Saturday, January 31, 2009

Monster.Com Does It Again

Long hours at work and computer viruses at home have made posting very difficult as of late. Fortunately,'s new ad is here to cheer me up. Its not quite as good as their classic "yes man, yes woman, yes sir" campaign from seven or eight years ago, but its worth 30 seconds or your time. Or two and a half minutes of your time if you watch it five times in a row.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Precopius Jorry

new absurdist game--random baby name generator. (scroll to the bottom of the page and click)

(no, I am 100% not thinking about having a baby, I wound up on the site because I was trying to research a non-toxic baby-bottle maker with the same name as the url).

my best random name was "Precopius Jorry [surname]"

Precopius means "progressive" in greek. and Jorry is a diminutive of Joren which is Scandinavian for "George." So the random baby name generator pretty much named my kid "Curious George."


Sunday, January 25, 2009

First Albums - The Results, #2

The first albums I ever owned were Pearl Jam's Ten and Nirvana's Nevermind. Until the "first albums" poll of a couple of weeks ago, I hadn't revisited either of them in years - since college, if not longer. I think they hold up pretty well.

In 1991, I was slightly more into Nirvana than I was into Pearl Jam. Revisiting the albums seventeen years later (has it really been that long?), that order is now reversed. Part of it, I think, is that Nirvana's album was more of a game-changer at the time, at the transformative effect of Nevermind has been diminished as alternative rock has continued to reinvent itself over the past two decades. Ten was, in some ways, more modest in scope, but, to my ears at least, sounds a little bit less dated, perhaps because Pearl Jam, unlike Nirvana, has continued to make new music, and therefore its early stuff still sounds like the work of a contemporary band. Then again, "Smells Like Teen Spirit" has been viewed 25 million times on YouTube, and "Even Flow" has not.

A commonly drawn analogy is that Kurt Cobain was to Generation X what John Lennon was to the Baby Boom generation. I think that analogy overstates Kobain's importance - he was enormously talented, but he produced only a fraction of the body of work that Lennon produced, and he didn't change the path of popular music in several different directions, as Lennon did. Kobain is probably best compared to somebody like Jimi Hendrix - enormously talented, but somebody who died before he reached his full potential. Kobain changed the course of rock music, but he wasn't the political or cultural force that Lennon was, and I tend to associate him with Seattle more than anybody associates Lennon with Liverpool.

Eddie Vedder was more edgy and political, and more personally reclusive - in some ways, a better analogy to Lennon, though obviously without the same popular stature. My guess is that Lennon and Vedder would have had a lot more to talk about than Lennon and Kobain, but that's just a guess.

Here's some music:

Pearl Jam - "Black"

Pearl Jam - "Alive"

Pearl Jam - "Even Flow"

Nirvana - "Smells Like Teen Spirit"

Nirvana - "Lithium"

Nirvana - "In Bloom"

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

so I was in san francisco for a wedding this weekend. it was a lovely wedding, but that's not what I come to talk about.

I spent most of my down time performing some kind of nostalgic hajj across the city.

"here is the safeway where I bought the dozen roses that springydog hated and taught me that I couldn't buy my way out of screwing up by bringing flowers."

"here is the bakery I applied for a job at that I didn't get"

"there is the coffee shop where i studied for my biology GRE"

"there is the restaurant run by a cult that serves tasty vegetarian food and is staffed by glassy-eyed white women in saris"

"there is the produce market where I used to have to elbow old chinese ladies when the owners brought out a new batch of satsumas."

"there is the parking lot where I got the zipcar to drive to berkeley to take springydog to chez panisse before I moved away and I could only get a 10pm reservation because I called 2 days in advance and the whole time it sortof felt like playing dress-up."

I am sure it was desperately annoying to other people when I was with them, so after a while I just starting doing it solo. The whole thing seemed very weird. I only lived in san francisco for 6 months and I wasn't even that happy. Why did I want to see these unimportant places? did it have to do with constructing a nominally unique relationship narrative? Is it maybe because so much of my adult personal history is located places that cannot be easily revisited so all that feeling gets centralized in the couple of places that can? Does this happen to other people?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

First Albums - The Results

Over the course of the next couple of weeks, we will be posting some songs from the first albums our readers ever owned. Of course, some of these albums have aged better than others. Perhaps none has aged better than The Beatles' A Hard Day's Night, ShakenNeighborSyndrome's first album.

Can't Buy Me Love:

"I'm Happy Just To Dance With You"

Things to Look Forward To

1) Back to Business - Season 2 of the Flight of the Conchords begins at 10pm this evening.

2) Idris Elba joins the cast of The Office - Scranton just got a little more fierce. The actor who played Stringer Bell - one of the all-time badasses in the history of television - is joining the team at Dunder Mifflin.

3) The Watchmen Movie is cleared for release - A legal battle between 20th Century Fox and Warner Brothers over the distribution rights to The Watchmen threatened to delay the movie's release indefinitely. Now that the lawsuit has been settled, the film's original release date of March 6th is back on.

4) The new Springsteen album and subsequent tour.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Shameless Plug

My friend Nick has started a Brooklyn-centric architecture/development/streetlife/history photoblog. From the early entries and from knowing Nick's abiding interest and familiarity with everything to do with the life and turmoil of cities, it looks like it could be well worth your time.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

What Was The First Album You Owned?

My roommates and I had this discussion lately - what was the first album you ever owned?

As far as I can remember, mine were Nirvana's Nevermind and Pearl Jam's Ten. They came out when I was fifth grade, and, at the time, owning them made me feel like such a grown up.

I look forward to hearing your answers to this - and who knows, it may inspire a couple of mass YouTube postings on the subject.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

All Things Baltimore

The Baltimore Ravens and Tennessee Titans are playing today in the "divisional" round of the AFC playoffs. I'm rooting for the Titans - they're tough and intense, and a fun team to watch, and besides, the Ravens are a trash-talking group of murderers and drug dealers.

An unrelated - but equally depressing - story about Baltimore is that the soundstage used to film The Wire is being torn down to build a supermarket. The Wire was the greatest television drama of all time; the thought of a construction crew destroying it to build a supermarket, which could easily have been built on any number of non-Wire-related locations is depressing. Fortunately, somebody from HBO prepared a photo essay of the striking of the set. For long-time fans of the show, these photos have an almost-haunted feel.

One of the extras on the DVDs of season five is this little epilogue to The Wire. Warning: depending on how much of the show you've seen, there may be some spoilers in here.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Letterman's Top Ten Bush Moments

Its hard not to find this funny, in part because January 20th is only twelve days away.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

My year in gaming

You think this post is long? Try playing all of them.

So the problem with “Best of the Year” Videogame lists is that way too many great games come out in the last two months of the year, and normal people don’t have time to play them all. And even videogame obsessed people like myself don’t have time to play them all. So when I look at the list of games I enjoyed this year, I see a lot of “Best of 2007” in my list, and titles that I will presumably love like Fable II, Gears of War 2, Left 4 Dead, Persona 4, Metal Gear Solid 4 remain unplayed, yet in some cases purchased and ready to go upon removing the shrink wrap.

A true best of the year list would be better served to mimic the Oscar schedule. So anyway, here are my thoughts on what I played in the year of 2008. Potential spoilers in each blurb.

Top 5 (alphabetically)
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
Grand Theft Auto IV
Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo HD Remix
World of Warcraft

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare

Fantastic. Highly polished on every level. Not only does it provide some of the best multiplayer gaming created, it also contains a powerful single player game that remarkably advances gaming narration techniques. For example, the opening credits places the player in the first person view mode of a prisoner in the back of a car driving to his own execution. Another chilling turn takes place as the player experiences the last minute of a Marine’s life in the aftereffects of a nuclear explosion, with sluggish controls and a weak pulsing heart beat as you crawl in the post-blast decimation. For a game that some may see as the equivalent of an action movie blockbuster, it deserves credit for smart, in-game storytelling rather than resorting to cut scenes.

Super Mario Galaxy
A joyous return to old school Mario sentiments. It had fun power-ups like Bee Suit and Ice Mario, and oozed happy charm. Shockingly, Nintendo actually upped the sound values by including orchestrated music, allowing the score to stand out, rather than be marred by MIDIish sound effects that have plagued Nintendo games for the last decade.

Mass Effect

Loved the main game exploring space and enjoying the story, but the (optional) side quests became boring. This game continues in the western RPG model of letting you actually “role play” your character rather than “playing the story” of Japanese RPGs. I loved the tough decisions the game forced you to make, including which member of your inner circle you would have to sacrifice in order to get the mission done. It’s not easy being a bad-ass commander, but someone’s got to do it.

World of Warcraft
It finally got me. Four years after release, I finally succumbed and starting playing, joining the 11.5 million monthly subscribers. I rationalized that it was necessary to know about the phenomenon that is changing the business of the industry I want to return to upon graduating, but I also just wanted an excuse to play it. And I love it. I loved the Warcraft series before as I enjoyed their in-depth world and plotlines, and being able to actually tread on the ground from series lore like the “Dead Scar” brought me a fanboy thrill. Horde FTW!

Metroid Prime 3: Corruption
Continuing, quiet excellence from one of my favorite gaming series.

Super Smash Bros. Melee
This was bittersweet for me. The original SSB produced some of my favorite gaming moments thanks to its frantic, fun gameplay. This was obviously boosted by the fact that I had regular heated matches with 3 of my best friends from high school all having a good time in the room. Now, the game is more polished and jacked with “plus more” of everything…but I had no one to play it with (don’t talk to me about Nintendo’s online plans). Darn.

Mario Kart Wii
Disappointing. On one hand, I was happy that my girlfriend LOVED it. And yes, she can legitimately beat me in it. But I was frustrated by Nintendo making the game WORSE than its GameCube iteration by removing features and gameplay. I understand that it was watered-down to reach the casual audience that is the lifeblood of the Wii, but the series feels very stale to me. Not enough great new courses, puzzling classic course selection, and constant lacking of feature control in multiplayer. Such potential squandered.

Final Fantasy VII Crisis Core
I was pleasantly surprised by this title that revisited the FF7 universe. Though there still were some spotty Japanese storytelling shenanigans, I found myself surprised with actual character development in doomed (as players of FF7 know) protagonist Zack Fair. His death scene was beautifully and powerfully done in a mix of gameplay and Square’s traditional amazing CG work. Also had some beautiful songs on the score (not counting the “battle grunge rock”).

Grand Theft Auto IV
Ah yes, this one. A masterpiece that certainly absorbed me while playing, but I find myself a bit cool towards it as the months passed. To be sure, I loved the story and the creation of Liberty City was an outstanding achievement technically and artistically. Yet I found myself nostalgic for the feeling of awe I got when I played GTA3 and Vice City back in the day. Perhaps a bit like Mario Galaxy, it felt like a very polished and excellent version of something I used to love more.

Assassins Creed
Great graphics, applaud the ideas of trying a new setting and IP, but very repetitive.

The Orange Box (Half Life 2, Portal, Team Fortress)
So this was simply awesome. The Half Life 2 series continues to be excellent 4 years after release. Team Fortress was a breath of Pixar-esque fresh air in artistic direction for shooter games (please watch the bottom 4 trailers). And Portal was outstanding. Clever puzzles and concept, and the best writing I’ve experienced in a game. Certainly the funniest. Best of all: it was short. Like 2-4 hours. That is a good thing. Too many games drag on because they feel they need to hit a certain number of hours. Give me quality over quantity any day. You can download this on your computer. DO IT. BUY IT.

Penny Arcade Adventures
Another funny game, but make sure you like the Penny Arcade comic strip first.

Advance Wars Day of Ruin
One of the best tactical strategy games. This is the 4th game in the series I’ve played, and they’ve gotten me through many an hour while traveling.

No More Heroes
So I see director Goichi Suda as the Tarantino equivalent in gaming. A distinct, heavy, welcome director’s hand, who clearly loves the art form and is a bit crazy. The good in this game is very good which includes the style and some of the best uses of the Wii controller for core gamers. Other parts could badly use some work/editing, but I find myself wanting to forgive it while I applaud the creative risks the game takes.

A beautiful designed game, both in art direction and game play. Story gets pretentious/unclear, giving high school gamers another example for their “games-as-art” arguments.

Bionic Commando: Rearmed
Capcom loves you, old school gamers. That’s why they paid for the creation of a remade classic Nintendo game done extremely right. I never personally considered Bionic Commando as a favored classic, but damn do I RESPECT this game.

Dark Sector
Junk food action blockbuster. Retarded story, but cool gameplay mechanic in boomerang glaive. Good effort from a small publisher.

Mega Man 9
Did I mention that Capcom loves you, old school gamers? Now you and Capcom are K-I-S-S-I-N-G in a tree. They made a BRAND NEW Mega Man game IN THE EXACT STYLE OF THE NES. I never thought I’d see the day. They nailed the music, they nailed the game, they made intentionally awful NES-style box art, they even added old school “I’m a dick” developer tricks like things that will knock you into a pit to your death because they KNEW you were going to jump there. It’s mean, but it made me smile. Please buy this on Wii/Xbox Live or PSN network so more companies will try this. Maybe someday we can get a 2D Super Mario Bros 4…

Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix
Capcom not only loves you, but they also want you deep inside them so you two can have, like, 10,000 babies. SSF2T HD Remix is exactly what I always wanted. I swear, Capcom was eavesdropping on a conversation I was having with my friend Damian when we were playing Street Fighter 2 in 2005 where we said we wanted a new SF, but, you know, it totally had to be the same as the old SF. So here it is, redrawn 2D HD graphics, terrific fan made remixed music, great online, battles and untouched (or retouched for the better) classic SF gameplay. The game still holds up as amazing fun. It’s like the Godfather Blu-ray that’s been digitally restored. I’ve played this game until my thumb hurt charging Sonic Booms because I don’t have an arcade joystick, and I don’t even care. Bionic Commando, Mega Man 9 and SSF2T HD Remix are Capcom’s love letter trifecta to all of us who grew up in the Nintendo/SNES/Genesis era.

Dead Space
A good game with no soul. No real flaws, some fun survival horror shooting, but nothing special to make it stand out long term. Sadly, I’ve also reached the age where I’ve consumed enough media that when a story presents me with 2 ancillary characters, I can tell which one is going to betray me in the first half hour, especially when she doth protest way too much that the other guy is going to betray me.

Devil May Cry 4
Enh. Epitomizes the problems with Japanese developers these days. Great polish, but dumb anime story where the really “awesome”/completely nonsensical physics stuff happens in cut scenes when you aren’t playing it. This is by Capcom, by the way, showing that every relationship still requires work.

Fallout 3
I sunk more hours into Oblivion, Fallout 3’s medieval spiritual predecessor, than any other single player game I’ve played. The worlds Bethesda, the developer, creates are utterly engrossing. Taking place in a 1950s Jetsons future-retro technology post-apocalyptic Washington DC 200 years after a nuclear war, the game pops you out of your underground vault and lets you determine your own story. I’m perhaps about halfway “through” playing it (there’s so much to do that’s optional if you so decide…), but greatly enjoying it. A highlight so far was fetching the Declaration of Independence from the Super Mutant infested National Archives to give to the historian for 100 bottle caps, bottle caps being the currency in the dismal future. To put it in perspective, room and board and whore cost 120 bottle caps. I also did this quest a day before going to the National Archives in real life, which was fun.

Boom Blox
Is to the Wii as Super Monkey Ball was to GameCube. A good puzzle game, fun for parties with non-gamers when you’re tired of Wii Sports.

Monday, January 5, 2009

it's a coincidence, I know.

In Bonfire of the Vanities, there is a throwaway character named Herbert 92X. He has adopted a muslim last name a la Nation of Islam. He has minimal agency and largely serves a signifier to and pawn of the white people in the Bronx DAs office.

There is also a sleek Saab sport wagon called the 92X that I saw on the road during my commute.

It is a complete coincidence so I won't bore you with my usual abstruse cultural sophistry. but I like the juxtaposition of (GM owned) swedish (corrected) luxury car and fictional downtrodden Bronx quasi-muslim.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Defending Steve Nash

Bill Simmons' latest magazine column about Mike D'Antoni and Steve Nash is a total mess. He contradicts himself several times, and he never really ties his general theories to real-life examples. He thinks that asterisks ought to be applied to Steve Nash's two MVP seasons, because he won them while playing for Mike D'Antoni, the "Coors Field of coaches" - that is, a coach whose up-tempo style tends to improve the statistics of his players. Furthermore, Simmons says that "you're headed for trouble" anytime an NBA award is given out because there are no better candidates around. But isn't every MVP award given out because there are no better candidates? If there were better candidates, wouldn't they get the award?

Its true, as Simmons says, that we might think of Dominique Wilkins differently if he had been drafted by the Lakers (where he could play with Magic Johnson) instead of by the Hawks. We might think of Pippen differently if he hadn't had the good fortune to play with Michael Jordan (and, it must be said, for Phil Jackson). You can play the "what if" game all day. Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and Tim Duncan all had the good fortune to be drafted by otherwise good teams who secured a top pick because of lop-sided trades or fluke injuries, and ended up in situations conducive to success.

You can play the 'what if' game all day, but the bottom line is that James Worthy, not Dominique Wilkins, put up bit scoring numbers on his way to winning four rings with the Lakers, Pippen put up big numbers and became one of the all-time great defensive forwards on his way to winning six rings with the Bulls, and Tim Duncan became the best all-around power forward on his way to winning four championships with the Spurs. The West Coast offense may help players put up big offensive numbers, but that doesn't change the fact that nobody put up better offensive numbers than Jerry Rice. Steve Nash ran the best offense in basketball for four years, right up until his team gave away all of its depth and traded the most athletic power forward in the league for an aging, 340-pound center. Charles Barkley called Steve Nash "one bad white boy" and he has legions of admirers among the ranks of NBA coaches and players. Every player who he played with saw his scoring efficiency increase dramatically. The New York Knicks under Mike D'Antoni, by comparison, aren't playing much more efficiently than in past seasons, they're just playing at a faster tempo, which means more possessions per game and, therefore, more shots and rebounds to go around. There's a big difference.

Bottom line: Steve Nash was one of the best players in the NBA, and almost definitely the player whose team depended on him the most. If that doesn't qualify him to be an MVP, what does?

Friday, January 2, 2009

The NHL Winter Classic

The National Hockey League played its second annual outdoor "Winter Classic" game yesterday, and by all accounts it was an overwhelming success. The Detroit Red Wings defeated the Chicago Blackhawks 6-4, so there was a lot of offense for the fans to watch. Adding to the atmosphere, the players wore throwback jerseys, the Detroit coaching staff wore retro black fedoras, and the fans sang the national anthem en masse - something which, in the NHL, typically only happens Vancouver Canucks games.

One can only hope that the NHL continues this new tradition. If future "winter classics" are as entertaining as the first two, and if the BCS continues to mess up the college bowl system, the NHL will begin to make serious inroads into the American tv audience.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Springsteen at the London Hammersmith Odeon, 1975

An antidote to that ABBA song I posted earlier. Be careful not to watch this at work - you may get an erection.

Happy New Year