. So if you're on someone else's site, and they don't like what you say, they can ban you. They can even edit your posts and make you sound like an idiot. They can even, in some situations, post your private information if you've provided it. I've been on a few boards where spammers' posts are edited and their personal information filled in as sort of retribution/punishment. You might be able to do something about that, of course, especially if it's damaging, but in the end a site owner beats a site visitor.

Even if you have your own site, your free speech is not protected, because then you have to answer to the terms of service of your host. You may not be able to host pornography, instruct visitors on performing illegal activities... heck, you might not even be able to offend your host. If they love President Bush and you write something speaking out against the President, they can pull your site. Been there, done that. (I had a site pulled because I told someone how they MIGHT find an 8 year old, out-of-print computer game.)

5. You're anonymous online.
Again, no. There are steps you can take, measures you can implement, to protect your identity online. But if you're posting on a message board, they can track your IP address, see who you are and where you are. They might not have your personal contact information, but they have your ISP's, and most ISPs also list on the IP lookup (called a "whois" search) their Abuse reporting email address, so you can be complained about, and some ISPs will contact you about it. Many message boards allow any member to list any member's posts, allowing them to easily scour your posts for personally identifiable information, such as your hometown, school you go to, where you work, etc. If you piss someone off, they might be able to locate you just on what you say.

It's worse if you have a domain registered. On the DMB (where I met Jen) we had this annoying troll. Guy went by JAW, Noah, maybe a couple others. Seemed like an OK dude at first, but he was completely intent on pissing everyone off. You couldn't find any common ground with the guy. He'd probably be cool in person, where he has to evaluate the consequences of being so inflammatory. Anyway, he got his own domain, started his own board. I don't know who did it first, but they punched in his domain and got his full name (first, middle, last), address, and I think even phone number. Maybe not - I'd probably have called him (in a completely friendly capacity). But either it was posted, or instructions on how to get the information were posted. And then all of a sudden he got real quiet, worried someone might go down to where he was and do something. Oh, he came back - he probably moved, though.

So try not to make enemies - you don't want to have to worry about that. I personally find it easier to put myself out in the open, be completely open and honest about myself. I have my first and last name up here, and I'll tell people the town I'm living in. I may hint to my profession, but I prefer to keep that detail to myself. I'm not opposed to meeting people, but it's gotta be off the clock and not at my place of employment - because in that capacity I'm representing a company, not myself - and also because you just don't mess with the job. Anyone with a fairly high work ethic will tell you the same.

In closing...
The Internet is a wonderful place for communities, and while there are some significant differences between the Internet and the real world, it isn't as bad (or in some cases, as good) as it's made out to be. Basically it is what it is. In some cases, you should take it more seriously than you do or think you should - but in other cases, it shouldn't be taken so seriously - if that makes any sense. Like, you should know that people are real. Ask yourself if you would say to their face what you're typing. And on the other hand, if you get singled out by a clique, or criticized, whatever - just know that you can close the browser any time, back away from it, or leave a community altogether. Don't think you have to come crawling back - there are literally millions of them. I have a happy marriage to thank for sticking with the DMB when things didn't look good for me, but you can't count on that. When I started my own board, I learned who my real friends were - those who followed me. The rest only enjoyed me as long as I posted on their site and didn't care about me beyond that. So any connections should come with you if they're worth a damn.


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Nathan's Party Mix 2007 I

01. Ladies and Gentlemen (Saliva)
The theme from WWE's WrestleMania 23 (April 1, 2007) but Jen and I liked this song before it was used for that. This is sort of an arrogant song with just the right amount of attitude, which is probably why it appealed to WWE's mad-genius chairman. And it's a great opener, with promises of things to come.

02. Cold (Evans Blue)
Evans Blue gives you the impression you've heard this before, but there's something new and fresh about this song, from the intimate vocals to the catchy chorus. The rest of their album is pretty good - if you like this song and "Over", you should enjoy their album enough.

03. ...To Be Loved (Papa Roach) (as "Just Wanna Be Loved")
This is one of the rare occasions I will alter the name of a song if something else fits it a little better. Unlike the first track, I heard this first on WWE Monday Night RAW. This song took the place of their old theme, the now-defunct Union Underground's "Across the Nation", so I was inclined to dislike it, but it won me over after a couple times. This is actually the album version, with the cursing, an extended intro, and of course not cropped down to 30 seconds. It's a pretty loud song, but it's as good as anything Papa Roach have put out - and they've done some really good stuff - just see "Last Resort", "Getting Away With Murder", and "Scars".

04. Pain (Three Days Grace)
I hated Three Days Grace when they first came out. "I Hate Everything About You" and "Just Like You" were overplayed and I didn't like them to start with. I don't mind them now that other songs (*cough*Daughtry*cough*) are being overplayed, but Three Days Grace's newest album, "One X" is damned good.

05. Wasteland (10 Years)
I'll be honest with y'all: I don't really like this song. It's OK, but I don't have anything great to say about it. Jen really likes it, though, and I'll admit it's not bad to listen to in the background. But she listens to these mixes too, so I try to make it appeal to both of us - there's stuff up here I love that she isn't too fond of but puts up with enough.

06. Invincible (Crossfade)
I didn't much like Crossfade until I saw them live, at X-Fest in 2005, shortly after I moved to North Carolina. They put on an alright show, and around that time I started getting into a few songs from their self-titled album. In my opinion this is not up to par with singles from that album, but like the song above, Jen likes it a lot and it's not bad. Sometimes I actually dig it, depending on my mood.

07. Waiting (Trapt)
Trapt are just cool, at least judging by their singles. I loved their last album (with Headstrong, Stillframe on it) and this is at least as good, if not a hair better. The whole thing flows smoothly with just a little bit (but the right amount) of fun, and when he says "...in my head..." after the chorus, it reminds me of Tom Petty, and the song just picks right back up. Enjoy the ride.

08. Hips Don't Lie (Shakira, feat. Wyclef Jean)
Shakira caresses you down with her voice, the beat is good, and Wyclef Jean adds a funky aspect to the song. This is more of a dance number, but kinda fun to drive to as well, and it's a pick-up from the last three or four songs.

09. Again and Again (Jewel)
I've liked Jewel's singles since "Pieces of You", seems like almost 10 years ago. From folk to pop, Jewel has a seductive voice that's hard to ignore, and this may not be one of her best songs, but it's not bad.

10. Ordinary Day (Vanessa Carlton)
Another seductive-voiced singer, with a song that's easy to follow and sing along to. It's not near the caliber of her last single, "White Houses", but I like it better than her previous stuff (e.g. "A Thousand Miles" or something like that).

11. Keep Holding On (Avril Lavigne)
Avril's loudest stuff (barring "Girlfriend") is OK and what got her name out, but I dig these slower songs, this and "I'm With You". I was a little disappointed to hear this song used at the end of that [insert famous fantasy book/movie here] ripoff Eragon, but I was quick to forgive it. And it's a pretty amazing song.

12. Everything (Alanis Morissette)
I liked this song OK when I first heard it, but came to like it a lot more seeing it in Kevin Smith's "Clerks II", the ten-years-later sequel to the masterpiece which got him started. It's as good as anything Alanis did after "Jagged Little Pill". It doesn't quite have the energy of some of those songs ("Ironic", "You Oughtta Know") but it's as good as anything she's done in the last ten years.

13. Silly World (Stone Sour)
You wouldn't know it just listening to Stone Sour and not knowing anything about nu-metal, but Stone Sour share two band members with metal band Slipknot. They're nothing alike, though. This political song fits in with the rock songs on this album nicely.

14. From Yesterday (30 Seconds to Mars)
Actor Jared Leto's band's second single is right about as good as the previous one, a hard rock song with clear lyrics that's almost hard not to dig.

15. It's Not Over (Daughtry)
Yes, I picked this one up just as it started getting overplayed on the radio, but if I haven't heard it too recently, it still stands out as a great song. I listen to country radio more than rock/pop radio, so I'm seldom if ever tuned into the stations that overplay it. I hear it mostly at work, where I'm not in control of the radio. It's still a good one to have, though.

16. Heroes (Shinedown)
Another case of "not as good as the last single but still good" but especially so as the previous single, "I Dare You" is still one of my favorite rock/hard rock songs. Here we have a good hard rock song that sounds more like Soundgarden than Shinedown. I don't fully get the lyrics, but they sound good.

17. The Diary of Jane (Breaking Benjamin)
Breaking Benjamin is or at least seems to be new on the hard rock scene, but their singles (I think there's one I can't recall before this) are pretty good, bordering on nu-metal in the chorus, but still with a pop kind of feel to make for a fun song to listen to. I don't feel the lyrics, but they sound cool.

18. Miss Murder (AFI)
Jen and I are divided on AFI (which she tells me stands for A Fire Inside). She loves their first album, which I don't care for. This is all I've heard from their second or newest album, but I like it. She doesn't much care for it. It seems to have a trace of their emo/goth roots with a little more of a mainstream pop/rock sound. The song sounds like it's trying to be serious, but I don't take it seriously, I just find it to be a fun song to listen to - also good for driving.

19. Tear You Apart (She Wants Revenge)
This is the first and only single I've heard by She Wants Revenge, and I'm not much interested in checking out their other stuff, because this trance/new wave track reminiscent of the 1980s took a little time to get into, and as a genre it's not something I usually dig. But this song is alright with a nice smooth beat, cool vocals just as smooth, for a heck of a ride, with an interesting little twist at the end of the chorus.

20. It Wasn't Me (Shaggy feat. Rikrok)
The vocals are more Rikrok than Shaggy, who is always cool to listen to solely on account of his deep reggae vocals. I can't understand half of what he says, but he's got an awesome voice. "Angel", even "Boombastic", beats this for vocals

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Nathan's got game(s)

If you've been reading and caught the first blog about our TV... yep, you guessed it. We've put a little more on the card...

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl
We got this one first, probably a week or so ago. I was picking up an external hard drive for my brother and couldn't resist. A Deus Ex community I used to post on said this game was pretty similar. It's not, really, but it's an alright game, if stretched a little thin from time to time. You wake up in an area called The Zone, a military-restricted area outside the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, which blew up in '86. Your character doesn't know who he is and must work with the traders and other rogues in the area to piece together his past. It's a first-person shooter (FPS) with a bartering system and a feeling that you're playing it online, that others are participating remotely.

Pool Shark
We went to Office Depot to get some bubble wrap and styrofoam popcorn (not styrofoam platform, lady) for the hard drive, and they had a deal - buy one, get one free on their value software. I got this and a mapping program. The pool game itself is a little funny, but it works well enough within that. A nice touch is that there are four paintings on the walls you can replace with your own photos, and you can play your own music on the jukebox. The packaging describes features not actually included in the game (such as more rooms to play in - a minor annoyance) but overall it's alright. For what amounts to $5 I can't complain. At the time of this writing you could only get it used, for 99¢, on Amazon.

Project Snowblind
As I said above I'm a big Deus Ex fan. From what I hear, this was supposed to be the third Deus Ex game, but when the sequel bombed (more about that in a post about Deus Ex, later) they stripped this game of its Deus Ex references and made it its own game. It didn't do any better for it and was mostly forgotten. I have yet to try it, being busy with my new...

Black Nintendo DS Lite
I knew I'd wanted one of these since... well, since they came out. I've been a big fan of Nintendo since the NES, and I've had most of their good systems. I'm not so sure I want a Wii, and I missed the Gamecube, but I had the NES, Super NES, and the Game Boy. I didn't get any of the newer Gameboy units until the Gameboy Advance SP came out - the one that opens like a laptop. Kind of like a small DS, really. And as you probably know the DS is a Gameboy with a twist, a second, touch-sensitive interactive screen. Inside, it's got the horsepower equivalent of the atrocious N64, but it's focused, mostly, on 2D gaming. My favorite game on the PlayStation was Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, because it was a 2D game that took full advantage of that system. I appreciate what 3D games are trying to do, and even enjoy some of them, but I'm from the old school and definitely prefer 2D games. Until they come out with the Holodeck from Star Trek, or the virtual reality seen in The Matrix, my opinion will probably stay that 2D is where gaming is supposed to be.

New Super Mario Bros.
This is not so much a fresh, new Mario title as a stab at all the classic Mario fans who have owned those games left to right, top to bottom, front to center, every which way imaginable. And for that it's a great game. I've only got past the first world so far, but this seems to have everything that made the first three Mario games great, with nothing (at least not gaming elements - characters maybe) from the newer, N64-onward titles. So it's the classics, updated some. There's also a couple dozen mini-games in there, so there's a few things to do between games.

Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow
As I said above, my favorite PlayStation game was Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. I wasn't a big fan of the original Castlevania. I liked the second one - the odd ball out on the NES. Didn't like the third one or the ones on the Super NES. I had long given up on the franchise when SotN came out. And then, maybe Konami sold the franchise out, as some older fans of the series might say, but I think the new generation of Castlevania games are great. SotN was followed by Aria of Sorrow on the Gameboy Advance, and then Dawn of Sorrow on the DS (cute, that the initials are basically DS - and this isn't the only title to use this gimmick). There's a new one, but I didn't pick it up. These new Castlevania games are more like side-scrolling RPGs than adventure games. Now, unlike before, you have stats, and can switch out weapons. In these latest two (not including SotN) you can steal souls from the bad guys and use their powers as a weapon.

You can't say this isn't a weird game. Sort of a cross between Othello and Tetris with a touch screen - the buttons aren't used at all. Still trying to figure out exactly what it wants me to do and practice seems too easy. I don't read manuals unless I need help with something - I like to figure my own way through a game, at least until I get stuck.

I'm supposed to have the next three nights off. Unless the guy who works opposite me calls out again - he called out all his last week, so he's been off 11 nights. But he's an older gentleman, so I just hope it's nothing serious. I'll tell ya one thing though, if they call me in I'm bringing my new toy. Well, maybe. Jen loves this thing, too.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

I can't recommend these books enough

For the past few months, I've been reading an amazing series of fantasy novels (as of yet incomplete) called A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin. If you have not read the series, abbreviated ASoIaF by its fans (henceforth as well), let me be the first to recommend it. I myself heard about it on a message board, where the book was actually being bashed. One topic was attacking the writing style, which seemed fine to me. There were a couple of good posts as well, but they were in the minority. The name sort of attracted me, and I was looking for something to read, anyway.

I went to Barnes & Noble and checked out the first book,A Game of Thrones. I provide the Amazon.com link for reference only. Amazon actually charges double the retail price, which is only $3.99. If you decide to buy it, buy it from a real store. I figure it's so cheap because if you read AGoT, chances are you're going to continue on to A Clash of Kings. ACoK is actually the weakest link in the four currently published books, but neither is it a bad book. It's got some good stuff, and at that point you'd be a fool not to read A Storm of Swords, the best book in the series (and at that, only a little better than AGoT, the first one). The fourth, A Feast for Crows, is the oddball of the series. The fourth book Martin wrote was too long, deemed his publishers, so rather than split it at the middle, he split it by characters (read on to learn why this is significant). He then scrapped the rest and started on it anew. We're still waiting for A Dance With Dragons, the forthcoming fifth volume.

A Song of Ice and Fire is written a little differently from other books I've read. First and most simply, there really is no clear good and evil, as with Tolkien's Lord of the Rings series - and just about every movie ever made. The world of Ice and Fire is mostly seven kingdoms which are united - at the beginning of the story, anyway - and each Kingdom and some other places have Houses, or noble families. At the beginning, all are sworn to the Iron Throne at the city of King's Landing, but that changes before long. There are a couple characters who are mostly evil and a couple who are mostly good, but everyone else is in between, out for themselves. As you read, you'll find yourself taking sides with one of the Houses. My House of choice is actually House Targaryen, which starts off being portrayed as the bad one. The Targaryens ruled the land for nearly 300 years, but a sort of mutiny took place 15 years before the start of the books; the last Targaryens, in exile.

Secondly and a little more complicated, each chapter is dedicated to a character's point-of-view. Not all characters get a POV chapter, and some get more than others. It's hard not to root for House Stark at the beginning - both parents, the two daughters, and the middle son (of 3) and the father's bastard son are all POV characters. House Lannister, perhaps the most central House in the story, has only one POV character but adds one in each of ASoS and AFfC, so by the end, we've seen parts of the story from the point-of-view of 3 Lannisters. I believe the younger Targaryen rounds out the POV characters. So characters are seen not just from one, but often more characters' points of view - exclusively. Each POV is slightly affected by opinion as well as experience. Characters many miles apart often don't know what's going on elsewhere, sometimes have things wrong. We hear nothing at all about events not witnessed by POV characters unless they hear about it. So you could say parts of the story are left out, but you don't miss it.

So what's it about? That's actually hard to say. I can't even talk about what happens in the fourth book without spoiling the first one. None of the books are stories in their own right (except maybe the first one, if you ignore the rest) so even though they all have names of their own, it's all one story. But it's also several stories, because of the POVs. I went over (briefly) the regional stuff. But as for the first book - a Lord Stark and two of his sons come across a dying wolf mother and her litter. The older boy notices that the male-to-female ratio (including birth order) is the same between their family and the wolf litter, so each Stark kid takes their corresponding wolf, including the bastard son, Jon, who takes the albino runt. Early on, Jon joins the Night's Watch, a group sworn to defend a massive continent-spanning wall of ice in the North. Robert, the King, asks Lord Stark to serve as his Hand (essentially, high advisor), and Stark soon discovers a plot of treason. After that - spoilers. But basically we end up with a lot of political maneuvering, backstabbing, and eventually war.

3,880 pages (for all four books) and having read it, it just seems like a lot less. But Martin isn't even halfway done with the story. But from what I've read, I can confidently say that this beats Lord of the Rings. Easily. I prefer the Harry Potter books to the Lord of the Rings simply because the former is so much more fun to read. I prefer Ice and Fire to Potter, but it's a similar kind of read (being a world you feel a part of), just much, much darker. Ice and Fire isn't being made into a movie as far as I know, but HBO did buy the rights, and it's assumed that they're going to make a live-action TV series - but not confirmed. If you've read and/or seen Eragon, you've actually seen some of Ice and Fire's plot. I'm not so sure the author plagiarized all the people some say he did, but he did lift elements from a bunch of fantasy novels - including Ice and Fire. Eragon borrows a character name and a plot point (not going to say which one, it's a spoiler) from Ice and Fire, maybe a little more. It takes the most from the original Star Wars (1977) movie.

If you're looking for a real good read, I urge you to head down to your bookstore and pick up a copy of A Game of Thrones. It's only $3.99, so you really can't go wrong by trying it. You don't even have to be into fantasy - I wasn't.

The only complaint I have is that now I'm looking for something similar in the fantasy genre and it looks like Ice and Fire is about the best out there - so if I continue to explore fantasy, it'll be strictly downhill until the next ASoIaF books come out.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Dangerous drivers

Like both my mother and my brother, I tend to drive with a lead foot. I drive pretty safely, as my father trained me to do, but sometimes it just happens to be that when I look at the spedomoeter, I'm going 5-15mph faster than I intended to (although I'm still in complete control of the car).

Speeders get a bad rap. Not that I'm complaining about getting pulled every now and then for speeding. I'd rather see cops doing their job than not. On a message board Jen posts on, someone has in their signature "Hate cops? Next time you're in trouble, call a crackhead." I can't disagree with it. I don't think most honest people have much to worry about from cops. You just shoot straight with them (ok, bad analogy - you just be honest with them) and most of them are cool.

But it's not really speeders you have to worry about, it's some of the other stupid assclowns on the road.


In the state of Virginia, radar detectors (tool used by intentional speeders to detect cops) are illegal, but here in North Carolina they're not. So I don't know what to make of the fact that all - or at least most - of Virginians drive 20-30 miles an hour over the speed limit. 90% of the time if I get my doors blown off, the vehicle has Virginia tags. Maybe they're just nuts up there.


An old friend of mine said these people were playing pole position, referring to that old Atari driving game. Just today, I was out driving on highway 17 from Chocowinity to Washington, and this 4-door Buick or something is a ways behind me. I go through the northernmost light in Chocowinity, in front of the Hess/Trade Mart when it's yellow, but it's still yellow when I pass under it, so I'm good. I look in my rearview window. 1. Light turns red. 2. Drivers from the east start turning either way (it's a 3-way). 3. The Buick or whatever whistles through, barely missing the cars that have just started to go. Oh, while changing to my lane. I start to get over, but he's on me in a second and whips around me. When I got to the 55-mph zone, he was doing at least 85. (Maybe, just like me, he'd watched a Back to the Future movie last night.)

By the middle of Washington, the stupid SOB got caught behind a logging truck and I passed him - doing the speed limit of 35mph. Funny how that works sometimes.

Insurance scammers

By far the most dangerous people on the road. They'll work individually or in groups of two or more. Their intention is simple: cause a wreck in which their victim is at fault and takes the most damage. They take the money from the insurance settlement. A good insurance scammer is a good driver as well, to initiate, control, walk away from, and profit from a car crash.

The amateur scammer will just cut you off and step on the brakes. In most, if not all of America, if you rear-end someone it's automatically your fault, and getting rear-ended is the scammer's bread and butter. I believe most of the time that's how they initiate the wreck, because the fault is automatically the victim's.

The one that tried to get me today may have had a partner. You can never be sure, but here's what happened. I'm in the right lane, still on highway 17 but this time heading south, back to Chocowinity. Green Explorer and gold sedan (didn't note the make/model) come up on me on the left. The Explorer pulls in front of me while the car is on my left. The Explorer slams on the brakes. So do I, intending to pull around, but the car brakes, too, keeping itself on my side. All of us stopped, I turn to look at the car - and the car and Explorer speed off, either looking for the next victim or to regroup somewhere. Just got my brakes done, but if I wouldn't have, they'd have me in a bind.


These idiots aren't really dangerous, but very annoying. And that's anyone who will flash you with their high beams (or just leave them on) for no good reason.

What's a good reason? Well, the courteous use of the high beams is if you have someone tailgating you, wanting to pass, you flash your high beams to indicate you see no traffic coming and it's safe to pass. Or if an oncoming car has their lights out and it's dark and/or raining, it's a reminder. Or - not courteous but not altogether bad - is if an oncoming car has its high beams on and doesn't lower them for you. It's a reminder but sort of rude to some. But I have to, I have sensitive eyes and the high beams affect my own driving. Then there's if someone cuts you off. I don't condone it, but I do it - and more often than not feel bad about it, unless they cut me off and slow down - then I leave em on. (Lesson: If someone's coming and they have their high beams on, don't jump out in front of them unless you know you can go faster.)

But riding behind someone with the high beams on, keeping up with them, is completely out of the question. Case in point, I was coming home from work, driving on a back road. Another driver came out from a cross street behind me, high beams on. I sped up, figured he forgot to cut them off. Car comes from the opposite way - guy behind me cuts em down for the oncoming car - then flips em back on. I make a turn, the guy follows me. I make another turn, guy follows me again. By now half a dozen cars have come the opposite way. Now I'm pissed. I slow down and stop. He stops too, leaving the bright lights on. I've got a lug wrench beside me, so I grab it and make for the door handle - might as well see what he wants - when he shoots around me. The next turn I make, he misses (being in front of me) but he doesn't come back for me, either.

Now, I wouldn't have hit someone with a lug wrench. I wouldn't have broken someone's headlight or windshield. I'm not violent. I had the lug wrench there because I had changed my tire recently and it was in a convenient place. I felt comfortable being able to grab it, but I don't know what I would have done. Someone doing that - I figure they have to know you. I don't really have any enemies, so I don't know. I'm going home, and he's either following me or going the same way. So I don't know, but I'm glad I didn't have to find out. Didn't recognize the car as it passed, didn't see the driver.

I can't speak for other drivers, but if you put your high-beams on me, I'll speed up if I'm going slow, but if not (or you keep em on) I'm going to slow down until you cut em down or go around and risk a taste of your own medicine for a couple seconds.

But damn, why can't people just show a little courtesy on the road? It'd make driving a lot more fun - safe, as well.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Broken sleep schedule

Ugh. It's way too early in the morning.

I work a graveyard shift, from 10pm to 6am, four nights a week. Ideally, I'd come home, mess around on the computer for an hour or two to wind down, and go to sleep. Or, if I had plans with my wife, I'd go to bed sooner. Doing this I can wake up before noon, claiming only five hours of sleep. My job's not really hard, so I can get away with this from time to time.

Sunday was different.

I get home Sunday morning, expecting to surf the Net and just crash. But Jen's sitting on the chair by the computer, waiting for me!

Not that I'm complaining, not at all. It just threw my intended schedule off a bit.

She went to sleep around 8am, but I stayed up till 10am (the last two blog entries, and other things). I went to sleep - and woke up around noon. I knew I needed more sleep, but by about 1:30pm I accepted that I was wide awake, and decided to do something Jen had been nagging at me about for a few days (but hadn't had time to do, because I was oversleeping): the dishes.

I don't know why I couldn't claim more sleep. But she blames an energy drink we both drank Saturday. It's brand-new, I can't find much on it. I was looking at the WWE magazine at work, and on the back there was an ad for a WWE-branded energy drink called "WWE RAW Attitude: provided by Socko Energy". Which is real funny, because "Attitude" is a term the WWE haven't used since the Stone Cold/The Rock days, which is known as the 'Attitude Era'. And Socko is wrestler Mick Foley's sock puppet he pulls out of the front of his pants, puts on his hand, and puts in his opponent's mouth as sort of a funny move, but it's really a kind of nerve pinch (read more about it on Wikipedia).

Oddly enough, we can't find any information on the drink we got online. It's that new, I guess. But here it is without the WWE branding, although I believe the entire thing's owned by the WWE. I mean, Socko is a wrestling name to start with, and the site claims they have a Hogan Energy spinoff. So it's probably a company Vince McMahon started (or more likely bought out) to produce WWE-branded foods and drinks.

Either way, despite smelling funny, it's not a bad drink. Anyway, I didn't feel much energy from it. Neither did Jen, at the time, but later (she says) it kicked.

Well, last night Jen turned in at 10pm. I thought I would stay up till at least 1am. I couldn't have been more wrong. Not a minute after she headed to bed, I started nodding off. I can't speak for her, but I fell right asleep.

So here I am, I got up at around 4am. I'd be an idiot to get all my sleep at night, though I have three days to straighten out. I figure I'll stay up a few hours, blog about it, try this new game I got (S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl), and sleep in at least till 10. Then maybe Jen and I can catch breakfast together. Or something.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Introduction - Better late than never

Or, who is this clown, anyway?

My name is Nathan Jolly, which you can see by my profile. I used to post on message boards as Dark Reality; before that, Dark Reality was going to be my pseudonym and I was going to write medieval fiction (fantasy, but I prefer the other term). And why not? Stephen King was Richard Bachman and Dean Koontz was Leigh Nichols. Why does a pseudonym have to be an actual name? It was more of a screen name, a web handle, but I wasn't online then - I've been Dark Reality since 1992, and most, if not all, uses of it not by me were either inspired by me (as I'd like to believe) or purely coincidental.

I was born and raised in beautiful Santa Rosa, California. Wine country, though I don't drink the stuff. I'd always been a loner. I kept to myself, listened to a lot of music, watched a lot of movies, read a lot of books, played a lot of video games. My severe asthma kept me from doing a lot of physical activities, although, I confess it was as much an excuse as a bona fide reason. I got into computers, although never professionally, purely as a hobby.

In July 2002 I joined the official message board for the rock band Disturbed (who I met in 2003), where I met Jennifer. I posted there as (you guessed it) Dark Reality, and she was Silent Jo (and still is, on their current board). We started out as friends, and became closer. Following a fallout with the fan club (based on gossip and misunderstanding) I started my own message board and made Jennifer a co-administrator. The board thrived for the first year or so but ended up dwindling down to a few members. That board closed in 2006, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

In July of 2003 (still on the Disturbed board) Jen suggested I come visit her for my 24th birthday. I brought it up with my mother, who immediately shot down the idea. After all, Jen was living in Washington, NC, about 3,200 miles from Santa Rosa. But it was my decision not to go. We were only just friends then, and it was a wild idea. But by July of 2004, we were much closer. We were an online couple then, and she was very much in love with me. She bought my plane ticket. When I brought it up with my mother, she told me "not this again". I told her that I wasn't asking this time - I was telling her. (Yes, I lived with my mother - until I was almost 25. But I paid a very generous amount for rent and spent a lot of money helping my mother live comfortably.)

I didn't fall in love with Jen when I visited on my 25th birthday. It wasn't until I had to leave, a week later, that I realized that for the first time in my life, I was in love. It felt wrong going back to California. When I heard that she was getting a week off for Christmas, I bought her plane tickets that night. She flew out and met my family. Most of them, anyway. During that visit, Jen decided she would move in with me. She told her mother and sister via email, and they were upset but understanding. After she left, we decided I would visit NC one last time. No one gave me a hard time about taking their daughter or sister or aunt or sister-in-law away; rather, they were all very kind to me. It was on that visit in May 2005 that I decided that instead, I would move to North Carolina. I had more material posessions, but she had family she was closer to - and she had her own place. When I told my mother, she wasn't surprised (much) and wished me the best.

In September 2005, I packed everything I owned that I could carry into my 1987 Acura Legend, and with a nomadic/hippie friend of the family, I set off on the road trip of a lifetime. I took local highways to California's I-5, which runs north-south down the middle of the state. From there I took a detour around Los Angeles (that hell hole) to I-40. I vowed to get out of California the first night. We stayed in Kingman, Arizona, just over the border. Semi-coincidentally, we stayed in Santa Rosa, New Mexico the second night. On Wednesday, we went through some tornados in Texas, but made it safely to my aunt's house near Dallas/Ft. Worth. We intended to stay Thursday night in Memphis or Nashville, TN, but ended up driving all night. We entered North Carolina on I-40 around 11:00 AM on Friday, and made it to Jen's place between Chocowinity and Grimesland, NC, around 10:00PM. We'd gotten lost in Nashville, TN; in Raleigh, NC (damn that beltline); and in Greenville, NC.

My travel companion stayed with us for about a week. I would have bought him a plane ticket, but he preferred land; specifically, a bus. I bought his Greyhound ticket and we saw him off by the end of the month.

Just three months later, Jen, her sister and sister's boyfriend, and their two sons and I travelled (in that same Acura) up to Connecticut to meet their grandmother and other family members. But the car died in Maryland, not far from the Delaware line. I had to get towed to a service station, which was not far away, but they didn't open for another 6 hours. In the rain, nearly broke, with no ring and her family members miserable, I asked Jen to marry me. I had been planning to ask at a restaurant. Then in her grandmother's house, in the bedroom she grew up in. I asked where and when I did because I realized at that point that we can't plan our life all the time, that some things just happen - but that my love for her was a constant, and I told her how I felt. She accepted.

We were married on July 7, 2006, three years after I first asked her out, in Washington, NC, with her family and friends present. My family was not excluded, however. We both had cell phones with a good speakerphone. With one phone we called my mother's house, who in turn put us on speakerphone. With the other phone we called my favorite cousin, 4 hours away from my mother's place. So my family got to listen in, and they said they got to hear OK. We honeymooned in Knoxville and Gatlinburg, TN. We went to a muscle car museum (her idea!), a Ripley's Believe it or Not! museum, and ate at Gatlinburg's Hard Rock Cafe.

We both work full-time. Our jobs are not glamorous; in fact they're just below average. But they pay the bills, and we are both fairly good at what we do. We are going places, however. We're working on building our credit now. In a couple years I'm going to buy a car or small truck (my credit's much better than hers), replace her car we affectionately call Chuggy with my Acura (which is still going great)... and hopefully by the time we're 35 we'll own our own home. Either a double-wide trailer or a modular home in a land/home package. I want a place in the country with nice scenery but still with access to city water and cable (for the Internet).

So, that's me. Now, read on - I aspire to post at least one rambling of this caliber or greater every day, plus some. I'll review movies I watch, albums I listen to, books I read. I'll talk about my life, I'll talk about Jennifer, about computers, about driving - things which interest me. And if I'm in the right mood, I may even risk offending my audience with talk of politics or religion. You will find, however, that despite some strong opinions, I'm actually a pretty casual guy.

The return of Within Temptation

Before I get into the meat-and-potatoes of this review, I'll first share how I got into this great band.

My mother told me that all the rock and metal (read: Godsmack and Disturbed; before that, Metallica) had evolved from the blues, of which she was a big fan. I couldn't disagree, and as I listened more, I came to believe that. Until 2003...

I had finally given in, and bought the Evanescence album Fallen. I liked it alright, but it didn't really hold my interest long. Some of the songs were good, but they suffered from being overplayed on the radio, and those that weren't were so similar to the ones that were - after a couple months I was looking for something more.

A Russian guy I knew online just would not shut up about this band he liked, Nightwish. It was by mere chance that I discovered them, though. I was looking for homemade music videos on a filesharing network. I had DSL and a pretty big hard drive to fill. When I saw one that used Nightwish's song "The End of All Hope" from their Century Child album, I was hooked. I bought Century Child and loved every bit of it. I bought every one of their albums. Nightwish are not descended, musically, from the blues, but from classical. Their songs are each symphonies that use heavy metal instruments. The vocals can only be described as opera. This creates the most amazing sound I've heard, if a bit loud.

Nightwish remained one of my favorite bands - not because they were heavier than any popular American metal band, but because they made some of the most beautiful music I'd ever heard. I've been a fairly big fan of Enya since her album A Day Without Rain, and I'd always wondered how she'd do fronting a metal band. If the metal band were Iron Maiden, they'd sound a lot like Nightwish.

But I knew there had to be more. I listened to a lot of poor and mediocre music in the gothic rock and symphonic rock; for fairness I will name no names. These bands weren't bad, they just didn't do anything for me. My wife said it best with one, that it was background music, while Nightwish commands your attention; it's the main act. Finally I found one that just spoke to me. Within Temptation. I got their then-latest album Mother Earth. This was mid-to-late 2004. I remember thinking "so this is the new Nightwish".

I couldn't have been more wrong. Within Temptation proved to be somewhere between Evanescence and Nightwish. They had the general sound of Evanescence, but the quality and symphonic prowess of Nightwish, and some of Nightwish's power. But Within Temptation were more melodic, with a lot of nature themes. In fact, a couple songs were a little over-the-top. I did not like the album at first, but at work found myself wanting to hear it again. I liked it on the second listen.

A couple short months later I found out they had released a new album, The Silent Force. I loved it the first time I played it. They had mostly dropped the nature theme (which was probably exclusive to the Mother Earth album) and had a raw power which just sucked me in. I can say with assured confidence and no doubt that The Silent Force is the best album of 2004, at least the one which impressed me the most. I can't say anything bad about the album. This is the sound that lesser, diluted, and more popular bands such as Evanescence and Lacuna Coil are going for but do not quite hit.

Enya is Irish. Yuki Kajiura is Japanese. Nightwish are Finnish and Within Temptation are Dutch. I've since come to the conclusion that amazingly beautiful music mostly lies outside my home country's borders.

On with the story, now.

So I'm posting on a message board about music that would go with a book series I love (more on that in a future blog) and someone mentions a couple Within Temptation songs I don't recognize. I scratch my head for a moment, then it dawns on me. So I search Amazon (from within Firefox, of course) for Within Temptation, and sure enough they've put out an album almost 2 months ago. Because Within Temptation are virtually unknown in America, and I'm not a member of any forum dedicated to them, or mailing list of the same, I had no way of knowing.

Naturally, I bought it immediately: The Heart of Everything.

I have only heard THOE once. Well, all but the last track. I listened to it on the way to work and on the way home. As The Silent Force did, The Heart of Everything amazed me on the first listen. But unlike The Silent Force, no tracks really stood out, except for "What Have You Done?" and that's just because it features a male guest vocalist. It's going to stand out to everyone.

I love this album, naturally because of Within Temptation's past efforts, and I will endeavor over the next week or so to discover what makes The Heart of Everything special in its own right.

I really don't know how my wife feels about Within Temptation. It's obvious she doesn't like them as much as Nightwish. I can't say for sure as I do, but Nightwish have since broken up. The vocalist, the amazing Tarja Turunen, is confirmed released from the band. The rest of the band have promised to continue on, but I feel that Tarja made the band (although it was her bandmate
Tuomas Holopainen who penned most of the material) and therefore I have more faith in Tarja's upcoming solo album, 'My Winter Storm', than any future Nightwish material - but will of course check both out. Since Nightwish's fallout, I've began to hold Within Temptation in slightly higher regard. I will always love Nightwish's albums Century Child and Oceanborn, but let's face it - Once is the end of Nightwish as we know them.

Regardless of anyone's opinion of them, Within Temptation are one of my favorite bands. If you like beautiful music or any kind of gothic pop, rock, or metal, you'd be doing yourself a favor by checking out their albums. You can click on the album titles (the first time they're mentioned) and Amazon should have clips you can listen to. Also, anything you buy through my Amazon links gets me a little kick-back, so if you like it, you can thank me for hooking you up while you support a great band.

I do realize Within Temptation's albums are a tad bit more expensive. I look at it like this: you can get most music for about the same price in the store, online, etc. But you can also eat off the McDonalds dollar menu, or you can go to a place like Olive Garden. Both will fill you up and satisfy you somewhat, but one is much higher quality. Within Temptation isn't necessarily the best band out there, but they are of higher quality than their American counterparts. Plus, these CDs are imports - Nightwish is distributed domestically by Roadrunner. American support of Within Temptation should bring an American distributor and therefore lower prices. So it'll work itself out - should, anyway.

Thank you for reading. I know it's long, but if you read my blog, you'll come to expect that. When I read, I prefer long (600+ page) books. I write long posts/blogs and I write long letters. It is what it is, I suppose.


Saturday, May 12, 2007

HDTV as a computer monitor

For my very first Blogger post, I think I'll share my experiences with getting our new TV - a black 32" Sanyo LCD HDTV model - working as a computer monitor. If you'd prefer to avoid the technobabble and the long story, it's working fine as of now and I couldn't be happier.

Jennifer (my wife) and I decided to build some credit. To pay bills, finance our as-of-yet-unconfirmed California trip in November, and ease a little monetary stress, we applied for an unsecured loan of an amount I will not specify publicly. We were denied, but we were given a Visa card with a third of what we asked for, still a generous amount we can certainly work with. We decided we needed a present for ourselves. All work and no play and all that jazz. I was looking at a 19" monitor at Walmart, a widescreen LCD model. $193 - not bad, eh? But Jen has a hard time seeing small details in movies on our standard 19" CRT (aka tube monitor) and she didn't think simply going widescreen would improve it much. Or the 22" model next to it for about $100 more. We went to the TVs, as I explained to her that the new digital TVs are basically big computer monitors - which they are. And this is what we settled on. I hate discussing finance, but between the warranty, the DVD player (I'll get to that), and the cable to hook it up to the computer, we probably dropped about $850.

The TV has a native display of 1366 by 768 pixels (width, then height). However my nVidia GeForce 6600 (256MB) wouldn't do it, even as a "custom resolution". In fact the only one it would do stably (as opposed to flickering and/or blurry) was 1280x720, and it pushed 50 or so pixels on all four sides over the edges. On top of that, video was too dark and too red. Some video looks good but some looks terrible. This is when we decided to buy a DVD player. For $45 or thereabouts, we got a Philips model which upconverts DVDs to HD (I can't tell the difference) and plays numerous computer-based video formats, like DivX. It's what my brother calls a play-all.

Then we had a power outage, and all of a sudden the TV wouldn't work with the computer. I got it sorted (I still need my old monitor for some things, it seems) and found an option I didn't see before. Underscan - it was just what I needed. The description fit my problem, and after I hit OK, everything magically fell into place. The TV just works now, as a giant computer monitor. And I mean giant, the thing is freakin' huge! Video still looks bad, though, so the DVD player is still necessary.

I want satellite - I'm a fairly big fan of WWE Monday Night RAW, and I would watch other shows if I could. I'd like to watch Discovery and Animal Planet, learn stuff when I get bored. What little I see of them, they look pretty fun. With a TiVo or other kind of recorder, I could even watch stuff that broadcasts while I'm at work. We can't get cable, so that's out. I am also interested in getting a game console. I think between the PlayStation 2 and PS3, Sony dropped the ball somewhere and Microsoft became the better serious gaming company; an Xbox 360 is looking real good right now. But Nintendo have always held a monopoly on fun, but I'm not sure I want a Wii. I'm not that active, not into getting into my games. A Gamecube maybe, they're just under $100 and have some good games. But the Xbox 360 has SmackDown vs. RAW 2007, which features all four personas of Mick Foley as well as the McMahons, crucial characters missing from the regular Xbox wrestling games I've played. And the 360 will surely have Grand Theft Auto IV when it comes out in October or November.

But for now, Jennifer and I are enjoying the TV as a big monitor for our web browsing and watching DVDs. We'll figure out the rest later.