Tuesday, January 27, 2009


I love mixtapes (or mix CDs). I love hearing them, I love making them, and I love movies about guys who obsess about making them (see John Cusack as Rob Gordon in High Fidelity). But no one carries around CDs anymore. We're iPod people now. In The Age of the iPod, mixtapes are something of a lost art.

So why do I care about a medium which limits me to 80 minutes of music when I can put my iTunes on shuffle for over a month before a song repeats?

Well, my rhetorical self, because sometimes the limitations of a medium are essential components of the artform. It's like having an editor, an editor that doesn't give a shit about the quality of your work; he/she just wants to make sure you don't string together two and a half hours of uninterrupted Peter Frampton when 80 minutes of talk box solos will do.

So my extensive mix history includes a collection of counting songs (The Bellybutton Cipher: Volumes I & II), a gypsy music mix, a mix of songs where a gypsy plays a prominent role, a love mix *mee-yow*, a collection of "All Along the Watchtower" covers, dance mixes, summer mixes, birthday mixes, mixes to drive to, you freaking name it.

I've got a couple new ideas I've been mulling over, and I think I'm about ready to move on the simpler one. The harder one is tentatively titled Life, and will chronicle, well, someone's life from womb to tomb. The most difficult thing about it is finding tracks with limited scopes to string together in a chronology that makes sense. Hell, I could make a one track mixtape for this from any number of Biggy Smalls cuts, but that's no fun.

No, the one I'm about ready for is Spanish Mix. It's loosely inspired by the fact that the only foreign countries I've visited are Spanish-speaking, and I don't speak the goddamn language. This mix, like me, is intended to make you think you're going to hear a bunch of Spanish, but, in fact, you will hear very little... if any at all.

Basically, I'm just trying to sequence a bunch of tracks in which the word "Spanish" is thrown about willy nilly. I have also decided songs about Spanish-speaking countries are acceptable. Additionally, I feel that these songs should be, well, good. This is important, as quality was not a prerequisite for some of my earlier mixes (e.g. both volumes of The Bellybutton Cipher).

Here's what I have so far (in no particular order):

The Clash - "Spanish Bombs"
Tom Waits - "Walking Spanish"
Bob Dylan - "Boots of Spanish Leather"
The New Pornographers - "Sing Me Spanish Techno"
The Doors - "Spanish Caravan"
The Decemberists - "Kingdom of Spain"
The Coasters - "Down in Mexico"
Mirah - "The Dogs of Buenos Aires"
Jimi Hendrix - "Spanish Castle Magic"

Some borderline applicable tracks include Leonard Cohen's "Stories of the Street" (The stories of the street are mine, the Spanish voices laugh...), Counting Crows' "Mr. Jones" (...cut up, Maria, show me some of them Spanish dances...), and Neutral Milk Hotel's "Holland, 1945" (...now she's a little boy in Spain playing pianos filled with flames...). These are borderline, because they only reference Spanish/Spain, um, once each. It sort of feels like cheating, you know?

It is readily apparent that my current problem is a dearth of material. I'm not trying to make a mix EP here, but I'm also not looking to stuff this thing to the brim. I would be happy with twelve good tracks or so.

Here's where YOU come in. Any ideas?

Monday, January 26, 2009

Simple Gaming Pleasures - Fun for Everyone

As a rather devoted Bob Dylan fanatic, I have many of his lyrics indelibly seared into my grey matter. One of my favorites is from "It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)" which goes "he not busy being born is busy dying."

While I like to try and live my life in a constant state of figurative rebirth, there's only so much a man can do to keep from getting bored. Boredom just sort of creeps up on you. The fact that you're actually reading this post indicates you have been in such a state for some time now.

However, fear not, unenthused reader! I bring tidings of effective time wasters, for those "busy dying." My suggestions to you today come in the form of the titular Simple Gaming Pleasures. I will present two items of interest and a fun little website to keep yourself occupied during that slow period at work, or as I like to call it, 6:30 to 2.

My first and most hearty recommendation is World of Goo. You can find the free demo here, for both Windows and Mac OS machines. Woo-hoo!

I think there's a loose narrative structure here, involving some Goo Corporation trying to collect goo for a goo factory or something. Essentially you construct little erector-set styled bridges out of gooey nodules in an attempt to get little globs of goo from the beginning, where goo globs have just sort of collected, to the end, where there's a pipe which sucks up the remaining goo globs once you've reached it. I'm saying "goo" a lot, aren't I?

The catch is, there's a limited amount of goo globs, and you also have to use the globs to create your bridge, so the less globs you use to build your structure, the more goo you collect at the end. Each level has a set minimum goo count you must achieve to complete, so goo frugality is the key. Along the way, you'll run into hazards, like spikes or spinning gears which will destroy any goo unfortunate enough to touch them, forcing you to think. The horror!

Its deceptively complex, highly addictive, and cute and colorful and all that good stuff. Plus, as an engineer, I just eat this puzzle stuff up! For $20 you can download the full game from the aforementioned website, at a brick-and-mortar joint, or even download the Wii-ware version on that little Nintendo-machine-that-could (...could use more quality games, that is).

My second game is called Crayon Physics Deluxe. I have to be honest here: I haven't played this yet. The developer, kloonigames, is hard at work on a Mac version, but right now only PC users can enjoy this one. You guys can get the free demo here. But here's an excerpt from the review from IGN.com that caught my attention:

...On each of the game's 70 levels, you must guide a red ball to touch a yellow star. Aside from being able to give the ball a slight nudge to the left or the right, you can't manipulate it directly. What you must do is draw solutions on the paper so that the ball can reach the star; you might need to draw a rope bridge, create a pulley system, draw a series of ramps, or more to set up interlocking constructions. While many puzzles have easy solutions to them, you can have fun and let your imagination soar...

To play this, I'll have to put it on my work laptop (*shh!*), but I love the crayon-on-construction-paper art style from the videos/pics I've seen, and I can't wait to give it a shot. You can download the full game for $19.95.

Finally, I will leave you with a fun little freeware-full website: http://www.ferryhalim.com/orisinal/. Here you will find incredibly simple, generally slower paced games of the pastel palette variety. You can do things like navigate a deep sea diver to treasure at the bottom of the ocean, or catch an assortment of falling fruit with a trio of monkeys (watch for the bombs!).

You may have noticed that these games are of the more family-friendly variety.

"Squish," you might say. "What about the bored masses who crave explosions, blood, and bloody explosions?!"

Another post for another day, young grasshopper. But have you heard of Chicago Ted?

If you have some other virtual time wasters, let me know! I'm always on the lookout.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Day

So the 44th President of the United States of America (or POTUS, as we who enjoy funny sounding acronyms prefer to address this person) was sworn in just a couple of hours ago. I was one of the unfortunate many stuck at the office, forced to follow the proceedings as stealthily as possible throughout the excruciatingly long, morning leg of my work day. That is, until a few of us just gave up on the subterfuge, pulled a "what the hell," and took over a huddle room with a TV. You know, strength in numbers or something.

Honestly, I briefly considered taking the day off, or just "working from home." To clarify, when I get permission to work from home, it's like freaking Christmas. Except I actually get exactly what I want. I conveniently place my BlackBerry on the coffee table where I can quickly react to emails and phone calls, and spend the day in my pajamas eating fruit snacks and pwning n00bs on Xbox Live.

Unfortunately, I actually needed to be here for a couple of things today. Yes, I said "here" because, yes, I am blogging at work.

At any rate, I expected the inauguration would have a significant emotional effect on me. I was in town when Obama won the election last November. I biked through Grant Park with a camera in hand and man-tears streaming down the heroically chiseled features of my normally stoic face. I felt an overwhelming sense of pure joy, like all was right with humanity. Michigan Avenue, from Randolf all the way to Balbo, all 6+ lanes of it were closed to automobile traffic. Why? Because it was packed, curb to curb, and over the curbs, spilling into every alley and bus shelter, over the medians, up walls and lamp posts: the people of Chicago moving as one. Well, two. I was the only idiot trying to bike against that inexorable flow of foot traffic, taking pictures and videos along the way.

I felt like Mufasa getting trampled by the herd of wildebeast in The Lion King. If the wildebeast were moving slower, waving flags and banners, chanting, and singing jubilant songs. I also didn't die. And I've never been mistaken for a great cat of any kind.

It just felt to me like the entire burden that many of us have carried for so long, living and breathing this election cycle, knowing how important this "defining moment" was, almost terrified of what the future would hold if "we" lost, just blew away in the cool, windy city breeze. I feel that I could have walked through Cabrini Green or any south-side slum without fear. Who would dare threaten harm of any kind on the night when change came to America?

Words cannot faithfully express how I truly felt that night. Well, I mean, Chinua Achebe could come much closer than this, but I'm doing the best I can with what I've got, dammit.

The point is, I almost expected a recreation of that moment. That time when simply hearing the pre-acceptance speech performance of "Star-Spangled Banner" on NPR the following morning turned me into a sad, sobbing, patriotic pile of a man. It was like that Flight of the Concords line, "I'm not crying, it's just been raining... on my face..." But, actually, I really was crying.

The ceremony today came and went, POTUS Barack Hussein Obama gave a typically tremendous speech, W looked more pathetic than ever, and Rev. Joseph Lowery gave a stirring benediction which closed with the following:

Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get back, when brown can stick around, when yellow will be mellow, when the red man can get ahead, man, and when white will embrace what is right.

Let all those who do justice and love mercy say amen. Amen. AMEN.

And I slowly realized that one night in November was special to me, because it was a perfect storm where weeks, months, and years of feelings of frustration and anger and helplessness were fiercely overcome by feelings of relief and hope and progress at a pivotal moment in history (or so it seem(s)ed to me). The intervening months of cabinet nominations and transition committies and W's array of clueless exit speeches have slowly brought me down from that ridiculous high, and made this inauguration, in my eyes, just another formal and expected step.

It's like the enveloping haze of that initial excitement has slowly dissipated and revealed the truly difficult road ahead. And, as much as I'd like to squeeze another freaking sappy-ass cliche in here, I think I'd better stop before my keyboard gets sticky.


From sap.


Jesus, you people.

The Obligatory Placeholder Post

Since this blog is new, it is currently rather empty. I occasionally have things to say, and when I do, I will post them here.

Until then, this will have to suffice. I apologize for most probably wasting your time, whether of the valuable or invaluable strain. However, as a reward for your perseverence, please enjoy Heath Ledger's video for Nick Drake's "Black Eyed Dog."

UPDATE: Now I'm definitely wasting your time, since this video no longer works. Enjoy the copyright infringement message, bitches!!