Blog Archive for February 2009

The Derek Webb Shirt

This is a shirt that I got at a show just two and a half blocks from my house. Of course, it wasn't just because the show was that close that I went, it was also because I've been a big fan of Derek Webb for much longer than that. It's dark red and has a rather weird design on the front top left of the shirt, like this:

Derek Webb Ringing Bell T-Shirt Photo

The artwork has Derek Webb's name and a bunch of black sleeves pointing to a target next to his name.  Also, in black lettering, it also says "The Ringing Bell" under his name, which is the name of his latest album.  The shirt is based on the album artwork for The Ringing Bell which was designed by Portland Studios and pictured below:

Derek Webb The Rinigng Bell Album Art

Wait, no, that's the album cover, but the shirt is based on the cover of the graphic novel that Portland Studios made based on the lyrics of the album.  It's a fun interpretation of the content of the album, and here's that cover:

Derek Webb The Ringing Bell Graphic Novel Cover

Derek Webb has spent many years as part of the band Caedmon's Call, although he did not often write many of the popular songs that were on Christian radio. In the early 2000s Derek left Caedmon's Call to start his own solo career, and he came out with guns blazing. She Must And Shall Go Free was a plea to the church to stop in-fighting and begin to be the church that Jesus called it to be. I See Things Upside Down, his second album, is probably my favorite because it is filled with big production values and lots of electric guitar licks, although many die-hard Caedmon's fans didn't like this style. He got back to the acoustic guitar-based songs and put in a more political bent in on Mockingbird. The Ringing Bell is one of my favorites as well, as more electric romps are included and it's a little more whymsical at parts.

So, back to this concert. In fall 2007, Derek Webb and his wife, artist Sandra McCracken, did a short tour of the U.S. with a couple artists to fill out a band. I don't know who booked the Varsity Theater down the street, but I knew I wanted to catch Derek with a band, because I love his sound compared to his acoustic sound. I know he doesn't tour with a band often, so I had to catch it. Thankfully, it was on a Sunday evening with not much going on for me, so I went. It was a great time, Derek played lots of my rock 'n' roll favorites, and I got this T-shirt and the Sandra McCracken albums I didn't already have. I loved how Sandra, after her opening set, had to go back to the bus to make sure their 4-month-old baby was sleeping or taken care of and then came back to play keyboards later in Derek's set. It was great to see an artist that I enjoyed appearing at the local concert hall, and a lot of people came out to see the show. Ohh, and after that I went to the Chatterbox Pub in St. Paul with some friends for the first time, although they didn't go to the concert.

If you'd like to check out Derek's music, you can use this NoiseTrade widget. And by clicking through to the NoiseTrade site, you can even download the album for free, given that you tell your friends about it.


iTunes Podcast FAIL

So, I'm not sure if this is the fault of Apple's iTunes or the makers of all the news podcasts, but I'm sure each are at least partially to blame. You see, last night President Obama spoke and I want to watch it on the train to work tomorrow.

First, let me say that when the debates and the inagauration took place, I had no problem finding video of it later in the day or the next morning on iTunes' Podcast area. In fact, on a couple, I already had the feed on my iTunes and it just started coming in. But now, 24 hours after Obama spoke to a joint session of Congress, I can't find a video version to easily load onto my iPod.

iTunes is definitely to blame on at least one count. The browsing of the iTunes Podcast area is abysmal at best and unusable at worst. You can find the top things and the ones featured, but you've got no good ways to browse other things. And don't think the search box is going to help you much, because every time you type in a search it searches the whole iTunes Store and you get all this other crap until you click to say, "I want only podcasts, you stupid program! That's why I was browsing in the Podcasts section!" Even then, searching for "Obama address Congress" in the search box give you nothing but one radio station's commentary on it. If you broaden it to "Obama address" you get a couple top podcasts that do feature Obama giving an address, but this gets me to my next point.

First, Barack Obama's White House administration does have their own podcast, and the weekly radio address is well-presented via this podcast in both video or audio formats. I definitely am subscribed to this podcast, although I recommend doing your research afterwords through other news sources, because even if he's the President, you can't really take his word on everything. Second, ABC News offers the next best thing: a podcast with the exact same stuff that they host and deliver. I like that they did put the address in audio form in their audio version of the podcast, but I want video! Their video version of the weekly address podcast has no such item. For the debates, other podcasts such as Anderson Cooper 360 also put the videos in their podcast feed, but none of them are offering it up this time.

The web-savvy crowd at my blog may say, "But Dan, it's an hour long! That's a big file and that's lots of badwidth!" Yeah, you're right, but that didn't stop them for the Inaguration address or any of the debates. In fact, the debates were longer but they were done in great video quality that was easy to load on your iPhone. Plus, if you want, throw an advertisement or two in there, I'll watch it if it's interesting or is only 30 seconds long. Then, there's the others who will say, "Dan, I already watched all of it on Hulu." Yeah, I know, but I can't load that video into my iPhone for my daily commute. Then, as TJ said, I could try loading it up via YouTube on my iPhone, but I like being able to see Obama if I'm going to watch the video, and the only that the YouTube video quality on the iPhone is good for is videos of a cat on the Roomba. Plus, when I hit the tunnel under the airport then the streaming video will just stop playing, probably, and that's no fun.

Hopefully, in the next couple hours, a solution will appear. If they do, don't let any tech person from the major network that put it out say it takes over a day to encode a video for the iPod, because it doesn't. Otherwise, I may just have to stay uninformed for the rest of my life. Or, worse yet, I'll have to read a transcript.

Dollhouse: Hipster or Creeper Sci-Fi?

First, let me preface this post with some information about my television watching habits. I've never owned a TV in the almost 9 years since I moved out of my parent's house. Most of that time, there hasn't even been a TV set in the house, although for a year or two a roommate had a TV tuner card for his PC. For a couple months I had cable with all the trimming, and all I really watched was reruns of Seinfeld, The Simpsons, and Cosby while making lunch or dinner. Oh yeah, and during that short period I watched lots of TechTV and Star Trek: The Next Generation. That was seven years ago. The only TV shows I've watched since then, besides the occasional episode of Charlie Rose or late-night talk shows, is Band of Brothers, Firefly, and Monthy Python's Flying Circus. Oh, and The Colbert Report makes an appearance once in a while, although a lot more this fall before elections. Yes, that's hardly a typical TV watcher, I know.

I like all these shows to an extent, but the only ones I took the time to get fully involved in was Band of Brothers and Firefly. I've watched all of their episodes, but then again, each one only has 10-20 episodes ever. Part of the reason I liked these was that I don't like to commit to TV. The longer the show goes, the less point it ever gets to, from what I hear, and it quickly seems like a waste of your life. (Although, comedy shows are completely different because there's little story arc, but they make us laugh.)

When I was told that Joss Wedon, maker of some of TV's shows with the most cult following and creator of the great sci-fi series Firefly was coming out with a new show, I decided to check it out. After watching the first two episodes, I'm still not sure what to make of it, but it's definitely interesting. It's definitely a science fiction show injected with almost everything I hate about today's world of TV.

The Dollhouse Tech Room with our HeroesThe premise of Dollhouse is that this company has created a method of turning people into a pretty simple, rather blank personality without a care in the world. They live in this utopian place where they have no worries and are waited on by helpful staff to make sure they're in the best condition possible. But from time to time these "blank slates" are programmed with other personalities in order to perform a predetermined job. After the job is performed, the "active", as their creators are call them, has their memory wiped and they think they fell asleep and they go back to their carefree, utopian existence.

This sounds great. It's a great sci-fi premise. It's just a bit past what can probably be done with today's science, but not out of the realm of possibility of the near future, for sure. And, like every sci-fi show, it's exciting to explore the moral and ethical ramifications of humans having the ability to perform these actions. Within the first two episodes, many things are explored and hints at many other things are forthcoming. Joss Whedon is definitely still on his A-game as far as the writing goes.

The characters and cast are definitely set up well. Olivia Williams (Rushmore, The Sixth Sense) plays the head honcho of this Dollhouse operation, calling the shots of which missions should be run, although it's unclear how she gained this post. Harry Lennix (The Matrix Trilogy's Commander Lock) plays Echo's "handler", a highly trained ex-law enforcement man who accompanies the lead "active" on missions and is tasked with making sure the "active" is not hurt or damaged, and he seems a bit unsure of how well this technology all works, I think. There's also a preppy, geeky 20-something programmer that seems to have come up with this technology and is pretty confident in his work. Also, there's an FBI agent who's trying to track down this elusive Dollhouse organization and seems to stay a step or two behind them while the rest of his colleagues is sure he's chasing absolutely nothing.

The problems I have with the show are first, the ethics of he show, if it has any. First, these "actives" live in a commune where they all shower and live together, not sleeping in the same beds, but using the same communal showers. While sleeping, these "actives" are basically locked up in beds recessed below the floor with semi-translucent windows that cover them. None of these beings seem to find this confusing or disturbing but just walk around in a somewhat blank daze. I think this can be overcome, though, because the show is really only exploring this idea, not condoning it. Still, at this point it's very unclear what the show is trying to say about this idea and it may go in the wrong direction. And, lastly, it seems that an "active" can be bought for any reason, and the first and second episode both include parts where the main character is sent on a mission where it only seems that she is hired to be a charming girlfriend, both on the streets and in bed.

Dollhouse's Promo GraphicsAnd this brings me to my other beef, which is the way that this show panders to the mainstream TV crowd. First, the main character has to be a knockout babe who kicks butt at some point in every show. I'm not saying that it can't be a good-looking woman as the main character, but TV shows these days have to always be filled with main characters in which the main character has her shirt off or is wearing almost no clothes at some point, and that should not be the point of a good show. Second, both episodes have shown the main character romantically involved and in bed with another character, which seems to even more emphasize my last point but to an even more disturbing level. Third, every episode seems to be super-intense, such that both 47-minute episodes I watched were more intense than any movie I've seen in the last year. The bad guys in the first episode are a couple kidnappers who are working for a serial child molester. The second episode pits our heroes against a psychopathic outdoorsman who seems to befriend people only to suddenly turn his back and try to murder them as a fun "game". I'll admit, these are some mean bad guys, but why do TV shows have to be so intense? And why are all the bad guys mentally deranged in some way on all the TV shows, when in the movies they seem to be of a higher life form?

All these shortcomings make me long for more Firefly, where Whedon came up with good characters that didn't sell themselves on 30-second commercials for the show but actually had a role to fill and something interesting to talk about. Dollhouse may get to that point someday, but I'm not sure if I'm going to stick around to find out if it will. Still, the show leaves us hanging, as the creators and curators of this Dollhouse seem to be a bit careless and it's obvious that their technology is not yet flawless.


Mars Ill Turntable Shirt

Here's the return of the T-Shirt posts with one of my favorites, my Mars Ill Turntable Shirt:

Mars Ill Turntable Shirt

Mars Ill is my favorite hip-hop group, although fans of GRITS, 50 Cent, and the like may be less than impressed. ManChild and Dust, the emcee and the DJ, respectively, are more closer to classic hip-hop but still have a certain style that's southern and all their own. The shirt features their logo at the bottom and a diagram of a turntable with Japanese annotations on a light brown Tee.

For more information about Mars Ill via an interview a friend and I did as well as a sampling of their independent releases, check out their episode of the Podcast.


Super Bowl Ads: My Favorites

Those are my favorites, in rough order of best to worst. I thought the ads were pretty good this year. Enjoy!