Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Movies: Summer Rituals Revisited

I like summer in the Midwest...mostly.  I like bonfires and camping (in tents. like a man. do it right.) and being a river rat with my dad.  The days when the weather is unbearably hot, wet, and sauna-like?...not so much.

Coincidentally, my last few summers at home have kind of sucked.  Last summer started with the tragic funeral of my favorite teacher from high school and wrapped up with a final summer funeral count of 4, including my cat.  The summer before was a balance between my part-time job and spending 40 hours a week (including my 20th birthday) in a hospital room waiting for my grandma's death...which never came, oddly enough.

Something about my mindset formed by the events of summers past led to the formation of my annual summer tradition: watch weird movies.  I guess weird/unpredictable movies that forced me to pay attention were a sufficient distraction from reality.  I think it started with A Clockwork Orange and snowballed from there.  I leeched ideas from user-created weird films lists I found online and rented movies (in a real, live movie store!) in bundles.

Not including some of weird films that I had already experienced beforehand, this is the list of films I made it through (that I can remember off the top of my head):
Waking Life
2001: A Space Odyssey
Rosemary's Baby
Being John Malkovich
Synecdoche, New York
Requiem for a Dream
Jesus Camp
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
...and then somewhere along the way Sleeper, Manhattan and Blade Runner fell into place.
and I've always loved Howl's Moving Castle.

...Wow, that's a sad little list when it's down on paper.

Since I suspect I'll be moderately bummed about this "next chapter" of life beginning after graduation, I've been mentally building my list of things to watch while sitting in my parents' basement consuming pints of Ben & Jerry's.  I have a few things I left to check off my Stanley Kubrick list that I'll begin with, follow by a much needed re-watching of the Star Wars Trilogy...on VHS.

Dear summer that may very well suck like so many others have: bring it on.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Friday, May 4, 2012

Rant: Technology

1. This is the first post on this blog for which I'm earning no college credit.  I like to write, so I figured maybe I'd keep it up.
2. This post was inspired by my first-day-of-finals Stanley Kubrick film marathon.  It had been awhile since I'd really sat down and watched 2001: A Space Odyssey, so I guess it just got me thinking.  Clearly not focused on my finals.

Anyone who has spent any time in the same room as me knows that sometimes I tend to get angry at things.  And in most cases, it isn't necessarily things but people.  And in all fairness it isn't so much anger is it is frustration and general disgust that I have a difficult time keeping under wraps.  To put it simply: I am disgusted by the stupidity of some people.

Here's the bigger issue: people seem to be getting stupider and stupider as time progresses.  When I combine my frustration with the human race with a movie released in 1968, I come to this conclusion: technology is making us dumber.  But it isn't only dumber... it's a general sucky-ness at life that our reliance on technology has led to.

So as not to discriminate against your current place in the age spectrum, and so I don't get myself thrown under the bus with discussion of "kids these days," let's all just take a moment to separate ourselves from ourselves and think about the future.  Even if modern technology remains at a standstill, I suggest the following things will take over the human race (well, the human race in Western society, to be specific):

1. No one will know how to read a map.  Hell, I bet most people today couldn't navigate an unfamiliar area without some sort of GPS step-by-step instruction.  Many prefer the robot voice type...because reading is wicked hard.

2. Cursive (or "handwriting," if you're over the age of 60) will no longer be taught in schools and will therefore eventually cease to exist.  I suspect this has already started to happen in schools.  The time and effort spent helping children perfect these skills will have their place taken by typing and computer skills.  I don't really have a legitimate argument about why this trade-off is bad, it just makes me a little sad.  My grandma would be disappointed.  I love my grandma.

3. The meaning of the word "privacy" will be lost completely.  People will be unaware of how much value was once placed on having time to yourself and not having to share any information about where you are, what you're doing, who you're with, and what you feel.  Instead, lack of sharing and response from a pseudo-social community will make you an outcast. (I'll stop my rant against social media before it begins.)

4. (more ranting about how social media and text messaging is ruining true communication)

5. This is the part in which I am a hypocrite.  Remember when people actually balanced their bank accounts occasionally?  In all fairness, I know how to do it, and even though I don't, I still watch my bank account transactions like a crazy person.  Still, it's good practice, and if nothing more, it's a reason to practice your math skills.  This leads me to a side note:
All that stuff our parents and grandparents said about how calculators are ruining our math skills is absolutely true.  I'm good at math because I like math.  The general population has the math skills of a 2nd grader.  Examples of questions I was asked regularly by customers during my 5 year retail career:
  • What's 50% off of $9.99?
  • How many yards in a foot?
  • How many feet is 2 yards?
  • How many feet is 60 inches?
  • If this is $3.99 and I buy 2, about how much is that?

If you've ever wanted proof that the technology we've created is becoming smarter than we are, sit down and have a chat with one of my Best Buy employee friends or just Google some numbers.  The percentage of electronic items that are returned and reported as "broken" because users think they're smart enough to figure them out but fail to do so is astronomical.

A very small number of super smart people have visions of crazy awesome technology that could change our lives and do amazing things, and then when these technologies come to fruition and are marketed to "everyday" users, things go bad.  Users don't understand how to use the technologies that surround them, and if they do, they still fail to comprehend the power their devices hold over them.  The technological literacy gap is ever-growing, yet it isn't often that anyone on either side stop to look at the consequences of any of the innovations.  It's new, shiny, and exciting, and that's all that matters.

And so someday SIRI will become the HAL9000 that Stanley Kubrick warned us about in 1968.  She will kill us in our sleep or hurl us into outer space... unless we figure out how to disable her memory and logic and make it back to that creepy room where we age really fast and die and become a fetus.  Monolith.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Travel: Chicago

This weekend I went on an actual adventure. You know, the kind that takes place outside of my apartment. My best friend and I went on a last-hoorah of sorts before graduation and spent a night in Chicago. We had tickets to a Fountains of Wayne concert at a small venue and booked a hotel downtown alongside our plans to make some new friends at the bars after the show.

She and I have both done a decent amount of traveling in our lives previously, but neither of us qualify as a travel diva. You know, the kind with fancy luggage and unreasonably high expectations of accommodations. We're just regular people... people with thoughts such as these:
1. It's hard not to be personally offended when an elderly couple relocates their seats on the train from next to you to 6 aisles away.
2. It is impossible to have a 100% positive experience at a hotel.
3. The American Girl store/dolls/brand is the devil. (a rather city-specific travel observation, I suppose)
4. My mother was right all along: I attract weird people.
5. If you're only going to have one pair of (ill-fitting) jeans, make sure you bring a belt just in case. I had the pleasure of experiencing my very first case of thigh chafing. I'm sure the general saggy-ness was less than attractive, too.
6. Why do people visit different cities and yet refuse to step outside of their comfort zones?... Two obviously-tourist-ish looking young ladies outside Union Station asked us where the closest Chipotle was. Wow... adventurous, guys.
7. The train could have a separate car for families with children, maybe. Just saying.
8. It's fun to tag on to a stranger's bachelor party... especially when you meet the group of dudes eating pizza off of a dumpster in a dark alley.
9. Don't make eye contact with anyone on the subway... Unless you're glaring at that girl who sits her purse in the seat next to her so she doesn't have to share.
10. Bored at the train station? Seat yourself next to the inside of an emergency exit and point and laugh as people try to enter from the outside. Reading is hard.
11. God forbid you should ever have to go pee while walking around downtown Chicago. Apparently big city citizens never have to pee, ever, because it is impossible to find a restroom to use.

In addition to overall travel thoughts, there are a few things that need to be said about attending musical performances. As someone who, from a very young age, has understood the proper etiquette of fancy classical music performances, it still surprises me to see some of the expectations concert attendees have at less formal performances. It's a rock show, not a church service.

Buying general admission concert tickets should mean also signing away your right to be offended by the following:
1. Beer spilled on you.
2. Someone screaming in your ear.
3. Someone stepping on your feet, rubbing up against you, etc.
4. People weaseling their way in front of you. (insert repetitive recording of "I was here! I was standing here!" of the woman whose feet I was stepping on)
5. People who sing all of the words.
6. People who are generally having more fun than you are because you're caught up in standing there with your arms crossed and a scowl on your face with your equally miserable-looking spouse. Sorry your date/life sucks.
7. Strangers who want to be friendly in line for the bathroom, in the bathroom, at the bar, etc.
8. Dirty bathrooms.
9. Empty drink containers around your feet.
10. The volume of the performance. Bring earplugs if you care about your health and well being.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Music: Percussionist-isms

This afternoon I performed in my very last concert with the Bradley University Symphonic Winds.  After 12 years (wow, that went fast) performing on countless different occasions with ensembles and solo, there are a few things that have become second nature.  It's like anything: after you've mastered the basics of your career/hobby/whatever, you pick up on some of the "tricks of the trade" and come up with a few quirks of your own.  It's the little things like that that differentiate you from the other artists that surround you.  Sitting backstage at today's performance, a few different things passed through my brain:
1. Being in the back of the crowd isn't the end of the world.  Take advantage of the cards you're dealt: proper shoes and socks at a performance? Not a priority.
2. As a percussionist, at least once in your performing career, you will drop something at the worst possible moment.  Mine? ...a wooden stick on a timpani between pieces at a concert.  There really is nothing more important than learning how to laugh at yourself and forgive yourself for being human.
3. Cool kids share.  There is no faster way to alienate yourself from the rest of the section than being that guy with thousands of dollars worth of various sticks and mallets in your bag but not being willing to share any of them.  And along those lines...
4. The most expensive equipment in the world won't make you a better musician.  I'll always remember this thing my dad used to tell me when I played softball and whined about wanting a cool, new softball bat: "A good batter can hit the ball with a broomstick."  No one understands this better than I do after 8 years in poorly-funded public school music programs followed by 4 years in Bradley's financially-retarded music program.  Knowing how to work with what you've got makes you an infinitely better and more versatile musician.
5. Be aware of your own presence.  I've attended countless performances and walked away not remembering how great or terrible the playing was, but gushing about how RIDICULOUS the performer looked while playing.  Excessive movement and overly-emotional expression just isn't necessary, and my opinion has always been that it detracts from the performance.
6. Shit breaks. Sometimes it's your fault. Life happens.
7. Talking about how great you are impresses no one.  In reality, someone who gushes about how fantastic he or she is is usually enough to convince me of their insecurities and lack of confidence.  I probably take it too far to the other extreme.  People tend to pre-judge me as being a sub-par player because I don't say much.  I just play... and I don't do it to impress anyone.
8. Music people are weird.  Anyone who has spent any time around groups of musicians knows it's true.  When you spend countless hours with the same group of people in varying degrees of stressful situations, people's true colors always shine through.  There's no shame in being weird, though.  I don't consider myself exempt from this point.
9. Triangle beaters need some type of mitten-clip-esque anti-loss system. I think at least 10 have been misplaced during my career at Bradley.
10. Blisters suck.  Blisters are nature's way of punching you in the face for waiting until the last minute to cram and learn your part.  Multiple Band-Aids sliding around on your fingers during a performance because the blisters they're protecting are so slimy and oozy is usually enough to learn from.  Usually.
11. Vocally matching the pitch when the rest of the band is tuning is infinitely entertaining.
12. No matter how gifted and talented you think you are, or your parents tell you you are, or the world tells you you are... you are not too good for manual labor.  Being a percussionist means spending extra hours setting up, tearing down, and moving stuff and moving stuff and moving stuff.  You're not a seasoned percussionist until you've almost fallen down the stage elevator hole or you've mastered the art of tearing down, transporting, and reassembling a 5-octave marimba.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Rainy Day Activities: Classic Video Games

I contemplated about a dozen different titles and subtitles for this post, including "why I don't have a boyfriend," "things Android can do that your iPhone can't," and "I need to stop living in 1993."  At some point this entire blog shifted from "I'm going to review movies!" to "things I do on Saturdays when I don't feel like brushing my hair or leaving my apartment," so I apologize if anyone is disappointed about that.

For some reason, my most vivid childhood memories are of myself, my older brother, and my cousin playing old school Nintendo in our then unfinished basement on a 70s-vintage orange, floral couch and eating Tombstone pizzas off of the cement floor. Life was good, and I was pretty good at moving Mario from one side of the screen to the other.

And then, we got older: life got more complicated, and video games became far too in-depth for me to be interested in. When games started requiring me to "talk" to the goofy wizard in the forest and actually READ what he had to say in order to understand was I was supposed to do next, I lost interest.

And so here I sit, 21 years old, in 2012, with that same NES console and giant box of game cartridges next to my TV.  With the proper amount of blowing and wiggling and cursing, I can usually get most of the games to still function for awhile, but I know that this will not be forever and that this precious family heirloom (I think it was a hand-me-down from someone to begin with) will become a non-functioning, decorative item on my shelf at some point.

So now that we're all clear on my emotional motivations for this week's Saturday activity, I can begin.  Fortunately, this activity was made possible by a sub-culture of nerdier nerds who can't let go of their pasts either.  They develop the glorious Android apps that made this possible:
Ok, before you make any judgments from the photo, here's what you should be seeing: Original Nintendo games being played on my phone, using a Wii controller, mirrored on my TV.  Only one of those cables is actually necessary.  Oh, and the laptop isn't really part of it either...just needed music.

Legal importances: some of this is kind of stealing, but not in my case.  From what I understand, I can download the games without doing anything wrong as long as I posses a physical copy of the game cartridge.  Or something.  Feel free to make your own judgements about whether or not you give a shit about stealing.

If you care to do this, here's what you'll need to have/figure out:
Android phone + game console emulator from the app market + individual game ROMS
Wii controller app + Wii remote (or another wireless kind)
TV with HDMI in + HDMI cable + HDMI adapter for your phone
...that's about as much detail as I care to delve into because I suspect no one cares.

Oh, and if you've never heard of this whole emulator/ROM process, you can do it on a computer as well. All of your childhood memories at your fingertips to entertain you in class. For free. Maybe illegal.

PS, for BUSMM kids: see that blue/orange thing on the far right?... one of six sleeves of DVDs from the Friends box set. Be jealous.

K bye, have a date with Sonic the Hedgehog.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Music: Music Monday Part III

Ok, so it's still technically Sunday for a few more minutes, but I'm not ready for bed so get over it.


1. I feel a really sad sense of nerd pride when parts of my library contents are too cool to be in the iTunes store.

2. I'm excited to see Fountains of Wayne in a few weeks.

3. I'm sad that I only recently found Ani DiFranco.

4. I'm watching Friends.

5. My tummy hurts from too many Peeps. 

6. I need to find more original ways to name my playlists.