Archive for February, 2010

February 25, 2010

‘Ground Control to Major Tom…’

by George

Have you ever listened to silence…complete and utter silence.  You might think that you have, but you haven’t.

This is nearly impossible on earth because we do not live within a vacuum.  Even the slightest vibration disturbs and propagates through airwaves enough to defeat silence.  But this is not a science lesson.

And while there is no sound in all the vast reaches of outer space, there is a lot of sound about space; it even has its own sub-genre if you wanna get picky about it (see Space Rock). And despite being a completely silent place itself, we are so intrigued by this unknown world that we have created sonic representations of how we imagine the galaxies to sound.

Any unknown, whether it be a person, place, etc., makes the best theme for a piece of music because there are no boundaries; it’s not something that everyone knows, has seen, experienced or can define.  It leaves itself open to for the utmost personal interpretation and does not limit creativity with harsh reality or preconceived ideas.  Space, to some degree, represents and defines the limits of our human understanding: we describe something/someone out-there as spacey; we space out when not paying attention.  Anything beyond the boundaries of normalcy must be from outer space.

While all music can be an escape from everyday life, there are certain compositions that offer an even farther refuge from this world…one Beyond the Infinite.

So what does rock and roll sound like in space.   It varies slightly depending on which artist you ask, but generally speaking HUGE.  It appears there are few subtleties amongst the stars.  Large, sustaining notes that stretch far into the stars; unlimited reverberations and echoes of sound from a distant planet; an intoxicating, lush swirl of sound; droning loud & distorted tones; a sputtering sequence of synthetic and alien bleeps and blurts.

Each of the instruments used to create this cosmic symphony serves a purpose: the percussion propels the listener’s vessel into deep space like a steady rocket; you feel the pulse of the bass and sub-low frequencies as you climb farther into darkness and then, you see the vivid and colorful guitar and vocal tones and textures of melody and harmony, like the bright astral bodies that litter the galaxies and pass by you on your interstellar voyage.

Pink Floyd, while speeding through the cosmos in Interstellar Overdrive, decided to Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun and took a few albums to come back to self-reflective reality here on Earth.  ‘Surely’, said Hawkwind, ‘Space is Deep‘ as they rode along in their Silver Machine until they heard Earth Calling.  Blue Oyster Cult is another well-versed student of Astronomy.  Even Black Sabbath have travelled Into the Void and beyond to Planet Caravan.

It’s liberating to listen to these sounds and mental place oneself outside the world as we know it; to carry only your imagination with you and be transported from reality.  I doubt that any record made about the confining atmosphere and gravity of Earth would be nearly as exciting.

Put on something ‘spacey’ (preferably on vinyl so that you can hear the hiss and pops), turn off the lights (lava lamps can stay on) and climb aboard.

-George

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February 21, 2010

The Doctor Will See You Now

by daverj

Last night I finished watching a 2005 BBC show “Doctor Who: Series 1“.  That title that struck me funny in two ways: the first being called “Series 1” because this 2005 incarnation was, in fact the 27th season of a show that dates back to 1963.  The second thing that amuses me about the title “Doctor Who” is, here in America, the reaction you might get when mentioning this science fiction series…”Who??”

So this got me thinking about the popularity and respectability of science fiction in the U.S. of A.

This is where it all began.

Science fiction has certainly gained a broader audience in the past couple decades.  What was once reserved for Saturday morning b-movies, childhood comic books, and incomprehensibly complex paperback novels evolved into mass market.  While many thank the 1966 TV show Star Trek as the beginning of mass acceptance of sci-fi in this country, I think it could be argued that the true turning point for science-fiction-as-popular-entertainment was in 1977 when George Lucas took us to that galaxy far, far away…. The reason was simple: this happened at the movies.  With Star Wars, Lucas didn’t dwell on the silly campiness of Gene Roddenberry’s TV show, and removed the too-serious or confusing statements of 2001: A Space Odyssey.  He just had a fantasy action-adventure with fun yet identifiable characters.  Crowds lined up at the box office, and Hollywood took notice, honoring the movie with a Best Picture Oscar nomination.

That same year, Steven Spielberg continued the popularization of science fiction with Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  Everyone, young and old, nerd and non, wanted to go with Richard Dreyfuss on his amazing journey into the musical space ship to meet alien life forms.  And it didn’t stop in ’77 – through the 1980s, the Lucas/Spielberg combo continued to draw in huge audiences with the Star Wars sequels and ET, the later also being nominated for the Best Picture.  That same decade a young James Cameron carried on the box-office boffo with the low-budget The Terminator, followed by the big-budget Aliens, both elevating audiences’ expectations of stories about other beings and/or worlds.

At the start of the 90s, Cameron continued to blow all box-office expectations with his sequel Terminator 2: Judgment Day, once again gaining a huge American audience with a story of time-traveling robots. The following year was Spielberg’s return to form with Jurassic Park – not really hard-core “robot-and-laser” science fiction, but still geeky, popular and very successful.  Sci-fi seemed like an unstoppable force in American cinema.

…but then, nothing.

Ka-BOOM!

Science Fiction didn’t disappear from American cinema as the 21st century approached, but the popularity certainly leveled — and the quality dropped.  For every Matrix or Fifth Element, there were plenty of duds, or at least less popular attempts.  James Cameron seemed to abandon sci-fi with True Lies and Titanic, Lucas’ continuation of the Star Wars “prequel trilogy” left many underwhelmed,  and Spielberg’s science-fiction attempts ranged from bad (The Lost World: Jurassic Park, later War of the Worlds and Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull) to mixed (A.I., Minority Report).

It only got worse for sci-fi in 2000 and beyond.  As the calendar approached 2001, the particular year that was supposed to be “the future” if we were to believe Arthur C. Clark, science fiction was on the way out of the theaters.  Did the attack on 9/11 sober up mainstream America and push “silly” science fiction stories back to the domain of the nerd?  Unlikely – a better explanation is that tastes changed, and movie fans in this country traded in the spaceships and lasers of sci-fi for the dragons and magic wands of fantasy movies like The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, or the rise of popular superhero movies like Spiderman, Batman and X-men.

Back to TV

That’s not to say quality sci-fi wasn’t around in the ’00s, it just moved back to TV.  One shining example came in 2004: Battlestar Galactica, a updated version of a 1978 TV show that was spawned from the popularity of the original 1977 Star Wars. (See where I went with that?)  Yet, even though “BSG” was a quality science-fiction TV show and had many fans, being on TV limited it from reaching the mass mainstream.  It was looking like this was the decade where science-fiction stories were forced to return to the smaller roots of comic-books, pulp novels, TV, and the new video-game medium.

But in the midst of sci-fi’s rise and fall of popularity in American theaters — the Star Treks, Star Wars, Terminators, et al… England had a delightful gem of sci-fi television.

Mostly unknown in America, yet popular culture across the pond, Doctor Who (the title character is actually identified simply as “The Doctor” – the “Who” part is a running gag of the mysterious last name) was successful enough to spawn over 750 episodes of the show!  And judging from the 13 I have just watched, it has everything popular science fiction should have: engaging characters that George Lucas would love, alternate pasts, presents, and futures that would intrigue Steven Spielberg, and the show’s best element — time-traveling aliens called the Daleks that could EXTERMINATE James Cameron’s version.

Take THAT, Governator!

Please don’t get the point of this blog wrong — I have no illusions of Doctor Who becoming the next blockbuster in the United States. If this quirky show is not mainstream in America after almost 50 years, it probably will never be.  It’s silly, campy, and very British.  My Yankee ears had, on occasional, a hard time with the accents and references.  And the special effects (very important in popular sci-fi), even for 2005, look terribly cheap and fake compared to that same year’s Battlestar Galactica.  But I think that’s the point… it IS silly.  And charming.  And the characters are the purest, human, most accessible science fiction personalities I’ve seen since…well, that galaxy far, far away.

Let's bring this back around!

So now it’s 2010, and James Cameron has brought sci-fi back to big screen with a love story between Pocohontas a blue alien and John J. Dunbar a soldier fighting the military for control of spice valuable mineral.  Good for him for bringing science fiction back to the masses, and once again Americans are heading to the theater in droves to watch science fiction.  Hollywood also seems to be welcoming sci-fi’s return — Avatar, along with the superior District 9, have both been considered “Best Picture” nominees for this year’ Oscars.

So after a decade-long slump, the future for theatrical Hollywood sci-fi is looking good again for 2010 and beyond.  And maybe James Cameron’s story, like George Lucas and Steven Spielberg before him, might bring a slightly wider audience to other, non-theatrical science fiction.  Hopefully some of that new audience might pop on the telly and check out the silly, heartfelt, and very British gem Doctor Who.  Flatulent aliens, time-traveling spaceships, zombies, ghosts, and evil over-sized salt-shakers yelling “EX-TERM-IN-ATE” await them!

“Doctor Who Series 1” is available on DVD and streaming via Netflix.

-DaverJ

February 20, 2010

Watermelon exploding – Single shot

by John
February 16, 2010

1000 Frames Per Second – Episode 2

by John

Blowing up watermelons, a canon and weedeating in super-slow motion.

Email your requests to 1000framespersecond@gmail.com

February 12, 2010

1 Million Strong For Same-Sex Marriage Throughout The Entire United States

by bmiller445

I can already see the beads of sweat forming on John’s forehead as he signs onto the site this morning and sees the title of my post. Well, don’t worry John I’m not about to be insensitive. I am actually about to be so sensitive it’s gay.

The facebook group “1 Million Strong For Same-Sex Marriage Throughout The Entire United States”  has been growing in popularity extremely fast and I just wanted to comment on how I thought it was a sign of more accepting times in America. It may seem trivial that a facebook site can grow quickly, but you have to realize that the people joining are tomorrows leaders and voters, oppose to a myspace page where the members would be tomorrows meth addicts and strippers. (hehe suck it myspace)

I looked at this fan page and thought about all the positive change that would come from it one day, how equal rights would be spread to a new group of people. I swelled with pride as I realized that the documents my government was based on would be able to adapt to a changing society in an effort to be more accepting and inclusive, and then I found other fan pages that gave me the same sense of pride. (Really I just did a search for rights and this is the entertaining non preachy part of today’s post)

Zombie Rights: Zombies Want Brains Equal Rights

Zombie Rights!

This is a pretty decent cause. I know I give the brain eating undead a hard time, but I mean this one is wearing a suit and seem to have a different goal in mind than eating my brains. It does kinda concern me that he looks like he recycled an old sign that promoted brain eating, but if he can grow up and change maybe, just maybe I can too.

The Right to Arm Bears: First Hitler took the Bear’s guns, then he took Poland.

The Right To Arm Bears! It’s not only our 2nd amendment right it’s our responsibility. Let me tell you something about Armed Bears, they are all that stands between us and the government. That is a hairy, angry, teethy line protecting us and our individual freedoms and I thank God every morning I wake up that it’s there. You can take guns away from bears when you pry them from my cold dead hands. That’s right I am holding a Bear that is holding a loaded 1911A1 Nazi killing Colt .45.

While the second half of this post got a little strange the top half really is something I am glad to see happening. We all share this country, we all work together to make it a great place to live, and we all deserve the same rights and privileges as our fellow citizens. So, if you want to join “1 Million Strong For Same-Sex Marriage Throughout The Entire United States” you can go to this link and I put the link to the others pages up there as well because I think they are important too.

Billy

February 10, 2010

“This thing really boogies!”

by George

The Mark series of amplifiers has been the jewel in Mesa/Boogie’s crown ever since its inception in the 70s.  Starting with the Mark I and continuing until the present, these amplifiers are known for their vast sonic capabilities and their almost endless supply of creative mojo.

This line of amps, in all its many incarnations, has not only been utilized to create the tones heard on many landmark records, it has been, in part, one of the creative forces to shape them.  Listen to Carlos Santana’s singing and smooth lead tone from the MkI on his Abraxas record.  Or delve into the MkIIC+ on Master of Puppets; a mighty sound that became the standard in defining the absolute fastest, tightest distorted guitar tone ever obtained by man.

In it’s two latest incarnations, the Mark series amps have been the last word on tonal versatility and for this reason, it has mainly been championed as a studio player’s amp.   No matter what session you’re working on, these were easy choices as go-to amps for their flexibility and quality of tone.

Now, on to the Mark V…

I’m reviewing the 112 combo, which looks small but sounds like this…

At first glance, you will either become flustered and giddy like a schoolgirl, or immediately annoyed and unsure of yourself as a person.  This is because the front panel of the MkV has no less than 35 controls…on the front!  In comparison to most amps, this is insane and seems most unnecessary.  Ahh, but the rewards of mastering these controls are sweet; if you are brave enough to travel through the labyrinth of knobs, switches and sliders there is a world of tone waiting to be discovered and, dare I say, created.

Like most modern amplifiers, the layout of the MkV is divided into three channels, each covering a different tone range.  Typically, moving up each channel provides an increase in gain and tonal extremes, but that is the wrong way to look at this amp.  Generally speaking this is true, but perhaps a better way to think about the three channels is more like tonal ballparks, each having their own unique range of gain.  Each channel has three ‘modes’ that alter the impact of the basic controls (master volume, gain, presence, treble, mid & bass) over the sound; for example, within the same channel, increasing the bass in one mode may add punch and girth, but in another, result in a flabby, un-controlled tone.  Also selectable by channel is the power rating (10, 45 or 90 watts per channel).  Dropping the wattage can quickly overdrive the amp and yield some sweet and crunchy rock tones.

This all goes, finally, to the graphic equalizer (if you don’t know what that is, look to your left), which lets you fine tune your sound by boosting/cutting select frequencies.  Applying the classic V here yields the signature high-gain sounds of some of the most iconic rock music in history.  If you don’t want to custom tailor the shape of the gEQ, you can set a preset amount of V to be used with a preset knob unique to each channel.  All of this is footswitchable, of course.

So no one gets lost, here’s a more visual layout:

  • Channel
    • 3 Modes
    • Power Selection
  • Graphic EQ

The back panel is mostly boring, so we’ll skip that.  The only features back there worth mentioning are the Reverb control, which allows you to set different levels of shimmer and spank on each channel individually, and the effects loop, which allows you to insert effect pedals/processors before the amp’s power section.

The footswitch for this monster of tone is the size of a small barge and controls channel switching, reverb, EQ, a sound mute for tuning, the effects loop and a solo boost (a volume boost used for when it’s time to melt faces!!)

Next post, we’ll set sail on the sea of ROCK!!!!

Cheers,

George

February 9, 2010

Weekend Job

by bmiller445

I am poor. Not eat cat food poor, but more eat a lot of hot dogs and macaroni poor. I remember my parents used to tell stories about how poor they were when they first got married and I though “glad I won’t be poor like that.” Well little Billy, turns out you were a dumb arrogant little shit. So here I am just married, trudging away at my career at the bottom of the ladder and considering applying for a weekend job at Best Buy. When I’m older I’ll say “Kids when your Mother and I got married I had to work a second job at Best Buy on the weekends.” I’ll then kiss their creepy red heads and hopefully not head off to my weekend Best Buy job.

I think this could be entertaining though. I’m getting this job to pay off my credit card and car so that one day I can have adult things, like a house and those creepy red headed children. Opposed  to adult things like a credit card bill and a car payment. So, this second job isn’t a necessity simply a means to more quickly reach an end. It will be a job with no pressure and I have envisioned several scenarios as to how that can play out. (I have now copied the word “scenario” so spell check doesn’t yell at me every time I write it.)

Scenario 1: Zombie Attack

I always make sure I factor this scenario in first to every new situation I am presented with, it’s not if it’s going to happen, it’s when. I think Best Buy would be a pretty solid place to hold up. Sure there is the glass store front, but that usually stops zombies well enough, but allows the more selfless and courageous of the group to drive the bus through that will get you to the docks. Also there is plenty of entertainment so long as we have power and I imagine that would hold out for a few days, maybe a week and after it goes out I’ll turn to Marty the Martyr and send him out to get the bus. I think shotguns are standard issue for the Geek Squad guys too.

Scenario 2: The Deliverer of Knowledge

I’ll tell the employees what boobs feel like (jello eggs, remember those?)and become their king. They lift me up on high for granting them this knowledge more precious than that of fire. They will callme Billymetheus, write epic poems about me, and build temples in my reverence out of DVDs and Xboxes. Unfortunately this scenario ends with me being bound to a ping pong table forced to do power hours to bad 80s music and destroy my liver, only for it to soften at the beginning of the next hour and when ritual starts again.

Scenario 3: Hard Work and a Friendly attitude

I haven’t really thought this one through a lot as I figure the first two are much more likely.

Well maybe I’ll get the job and my post will stop being only vaguely related to technology and will actually be related to technology, I’ll truly earn the top billing that John randomly gave me when he created this site. I’ll write about things like microwaves, TVs, and cell thingies. I’ll have list and reviews comparing all these, and not microwaves to microwaves like John and the others do, but really to each other. You’ll finally get to compare microwave and cell thingies side by side and make an informed decision as to which you should purchase. (Spoiler: it depends what you want to do microwaves for cooking, cells for sexting.)

Billy

February 9, 2010

New Macbook Pro, The 9 Apps I need … and why.

by John

The time, January 29, 2010. 1am.
The place, my house.
After an evening of importing and exporting quicktime.  My 3 year old Macbook pro kicked the bucket.  The logic board burned out on it and I either pay $1078 to fix an old machine or i buy a brand new one.  What do I do?

I buy a new one.

My hard drive on my old machine was fine but I wanted a clean install.  My music and pictures were safe from harm.  I restored those, but now what?  Well, I start with the browser…Firefox. Chrome. Safari.
I use all three,  I’ll be honest, firefox was my first download.  Then followed by Chrome.  They are both very speedy but there are still some pages that don’t work in chrome and I still enjoy many of my Firefox Add-ons.  I will go into more specifics about each browser in a future post.  Click above to try an alternate if you’d like.

Toast Titanium
I work with alot of video content, Quicktime files, DVDs, VHS, BETA, you name it!  Once of the things I need to do once a week or so is burn a DVD without menus.  Nothing is easier than toast.  Ripping, authoring, copying.  You name it.

I’ve been using Google docs recently but I still need Microsoft Office suite installed just in-cae something doesn’t work right in Google.

Mac OSX 10.6 (Snow leopard) ships with Quicktime X.  Quicktime X makes trimming and exporting to an iPhone or youtube really easy.  One thing I can’t do is convert video files to whatever format I need.  This is something I do alot of.  If you throw your Snow Leopard disc in your Mac and choose “Optinoal installs” you can install Quicktime 7 as an additional program.   It will be located in your utilities folder in Applications.

Adobe Photoshop, resizing images, converting formats, slight image tweaking.  I don’t only install  Photoshop.  I install the entire adobe line of software.  I never know what I’ll need and I want to be able to open anything.  I don’t do graphics composting and/or 3d effects but I have After Effects in-case I need to open a project.  Same goes with Illustrator.

Final Cut Studio.  I’m an Avid editor but when I cut footage at home I do it on Final Cut.  Not to mention sometimes I need to batch export a ton of Quicktimes.  Final Cut is, I think, the easiest the way to accomplish this.

PDAnet for Mac.  My android phone is great on the web but sometimes I need a laptop with full web browser to surf the net.  (How-To here) PDAnet works by tethering my Android device to my Macbook Pro via Bluetooth or USB.  Works great, check it out.

Tweetie –  Is a nice small and simple Twitter client.  It gives you everything you need in a basic Twitter program and it is a small window.

Lastly, DeskLickr.  This is an app that runs in the background and it sets nice hi-res images from Flickr as your desktop background.  You can see the source (or not).  It will load when you start up, if you tell it to.  And it has a history so you can always go back to that really nice looking Extreme close-up image of the snow melting.

Ok, I know I said nine applications and this is more than nine… sorry.

Questions? Comments? let me know.

Johnny

February 3, 2010

For real time

by bmiller445

Last Night I was in For-Real-Time watching LOST. I sat in front of my television with no buffer built up on the TIVO and as things would happen before the commercial break I would look at my wife and say “For Real?”. We haven’t watched real time TV for any lengthy period of time in almost 3 years and it was great. We talk about the show during commercials, ran to the bathroom to get back before the show started, and watched live as the world of LOST confused us for 3 straight hours. This is how Television should be. (sometimes) It was great to be so into a story I didn’t want to step away from it and the added bonus of hearing my TIVO gong at me as I impatiently tried to fast forward only made the moment that much more exciting. It was a flashback to a simpler time ruined by terrorist and reality TV, but I repeat myself. I have decided that lost will be watched in real time come hell or high water. It is 1998 again and I will rush home from whatever I am doing watch a TV show. I can only think of a few scenarios that may prevent me from getting home on time:

Death
Loss of my legs
I’m in the middle of brain surgery (getting or performing)
Death in the family (only my own)
Zombie, Nazi, or alien invasion
Becoming trapped on a mystical island (that one would be a push)

This is a pledge to watch TV in its most pure form, with commercials telling me what to buy, pee breaks with no time for poo, and conversation with other people in the room. People will sing songs about this one day.

Billy

February 2, 2010

Playing Covers

by George

Sure…you buy an album (record, cd, download, whatever you call it) primarily for the sonic content held therein (I opted not to say ‘music’ so as not to offend anyone on either side of the “you call that music?!” argument).  But one of the most vivid and memorable aspects of an album can be the artwork.  Whether on the cover or inside the booklet/gatefold, many would agree that a deeper appreciation for a record is possible with the right artwork.

You may not remember the title of every song on Dark Side of the Moon, but you immediately think of the prism and refracting light against a black background. You may not even know the names of all the Beatles (and shame on you if that’s true) but you can pick out the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band from a mile away.  These covers represent one sensory medium with another: masterful sound through iconic imagery.

This is especially true with a concept album – think of almost any rock album made in the 70s that explores the concepts of dystopian visions of the future, the ills of society or the spectrum of human emotion.  These are all topics that artists have explored on some great concept albums.  And along with these thematic musical statements, we are often presented with bold visual artwork.  Yes (the band) are a prime example…the same degree of complexity and epic nature of their songs is paralleled on the other-worldly covers of their albums (thanks to artist Roger Dean).

I’m so drawn to cool artwork that I’ve contemplated buying many a record based on the fact that the album cover is so hypnotic…which I do not advise on principle alone.  It’s beautiful idea though, isn’t it?  The complete package…you sit in front of your stereo, listening a record, looking through the artwork, absorbing every molecule of magic held within that physical material of wax, plastic and paper.

But think, for a minute…the attraction and association of artwork to a piece of music is an interesting concept.  What if the Stones swapped album covers on Beggars Banquet and Exile on Main St.?  Or if Zep put the cover of Houses of the Holy on Led Zeppelin 2?  Would these records sound any less powerful?  Would they be any less revered and influential?

That last paragraph was a lot of questions, I know.  Go put on your favorite record, look at the artwork and get back to me.

-George

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