Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A Transcript of All Words Ever Spoken has a neat report showing the growth of the internet over time. They also have a chart explaining the size of various somethingsomething-bytes.

1 petabyte is 1,000 terabytes. 400 Petabytes is supposedly the amount of data contained in "A digital library of all books ever written in any language." Any language?

1 exabyte is 1,000 petabyte. "A transcript of all words ever spoken" would take up 5 exabytes. 100 Exabytes would allow you to store, "A video recording of the all the meetings that took place last year across the world." Transcription sounds pretty efficient.

1 zettabyte is 1,000 exabytes. 66 Zettabytes might contain, "The amount of visual information conveyed from the eyes to the brain of the entire human race in a single year." Hmm, how much of that visual information conveyed the meetings that were recorded and/or transcribed? I guess nanotech brain mites would replace court reporters any time soon. Unless you could compress that information....

 Unfortunately, this part of the table casts some doubt on the rest of it: "150 Exabytes The amount of data that has traversed the Internet since its creation 175 Exabytes The amount of data that will cross the Internet in 2010 alone." Er, time to update your graph Cisco?

 Finally, 1 yottabyte is 1,000 zettabytes and 20 Yottabytes gets you "A holographic snapshot of the earth’s surface." Yes, and "In the Deserts of the West, still today, there are Tattered Ruins of that Map, inhabited by Animals and Beggars; in all the Land there is no other Relic of the Disciplines of Geography." (Suarez Miranda,Viajes devarones prudentes, Libro IV,Cap. XLV, Lerida, 1658)

Monday, May 28, 2012

Robbie Dupree "Steals Away" Michael McDonald's Sound

A funky drum beat. A sparkling keyboard. A bouncy piano riff. You're thinking, "All right, 'What A Fool Believes'! I love Michael McDonald!" There's just one problem: it's not Michael McDonald. It's ... Robbie Dupree.

"Steal Away" is the best Michael McDonald rip-off of all time. It sounds exactly like "What A Fool Believes." But see, the brilliance of it is, it doesn't sound exactly like "What A Fool Believes." Go ahead, name the one melodic element that is directly stolen. You got nothing. And yet, when you listen to it, you know what song it sounds like. Listen to the backing vocals during the bridge (at the 2:08 mark). It even sounds like Michael McDonald is singing backing vocals. It's about as close as you could get to covering a song without actually covering it. It's like those disclaimers at the beginning of bio-pics stating "Based On A True Story." "Steal Away" is "based" on a Michael McDonald song.

According to Wikipedia, "On May 21, 2010 Dupree performed on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon as part of Jimmy's ongoing tribute to Yacht Rock." So wait, not only did Robbie Dupree steal away Michael McDonald's sound, now he's stealing away Michael McDonald's leftover nostalgia residue?

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Yacht Rock Favorites (a.k.a. Soft Rock So Soft It Hurts)

As brilliant as it may have been, the Yacht Rock online video series, to quote the conclusion of my last Yacht Rock post, "only dipped its toes in the vast ocean that is early '80s soft rock." Well friends, it is time to dip those toes back into that sweet, sweet water.

This series is for all the Yacht Rock one-hit wonders, the Yacht Rock also-rans, the bands left over from the '70s who had that one perfect Yacht Rock classic - in short, the artists who really didn't fit neatly into the narrative of the first series.

When cultural commentators wax nostalgic about '80s pop, they tend to talk about New Wave, Synth Pop, Hair Metal, etc. But that wasn't necessarily the '80s I remember. What everyone wants to forget is that a lot of '80s pop consisted of endlessly, shamelessly inoffensive romantic ballads. This was really leftover spillage from the '70s, as record companies took the mellow California singer-songwriter genre and removed all those pesky dark, thoughtful lyrics from it.

The music that J.D. Ryznar and friends affectionately named Yacht Rock has more commonly been going by a label that, for many rock critics, is a somewhat notorious, seemingly oxymoronic one: soft rock. It sounds like a term coined by record company executives to put conservative middle-American listeners at ease. "Want all the catchy, melodic qualities of rock without all that 'energy' and 'rebelliousness'? Then have we got the genre for you." Isn't the very point of rock to not be "soft"? Who in God's name would want their rock to be "soft"?

Five-year-old me, that's who.

But while I think it's safe to say that, just as all rhombi are parallelograms, but not all parallelograms are rhombi, all Yacht Rock is soft rock, but not all soft rock is Yacht Rock. What might the difference be? Well, whereas I think Yacht Rockers may have at least occasionally harbored the vague notion of rocking at some point, there were many soft rockers who just wanted to lull you into their fluffy pillow world. They weren't even trying to rock. "Rocking" may have actually harmed the appeal to their intended target audience. For some of these guys, the wimpier, the better. Their soft rock was so wimpy, it was too wimpy for Yacht Rockers.

So light a candle, pour some wine, and fluff that pillow. It's time for Yacht Rock Favorites (a.k.a. Soft Rock So Soft It Hurts).

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Matthew Wilder Has Strangest Dream, Impressive Mustache, Only Hit

Well, OK, technically not his "only" hit: according to Wikipedia, "The Kid's American" peaked at #33 and "Bouncing Off The Walls" peaked at #52. But if "Break My Stride" wasn't Wilder's only official hit, it certainly was his strangest dream:
Last night I had the strangest dream
I sailed away to China
In a little rowboat to find you
And you said you had to get your laundry cleaned
Didn't want no one to hold you
What does that mean?
Yes, Matthew Wilder, what does that mean? And yet, strange as that dream may have been, it was arguably not as strange as his appearance on Solid Gold. Prepare yourself.

First of all, many viewers have been shocked to discover that Matthew Wilder is not black, Carribean, or female. Then, there is his mustache. It's one hell of a mustache. It is, as one YouTube writer put it, "a mustache you could hang your shirt on." Couple that with the haircut and the wardrobe, and numerous comparisons are apt. In the YouTube comments he has been said to resemble everyone from Mario (of Super Mario Brothers fame) to 'Weird' Al Yankovic. Some others:
if freddy mercury and richard simmons had a child this would be the end result

Is this the white equivalent of Lionel Richie?!?

He's like Yanni's gay brother.

Dude! Ron Jeremy can SING!!

feminine gerri curled robin williams

it's like Gene Shalit and Geraldo had a love child
Then there is the "Chapman Stick." Apparently one of the musicians is playing an instrument known as a "Chapman Stick."

A Chapman Stick is like a guitar that is only the fret, but you play it more like a keyboard (!). This, ladies and gentlemen, is clearly what modern music has been missing.

Another YouTube commentator asks, "How many keyboards do you need?" Someone else expands on this dilemma:
conversation had by this band:
Matthew Wilder: maybe we should add 2 more keyboard players?
Keyboard Player 1: but we already have 3 keyboard players, including you
Keyboard Player 2: yea what would they do?
Matthew Wilder: one would play keyboard, and the other one would pretend to play keyboard just like all of us do
Keyboard Players: then yea, definitely, sounds awesome
Some final thoughts from our YouTube friends:
Every generation a new artist comes along who personifies and defines the bad ass spirit of rock and roll... Jim Morrison, Axl Rose, Liam Gallagher and... Mathew Wilder

It takes a really talented songwriter to make the rhyme "rocky" and "cocky" work.

I like the part where he keeps on moving

1. White guy?! - check 2. WITH gerri curls?! - check 3. AND leather pants?! - check 4. AND zipper shirt?! - check 5. AND "Cruising" moustache?! - check 5. AND cheesy Solid Gold Dancers in green lame sparkle spandex literally interpreting lyrics?! ("Running so fast" Okay, everyone run in place) - check 6. AND side guitarist with carefully shaved 6 o-clock shadow beard?! - check 7. AND a Chapman Stick player?! - check 8. AND Simmons electronic drum kit?! - check
Sure, you're laughing now, but in the end it was Wilder who had the last laugh, as he later stepped behind the recording console to produce No Doubt's Tragic Kingdom, which sold about 20 zillion copies. Suffice to say, he can probably sail to China any damn time he pleases. Wikipedia adds that he has since produced acts such as Christina Aguilera, Kelly Clarkson, and Miley Cyrus.

Perhaps Matthew Wilder's stride wasn't so "a-broken" after all, eh?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

You Should Hear How Melissa Manchester Talks About Her Biggest Hit

Melissa Manchester was primarily a torch singer in the Streisand mold, with Adult Contemporary hits such as "Midnight Blue" and "Don't Cry Out Loud." She also co-wrote the Yacht Rock classic "Whenever I Call You Friend" with Kenny Loggins. I mean, who needs Michael McDonald?

But in 1982, someone at the record company must have called Manchester into his office and said, "Melissa, baby, we love you but you're just not selling. Try to do something the kids are gonna like, you know? Something they can dance to."

"You Should Hear How She Talks About You," sort of a "She Loves You" for the '80s, peaked at #5 and became her most successful single. But according to Wikipedia, she "had to be dragged kicking and screaming into [the] studio" to record it. I'll bet nobody had to drag her kicking and screaming to the Grammys, where she won Best Female Pop Vocal Performance over Laura Branigan, Olivia Newton-John and Juice Newton! That's like the Holy Trinity of early '80s female pop. She should have won a special Grammy just for beating those three.

Songwriter Peter Brown probably had this song stuck in his head when he wrote Madonna's "Material Girl." Sing the lines "Some boys kiss me, some boys hug me/I think they're OK" to the tune of the chorus and you'll see what I mean. Hey Melissa Manchester, you should hear how Madonna ripped off the song you didn't even like.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Belinda Discovers Her Idol: Iggy Pop (?!)

So, if you had to guess Belinda Carlisle's main musical influence, you might guess, oh I don't know, say the Beach Boys, or Carole King, or maybe Diana Ross, somebody like that. I can tell you who you would probably not guess: Iggy and the Stooges. But you would be mistaken:
I felt like my whole life changed the day I came across the cover of Iggy and the Stooges' Raw Power. Time stopped as I lifted the album from the bin and stared at the cover, a photo of a pale, painfully thin, shirtless guy staring off into the distance. He was hanging onto a standup microphone as if it was preventing him from falling over. The effect was ghoulish, dangerous, frightening, and about a thousand other things all at the same time. I thought, What is this?
I didn't have the money to buy the album. But then someone brought the album to art class and I got to hear "Gimme Danger," "Your Pretty Face Is Going To Hell," "Penetration," "Search and Destroy," and "Death Trip." I looked around and saw that most of the other kids in class were reacting like me: grinning as the raw, sludgy loud music shook the floor, the walls, our desks, our chairs, and our brains.
So, if you're keeping score at home: the woman who sang songs like this...

... claims that the very music that inspired her to become a performer was this:

Draw your own conclusions.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Irene Cara's Hits Achieved More "Fame" Than She Did

"What A Feeling" it must be to know that you had a couple of the hugest soundtrack hits of the '80s, but now, years later, nobody can even "remember your name." Hell, they probably just sit around and mislabel your songs on file-sharing sites as "Donna Summer." But fame can be a fickle mistress, as Irene Cara must know all too well. One day you're nominated for the Best New Artist Grammy (and awarded Most Promising Female Vocalist by Cashbox magazine), the next you're appearing on Season 2 of CMT's reality show Gone Country. Ah, but to taste that moment of glory just once. Live by '80s pop, die by '80s pop.

Cara just didn't take enough of her passion to make it happen, I'm afraid. Yes, you can dance right through your life, but be careful, or you might dance right through your own career prospects. Isn't that right, Giorgio?

Monday, May 7, 2012

Zrbo's Favorite Big Games of 2011

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

When Skyrim was released last year on 11/11/11 I somehow didn't realize how much it would take over my gaming life. Though I had sunk 100+ hours into its predecessor, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, I somehow didn't foresee that I would get just as sucked into this game space.

What Skyrim and The Elder Scrolls series in general does so well is provide a richly detailed world to explore. One can lose themselves for hours just exploring the various countrysides and landscapes. While Oblivion had a more generic Tolkein fantasy aesthetic going for it, with it's green forests, rolling hills, and meandering streams, Skyrim takes its cues from a more Nordic influence. Taking place in the far North of its world, Skyrim offers tall rugged mountains, pine forests covered in snow, people clad in animal skins, the northern ocean shore being essentially an ice shelf. Sharing a similar cold, brutal aesthetic with the currently popular Game of Thrones universe, it seems this is currently the new popular look for fantasy.

Skyrim's world offers a great place to just explore at your whim. Around every corner there's always a new cave, waterfall, stone keep, or village waiting to be discovered. The Elder Scrolls games provide me with a feeling of being a kid like no other game I know. As a kid I used to run around the hills behind my house with some friends. These hills provided not only a great view of the ocean, but loads of interesting geography. There were the hills themselves with wandering cows and a line of trees at the top that seemed so far away, while down in the ravine was the creepy forest that turned into a muddy bog. There was even a secret path through there where someone had layed down a few boards over the muddy water. One time we found a little encampment back in the hills, maybe some homeless people, who knows.

Playing Skyrim reminds me of all these experiences, of just being a kid and exploring the world around me. In an interview game designer Cliff Bleszinksi of Gears of War fame said that Skryim "renewed his sense of nostalgia associated with being in the woods and never knowing what was around the corner. They tie back to his childhood... the most primal of feelings." I couldn't agree more.

Portal 2

The sequel to 2007's amazing, award winning Portal, this sequel had a lot to live up to. The first game was essentially a bonus that came bundled with Half Life 2, but ended up becoming just as big a success. Lasting just over two hours, short enough to be played in one afternoon, Portal provided a physics puzzler combined with a satirical take on lab testing as the player awoke in an elaborate testing facility being guided by the murderous HAL-like "GlaDOS" (Generic Lifelike Disc Operating System). The game was a huge success, helped in part by it's meme-worthy phrase "The cake is a lie" and the amazing end-credits song "Still Alive" sung by GlaDOS herself.

Like I said, Portal 2 had big expectations to live up to, and it mostly succeeded. Now a full fledged game spanning 10 or more hours, Portal 2 not only expands on the depth of its puzzles, but also greatly expands the world of its testing facility by introducing the player to the CEO of the facility Cave Johnson (voiced by J.K. Simmons) and the quirky A.I. pal Wheatley (voiced by Stephen Merchant) as you are guided through the underbelly of the facility.

It largely works, though sometimes the game guides you through the puzzles more than it should. The addition of two-player co-op, with some really ingenious puzzles, is really well done. But the game doesn't quite have the same magic as its predecessor. I think I'll let Justin McElroy (now of The Verge) explain it:

"Portal 2 is outstanding, really, a top-to-bottom success from one of our best developers, and 90 percent of me is completely delighted I got to take the journey. But in the process of falling in love with Portal 2, I lost something kind of magical about Portal 1.

The first Portal wasn't just a great game, it was one that knew when to make its exit, knew how to leave me pining for a future so great that no reality could match up.

It was, in short, a crush."


Deus Ex: Human Revolution
I really wanted to like this game. It did some things well. It captures the feeling of a cyberpunk/Blade Runner future with its neon-hued aesthetics, the core gameplay was fine, and I still think the soundtrack is amazing.

At the end of the day though, it just didn't grab me, and I think I know why. The game began by envisioning a near-future where cybernetics have started to become commonplace. This leads to the interesting ethical dilemma between the haves and the have-nots. If Joe Shmoe can get a cybernetic arm and double his job output, then how is the non-cyber Jane Shmoe supposed to compete? The game raises this neat philisophical dilemma... and then just doesn't do much with it. It's just window dressing. I kept waiting for the game to get back to that question, but it never really did. Oh, and the ending was eerily similar to that of Metal Gear Solid 4.

Gears of War 3 
The gameplay was great, the best of the series. What I didn't like was that with the addition of four players (up from two) the fights devolved into a shooting gallery. The first two games limited you to main character Marcus Fenix (voiced by John DiMaggio, AKA Bender from Futurama) and his buddy Dom. This allowed great gameplay sequences where one player layed down cover while the other moved in and flanked the enemy. Each battle felt like real teamwork. Expanding the cast to four characters watered down the strategy and most fights just became a shooting gallery.

Then there's the ending which not only includes the biggest damn Maguffin of all time, but also ruthlessly denies the player ANY explanation for all the questions they've been wondering. Let me just tell you what happens *spoilers - not like it really matters*: You ignite the magical Maguffin bomb that will kill all the bad guys but leave all the good guys alive (huh?) and then the character who's going to finally explain all those questions you have has a scene that goes like this: "Let me tell you the secret, the secret is... eerk" *drops dead*. Thanks for nothing Cliff Bleszinksi.

Year as a whole:
I spent a good deal of the year going through backlog or playing through games a second time. I also spent a lot of time playing smaller indie games, like Terraria, Bastion, and games from the Pixeljunk series. The best game I played this year by far was Demon's Souls, which came out in 2009, but one that I showered with praise.

This year I'm most hyped for Halo 4, Borderlands 2, and perhaps most of all Bioshock: Infinite (with perhaps the coolest looking demo I've ever seen).

Friday, May 4, 2012

Zrbo's Favorite Songs

Thought I'd start a series discussing a few of my favorite songs. Let's go!

The Sisters of Mercy - Dominion/Mother Russia

AKA- Andrew Eldritch in his Indiana-Jones-meets-Dave-Stewart-from-the-Eurythmics period. For a Sisters of Mercy video they sure went all out, maybe because Jim Steinman was the album's producer. Filmed in the city of Petra in Jordan, this video looks like it's a trailer for some Indiana Jones inspired adventure romp. Why is Patricia Morrison hunting down (blind?) Andrew? What are they looking for in those ruins? And why does Andrew look like Dave Stewart?

Seriously, is this Dave Stewart or Andrew Eldritch?

The video ends right at the beginning of Mother Russia (technically the song is Dominion/Mother Russia, with Dominion just flowing into the latter), which is unfortunate since it has some amazing lyrics (listen to it here):

We serve an old man in a dry season
A lighthouse keeper in the desert sun 
Dreamers of sleepers and white treason
We dream of rain and the history of the gun

There's a lighthouse in the middle of Prussia
A white house in a red square
I'm living in films for the sake of Russia
A kino runner for the DDR

And the fifty two daughters of the revolution
Turn the gold to chrome
Gift nothing to lose
Stuck inside of Memphis with the mobile home sing:

Mother Russia, Mother Russia
Mother Russia rain down, down down

Dave Thomas from AMG writes:

"It is an astonishingly powerful piece, a 12-minute piece that Eldritch confessed disguised an anti-American diatribe flavored by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

For the accompanying video, Eldritch and Morrison traveled to the ancient city of Petra to film amid the ruins, but in an interview with Melody Maker, Eldritch painted the portrait that he truly intended, America "huddled in their mobile homes while Mother Russia rained down on them. They deserve it." Among the song's most pointedly effective lyrics, the Dylan paraphrase "stuck inside of Memphis with the mobile home, sing" has few peers."

Next time: I promise my Big Games of 2011 post will be up soon. No, seriously.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Donna Summer Works Hard ... To Escape The Death Of Disco

Like her former musical partner Giorgio Moroder, Donna Summer refused to let the death of disco kill her own career as well. Instead, she hitched her wagon to the next best thing: Aerobic Rock!

"She Works Hard For The Money" was an even more intense rallying cry for working women than "9 To 5" was:
Twenty-eight years have come and gone
And she's seen a lot of tears
Of the ones who come in
They really seem to need her there
It's a sacrifice working day to day
For little money, just tips for pay
But it's worth it all
To hear them say that they care

Already knows, she's seen her bad times
Already knows, these are the good times
She'll never sell out, she never will
Not for a dollar bill
She works haaaaard
I'll tell you who works hard for the money: Summer's hair stylist. That Jheri curl must have taken weeks to perfect. As one YouTube commentator put it, "She looks like Rick James."