Thursday, January 30, 2020

Return to skating way past my prime

Four years ago I started skateboarding again after stopping for a while. I actually started skateboarding around age 10 but would start and stop quite a bit, many times for several years.

My return lasted a solid three or four months. At first I only skated stationary (for about a month). I was diligent with a daily routine of skating at 5 AM when no one else was at a public park. I used to skate on a handball court that was decently flat. My goal was to land a series of tricks I wrote down and had pinned up on my wall. These included some easier stuff (front 180 ollie, fakie ollie) and some more difficult tricks (for me, at least) were Fakie big spin, and heelflip.

Eventually I rolled my ankle really hard and I also fell really hard (unexpectedly) and my confidence dipped. But, I was able to document this final hurrah of skating by using a Flip cam, and have the clips on a YouTube page, which is cool.

And at one point during the process I felt I wouldn't be able to land the big spin or the heelflip, but I kept pushing through and eventually one day they both clicked. It was a fun time and I definitely gained a new appreciation for skating through this exercise. I'm not sure I can still pop any tricks, but I fool myself into thinking I can still skate every so often. - Mike

Friday, January 17, 2020

Cinnamon Toast Crunch: Churros cereal review

I bought this box of cereal yesterday. I'm 24-hours in, and it's sitting on my kitchen table, beckoning me. "Eat me, Mike!" it's softly calling me.

You might be wondering, "Why did you buy this, and why do you want to eat Churros for breakfast?" The reason is simple. I don't know. I just saw them at the store and figured, hey those look like a fun time.

 For breakfast this morning I had a plain bagel and some donuts already (I think I've had 3, because I honestly can't control myself), so the cereal may have to wait until later today, or tomorrow, but I'm excited. I'll leave it at that until I pop this bad boy open. Let's go!!

When it comes to churros, my personal history with the item isn't exactly incredible. I can't remember a single place I've had a churro at, although I'm sure I've had one, at least once. They're the type of item you buy at places I somewhat loathe, including theme parks and perhaps the mall. I'm not totally opposed to shopping malls, but I haven't been to one (by choice) in probably a decade.

As it pertains to fondness, I'd probably favor a different variety of fried dough, perhaps funnel cake. Yet, a churro-specific memory escapes me, until now at least. At around 11:30 am I dove in.

My inital reaction was, "This tastes like Cap'n'Crunch," but halfway through my inaugural bowl of "Churros" I moved past this cheap comparison. They stand on their own, from their predecessor and namesake Cinnamon Toast Crunch or CTC as I like to refer to them, mostly due to the fact they are puffed with a substantial amount of air at some point during their creation process.

I wouldn't say this cereal is delicious or even memorable. The individual pieces themselves are larger than I expected, and this wasn't a let down. These aren't on the level of "French Toast Crunch" or whatever that version of this cereal line is. These are merely a novelty, and not worthy of devotion, but rather acknowledgement. I salute you Churros, until next time. - Mike

Sunday, January 12, 2020

First impression: Ramones - Too tough to die CD (Remastered)

From the ages of about 15 until 23 I was full of useless information about rock bands. Whether it was band members, record labels (a thing of the past, really), music videos, producers, albums, obscure one-off EPs, I just retained the information.

As I approach middle age I've noticed I've forgotten a lot, but every once in a while I revisit music trivia as an interest. Back in 2016, I became obsessed with learning about The Ramones, based on clips of their documentary "End of the Century."

With the Ramones I was curious about their ability to tour for 20 years and essentially put their entire lives into what some would call a frivolous music pursuit. I had to figure out just how this was practical for the members. Turns out the whole project was funded by a man named Seymour Stein, and without him, they would've likely packed it in after a year or two, forced to earn a living like the rest of us. Yet, they were lucky enough to be "chosen" and alive during an age when the potential for easy piracy wasn't in the pockets of every consumer. Add in their propensity to play live non-stop and a popular T-shirt logo and you can put some of the financial-security pieces together.

As with most bands, there is usually a distinction between live and recorded sound. The Ramones as a live act are impressive. Their ability to rattle off song-after-song is akin to completion of a rigorous physical-fitness challenge. The sound of their studio recordings, however, is less than impressive. The early stuff is amateurish and filled with mistakes that wouldn't have made it anywhere near wax towards the tail-end of the signed-artists era, and the album with their only hit song, "I Wanna Be Sedated" comes across as sterile and lifeless. In terms of fun-fact trivia it's interesting to note "Sedated" became a hit four or five years after it was originally recorded and released. This supports my unrelated thesis on the music video as the best promotional tool for any music act.

It seems to me like The Ramones reached a pinnacle just before they were to record "End of the Century" and because of the fuddy-duddy production on that album, it was truly a "botch-job." The songwriting on "End of the Century" is quite good, but the production ruins any chance of recorded-sound success. Again, it's a textbook botch-job. "I Remember Rock'n'roll Radio" and "Rock'n'roll High School" are amazing songs, just watch or listen to a live performance of them. The studio versions are overproduced and contain wonky and inappropriate guitar and drum sounds. It's a disaster.

I've checked out Johnny's take on it all, and his ranked list of Ramones albums from his book, "Commando" is a helpful guide. I've also read Marky Ramone's autobiography "Punk Rock Blitzkreig" and absorbed his take on everything. Still, I've only been compelled to check out the CD quality of two of their albums: Subterranean Jungle and Too Tough to Die.

Subterranean Jungle is interesting to me because it is the last album with Marky before his past alcoholism caught up with him. It's sort of like a "breaking point" album, and I like the artwork on the front cover. The music found within is pretty good and one particular track really speaks to me, "In The Park" which seems like an obscure Ramones song. The drum sound on the album is less than ideal, but quirky in it's own way.

Too Tough To Die is doubly interesting because Tommy Ramone is listed as a producer along with Ed Stasium (who manned the boards for "I Wanna Be Sedated"), and with Marky out of the picture, we hear the first drum-playing of Richie Ramone. To top it all off, the album features Dee Dee as a performer and writer. Firing on all cylinders, Too Tough to Die is like a second, more powerful pinnacle of the band. The album itself is triumphant beyond its namesake.

After playing through Too Tough to Die a handful of times, I can say it's the best Ramones album I've heard so far, hands down. It makes a lot of their other recorded stuff sound half-baked in comparison. Dee Dee, who is an inventor of punk rock, performs blistering vocals on the album. The songwriting and production are great. There are no dull moments. The music is "full of life." The songwriting is great, and the production is great. It's that simple.

I was also struck by the recorded sound, which features a pleasant and warm compression within the mixes that I haven't heard pulled off nearly as well in other forms of music, but perfectly suits the distorted guitars of the Ramones. The compression itself is used artfully and enhances the listening experience. It sort of acts like a sedative to the loud and choatic arrangements, and provides a uniformity that perfectly straddles the line between chilled out and energetic. To top it all off, Joey goes all out on vocals and doesn't hold back. If you're going to buy a Ramones studio album, this is the one to spend money on. - Mike.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Smart phone detox: Nokia 8110 review

I picked this phone up a while back to detox from using an LG Phoenix smartphone. I had to stop using the smart-phone for one primary reason: it was legitimately hurting my hands. I like to practice guitar and drums and I was suffering from a major bout of "Smart phone claw" or whatever it's called, where I couldn't bend my hands properly and was in pain from using the smart phone for ALL of my web-browsing, and texting

This phone is unique in that it allows for 4G LTE service, on AT&T and works flawlessly. It also allows for two SIM cards to be active at once, both a regular SIM and a smaller "Micro SD." I'm not sure why you'd need two SIMs, or who could even afford such a setup, but if you need that, this phone will work with it.

The phone itself is smaller than you'd think, and therein lies the major issue. Because it's so small, the keypad is almost unusable. The buttons are miniature and don't allow you to text (SMS) effectively whatsoever.

The major plus of this phone is that it's actually comfortable to use and talk with. The 4G LTE service works perfectly and phone-calls sound very clear. It's an interesting sensation to experience a great cell connection on a phone based on technology from a past era. It's actually awesome.

The other major plus is with the ability to tether the 4G signal to create a wireless network. In fact, that's worth the price-tag of the phone, in a sense. I made the decision that the Smart phone was hurting my hands so I just took my SIM out of it and put it into the Nokia 8110. From there I tether my phone's "Pay as you go" 4G LTE Data plan and create a WiFi network from the phone and instead of having "Smart phone claw" I just use a laptop (to connect to the Nokia 8110 WiFi network), like I used to back before Smart phones existed. This way I don't hurt my hands and I limit my usage. If I'm at the coffee shop, or donut shop, I don't spend the entire time on my phone, because this Nokia 8110 doesn't allow for that. Instead I just wait until later on to fire up the laptop if I want to use the Internet. That's the main draw for me.

The phone runs on a new OS called "KaiOS" that is popular in India, and it's decent, but utterly useless compared to what you can do with a Smartphone. In terms of an experiment, I do enjoy using this device as a traditional cell-phone, but in terms of replacing a smart-phone with this, it's not even a comparison. When it comes to mobile phones and how I like to interact with others and also use the Internet in a day-to-day sense, I'm still searching for the perfect handheld device. Until next time. - Mike

Monday, January 6, 2020

Digital audio forking idea

This is a technical idea for digital music I've thought about. I'm not sure if something like this exists already. The concept is simple:

On playback of a digital audio file, let's say the file itself has boolean logic embedded into the bit stream. And, let's go a step further and apply a "randomness" clause within this layer of logic, so that when a person plays back the audio, they will hear a different "comped" take of a particular instrument during a certain portion, for example.

If your guitarist records two takes of a guitar solo and both are great, this idea would allow the digital audio engineer to list both guitar solos as options for playback and even assign ordering options as well (for instance, should the takes be played sequentially, or randomly).

When the digital audio file is exported (or compiled, or "bounced") it will contain all of this boolean-logic information (i.e. set of instructions) for the playback device software to consider upon playback. Let's call our digital audio file a .wavb  file, for wav boolean.

When you playback the wavb file, the playback device would have to be able to process any .wavb-specific markup, i.e. the bit-stream information with the boolean logic and extra audio embedded. I'm not sure whether a specific playback software would even have to be developed. Existing formats may allow for this sort of concept already.

You could potentially create a song (again, digital audio only) that has different takes (i.e. two different guitar solos, or song outros) embedded into the bit-stream, so that the listener hears a slightly different version each time. I'm sure something like this is possible, and with the advancements in storage size, it's potentially even practical at some point. - Mike

Classic VHS Review: Interview with a Vampire

I first heard about this movie when Richard Christy (Howard Stern) talked about it on the radio and how he had a "moment" with ano...