October 29, 2008

So You Want to Be a Rock and Roll Star

Then all you have to do is play Rock Band 2. This video game has swept the country. I have noticed for about a year that, whenever I'm in a Best Buy store, guys from ten to over thirty years old are lined up at the Rock Band display, playing the guitar to Aerosmith, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and other mostly classic rock tunes.

Then, last Saturday night, I went to a Halloween party at a private home in Hollywood. There was entertainment everywhere, including a pumpkin carving contest outside. When I glanced inside, I saw a band playing, including one guy I know on guitar. However, instead of interacting with each other, the musicians were all looking forward. Later, when I walked inside, I saw that it was a six-piece (guitar, bass, drums, lead vocals and backup singers) Rock Band 2 rock band, playing along to Rock Band 2 songs on a tv set up in front of them. What a blast! Other folks in the room were also singing along as the band attempted to master Rock Band 2, which entails trying to match the lyrics and the musical chords, notes, and beat of such classics as Fleetwood Mac's "Go Your Own Way" and 80's dairy staple "Wanted Dead or Alive" by Bon Jovi. I even stepped up and took over lead vocals for the Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter." This was a huge evolutionary step forward from karaoke. In fact, when the drummer finished playing, having broken into a sweat, he told me that friends of his have set up a weekly Rock Band 2 karaoke-type event at a bar in Los Angeles, and that it has become so popular that MTV is now filming the goings-on.

MTV's sister channel VH1 also has its own Rock Band 2 reality show, where bands compete by playing songs along with Rock Band 2, and one member of the losing team is eliminated each week. And VH1 Classic airs "Rock Band 2 Riffs," which are the original music videos (mostly from the 80's) of the songs that are available on the Rock Band 2 video game.

Coincidentally, I was in a Circuit City store yesterday, and, like Best Buy, it had a Rock Band 2 demo set up with guitar for Microsoft's XBox 360. I tried my hand for the first time at playing the guitar, to Aerosmith & Run DMC's version of "Walk This Way." Impossible. Those notes just flew at me on the screen, and I had no time to catch up. Then I saw the Rock Band 2 "bundle" (which includes the Rock Band 2 game, a guitar, a drum set, and a microphone) for both the Sony PlayStation 3 and XBox 360 video game platforms, as well as a bundle from competing rock video game Guitar Hero. I was tempted to buy the Rock Band 2 bundle, but I may need to wait until the stock market rises again, since my original XBox machine won't even play Rock Band 2. In addition to the necessary PlayStation 3 ($400), XBox 360 ($200-$400), or $300 Nintendo Wii game console, the Rock Band 2 bundle runs nearly $200, and another guitar (for use as a bass) runs about $70.

On the other hand, given that aging, past their prime classic rock bands such as Aerosmith, Fleetwood Mac, and others now charge upwards of $250 per ticket to perform just one concert, the Rock Band 2 bundle just might be a bargain. It's certainly a bundle of fun.

(Flickr photo by David Markland, used with permission)

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October 27, 2008

In Honor of Senator Tubes, it's The Tubes on YouTube

As you probably know by now, Republican Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska was found guilty today on seven counts of corruption. Previously, the 84 year-old Stevens became infamous when, as the Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, which oversees the telecommunications industry, he referred to the Internet as "a series of tubes." This earned Stevens the nickname "Tubes."

Therefore, I think it's fitting to honor Senator Tubes with a YouTube video from 70's camp/glam band The Tubes. Ironically, YouTube has been the undoing of several Republican Senators, including Stevens, George "Macaca" Allen, and now John McCain, as previous public statements that they try to deny or disavow instead get put on YouTube, to be viewed by millions, sometimes within a matter of hours. Any Senator that fails to recognize the power of "the tubes" or "the 'Tube" does so at his peril.

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October 20, 2008

Houston, We Have a Problem

These photos show what it looks like behind my home entertainment center. I fondly call it Houston Mission Control due to the plethora of wires and cables. Whenever I replace an old piece of equipment or add a new one (television, audio/video receiver, dvd player, cd player, speakers, XBox, etc.), I am presented with a fresh challenge as to how to connect the new piece. I'm having a double such challenge this week, as I replaced two items in the system.

What makes this all so complicated nowadays is one word: cables. In years past, there were few or no options for connecting home audio and video equipment to each other. Today, old-fashioned copper wires are typically found only in speaker cable. Instead, consumers can now choose from High-Definition Multimedia Interface ("HDMI"), optical digital, S-Video, coaxial, digital coaxial, component, and composite cable connections, among others. My system pictured above contains every one of these connections, except for composite. As a result, today's audio/video components such as receivers and high-definition television sets have rows upon rows of input and output jacks on the back, to give consumers flexibility as to what types of connections to make between components. And the instruction manuals packaged with this equipment read like NASA flight manuals.

This dizzying array of home entertainment wiring options has caused two cottage industries -- the high-end audio/video cable industry (best represented by Monster Cable) and the numerous individuals and companies who charge a pretty penny install home audio and video equipment -- to explode. Even if you install your own cables, unless you purchase a "home theater in a box" system, you can expect to pay up to $1,000 or more for the high-quality cables needed to connect a typical home entertainment system consisting of an HDTV, an audio/video receiver, six or more speakers (to achieve at least 5.1 surround sound), a cd player, a dvd player, and a video game player.

But instead of hiring the Geek Squad to assist me with my installation, I enjoy figuring out how to do it myself. It's problem-solving, and it's good exercise for the brain. I get out my little Mini Mag flashlight, and sometimes I even put it in my mouth to free up both hands (and to look like a high-tech burglar from an action movie). Although I have not yet figured out the new installation completely, I have not yet had to get on the phone and say, "Geeks on Call, we have a problem."

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October 14, 2008

Unintentional Supermarket Double Entendre of the Day

Today in the supermarket, I saw a tall, beautiful Asian woman in blue surgical scrubs. As I walked by her, she was kneeling to inspect items on the bottom shelf. Her hand-carry basket was on the floor and was overflowing. Especially vulnerable was a carton of eggs that teetered over the top. It looked like it might fall at any second.

I wanted to say, "watch those eggs, they're about to drop." But I felt that she might take it the wrong way.

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October 10, 2008

It's Project Bluebeam, and I Feel Fine

Just as Mercury gets out of retrograde, something very strange is supposed to happen on October 14. I heard about it from the people where I get my hair cut, so it must be true. Some say it will be a massive invasion of space aliens. Others say it will be a NASA-created fake alien invasion called Project Bluebeam.

Project Bluebeam is supposedly a super-secret NASA project designed to replicate an alien invasion and cause earthquakes. The NASA-created light show and electromagnetic pulse wave will cause people to think that God is talking to them. (Of course, many people already think that. They're called Sarah Palin supporters.) All Gods will appear (through holographic technology) and meld into one, and Jesus Christ will lead the new World Religion. Apparently, Satan himself will also make an appearance. The New World Order will be ushered in.

Oh, and all this will supposedly take place over Alabama.

And yes, my haircut place is just a few blocks from Venice Beach, what's your point? I say, as long as Project Bluebeam doesn't cause my Internet and cable service to shut down again, I'm fine with it.


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October 08, 2008

You Know Mercury is in Retrograde When ...

... First, your Internet and cable service quit, and it takes days to get it fixed. You are forced to take radical steps, such as going online at coffee shops and reading actual books at home. Then, your computer battery stops charging, and, after arguing on the phone to Dell Technical Support for an hour and forty-five minutes that you don't need a new $180 battery, they suggest having you start the computer in Startup mode -- something you could have done in the first five minutes -- which instantly reveals that, as you were telling them all along, the problem is the AC adapter.

Then, to top it off (pun intended), you have a surreal and ultimately comical experience with the guy behind the Costco pizza window. A friend and I ordered a pizza, and I asked for mushrooms and green peppers.

Guy behind window: "You can only get it with all the vegetables, including onions and olives."
Me: "Huh? Why can't the person making the pizza just stop after sprinkling on the mushrooms and green peppers? Isn't that less work for him?"

I got some head scratching, but never a clear answer on that one.

So I went online, and, as I suspected, Mercury is indeed in retrograde, from September 24 through October 15. For those of you who are not familiar with this phenomenon, people who believe in such things say that it is an unsettling time often characterized by electronic devices, travel plans, contractual arrangements, and other things (such as pizza making) going absolutely haywire.

Mercury, you were named for your speed of movement. So will you please speed up?


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October 04, 2008

Get Ready For the McCain-Palin Slime Machine

The only thing slimier than a Republican candidate is a Republican candidate who is losing. That is the position that John McCain and Sarah Palin find themselves in today. Barack Obama has opened up a sizeable lead over McCain. A couple of days ago, the McCain campaign cut and ran from Michigan, which it had formerly considered a battleground state. And now McCain's campaign has hunkered down in formerly Republican states like Florida, Missouri, Virginia, and even Indiana, ones that George Bush won (and, in the case of Indiana, which Republicans typically win handily), treating them as the battleground states. When you're fighting just to hold onto your base (as Sarah Palin seems to do with each appearance), you're in big trouble.

This means that the McCain-Palin campaign has only one tool left in their arsenal -- to turn on their slime machine against Barack Obama. I thought of this last night, and, lo and behold, there's a news article on the Washington Post's website this morning confirming that "McCain Plans Fiercer Strategy Against Obama." The sub-headline reads "GOP plans to focus on Democrat's judgment, honesty and personal ties."

The slime tactic from Republicans is nothing new. Republican campaign operative Lee Atwater honed his dirty campaign tricks while working for Presidential candidate Ronald Reagan, and then perfected them during George H.W. Bush's successful 1988 Presidential campaign against Michael Dukakis. The result was the infamous Willie Horton television ad. After Lee Atwater died, his protege, Karl Rove, took over the Republican slime machine, and we all know what happened. First, Rove helped George W. Bush defeat John McCain in the 2000 South Carolina primary using Atwater's dirty tactics. The Bush-Rove smear campaign against McCain in 2000, which included "push polls" spreading the false implication that McCain had fathered an illegitimate black child, reportedly caused a bitter rift between Bush and McCain that to this day has not healed. Bush and Rove successfully used similar tactics against Al Gore and John Kerry in the 2000 and 2004 elections, culminating in the false "Swift Boat" campaign against Kerry that helped Bush win re-election in 2004. About the principal "Swift Boat" ad that ran against Kerry, McCain said at the time, "I think the ad is dishonest and dishonorable."

Ah, but what a difference four years makes. McCain has now hired Rove's own proteges, such as Steve Schmidt. Amazingly, McCain's hires include some of the very people who falsely slimed McCain in 2000, such as Charlie Condon. A month ago, McCain hired another of the South Carolina Dirty Tricksters, Tucker Eskew, about whom McCain previously said "there is a special place in hell," to work for Sarah Palin. It is now obvious that McCain intends to use these same Bush-Rove operatives who destroyed McCain's character in the 2000 primary to do the same to Barack Obama.

I have no doubt that, after observing what the Republican slime machine did to John McCain in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004, Barack Obama is ready for the most vicious, sleazy, tawdry, false attacks imaginable. Are you?

(Obama "HOPE" image by Shepard Fairey)

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