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.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Rant: Bradley University

In all fairness, I probably can find something negative to say about Bradley University on any day of the week.  But this particular week just happened to be most ridiculous yet.

Since I'm on the way out, it's only right that I take a bit of time to reflect on my experience at Bradley as a whole (in other words, criticize the school).

I'll be fair and start by taking my habits and personality into account: I'm anti-social pretty much all of the time.  That being said, it wouldn't be fair of me to criticize the availability or quality of "extra-curriculars" on campus.  I'm sure they're lovely, I'm just not interested.  The only non-academic activity I've participated in is band.  And, after my 8 semesters of experience in that area at Bradley, I have one major conclusion: the music department deserves more money.  From who or where, I have no idea, but after watching countless other buildings being built on campus, often to benefit Bradley athletics in some way, I am appalled by the sub-par facilities that the music department is stuck with (without much complaining either).  Maybe I'm just a disgruntled percussionist who's tired of being shoved in the back of the stage without enough space to move in, but I wish Bradley University could do better.  The music program itself is great, but the facilities hold it back from being a selling point for prospective students.

Since we've already established that money is a sensitive subject for me, I'll go ahead and point out that Bradley's tuition isn't a hell of a great deal financially (just in case you're lucky enough to be oblivious to that fact).  I'm sure all colleges are expensive, but when I see those numbers roll around each semester and try to justify them with the quality of education I'm receiving, I usually fail.  Don't get me wrong, I've had some totally awesome teachers at Bradley ("some" being a generous term... half a dozen, maybe?) for whom I am eternally grateful, but I've had far more unsatisfactory experiences than not.  I'm not sure I can even recap all of the appalling classroom experiences I've sat through, but just a few off the top of my head:

1. An English teacher who cancelled classes a good 60% of the time. On evaluation day (my favorite!), right after I listed all of my grievances frantically on that piece of paper, she returned to the room to inform us that our evaluations didn't matter because she wouldn't be returning to Bradley. Oh, and that she was sick so often over the course of the semester because it "turns out" she was pregnant. And didn't know. Classy.

2. Another English composition teacher who used class times as nothing more than a soap box for her political opinions (another pet peeve of mine). She often forgot we even had class and one of us would need to go fetch her from her office.

3. A teacher I had the pleasure of experiencing more than one semester. She never knew what was due when and couldn't create a PowerPoint slide without a spelling error to save her soul. After creating a fairly substantial final project, we discussed my grade in her office: I got a B. Everything was great!...except a word I had spelled wrong over 10 times throughout the project. We argued about the spelling of that word for 15 minutes. She was wrong. She didn't adjust my grade accordingly, she just told me I had a bad attitude instead.

4. An art teacher that ran a class without ever even creating a syllabus. There was no grading scale, list of projects, class requirements...nothing. Some nights there was no lecture... because she'd forgotten to bring her laptop from home. There was no evaluation handed out at the end... so there did end up being some substantial tattling on my part to some highly-paid folks on campus.

Fortunately, the teachers at Bradley have not been the most frustrating part.  I'm not sure if everyone has had similar experiences, but I've had some fairly legitimate anxiety attacks caused by the administrative folks at Bradley not having their shit together. The most recent:

1. Fall 2011. I receive an email a few weeks after registration for Spring semester that my spring classes will be dropped due to a hold on my account. Huh? But I already registered?...I'm confused. I was given a phone number to the controllers office and proceeded to converse with three of the RUDEST old women present on this earth. (side note: if you don't like kids/students and don't want to be polite to them, don't work at a SCHOOL.) They informed me that my hold was tuition related. I assured them that my tuition had been paid (in cash, in full, thanks). They referenced unpaid course fees. I checked it out online: TWO of my IM courses had subtracted and then added and then subtracted and then added and then subtracted and then added course fees since tuition had been due/paid. So I owed like $200 that no one had informed me of at any point. Classy.

2. This week's disaster. After somehow becoming my senior project group's frontman at the print shop and jumping through all the hoops to get that done properly, I was excited to relax. My best friend came over Wednesday morning and I started the emptying-of-kitchen-cupboards season by making us pancakes. Halfway through the pancakes I checked my phone and read this email:

I won't detail my emotional and physiological responses. There were quite a few "I need to go somewhere"s and "I need to talk to someone"s blurted out.  Coached by my friend, I printed out my current DARS and somehow managed to tear my apartment in half and find my DARS from fall advising.  I marched in to Martha's office, and then proceeded to cry in this nice stranger's office while she assured me that there had been some type of IT error.

Long story short, I'm glad I pump as much money as I do into Bradley so that I can have teachers who don't show up to class and "errors" that trigger physical and emotional instability. Thanks for everything, Bradley.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Repairs: Janky Headphones

Anyone who knows me at all knows that I am unreasonably cheap.  If there's a way to save money on something, I'm going to find it.  It's not a bad way to be.  I thank my mother for this genetic gift.

Fortunately, I am also genetically 50% my father, which means I've been a do-it-yourselfer since conception.  Hell, maybe I even played a role in my own conception...  I'm not going to delve any further in to that.

So what does a cheap DIY-er do when her $20 pair of headphones (that I only paid $10 for, of course) decide to crap out?... Fix them, duh.

Side rant: the disposability of modern goods, namely electronic items, baffles me.  It seems like nothing is designed to last beyond 18 months.  It's another conspiracy: manufacturers have that whole "planned obsolescence" thing, and then marketers convince you that anything over a year old is a dinosaur and may reflect poorly on your social image.  Consumers are equally as guilty.  We've accepted this routine of break-it-and-buy-a-new-one and don't think twice about throwing something in the trash that could be easily repaired.

So since I have varying degrees of cheapness/hoarder/tinkerer pulsing through my veins, I decided to dive into this repair.  It is worth mentioning that this particular brand of headphones (Skullcandy) offers a lifetime warranty/replacement thing.  All you have to do is mail in the broken pair and they'll send you a new pair.  In my own personal opinion, the physical risks of the upcoming repair process were a much more appealing option than having to go wait in line at the post office and get yelled at by a big woman with a mustache.  Just personal preference, though.

After finding some vague instructions online, I realized I didn't have the proper tools for this job.  I was going to need to make a trip to Lowe's (GASP!).  I have a love-hate relationship with Lowe's.  They always have what you're looking just takes 4 hours to find it.  Plus there's always  birds flying around inside.  I hate birds.

A few trips up and down the same aisles later, I found what I needed: a cheap soldering iron kit.  Why, as a 21-year-old, female college student, I know how to use a soldering iron I can't completely say.  I remember as a child my father turning me loose with his to play with.  I made dozens of little puddles of metal and thought it was the greatest thing ever.  Yeah, weird kid.

I got back to my apartment with my new toy and went to town.  I decided to forgo the instructions because, well, I'm clearly an expert.  Repairing the headphones basically consisted of frankenstein-ing (your favorite new verb) the earpieces onto a different cable.  In this case, the cable was sacrificed from my stock iPod headphones.  (Another side rant: why are those so awful, Apple? can ANYONE fit those big flying saucers into their ears!?)

Long story short, my soldering experience served me well.  The only questionable moment was when I dropped the hot soldering iron on my kitchen floor.  Luckily, it turned out fine since I missed my foot and because I live in a rental and I could care less about their vinyl floors.

Oh, and if at any point you wondered if the soldering iron purchase cost more than simply buying new headphones, you would be correct.  Smartypants.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Food: Taco Bell

actually, here's the full title: Food: Taco Bell: The Unsung Heroes ...only that's kind of a lot of colons.

I'm not stupid, I totally get it: fast food is bad for you and Mexican fast food is moderately insulting to real Mexican food.  Regardless, I love Taco Bell and I look forward to the occasional Taco Bell feast.  I spent the last two weeks plotting the perfect timing and situation for my next indulgence so I could finally have my chance with the new Doritos Locos Taco.

Saturday was d-day.  Slightly hungover, I woke up early and went for a run to prep for the feast (side note: I don't run. I ran/walked for 20 minutes and almost died. It won't happen again for at least 3 months).  Like usual, my friend and I squeezed in front of my laptop to peruse the dynamic Taco Bell website to plan out our menu: it's about packing in as many different items without, well, risking death as a result.  We even chose an underrated movie to accompany our Taco Bell underrated-menu-items feast: Religulous.

I won't go into detail about the depths of the "OMG I see Jesus in my taco!" jokes that ran the entire length of the meal.  Just imagine the offensive hilarity that was present.

First Course: Doritos Locos Taco (regular)
I follow quite a few food review blogs and have seen nothing but positive reviews about this junk food engineering wonder, so it was my turn to get my hands on one.
Luckily, Taco Bell understands that I rarely ever want to TOUCH anything covered in Doritos powder, so the taco comes nestled in a handy sleeve for my convenience...or so Taco Bell has yet another chance to shove their social media down my throat.  Kudos, guys.
Unfortunately, this sleeve was significantly more difficult for me to navigate than, say, a Hot Pocket sleeve that tears away gradually (why don't more foods come in sleeves?).  When I picked it up to chow down, I actually hesitated for a second because my excitement almost caused me to bite right through the paper.  I surmised that the proper way to handle this was to occasionally slide the taco out the edge of the holder.  I'm still not sure I did it right.  Regardless, it was delicious and everything I hoped it would be.  The Doritos shell added just enough extra flavor to compliment whatever that meat goo is on the inside.  Yum.

Second Course: Fiesta Potatoes
In case you forgot (or never knew), Taco Bell has a 'sides' menu.  Of the three styrofoam-bowl-housed offerings, the potatoes are the clear winner.
These seem to be the cult favorite menu item of T Bell: they're rarely discussed in public, but never does a Taco Bell run lack a few of these thrown in.  I can't describe it any better than the photo presents it, sadly.  Soft, seasoned potatoes are doused in fluorescent cheese goo and sour cream.  They are the comfort food of the Taco Bell menu.  Never a disappointment, mostly because I would hope they're a difficult recipe to screw up.

Third Course: Volcano Taco
If you ask me, this is the one, single Taco Bell item that is the most underrated.  Actually, it's tied with the Volcano Burrito, but that's so big that it's kind of an all-inclusive meal, so it didn't fit into this feast.
If you thought the Doritos shell was an obnoxious color, think again.  This thing makes you question whether you're actually eating a food product.  I suspect the red shell is actually a regular one in disguise, but the addition of the signature Volcano Sauce is enough to mask any other flavor present.  It is glorious.  If I knew a T Bell insider that would smuggle things out the back door for me, every cupboard in my kitchen would be stocked with Volcano Sauce.  I like spicy food and it is freakin' spicy... the kind of spicy that begs for that mysterious Taco Bell blue Mountain Dew.

Fourth Course: 1/2 Pound Cheesy Potato Burrito
Two reasons:
1. I needed a cool-down from that Volcano Taco.
2. I don't do a Taco Bell run without some type of burrito thrown in there.
This one is fairly simple.  Those same soft, seasoned potato chunks are combined with some meat, cheese goo, and sour cream.  It's the perfect finish after anything spicy and is guaranteed to make you feel like you're going into a food coma. The texture of the entire thing is mushy and a wonderful way.  Sure, it may not be exciting enough to show its face on a flashy, giant Taco Bell window cling, but it's yummy and reliable, unlike some of my other past favorites (XXL Chalupa, Big Taste Taco, anything featuring bacon...) that are inevitably stolen away from me and packed deep within the Taco Bell vault, never to be seen again.

Which brings me to a (another) side note: my consistent social media monitoring helped me discover that the Doritos Locos Taco is going to be a permanent menu item, for anyone who cares.

Thousands of calories and countless Bill Maher praises later, that familiar deathly feeling set in and I was once again satisfied by my glorious Taco Bell.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Rant: Movies.

As sad as it is to say, the people I encounter on a daily basis are rather disappointing.  In general, I try to force myself to maintain that people are good/nice/whatever, but that their crappy behaviors and decisions should be attributed to “not knowing any better.”  As someone who was practically born overly self-aware, I recognize that not all people analyze and re-analyze and over-analyze their daily choices, but sometimes I wish people would think twice about stuff occasionally.

Most frustrating example: media consumption choices.

Granted, I am by no means an expert or snob.  I like my fair share of crappy movies and shitty bands and I don’t have a problem owning up to it.  This is the written disclaimer that makes me less of a hypocrite.

Part 1: Movies.

I am fully convinced that the folks in Hollywood churning out most of the popular movies of the last 5 years are linked together in a giant conspiracy to exploit the stupidity of Americans.  On any given day, there is at least one (probably multiple) movies in theaters based on a recycled story.  Disney continues to make bank by re-releasing decades-old movies and slapping “remastered” on them, as if Joe on the street can really see any difference.  In only my 21 short years, I’ve seen the books, TV shows, video games, and toys of my childhood be unoriginally adapted to the big screen.  Alvin and the Chipmunks?  Really?  Hollywood had to ruin my favorite annoying Christmas sing-a-long tape?  As much as the exploitation of my childhood memories angers me, I am more frustrated by the creation and consumption of such films.  For every one awesome, original, and technologically innovative film that Pixar has released in their time, there have been a handful of cheesy, recycled stories with fart jokes shoved down kids’ throats…and far too many people filling their pockets based on another person’s creativity that was proven successful 20 years ago.  When did everyone give up?  When did movie makers decide that everything worth doing has already been done, and the only thing left to do is redo it all?  And when did the general population agree that they don’t have a problem paying $10 a piece to see MORE Muppets?

Monday, March 5, 2012

Photography(/Bartending?...): Vodka Gummy Bears

Last week a friend and I stumbled across a recipe for vodka-infused (fancy wording) gummy bears, so I took advantage of another opportunity to see how bad I could fail with my new camera.

Our Monday late-night trip to Hyvee yielded a bottle of borderline cheap vodka, a 3 pound bag of gummy bears (completely unnecessary) and a can of frozen fruit punch concentrate.

If you're interested in actually trying this, feel free to Google the recipe, as I suspect my account of the experience will probably be lacking in terms of instructionality.

When we returned from the store, I dug out a Pyrex bowl (best bowls ever), dumped in some gummy bears, and dumped in some vodka ("some" being a very technical measurement, clearly).

I popped the lid on and stuck them in my fridge for 3 days, pulling them out to stir occasionally and being knocked to the floor by the fumes released when opening the container.  By Thursday, the bears had absorbed the majority of the booze, growing slightly in size.  I used the juice concentrate to mix up some fairly concentrated juice and stirred a cup (real measuring!) into the bears.  Again, they were sealed up and hung out in the fridge for 4 days.

By Sunday night it was time to try it out.  Personally, I wasn't thrilled since I'm not really a mixed drink/hard alcohol/fruity booze person, but I had to sample my creation.

Truth: they were awful.

Imagine the texture of a gummy bear crossed with Jello, and that's what they were like.  Plopping one in your mouth brought out that I'm-not-sure-when-to-stop-chewing-and-swallow sensation.  So that, plus the sugary-booze flavor that I generally dislike, just didn't work for me.  My friend tried her best to power through in the hopes of getting a buzz, but we didn't dump much vodka in to begin with so that failed too.  After getting two down and gagging on the third, I opened a beer and called it quits.

The most entertaining part of the process was watching them grow.

Almost doubled in size!

Oh, and the juice turned them red... except the green bears, which ended up purple.

If you're into Jello and fruity drinks, this is a fun project.  Or, if you're into those things and also into being lazy, feel free to come get these out of my fridge.

Another failed food creation.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Photography/Cooking (sort of)

Over the weekend I finally bit the bullet and, after many months of research, ran out and purchased my first DSLR camera. I am by no means a photographer: I've used the school's DSLRs on occasion over the last few years and even halfway payed attention in class about how to use them properly.  That being said, I was fully excited to dive right in to my new toy and take pictures of... something.  Sadly, that something ended up being whatever happened to be in my kitchen cupboards that day.

For Christmas my grandma bought me a Babycakes Cake Pop maker.  If you don't know what that is, that's fine.  I didn't know what it was even when I was staring at it on my lap.  Nevertheless, I jumped right into it over break, trying my hand at what my family not-so-elegantly named "cake balls" (mostly because I was too lazy to put the sticks in them and decorate them).

This is the part where pseudo-baking meets college laziness: I rarely (never) posses eggs, butter, or consumable milk in my refrigerator.  At one time someone mentioned to me being able to bake a box cake mix by mixing it with a can of Diet Coke, so that's where the cooking/photography journey began this weekend.
I had one random box of cake mix shoved in the back of my cupboard that I had purchased on a whim (at BigLots, no less), so I was all set.

If you're thinking the mixing-powder-with-soda event sounds moderately disgusting, you are correct.  The carbonation creates a strange texture, but once you get it mixed thoroughly the texture is basically the same as if you had made it with real food ingredients.  Once it gets to that point, my loads of previous cake ball creation experience told me the next important step was to pour the batter into a gallon Ziploc bag to properly inject the cake ball holes.  As easy as this sounds, it is messy and ridiculous to try to do alone.  I probably should've thought twice about exposing my new camera to such circumstances, but everyone made it out alive this time.  Anyway, after the batter is in the bag and the corner is snipped off it's time to go to town squeezing it into the molds and waiting about 4 minutes for them to bake.
If the stars are aligned correctly and the world decides to spare you the disappointment of raw-inside cake balls, they come out cute and delicious.  Well, not as cute as if you have the patience to decorate them properly, I guess.
I ended up with a big bowl full of Cherry Chip cake balls, which is ordinarily something I'd be thrilled about, but it turns out Cherry Chip cake is pretty freakin' gross.  I donated them to a friend to take home to her family, which is lovely because even the smell of them was a bit too much for me.

A learning experience, times 4.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Movie (plus social media!): Tenure

I first watched this movie on Netflix about a year ago, choosing it solely because Luke Wilson was on the cover. Shallow? Perhaps.

I was at a loss for a movie the other night and came across it again on Netflix so I decided to revisit. Not long into it I remembered that it's freaking hilarious in a completely-fits-my-personality-and-outlook-on-life-exactly way. After watching for about an hour and freaking out my neighbors with my audible laughter, I sent a tweet to a friend saying "Tenure will be your new favorite movie!"

The next morning I woke up to a re-tweet of my tweet by none other than screenwriter and director of the movie. Sweet! I tweeted him to tell him how much I liked the movie and he responded promptly. COOL! I love real people. Later that night my friend came over and we watched it again while trading funny lines from the movie back and forth with the director. He's freaking awesome, check him out: @mikemillio

But anyway, Tenure is an indie comedy that follows college professor Charlie Thurber (Luke Wilson) as he does his best to make some progress in his teaching career and gain some respect from his colleagues.  Even though he's an awesome teacher he can't seem to get a break, running into ironically hilarious failure at every possible moment. His trouble at work is compounded by pressure from his father: an educated man living in an assisted living place with an "I don't need to be here" attitude. (see The Savages: another hilariously sad and honest film I wholeheartedly recommend)

After surviving the trials and tribulations of Bigfoot Club, Erotic Poetry Club, childish pranks, being hit on by a student, and being accused of getting pee in places it shouldn't be, Charlie is forced to choose between the respect and prestige of tenure and staying true to his own teaching philosophies: just enough emotional mushy-ness to not ruin the humor of the rest of the film while simultaneously adding a little meaning.

Thanks, Mike Million!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Music: The Grammys

fair warning: I don't pay any attention to new music. I live under a rock to the point that on any given day I couldn't tell you one song/album/artist that's in the iTunes top 10. My perspective on the Grammys is probably comparable to that of a 40 year old man.

some thoughts:
1. Overall: WOW, that's a lot of flashiness. From Lady Gaga's weird fish net outfit to some of (basically all of) the performances, there was a lot going on. Everything that went into Rihanna's (I think? the cracked-out looking one) performance must've been so overwhelmingly time consuming and stressful that they forgot to attempt to make her singing sound decent. She was so off of her voice track that it sounded like a duet. This theme seemed to run throughout the entire show. Coldplay's performance was decently respectable but was all of that neon, epileptic-seizure-inducing flashiness absolutely necessary? What little time I spent reading Grammys tweets revealed something ironic that made me quite happy: Adele's performance was the star of the show even though it was pretty much as bare-bones as it could be.

2. I'm tired of the Foo Fighters. Their early music was cool. Dave Grohl irritates me. He seems to love himself a bit too much for my taste. We get it, you're famous. Get that hair out of your face.

3. Is it a requirement that all of the performers reenact their music video? amps up the cheese factor pretty hard for me. Taylor Swifts hillbilly thing: why?

4. The friends I was watching with got rather irritated with my constant questions. "Who's that?...She's like a rapper, or what?...Does she always look like that?...Is this the song right now?" (compare to: Phyllis in episode of The Office where they're watching Glee)

5. The Coldplay/Willie Nelson/animated/Chipotle ad caused me to nerd-out pretty hard in a "zomg this is coooooool!" way. I was in hopes it was some type of "support organic/free range food" ad, but nevertheless, a thumbs up for Chipotle.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Music: Music Monday Part 2

(click to enlarge)

A rather exciting week for me, musically speaking.

After rolling with this playlist for a couple days, I found an awesome deal on a 160gig iPod on CraigsList (the 80gig I purchased a year ago as 'broken' just couldn't be limped along much further) and it was filled with wonderful, magical amounts of music that filled in some holes in my own collection plus gave me DAYS full of new (mostly worthwhile) things to explore.  I hope I can drag myself away to attend my classes.

disclaimer: stealing music is bad. sorry, music industry.

Movie: All Good Things

From what little I've heard/seen, people generally didn't seem to like this movie as much as I did. Then again, most people don't like Ryan Gosling as much as I do. Case in point, I just saw this on IMDB:

Did You Know?
Ryan Gosling
felt so bad about a scene he had to pull Kirsten Dunst's hair, he sent her flowers the day after.

Though that alone really should be enough for anyone to swoon over Ryan Gosling, I genuinely thought he had a brilliant performance in this movie.

This crime/drama/mystery film follows an extended flashback narrated by old-man Ryan Gosling. It is based on a real-life unsolved murder mystery case...which serves to make the entire movie even more twisted and terrifying.

David Marks (Ryan Gosling) is the son of a super-rich real estate tycoon in New York and struggles with falling into the family business even though he hates it, the death of his mother, and some sort of weird talking-to-himself thing. Kirsten Dunst plays his period-appropriate, too-submissive wife Katie: a woman from a loving family and dreams of attending medical school. Things get a little messy, he gets a little abusive, she turns up missing.

After that, things get a lot more twisted and Ryan Gosling ends up running on a beach wearing a woman's wig and makeup. Always a sign of a fantastic movie.

Needless to say, my hungover wishes of "ugh, I hope this holds my attention" were granted with this movie last night. Recommended without question.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Music: Music Monday

here's where I am this week. (click to enlarge if necessary)

mostly just trying to cheaply solicit "you'd like ______" suggestions from anyone who feels so inclined.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Movie: Steel Magnolias

...because, (confession:) I've never seen it before.

1. I had just finished stuffing my face with Buffalo Wild Wings, so Dolly Parton's freakishly tiny waist was not what I wanted to see.
2. That's a lot of big hair.
3. Sally Field is borderline terrifying.  I wasn't sure anything would ever rival her bipolar rant in the restaurant at the end of Mrs. Doubtfire, but her breakdown scene after the funeral in this movie was equally as emotionally scarring.  Though, to be completely honest, I didn't hear any of the dramatic things that were coming out of her mouth.  All I could do was stare at her angry/sad/confused face and hear, "THE WHOLE TIME!?"
4. I love Mrs. Doubtfire.
5. I loved everyone's crazy cat glasses.  Those need to come back into vogue.
6. Dylan McDermott.  WOW.  I offer my sincere thanks to the casting director for choosing to break up all the big hair and estrogen with his beautiful self.  Not to mention the fact that he has aged very, very well... (Googles photos.)
7. Shirley MacLaine's character is me in 40 years, minus the grungy dog, but absolutely including the overalls.
8. I need to watch Stepmom again soon.
9. Shooting things with guns looks rather fun.
10. I'm glad I wasn't already in a fragile emotional state when I decided to watch this.  It goes on the shelf next to I Am Sam, The Pianist, and any movie ever made about 9/11: almost too depressing to even be enjoyable.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Movie: An Education

As someone who is always up for a weird movie, my best friend's brief description of the plot of An Education peaked my interest enough to finally sit down and watch it (nevermind that came out 3 years ago.)  True, Peter Sarsgaard's oddly attractive face is usually enough to make up for a lame storyline anyway, but that's really beside the point.

From the get go, as shallow as it may be, I had a hard time getting past everyone's Brit accents and references.  Once I finally accepted that the many references to French literature and fashion and philosophy and everyfuckingFrenchthingyoucanimagine were far beyond me, I was able to better focus on the story.

Within the first few minutes, I gathered that the main character, Jenny, was a typical teenage schoolgirl under a ridiculous amount of pressure from her parents who insisted she attend Oxford University.  Nothing special there.  Oh, and she plays the Cello.  I do like the Cello.

So one day Jenny is waiting for a ride outside her orchestra rehearsal in the rain when creepy stranger Peter Sarsgaard (David) pulls up in his shiny car with an awful (period appropriate, I'm sure, but it didn't work for me) hair-do and gives the smart/talented/stupid girl a ride home.  I can't imagine a movie that begins with a young girl getting into a car with a strange older man ending badly... right?

After he gives her an innocent ride home, she coincidentally runs into him in the street a few days later, and the whole thing just kind of falls into place: He invites her out to fancy events and they prance around London and be fancy together.  He picks her up at her parents' house and lies to them about where they're going and what they're doing when they're out being fancy, but the parents don't seem too overly concerned about it.  I have a hard time believing that parents can be so ridiculously bipolar in any decade in any country.

Eventually stupid Jenny picks up on the fact that fancy David and his friend have money to do fancy things because their "business" consists of some shady art stealing and purposefully moving black families into flats near racist old women so that the old women want to leave and they can buy their flats cheap.  I can't pretend to not think this is a little funny.  Why not make money off of peoples' dumb racism?  High five, Peter Sarsgaard.

Anyway, David takes Jenny on a trip to Paris and there are a couple of beyond awkward, 'I'm-a-virgin-and-stuff,' sort-of sex scenes that made me more uncomfortable than I've felt in a long time. 
I never could've imagined that something so NOT graphic and explicit could've been so terrifying to watch, especially since I'm usually rooting for oddly-matched couples.

The awkward sex weirdness should've been enough foreshadowing to warn me, but I was still shocked at the ending.  David proposes to Jenny, Jenny finds out he's actually married.  Okay, no big deal, not really surprised.  So Jenny takes a nice stroll over to David and wife's house, arriving at the front door at the same time wife and goofiest looking little child ever are on their way.  Without really saying anything, wife is fully aware of who Jenny is and doesn't hide her awareness of the situation, going on to inform Jenny that she is one of many young girls whom David...creeped, or whatever.  Then my favorite line in the whole movie happened.  Wife asks Jenny, standing in the street: "Are you in a family way?" ....HA.  Wife then continues to make reference to other young girls who got pregnant by David.  Classy family.

I probably should've mentioned that there was significant focus on the trade-off of Jenny's spending time with David and her schoolwork and getting into Oxford and all that.  That whole story is kind of a given.  After she realizes he's a super creep she focuses back on school and ends up getting into Oxford anyway.  Again, no surprise there.  Happily ever after.

Overall, a good enough movie for me.  Lots of weirdness to peak my interest, some teen angst and rebellion, Peter Sarsgaard, and a new phrase to use when I refer to pregnant women.