Sunday, June 28, 2009

Fetch Me My Blade and Let the Music Begin

Last week one of my friends from high school visited, so we went to Amoeba to try to find an awesome metal CD. Like so many cultural festivals before it, the Metal CD Project seems to have become nothing more than a way to amuse the tourists. Or perhaps I used the opportunity to justify spending money on a CD based solely on its album art, album title, band name, and song titles? Either way, we hunted through Amoeba's offerings and I came up with four CDs. I ended up returning two of them a few days later, as I had bought them both new and ~$15 is way too much for a CD. These are the CDs I found:

Black Cascade, by Wolves in the Throne Room

I already own a Wolves in the Throne Room CD and I consider it to by my favorite find from this project so far, so I decided to buy another one. The cover is good and the title is cool, but I decided that, since I already own one CD by Wolves in the Throne Room, I couldn't justify spending so much money to get another one. So with a heavy heart I returned the CD, and now I will wait until it is available used.

Symbols of Failure by Psycroptic

Oh man, the album art on here is phenomenal! Google revealed that the album arsist is Par Olofsson, who is extra awesome because he shares a first name with my Planescape character.
Both the front and back images of the album are available on Psycroptic's Media Page, and they're definitely worth downloading.
Their song titles are also cool, like "Missionaries of a Future Time to Come." In the end, I decided against keeping this one because it was more sci-fi than swords-and-sorcery fantasy. If it's ever available used, you'd better believe I'll grab it in a heartbeat.

The Ultimate Destroyer, by Lair of the Minotaur

This was the one used CD I bought, and I was happy to take the opportunity to own another Lair of the Minotaur CD for only five dollars. It sounds like more of the same: loud, driving metal. Generic, mindless fun.

Finally, I give you the winner. One look at the album cover should reveal why I absolutely had to keep this album and declare it my latest selection in the Metal CD Project. So here it is. The Last Alliance, by Battlelore:
My word, people. Do you see this guy? Just look at that helmet! That sword! That ragged cape! This man is metal incarnate. Then, as an added bonus, the lyrics booklet features a quote from a Tolkien story (either Lord of the Rings or the Silmarillion) before every song. And you don't get more metal than Tolkien references.

It looks like most of Battlelore's albums have great art, especially this one, which deserves bonus points for being entitled Where the Shadows Lie:

I can't top that. Rock on.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

How to Introduce Songs at Live Shows

Ah, this is a song called "Killers," this one. Yeah. Give me some bad dreams, this one.
--Iron Maiden's Bruce Dickinson, introducing "Killers" at a live show

The first concert I ever went to was by Jethro Tull, and I've been to several more Tull shows since then. Ian Anderson (the guy in charge of the band, which doesn't actually have a member named Jethro Tull) always talks during the show, bantering with the audience and introducing songs. Sometimes he alludes to the songs before announcing their titles, so that the hardcore fans will know what he is talking about before the others do. For instance, he might say, "You know, people sometimes ask me when Gerald Bostock will write his next poem..." and the fans immediately know that he is referring to "Thick as a Brick."

I think this is an awesome way for a band to connect with its fans, and it sets the live performance apart from listening to the album at home. When I went to see Nine Inch Nails, I was disappointed by how little Trent Reznor talked between songs. He mostly launched from one song to the next, sometimes alluding to which album the next song would be from. Of course, Nine Inch Nails is amazing live thanks to the awesome stage show they put on, so maybe they don't need audience banter to make the experience worthwhile.

What do you think? Should bands take the time to talk to their audience at live shows, or is it something that's cool, but not vital? Also, is there a band that you think does an especially good job at talking to the audience, or a certain introduction to a song that you think is great?


Sunday, June 21, 2009

RIP Rasputin, Summer 2007-June, 2009

I came home from a trip to Utah for Chuck's funeral to find Rasputin dead in his cage. I am afraid that I do not have the time right now to properly write about this friendly rat or to do his life justice. As a young rat, he was friendly, adventurous, and fun. As an adult, he was a squishy "fatass" who endeared himself to everyone who met him. As an older rat, he was a distinguished gent, a bit bony and somewhat bald behind the ears, but great company. I will miss him.

I don't have any plans to get new rats in the immediate future. Perhaps someday I will, but for now I have to finish letting go of Raz.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Binwin Bronzebottom and the Quest for More Money

So it looks like PVP's new Sunday feature will be Binwin Bronzebottom stories. Coincidence, or a ploy to sell more shirts?

Let's see how Kurtz puts it:

The overwhelming feedback and unabashed fandom Binwin has received from the D&D podcasts I do with Los Bros Pennies-Arcades and Wil Wheaton inspired me to retool Ding! to tell the exciting stories that take place when Binwin isn’t on the clock with Acquisitions Incorporated.

Overwhelming feedback and unabashed fandom... there must be a lot more people out there who like incessant whiners than I realized. Or, there must be more people living in Kurtz's head than I realized. Well, I can't say I'm surprised either way.

As Kurtz points out, Jim Darkmagic recently appeared in his own comic over at Penny-Arcade. According to the current numbers, it looks like Jim is pretty far behind in the competition for which story Gabe and Tycho will do next. Normally I'd be pretty disappointed, given my love for all things Jim, but both of the other stories look so amazing that I'm finding it hard to root for any one. Whichever one ends up winning, the true winners will be the Penny Arcade fans.

And I take comfort in knowing that, even if it comes out last, sooner or later we'll see Jim return to spread magic (and signed photos of himself) to the people of the world.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Dr. Chuck Johnson: RIP

I bet they don't mention his fireworks. There should be a verse about them:

The finest rockets ever seen
They burst in stars of blue and green
Or after thunder, silver showers
Came falling like a rain of flowers

Oh, that doesn't do them justice by a long road.
--Sam, The Fellowship of the Ring (film, extended edition)

By now, most of you know that my favorite college professor, Dr. Charles W. Johnson, passed away last week. Many of you knew him, and a lot of you who didn't have heard me talk about him. Chuck was an exceptionally wise, hilariously funny man. Please allow me to share a few memories with you.

I've always been a thin guy, and I was exceptionally skinny during the first few years of college. I think it was a combination of the stress and the bad cafeteria food. One day after one of Chuck's classes he came up to me and asked me if I was eating well. It wasn't until that moment that I realized exactly how deeply Chuck cared about his students.

Chuck was a fan of the Chicago Bears, the Army football team, Star Trek, and Jim Morrison. He had a poster of the Clockwork Orange in his living room, where he used to play Tomb Raider. He would tell jokes about dreams in which he had a jolly time with Michelle Pfeiffer. He said that he was hard of hearing because of his time in the drum corps and the artillery. When he was writing on the board and he couldn't remember if there was one "l" or two in a word, he would say, "Here, have some extra" and draw a bunch of "l's" above the word.

His favorite philosophy was Ludwig Wittgenstein, a brilliant but incredibly difficult philosopher. Chuck genuinely believed that Wittgenstein's philosophy could help people, so long as those people were stuck in philosophical quandaries. I agreed with him. Almost every philosophical conversation I have with friends becomes a game of "How long can we go before Benny mentions Wittgenstein?"

He was a skeptic when it came to the supernatural, but he was patient with students who held firmly and stubbornly to their religious beliefs without being willing to think about them. He believed that artificial intelligence could be just as sentient as humans, quipping that the only difference between the two is that AI is made by skilled labor, while humans are made by unskilled labor. The way Chuck saw it, if there was a God, He would be willing to give souls to man-made machines. This says a lot about Chuck: even his God was more generous than everyone else's.

We had all known for some time that Chuck was very sick and unlikely to ever get better. Still, his death is a blow, and doubly so because I had been meaning to write or call but never did. I was foolish and selfish and put it off until it was too late. So, in case it needs to be said, I love you all: my friends, my family, and my darling lady. And for those of you who never met him, you would have liked Chuck, and he would have liked you too.

Are you happier than you've ever been?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Ficly: It's like Ficlets, but with a dumber name!

So here's the premise: someone writes a short story. It has to be very short: there's a 1,024 character limit. Someone else likes the story and thinks he or she knows what happens next, so he or she writes the next part of the story, also with a 1,024 character limit. Someone else reads that short story, but thinks that rather than following after the original short story, it should follow after a new story; so he or she writes a prequel to the second story, again, with a 1,024 character limit. On and on it goes, with the stories branching and expanding, like a game of telephone or a crystal formation.

That's what's happening right now on ficly. It's sort of a reborn "ficlets," which was a site that came before that closed down. I remember back when Wil Wheaton first wrote about ficlets, and I thought it was a cool idea and always sort of wanted to join it, but never got around to it. Then ficlets got shut down and I thought, well, too bad; I missed my opportunity. But now it's back, sort of, and I so I decided that I wouldn't let it pass me by again: I created an account and have already written a couple of stories.

Check out my stories if you have a few minutes to waste. Make a profile, leave some comments (you know I love comments!), or better yet, write some stories of your own! If you let me know what your account is, I'll add you as a friend and write some prequels/sequels to your stories.

What do you think? Sound like fun?

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Binwin Bronzebottom T-Shirts...

I've met Jim Darkmagic. I've worn the Jim Darkmagic shirt and you, sir, are no Jim Darkmagic.

Of the New Hampshire Darkmagics.
He's a Dwarf!! lolz0rz!!1
Scott Kurtz announced today that there would be a Binwin Bronzebottom t-shirt, based of course on the famous second set of D&D Podcasts. Clearly he was trying to follow in the footsteps of Mike Krahulik (aka Gabe), whose character Jim Darkmagic got his own T-shirt a while back. Personally, I think Kurtz forgot one thing: that while Jim Darkmagic was hilarious and lovable and Mike was genuinely fun to listen to as he played Jim, Scott was obnoxious and whiny, and he put no effort whatsoever into developing or roleplaying the character of Binwin.

Scott crowed and gloated every time he got a good roll and complained every time he got a bad one. Infamously, he bitched about an episode when the DM told him that he still had movement points left at the end of his turn (as any good DM would) and Scott used the extra movement to unwittingly land in a trap. To be honest, this is what disappoints me most: that he complained epically when his character ran into traps, and now he's specifically trying to cash in on Binwin's trap-prone history with quotes like "He has no need for perception checks, he’ll find the trap when he steps into it" and "Let your DM know that you’re not afraid of what he has in store for you. Your Will, Fortitude, and Armor class are more than ample to withstand anything he can throw at you." You may say this now, Scott, but I seem to recall you singing a different tune when you actually played the character.