December 26, 2007

Super Knockoff Brothers

I'm a huge fan of very poorly made counterfeits, and the video here features something that would surely get my vote for Poorly Made Counterfeit of the Year - 2007. If you've spent any time playing Super Mario Brothers, you'll recognize most everything here, but something's... just not quite right. Actually, make that several somethings. In fact the sheer number of ways this thing goes wrong had me laughing out loud for minutes.

Originally spotted at, where you can also see levels 2, 3, and 4.

December 10, 2007

A Lot Of Wiis

I have a lot of Wiis on my nightstand.

December 9, 2007

I'm The Wiener!

I'm pleased to report that I won Derek's inaugural Pop Culture Showdown Two-Thousand Diggity Seven. It was a hard fought battle. I'm happy to have won, but I'm disappointed to have not dominated the challenge like I wanted to. I'm also very publicly embarrassed at some of the gaps in my knowledge.

It was very surprising to me how tense I was during the showdown. I believe at one point I was sweating.

December 6, 2007

Endangered Candy List

I've noticed as I've grown older that some of the candies and candy related items that I remembered from my childhood are difficult or impossible to find now. This makes sense; If new candy is created and sells more, there's only so much shelf space to go around, and some old candy has to drop out to take its place.

What alarms me, though, are when I can't find what I used to consider the staples of the candy section back in the day. It's one thing if one manufacturer stops making one item of theirs (RIP my beloved Mars Bar). But, when you have an item that was not tied to a specific company and used to be found everywhere dwindle and disappear, that's kind of sad.

Example 1: Candy cigarettes. It's kind of obvious why you can't really find these anymore. However, I'm still kind of sad that there won't be any there for my kids to buy so I can yell at them the way I got yelled at for buying them the one time I did.

Example 2: Cinnamon bears. There's only one grocery store local to me that sells these, but it's in their generic house brand version, and they're gritty and just plain gross tasting. The Wal-Mart used to sell some made by Sweet's Candy Company, and I would buy 10 bags at a time in case they stopped carrying them. Sure enough, I ran out months ago, and they've stopped stocking them.

Example 3: Red Hots. Becki asked me to pick up "a bag of Red Hots" at the grocery store yesterday for a church thing. The candy section of the store had no such item. Apparently you can't buy Red Hots to eat as candy anymore. I finally found them with the cake decorating supplies labeled as a decorating aid, and packaged in a little plastic jar. Price: $1.99 for the small 2 oz. jar. That's $16 per pound of red hots. Pound for pound that makes it one of the most expensive food items in the whole store.

Items that are less expensive per pound than Red Hots:
  • King crab legs ($11.99/lb regularly, on sale this week for $7.88/lb)

  • Jumbo shrimp ($8.99/lb)

  • Ribeye steak ($8.99/lb regularly)

  • Prime rib ($10.99/lb)

  • A very expensive bottle of wine (It would have to get over $25 for a 750ml bottle to be more expensive than red hots)

  • Heavy cream ($5.00/lb)

  • Milk ($.50/lb)

  • Gasoline ($.40/lb. Not a food item, but still way cheap in comparison)

With the exception of some top shelf liquor and some exotic spices (like saffron), I challenge someone to find me a more expensive food item (pound for pound) than Red Hots.

If current trends continue, I'll have to get all my childhood candies from wherever pioneer village type place I have to go to get my horehound drops.

December 5, 2007

Song of the Year

I have a tradition of declaring at the end of each year what is the absolute best song I've heard all year. This is a long-standing tradition, dating all the way back to a few days ago when I first thought of it.

My rules are simple. The song doesn't necessarily have to be released this year. Rather, the year in which it's competing will be the year it first came to prominence, which will be loosely defined as whenever I first heard it. I'm deciding on my song of the year now, because after Thanksgiving, my listening is pretty much booked solid with Christmas music. So, it's better to get this out of the way now before my judgement gets clouded by all the holiday songs I'm hearing.

This year, the finalists for song of the year come down to "1234" by Feist and "Falling Slowly" by Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova. I think these are both songs that might have technically been released in 2006, but didn't really get noticed until this year.

"1234" is a song everybody probably knows from the iPod commercials. In the commercial, the video for the song is playing on a bunch of iPod nanos while a disembodied hand stacks and unstacks the iPods. I first heard this song when I saw part of the video for it while flipping through channels earlier this year, but it didn't really register with me until I saw the commercial a few times.

I'm not at all ashamed to admit that commercials have been the venue to introduce me to some of the best music I've heard. The only place I ever heard Badly Drawn Boy before buying his CDs was "The Shining" on that great Gap commercial. And, that same Christmas had another Gap commercial with the Red House Painters' cover of "All Mixed Up" that turned me on to them. Furthermore, I probably would never have got into Nick Drake if not for that Volkswagen commercial. I read something somewhere that said that the Pink Moon album sold something like 10 times as many copies in the months following that Volkswagen commercial than in the thirty or so years that preceded it, and I think that's fine. It's fine because it's such great music that everybody needs to hear it, and whatever it takes to expose it is justified.

"1234"'s beauty lies in it's apparent simplicity, contrasted with the complex layering underneath. It's a light, snappy pop song, and it start outs so plainly, with just a voice and strummed acoustic guitar. But, by the second half of the first verse, the drums and bass have kicked in, and strings start to build. By the time the song reaches the first bridge, the choir's singing and the song's really going strong. That first bridge also introduces the real secret weapon of the song, the banjo. Once the song reaches the chorus, the other secret weapon (a brass instrument that I'm pretty sure is a flugelhorn) kicks in.

The song is able to restrain itself through the chorus, adding only a honky tonk piano break after the chorus. But, at about 2:16, it can contain itself no longer and just explodes in a glorious cacaphony. The choir sings "Ba-da Ba-da-da" over doubled flugelhorns, three banjos, swelled strings, a glockenspiel, and the 1985 Chicago Bears. And then, just before it all becomes too much, the song suddenly cuts back to four bars of strummed guitar and picked banjo and ends.

Even if this weren't the best song of the year, it's easily one of the best arrangements of a pop song in at least the past 15 years.

There's only one problem I have with this song. At the very beginning of the song, when the acoustic guitar is strumming and the vocals come in for the very first time, there's a little bit of ambience around the voice that's not the same as whatever's on the guitar. It makes it sound like the vocals were recorded in another studio, through another set of mikes and console and effects and pre-amp and stuff. It's not uncommon for a song to be recorded this way, but it never actually sounds that way to me like it does on this song. It's not that noticeable, but it's just enough to take me out of the song for a couple of seconds until my ears can adjust.

"Falling Slowly" was written by Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova for the soundtrack of the movie Once, which they both also ended up starring in. It's one of those arty independent films about busking in Ireland. I haven't seen the film, because the only time it was playing here that I knew of was at 12:30 PM and 5:30 PM, which were both times during which I would be working.

Glen Hansard is the lead singer/songwriter for the Irish band The Frames, which is apparently the second biggest band in Ireland (second only to that other Irish band, U something or other). They're not yet big in the US, and I don't know if they ever will be, but they're something good, all right.

Marketa Irglova is a Czech pianist and composer that Glen apparently hooked up with to write songs for the movie before actually recommending her to be in the movie (and then getting cast himself).

This song falls squarely in the category of "plaintive love song". At least I think it's a love song. I don't really listen to the lyrics much when I listen to music; I usually just try to let the music itself do the talking. It's the music of this song, and the quality of Glen's voice that tell me everything: That there exists a pain that's so great it will tear you in half, that there are longings that span the centuries, that through this all there is hope that these things for which we long and dream can still be realized.

I have a few versions of this song. The version that comes from the movie soundtrack is just Glen and Marketa, him playing acoustic guitar and her playing piano. They split the vocals, harmonizing through most of the song. This version is simply beautiful. There's another version off of the most recent Frames album, which is different in that it's given the full band treatment. It's mostly just Glen's voice in that one, although there's a hint of background vocals. The Frames version I like because the tension that builds through the song can be released when the chorus bursts and the band just get's loud and raucous, where in the acoustic version, that tension has to remain contained, which is a bit of the beauty of it. The Frames version also has a loud playout at the end which is really cool. I also have a few live recordings of just Glen and Marketa from various radio or TV things.

The best part of this song, what really makes this song for me, is the extra measure right before the chorus. There's a bit of a build into the chorus, and it would seem natural to just follow the pattern established by the verse and just change chords and start playing the chorus. But, right after the last measure of the verse, they keep on that same chord for just four more beats which is so effective in managing that tension that's bubbling through the song and building it just that much more for the chorus. The thing I like the most is that if I were playing in a band, and somebody brought me that song and said "Hey, let's play this song I just wrote", I would have said "Great, but let's just hold on that chord for one more measure before that chorus". This song is just already in tune with my musical interpretation of what I think this song wants and what this song should be.

So, the winner of Song of the Year 2007? It's close, but I've got to go with "Falling Slowly". It's just a great, great song that still moves me every time I hear it, even though I've already heard it 100 times.

December 4, 2007

Tucson Half-Marathon

My sister got the idea a few weeks back that she wanted to walk the half-marathon portion of the Tucson Marathon. She called me two days before it and asked if I'd like to walk it with her. I said sure, but only with the understanding that I would try to get her to run a portion of it with me. She said I was free to run on ahead to get a better time, but I figured I wasn't going to get a good time no matter what I did, so I would rather stay with her and try to push her harder so that she could feel like she accomplished more. It's not that walking 13.1 miles is not something to be proud of. It certainly is. However, running a portion of it entitles you to tell people, "I ran in the half-marathon", dropping your voice a little on the word "in" so that they might hear "I ran the half-marathon".

My goal was just to run 1/4 of the distance. We did that mainly by running the first 1/4 mile out of every mile, then running from the 13 mile mark all the way to the finish line so that we could look like real runners. We never had to run longer than about 2 minutes, 45 seconds at a stretch, which was good for Elizabeth since she doesn't yet have any sort of endurance when she gets into that high heart rate/heavy breathing state. Yet, she was able to finish each segment of running without falling over, so that's good.

We finished in 3:20:45 which is nowhere near a good time, but is better than what I expected. I get a big kick out of the fact that I was dead last in my age division.

Even though I did so poorly timewise, I was pleased to find out that I actually won an award for placing third in my Clydesdale division. What I didn't know until a few days ago was that some races have a "Clydesdale" division for men over 190 pounds (and a corresponding women's designation). Apparently fat men get special recognition for hauling their bulk around the course. In the category of men weighing 211-224 pounds, I placed third, and the top three finishers in each category get awards. I'm quite certain that many other men of my weight finished faster than me. However, none of them must have checked the box identifying themselves as Clydesdales. So, I don't know if I get a plaque or a separate medal or certificate or what. I didn't hang around at the finish line to claim my award, since I had no idea I would have won one. Now I have to figure out how I can get them to send it to me. It may not be worth the effort, but it's likely I'll never win an award in an organized race again, so I want all the recognition I can get.

It's now two days after the race, and I'm feeling pretty okay physically. My muscles are a little sore, but not as much as I might have thought. My biggest problem is a sort of shooting/burning pain in the middle of my left foot when I step on it. It comes and goes; sometimes it's so bad I can't take more than a couple of steps without hobbling. I walked a mile and a half on it last night, then iced it a while, and it seems a little better today. So overall, I'm happy at the physical accomplishment, but I'm a little bugged that the recovery is eating into my normal running schedule.

A couple of other notes:

My Forerunner watch calculated that I burned 1726 calories during the race. That's a lot. I had about 500 calories of breakfast and 500 calories of bars and Clif Shot and stuff during the race, but I was still way hungry when it was over.

In perusing the results for the other divisions, I noticed the winner of the men's 80+ division and the women's 75-79 division were a couple that are both patients of ours, and that the husband beat me by about 12 minutes. I called him to congratulate him on having over 50 years of seniority on me and still kicking my tail. He was really excited to talk to me, and I got the feeling from him that he really appreciated the call.