Live Plasma

Map of Black SabbathMy current favorite web toy is LivePlasma. It’s been around a while, but if you haven’t seen it yet, it’s like a Flash version of those Rock Family Trees they used to have in Rolling Stone. It works with both music and movies. The fun part is that you can click around and keep exploring the connections to the connections of the connections.

For example, check out the map of Black Sabbath. You can follow the connections to Ozzy, Rainbow, Deep Purple, and so on and so on.

I wish the connections were a little clearer – right now it only shows you that there IS a connection, but not what or who the connection is. Hopefully they will improve on this. Other than that, it’s a great way to pass some time and play Six Degrees of Ozzy Osbourne.

Harvey Danger

Harvey Danger has reunited (well, the drummer’s new) and recorded a new album, Little by Little. Great news if you’re a fan (I’m one) – they basically self-destructed after the second album. I’m glad they got back together. While I won’t say they “rock” exactly (I’d place them somewhere on the spectrum between Weezer and Death Cab for Cutie), I really like their sound and their lyrics are always interesting.

Anyhow, the cool part is this: they’ve made the whole album available for free download from their site. Their reasons, in part:

In preparing to self-release our new album, we thought long and hard about how best to use the internet. Given our unusual history, and a long-held sense that the practice now being demonized by the music biz as “illegal” file sharing can be a friend to the independent musician, we have decided to embrace the indisputable fact of music in the 21st century, put our money where our mouth is, and make our record, Little By Little…, available for download via Bittorrent, and at our website. We’re not streaming, or offering 30-second song samples, or annoying you with digital rights management software; we’re putting up the whole record, for free, forever. Full stop. Please help yourself; if you like it, please share with friends.

(Read the whole thing here.)

I think it’s a great move. They’re not the first to do it (Wilco did it, and I’m sure others have too), but it’s cool to see a band confident enough to give their music away and hope that the fans respond by buying the album, and coming to see their shows.

So, support them by at least downloading the album and listening through it once. It’s free! If you don’t like it, delete it. If you do like it, support them by passing it on and/or buying a physical copy. Check out their back catalog too. I think their first album, Where Have All the Merrymakers Gone is the best.

October 16, 2005 | Posted in: Music | Comments Closed

Boooo, hissss!

First Red Eye, then Flight Plan – seems like planes are the new “hot” setting for movies. From the director of Homeward Bound II: Lost in San Francisco – Samuel Jackson is starring in the very aptly-named Snakes on a Plane.

On board a flight over the Pacific Ocean, an assassin, bent on killing a passenger who’s a witness in protective custody, let loose a crate full of deadly snakes.

Well, uh… at least it’s not a remake or a big-screen version of a sitcom.

October 14, 2005 | Posted in: Movies | Comments Closed

Street Soccer

StreetSoccer boardStreetSoccer is a great little 2-player board game I stumbled across on BrettspielWelt, the German boardgaming portal.

The rules are pretty simple. Each “coach” has 4 players and a goalie. A roll of the die determines how far the ball is kicked. You must use the entire die roll. You can “hook” a kick by having it change direction (orthagonal to diagonal or vice-versa) once along its path. The ball can move one additional square each time it comes into contact with a player. Except for some technicalities on where players can end their turns and so on, that’s about it. There is a turn “clock” that counts down, and games last 50 turns (25 per side).

With these simple rules, the game does a decent job of “feeling” like a game of soccer. It is a bit luck-heavy, since so much depends on the die roll, but keeping a good formation so your passes will be able to connect is very important too. It’s a game that you don’t have to be capital-G Gamer to pick up, so it’s a good “gateway” game.

I wasn’t able to find it locally, so I ended up ordering from Boulder Games. Good price and quick shipping – I would definitely order from them again. (But do support your local game store when possible!)

StreetSoccer boardIf you don’t have a copy of the game, you can try it out on BrettSpiel Welt. Little Golem also has a great (fully authorized) web-based version. It’s turn-based, not live like BSW. They have player rankings, and several tournaments are always running. Send an invite to me (yacullo) over there if you’d like to give it a try!

Creation Frustration

Oh to be a frustrated artist. At least artists have focus.

My problem is that I want to do and try almost everything I see. Jack of all trades, master of none – that would be me.

I’ve got a rotating set of interests that alternately consume and then bore me (til they come back around again in a few months). Guitar, ukulele, mandolin, 3d graphics, Flash, game creation, stop-motion animation, film editing, origami, sculpture, blogging – the list goes on and on. I’ve done them all, a little. I’m not very good at any of them, but I can hold a conversation about them with people who are very good at them and know what they’re talking about.

The problem seems to come down to time, and priorities. I can make musical sounds come out of my ukulele, but to get to the stage where I would actually call myself a musician would require a bigger investment in time than I’m able to make. Because I’ve got all these other interests, see?

So every couple months I get to where I am now – frustrated and disappointed in how I’m “wasting my time” because I’m not doing or making or learning anything.

I don’t know what I want the end result to be. It’s not that I want fame or adulation – most of the stuff I do get around to doing is never seen by anyone. On the other hand, here I am writing a blog. Hmmm.


Serenity, wow!

SerenityI’m a relative newcomer to the Firefly universe. Well, I did watch it when it was first on TV, but (since the network somehow decided to show the third episode first) I didn’t really get it and I (and millions of others) never watched it again.

I’m not a Buffy fan, and I’ve never watched Angel, but after many different people (with different tastes in sci-fi) recommended it to me, I figured I would give it a try. For the past few months, a bunch of us have been watching an episode or two a week, building up to the release of Serenity.

After the first episode, I was hooked. The stories are good, but not great. The universe (sorry, the ‘verse) and characters are so interesting though, it makes up for any narrative shortcomings. The kooky space-chinese-post-civil-war future is fascinating. The dialog is excellent, and the chemistry among the cast really works.

We finished watching the episodes just in time, and on Saturday we got to see Serenity on the big screen. Wow! The money the studio put into this movie really shows. The props, costumes, and CGI all look great. The story really shines too, and clears up some of the loose ends that were left hanging at the end of the show.

My only complaint would be that you didn’t get to see the crew hanging around doing some of the fun downtime stuff you would see in the show. I guess that’s just the nature of making a film instead of a TV series, where you would be able to play things out over time.

Oh wait, I do have one more complaint – but I don’t want to spoil the movie. If you’ve seen it, you know what I’m talking about here. Let’s just say that something really sad happens, and it hit me surprisingly hard. I know it was necessary for the story, so it’s not really a complaint, but… damn.

Mal and Jayne aim to misbehaveI think the movie is self-contained enough that a non-fan would be able to follow along (although of course a fan would get much more out of it). So if you’re a fan, you’ve probably already seen it. If not, go! If you’re not a fan (yet), go see it, or better yet watch Firefly on DVD and then go see it!

October 7, 2005 | Posted in: Movies | Comments Closed

Prairie Wind Blows

Boy, was I excited for the new Neil Young album, Prairie Wind. I’m a long time Neil fan, and even through rough patches (by which I mean insanity like Trans and Neil and the Shocking Pinks) he’s always bounced back with something good.

Well, not this time. Coming off his latest rough patch (the Broadway show wanna-be Greendale) he moves right to another. I had high hopes for this album, and was even fooled by the (poorly written) marketspeak:

Prairie Wind is quintessential Neil Young, a masterpiece that completes the trilogy of his best-selling albums Harvest and Harvest Moon-direct yet poetic, country and folk yet rock.

I love Harvest and Harvest Moon! I bought Prairie Moon as soon as it was released. Damn, what a disappointment. You can hear some good songs in there, struggling to get out – but they’re buried under unnecessary strings, horns, and choruses.

I don’t have the liner notes in front of me so I don’t know who (over)produced it, but in my opinion they ruined an album that had tons of potential. [Edit:The album was produced by Ben Keith, who also produced Harvest Moon, Comes a Time, American Stars & Bars, and Old Ways.]