Watching season one on Netflix. I so regret not getting into this show earlier.
For the first time all week, it actually felt like Spring Break today. Too bad it’s back to the day gig tomorrow.
A friend and I took our sons to their first minor league baseball game as the Peoria Chiefs hosted the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers. I’m not a big baseball fan, but kids under 12 get in free on Sundays and our seats behind home plate were only ten bucks, so it’s tough to complain. The boys were excited because they’ve decided they’re St Louis Cardinals fans, and the Cards are the new owners of the Chiefs. Two Chiefs home runs in the first inning ensured we’d have an exciting game, and in the end the Chiefs beat the Timber Rattlers 7-2. After the game, the boys all got to go out to the field and run the bases.
Every year I find a new reason to like Peoria. I grew up near Chicago, and while I do miss a lot about the Windy City, there’s plenty to do in Peoria and it usually costs less. Cheap sports, a couple museums, some sites to visit, a water park and sports complex the kids love, an annual beer fest… all the benefits of the big city without all the traffic.
If only we could just change the Illinois weather.
It was nice to relax and just hang out all day. It was a refreshing change from all the running around I’ve been doing. Even the zoo trip the other day was part of a specific errand, and we didn’t get to stay long. Too bad it’s the last day of Spring Break.
It’s back to the grind on the writing projects, too. On deck this week: final edits on a work-for-hire project; the edits on Lie with the Dead; revisiting a short story; revisiting the Exit Strategy.
I’ve just realized I haven’t been reading much fiction lately, either. Time to correct that with Chuck Palahniuk’s new Kindle Short, Phoenix. Start short, then dive back into novels. I’ve been drowning in non-fiction lately.
Whether we’re talking writing, art, music or filmmaking, word of mouth is key to a creator’s survival. Someone could write the most amazing piece of literature ever put to paper, but it won’t make a lick of difference if only three people read it.
Sure, advertising and marketing help, but they can only go so far. How many over-hyped blockbuster flops have we seen the past several years? Once word gets out the plot sucks, the acting is terrible, and the flick is just plain boring, it doesn’t matter how much money the studio threw at the advertising department.
What needs to happen is those first three people need to tell everyone they know how incredible the creation they just experienced is. Sure, I’ll settle for them telling three more people each, but if you finish the last track on an album and say, “Wow, that was awesome,” then you need to tell everyone. Remember the true meaning of awesome? Something that fills you with awe. Something awe-inspiring, not just, “Yeah, that was pretty good.”
Which brings me to Clutch. They’re not exactly a small band, but it surprises me how few people have heard of them. They have their own label, they tour like crazy, and they get some play on satellite radio, but I have yet to hear them on any terrestrial radio stations. They first came close to mainstream with their “Electric Worry” playing in the background of commercials for the Left 4 Dead game series.
They deserve more exposure. Their songwriting and studio work is damn good, but the awesome part comes during their live shows. These guys kill it on stage. No spectacle or flashy lights and pyro, just some damn fine playing, and most of the time in small, intimate clubs where you can get up close, like so:
I first discovered them when they opened for Pantera fifteen or so years back at Chicago’s Aragon Ballroom. They performed most of their first full-length album, and I distinctly remember “Rock & Roll Outlaw”. Even today it’s one of my favorite tracks, and it’s not unusual to catch my kids singing it. (For a while it was my middle son’s most-requested song in the car.)
I mention Clutch now because they just released a new album, Earth Rocker, last month. You need it. Their work is primarily rock, with their earlier work leaning toward hard rock, but they also have a strong blues influence that comes to the surface from time to time. Take, for example, “Gone Cold” off Earth Rocker:
Love it. Yet you still get their songs influenced by cars and science fiction, like “Crucial Velocity”:
I’m looking forward to hearing these tracks live. They’re going to be playing the House of Blues in Chicago on Friday, April 12th, but it’s not looking like I’ll be able to make it. Fortunately I caught them at a small club in Joliet back in November, so I at least got my fix.
Even if these particular tracks don’t catch your ear, check out some of their other albums. They have a real range to their music, and there’s sure to be something for everyone. In fact, I’ll leave you with another of my favorites, “The Regulator” off of Blast Tyrant.
That may actually sound familiar to some of you. Remember when I said their first flirting with the mainstream was “Electric Worry”? Well, “The Regulator” saw airtime during an episode of The Walking Dead.
Boom. Now it’s clicking.
I’m responsible for the death of Borders and the decline of Barnes & Noble.
That’s right, me, and thousands of others like me who now do most of their reading in digital formats.
Some occasional research aside, I now do all of my reading through the Amazon Kindle app, Apple’s Newsstand, or digital comics apps like comiXology. I’ve gotten tired of the extra clutter on shelves and around the house, and of stacks of books I may or may not actually get around to reading. I like having my entire library available to me on demand at any time, so I can flip from prose to comics to magazines on a whim, and I never feel stuck with a book I’m not enjoying. Shopping for new material is a click away, and clipping a magazine article is a simple matter of grabbing a screen shot and pushing it over to Evernote.
I. Love. It.
I even appreciate simple gimmicks, like interactive ads. Take this one from an issue of MuscleMag, featuring a video:
For a product I’m interested in, I’m absolutely cool with extras like this. If it’s not something I’m interested in, I swipe on by as if I were turning the page on any other ad in a magazine. (One note: if these ever become pop-ups or autoplays, publishers, we’re going to have words.)
I’m waiting for it to be properly taken advantage of in the actual content. I could care less about digital extras in fiction. I’m there for the prose, not the gimmicks. However, things like maps and infographics in newspapers and magazines could be greatly enhanced with multimedia content, just like we’re starting to see in textbook apps in the education world. And have you ever seen some of the convoluted and clumsy explanations for simple movements in sports and fitness magazines? A simple, animated image would be great, and wouldn’t even require full video download. Something like a simple gif would be perfect.
Are there cons to going all digital? Sure. The big ones are the tales of entire Amazon libraries being wiped out, or hackers nuking digital accounts. Fortunately these incidents are few and far between, especially given the millions of Amazon accounts out there. I’m hopeful these are growing pains of the digital transition, and these companies are reviewing and updating policies as these incidents occur.
The rest of the cons, however, are far from insurmountable:
I need the feel of a hardcopy book when I read. I just feel more connected. Even the smell of the book is wonderful!
Get over yourself, precious. Yeah, I felt the same way for a time. Then I realized how much easier it is to hold a Kindle or a tablet. An iPad is a bit heavy if you like to lie down in bed and read, but no heavier than a fat hardback book. The 7″ Nexus—and, presumably, an iPad mini—is very comfortable to hold anywhere. iPod touch? The latest Kindles and Nooks? Cake. And anything with a backlit display means reading in the dark without a goofy book light.
In short: don’t knock it until you try it.
Those digital screens are just too small.
Teachers all said the same thing when I told them they would be getting 13″ MacBooks to work on. Since the MacBooks have been distributed, I have not heard a single complaint.
The problem isn’t screen size, it’s resolution. Digital displays of all sizes are now as sharp and clear as printed content, and their higher contrast makes them even easier to read for some people. A good friend of mine is legally blind and reads print books with his nose two inches from the page, but when I handed him an iPad with the Kindle app and turned it to white text on a black screen, he could read it from what most of us would consider a normal distance.
I used to say my cell phone was too small for long reading. While stuck waiting for something and bored out of my mind, I pulled out my phone and opened the Kindle app. Within just a couple of page turns, I forgot all about the fact I was reading on a tiny screen, and now I hardly know the difference.
And Whispersync saving my page between devices? Gravy.
I can’t read outside!
Again, not as bad as it used to be with anti-glare coatings and brighter displays. This is going to come down to personal preference, but I don’t read outside near enough to make this an issue for me.
I have to worry about battery life!
Poor planning is your problem. Yes, I’ve screwed up with the iPad. I just pick up the cell phone instead. And if you let an e-ink Kindle or Nook die, you clearly aren’t paying attention.
I can’t figure out all these new-fangled devices and all these passwords!
Learn by doing. Ask questions. This problem isn’t about age, it’s about stubbornness.
I’ve gone all digital, and I’m not looking back.
Which then begs the question, do bookstores and libraries still have a place in the digital age?
Yes, they do. But that’s a topic for another post.
This Fall has been insane, but I’m finally getting some breathing room. I reclaimed some time to catch up with some television, and when I found out American Horror Story Season 1 made it to Netflix, I put it near the top of the queue.
I’ve heard a lot of back and forth about the show, but a number of people I trust have really enjoyed it and they sold me on it. It’s also a rare beast: a successful, episodic horror television show on a network which will allow it to play to its strengths and earn an audience rather than strip itself down to appeal to anyone too lazy to change the channel from the previous show.
In the first season, a family purchases a house in Los Angeles. The couple’s marriage is on shaky ground, their daughter has become rebellious and distant, and now the house they’re hoping to establish their last chance in is haunted. So far, fairly standard horror fare, right? Maybe even a bit cliché.
Yet this is where the show shines. No, the haunted house story isn’t new, nor are a number of the tropes sprinkled throughout the season. Rather than trying to surprise us, I think the creators concentrated instead on making these tropes their own. They told a good story with characters I cared about, and I enjoyed the pacing of the show and the way they gave us a little more back story at the beginning of each episode.
In short, they sucked me in. Maybe not on the level I enjoy Justified or Sons of Anarchy, but enough I wanted to know what happens next.
My only beef, in fact, came into play during the season finale. I didn’t dislike the way it ended, but I felt a significant portion of the episode lost the tone of the season. Instead of the constant dread and suspense we were treated to all along, it became fifteen to twenty minutes of black comedy. It made sense for the ending they chose (and the episode did climax on a dark note), but I felt like they may have given the audience the ending they wanted instead of the ending the show may have earned or deserved.
Of course, I have a bias toward a good downer ending. Your mileage may vary.
In the end, I give it a solid four out of five stars. Far better than I expected. Unless you’re a hardcore horror snob, I say give it a shot. If you’re a Netflix or Amazon Prime subscriber, it’s already waiting for you to click. (And no commercials! Bliss.)
I’m also glad to hear Season 2 is starting over with a whole new story. Carrying on the first season would have been a mistake, as the problem with tropes like a haunted house is it doesn’t take long to milk them dry. Season 2, I understand, deals with alien conspiracies, and that should also fit nicely within the confines of a single season without wearing thin (*cough*X-Files*cough*). My biggest decision will be whether to wait until it’s on Netflix or rent it through Amazon when time permits.
The Oliveris had a good Halloween this year. The Rugrats loved the costumes they picked out, and they got to wear them to two Halloween parties and for trick-or-treating. We logged a little over two miles knocking on doors tonight, and this year Little Bird stayed in the lead most of the time. Twice we ran into little kids who got scared of the Rugrats’ costumes, and there were several comments from candy giver outers (it’s a technical term) about their scary costumes.
However, our community fell short for Halloween this year.
This town has set hours for trick-or-treating, and even then kids are only supposed to knock at houses with the porch light on. This year, those houses were fewer and farther between than any year we’ve gone trick-or-treating. Even houses we knew usually participated had their lights off.
We also saw fewer trick-or-treaters out and about. The far side of one street is usually choked with traffic, and there are often cars driving all up and down the streets as parents watch their children or ferry them from block to block. This year? Hardly any traffic at all. We ran into a few small groups of kids, but never did we have to wait in line at some houses for other kids to move on.
In the end, while we did have a good haul of candy, it was around half the size of what we usually get, even in the years we walked shorter routes.
I wish I had an explanation for it. I can’t imagine it’s a religious objection, as it’s never been a problem in the past (at least, not a big one). The economy? Candy’s not that expensive. I suppose it could be an activity at the school, but we generally work around holidays (and even then, it would only affect the high school students). Even the cooler temps and chill breeze haven’t deterred trick-or-treaters in the past.
Whatever the cause, I hope it doesn’t become the norm. Halloween is the one holiday that hasn’t had the fun sucked out of it for one reason or another. The kids and I look forward to visiting the Halloween store for months in advance, and we know we’ll be home to go trick-or-treating.
If I find out in the paper tomorrow that some whackjob is trying to kill Halloween in our community, it’s going to be war.
My karate dojo had its annual haunted house over the weekend, and once again we had a great time putting a scare into people. We warn parents that it may be a little intense for the younger children, but inevitably we’ll get some folks taking four- and five-year-old kids through.
Right off the bat, we try to show them that we’re not playing around:
For such a small haunted house, it strikes a good balance between gruesome scenery and jump-out-at-you thrills. Some of it is very effective, too, getting screams even out of adults who walk through the first half without much jumping.
Of course, then there are the kids screaming “I want out of here!” less than halfway through. Those are our favorite.
My eldest doesn’t go through. His first time through a few years back was enough. Now his imagination makes it much bigger and scarier than it really is. Meanwhile, my middle child walks through unfazed. He loves it. When he gets to my spot, he watches my schtick, then says “hi, Dad,” and moves on.
I’ll have to see about getting my eldest on the inside next year. He’d have a blast with it.