Friday, September 30, 2011

Full-sized Lancer from Gears Of War made of LEGO... and it works too!

A clever dude calling himself PLUM B has pulled off one of the most incredible creations with LEGO that I have ever seen. It's a life-sized Lancer assault rifle, the signature weapon of the Gears of War video games, made entirely out of LEGO bricks and pieces.

And not only that, but it's fully functional too! PLUM B's LEGO Lancer shoots rubber bands. And yes, the chainsaw bayonet even revs-up to make mincemeat out of those pesky Locust grubs and Lambent mutants!

Now if only we could have this sitting on the shelves at Toys R Us in time for Christmas...

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Johnny Cash singing "Ghost Riders in the Sky" on THE MUPPET SHOW

The Man in Black himself performs "Ghost Riders in the Sky" on The Muppet Show. It doesn't get much more awesome than this!

Y'know, Johnny Cash really was the only person in history who could say the word "Hell" on The Muppet Show and get away with it.

John Travolta and Kurt Russell are also time travelers!

Remember two weeks ago when startling photographic evidence came forward via eBay about Nicolas Cage being a time traveler?

Well folks, two other well-known actors have also been spotted traipsing around the Civil War era! First up we have John Travolta...

From the photo's eBay listing (which has mysteriously gone defunct)...

I've had this interesting photograph for years and i've been unable to part with it. When you look at it and into the eyes of the sitter you will see what I mean!

I believe this is the photograph of a very young John Travolta taken around 1860 and I mean ..in the year 1860. This is a ruby glass ambrotype photograph and it is one of a kind. It hasn't been changed, tampered with or altered in anyway. It is clear and is as nice as the day it was taken roughly 151 years ago. I know..you are saying..John Travolta is alive today in 2011 and he doesn't look 151 years old.

For those of you who don't know, John Travolta is a Scientologist and many Scientologists believe in a type of reincarnation. Of course Time travel can't be ruled out as well. This photograph is from approx 1860 and the young man looks to be around 18 to 20 years old. Unfortunately the youngest photos available to the public for comparison of John himself are about 5-8 year older than he is in this photo.

The photograph is a 1\6th plate ambrotype that is housed in a full case. The repaired case has again come apart and could use some tape.

The thing that I always found striking about this photograph and I'm sure that you will too is the amazing identical EYES, HAIRLINE and most importantly John's very unique trademark CHIN. Remember that the antique photograph that you are looking at was taken in 1860 and the sitter is wearing a period hairstyle as well as clothing. I also found it very difficult to photograph. It looks much better in person. Everyone who looks at it tells me that the more they look at it ..the more it 'freaks them out'.

Meanwhile, Kurt Russell has also been located running amok the time-space continuum...

I don't know whether to make a Stargate joke or wisecrack about "Hey Snake, you should be dead!" As of this writing you can still bid for this photograph, a tintype from the 1860-1870 era.

Incidentally, if anyone finds a photograph from the 1940s era that looks a lot like me in Great Britain hanging around SHAEF, just ignore it. It's only a coincidence.

10 warning signs of spiritual abuse (and cult leadership)

Found a very intriguing and insightful post on Mary DeMuth's blog. Titled "Spiritual Abuse: 10 Ways to Spot It", DeMuth writes about her experiences with "churches and ministries that bully".

Here are some of the indicators of spiritual abuse, in whatever form it might take...

- Have a distorted view of respect. They forget the simple adage that respect is earned, not granted. Abusive leaders demand respect without having earned it by good, honest living.

- Demand allegiance as proof of the follower’s allegiance to Christ. It’s either his/her way or no way. And if a follower deviates, he is guilty of deviating from Jesus.

- Use exclusive language. “We’re the only ministry really following Jesus.” “We have all the right theology.” Believe their way of doing things, thinking theologically, or handling ministry and church is the only correct way. Everyone else is wrong, misguided, or stupidly naive.

- Buffer him/herself from criticism by placing people around themselves whose only allegiance is to the leader. Views those who bring up issues as enemies. Those who were once friends/allies swiftly become enemies once a concern is raised. Sometimes these folks are banished, told to be silent, or shamed into submission.

- Hold to outward performance but rejects authentic spirituality. Places burdens on followers to act a certain way, dress an acceptable way, and have an acceptable lifestyle.

- Use exclusivity for allegiance. Followers close to the leader or leaders feel like insiders. Everyone else is on the outside, though they long to be in that inner circle.

I can unfortunately think of any number of people who fit these descriptions plenty. Who fit all of them, even.

Reading over DeMuth's article, I felt led to consider again what it means to be a follower of Christ and what sincere Christian leadership entails. I really have to credit a lot of good people that God put into my life over the years (especially during those first crazy few when I began my walk with Christ) from whom I came to understand a notion that is completely at odds with the ways of the world: namely, that to serve Christ first and to serve others best means to put self last. In fact, the ideal of Christian leadership is that person who not only recognizes that he or she is imperfect, but indeed readily acknowledges that reality. To follow Christ and serve others is to crucify self, as opposed to aggrandizing self.

That is the reason, I have to believe, why the most respected and admired servants of Christ that most come to mind, are also the most humble and selfless. Those are the men and women who daily strive to let self die, so that Christ within them might radiate forth ever more brilliantly. It is the ones who take pains to point to themselves most who in turn point away from Christ.

Anyhoo, it's a great essay by Mary DeMuth, and I felt led to turn y'all's attention to it :-)

An open letter to CNN

Look CNN...

Those are not eight "troops" that have been killed in Afghanistan. A "troop" is a GROUP of soldiers. You do not call one soldier a "troop". One soldier is a "trooper".

And in my opinion it's mighty disrespectful to not say what they really are: those were eight SOLDIERS who were killed. INDIVIDUALS who had hopes and dreams and for whatever their various reasons chose to put those dreams aside so they could serve in the armed forces.

Those who sent them to Afghanistan and other places of meaningless war might be a bunch of asshat bastards but that doesn't mean we have any right or reason to disrespect these individuals, each one as unique and precious a creation of God as any of us are, who made a choice to be a SOLDIER.

In the future please refrain from referring to soldiers as "troops", unless you mean to convey the sense of troops plural, as in groups of groups of soldiers.

Thank you.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Recipe for Chocolate Fondue

It's been way too many moons since I posted a recipe on this blog. Here's one for a chocolate fondue that I made last night for my girlfriend Kristen: a notorious choco-holic! It passed with flying colors with her so I'm gonna assume it's safe for public dissemination :-)

Chocolate Fondue

- 1 and 1/4 cups whole milk
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 4 ounces Ghiradelli 70% Cacao Extra Bittersweet Chocolate baking bar (broken up into pieces)
- 4 ounces Ghiradelli Milk Chocolate Baking Bar (also broken up into pieces)

Pour the milk, vanilla extract and butter into a saucepan. Heat the saucepan on medium and mix well. When it has begun to slightly boil from the heat, remove from the burner and pour in the bittersweet and milk chocolate bar pieces. Keep stirring until the bars are completely melted and the fondue is uniformly brown and smooth (the saucepan can be brought back to heat to facilitate this). Pour the fondue from the saucepan into a fondue pot and keep it warm, not hot (an electrical fondue pot with precise temperature control is excellent for this).

Serve with marshmallows, strawberries, slices of banana, or whatever else strikes your fancy!

Serves 2-4 people.

Dear Governor Perdue: What the hell were you thinking?

Bev Perdue should do the right thing and resign as governor of North Carolina. And I am absolutely serious.

If she intended this as a joke, I don't see how it could possibly have been funny at all. It's too scary enough that Perdue conceived of such an unconstitutional and morally wrong idea, let alone verbally articulated it.

Here's what North Carolina's Worst Governor Ever said yesterday at a meeting of the Rotary Club in nearby Cary...

"I think we ought to suspend, perhaps, elections for Congress for two years and just tell them we won't hold it against them, whatever decisions they make, to just let them help this country recover. I really hope that someone can agree with me on that. You want people who don't worry about the next election."
So Perdue wants to suspend democracy and elections in the name of reigning-in the economy. She said "I really hope that someone can agree with me on that."

Dear Lord, I hope not.

After having listened to the actual audio of Governor Perdue's comments, I'm finding it ever more difficult to believe that this was a suggestion that she was making in jest.

Let's ignore the obvious for a moment: that what Perdue is advocating is nothing short of treason and circumvention of the Constitution by an elected executive in high office and if someone else has a more accurate terminology, I would like to be told of it.

Governor Perdue, the United States is experiencing a very difficult time financially because, in large part, the government has "helped" too much already.

And now you not only want that same government to do more, but be made unaccountable to the voting public as well?

I don't see how anyone who would suggest such a thing should be trusted at all with delegated authority. George W. Bush demonstrated to us that he wasn't fit to be President when he said that he wished he could be "dictator" and just so, Bev Perdue is now demonstrating that she is not fit to be governor of this state.

If she steps aside now, I would have inestimably more respect for the lady. Gauging by what I've been reading so far today, a lot of other people would too.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

"Weird Al" Yankovic makes music history with "Polka Face" video!

Here's the just-released music video for "Polka Face", the medley from "Weird Al" Yankovic's latest album Alpocalypse! And with it, Al has achieved something that to the best of my knowledge has never been done before by any musical performance artist: producing a music video for EVERY track from a single album!

Congrats Al! And the "Polka Face" video is hilarious!! :-)

Monday, September 26, 2011

WING COMMANDER III: HEART OF THE TIGER now being sold on GOG.com!

This is a game that I've been waiting since the autumn of 1994 to play! Seriously. I didn't have a rig powerful enough at the time to justify getting it. And during the past decade and a half the only way to get it was to pay ridiculously high prices on eBay for the Wing Commander: The Kilrathi Saga box set that put the first three games into one package for post-DOS PCs.

It's taken seventeen years. But at long last, I'm gonna see how the Earth-Kilrathi war ends...

Online classic games vendor GOG.com has made Wing Commander III: Heart of the Tiger available for purchase! For $5.99 you get the game as a 1.6 gigabyte download. And if you've never played a Wing Commander game before you can also get Wing Commander I and Wing Commander II: Vengeance of the Kilrathi as one package, also for $5.99. And GOG.com also has "sidequel" Wing Commander: Privateer available as well.

But it's Wing Commander III that has me slobbering like mad tonight. This game was practically an entire full-length motion picture that gave players the chance to determine how the plot played out. The cutscenes used greenscreens and CGI art to create completely virtual sets to tell its galaxy-spanning epic. And then there was the acting talent that was brought aboard for the project: Tom Wilson (aka Biff from the Back To The Future trilogy), John-Rhys Davies (Gimli from The Lord of the Rings trilogy among many other roles), Malcolm McDowell (Alex from A Clockwork Orange) and as main character Christopher Blair, Mark Hamill (who was in a series of art-house movies back in the day, "Star Wars" something or other...).

Probably won't get around to playing it anytime in the foreseeable future: I'm still coming down from Gears of War 3, and there's a bunch of stuff on my plate right now. But I'm thinking as the fall progresses, I'm going to dig out my joystick and finally give Wing Commander III a go. I've waited seventeen years. I can wait a little while longer :-)

Testing a theory

This afternoon, September 26th 2011, I am stating that there is a strong possibility of a moderate to severe earthquake occurring during the next few weeks.

Don't know where. The theory I've been developing ain't that refined yet.

However, I will note that during this past year I have made such "predictions" (though I'd rather find a better word for it) among friends, and every time there has been some significant seismic activity: from the Tokyo quake to the recent one that rattled us here on the East Coast.

We'll see what happens in the next month or so. And if something occurs geologically, I'll elaborate at greater length on this theory (which does seems to have some merit to it...)

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Over-the-counter asthma inhalers banned after December 31st

Did Armstrong Pharmaceutical not pay enough kickback to President Obama's campaign?

Well, I had to wonder that, given that the federal government is BANNING Primatene Mist from being sold after this coming December 31st! If you're an asthma sufferer, you're gonna have to get a doctor's prescription in order to purchase an inhaler that doesn't use a CFC agent as its propellant.

Yeah you're inferring correctly, Dear Reader: the Environmental Protection Agency, in collusion with the Food and Drug Administration, have decreed that those little asthma inhalers are dangerous to the ozone layer. I suppose that while you're gasping for breath on the way to your physician, that you can take heart knowing that the Obama Administration is sacrificing your good health for sake of a polar bear or spotted owl.

But seriously: What. The. F-CK?!?

It was twenty years ago this summer that Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines erupted. That one volcanic event spewed more toxic chemicals into the atmosphere than all of human activity in the past century (to say nothing of other eruptions, like Mount St. Helens and similar incidents). The Earth's atmosphere has suffered far greater detriment because of geological activity than anything we could possibly do on our own... and yet the ozone layer has not only survived but it has also repaired itself.

And now Obama's government expects us to believe that those tiny asthma inhalers... which are needed by millions of people... are a dire environmental threat?!

What the hell has happened to my country? More to the point: what has happened to us? The citizens of America didn't use to put up with bullshit like this.

(Yeah I said "bullshit". A word that I use extremely rarely. I honestly can't find a better word to express my incredulity at this situation.)

Lightspeed limit broken by neutrinos, reports CERN

Those clever boffins (as our British brethren love to call such technical folk) at CERN in Switzerland have really made a mess of things this time: they've recorded neutrinos traveling faster than the speed of light.

If their determinations hold up, then a whole lotta physics is gonna have to be overhauled. Einstein held that the speed of light in a vacuum was an immutable, impassable barrier, and for most of the past century a lot of our understanding and technology has been based on that. And now... Einstein's model of relativity stands to be revisited, revised, and possibly amended considerably.

But as with all such announcements, a measure of temperance and consideration is warranted. Jon Butterworth has posted an excellent essay on The Guardian's website about the ramifications of CERN's findings, including how it's possible that neutrinos might not have broken the speed of light.

But if CERN's measurements hold up, this is gonna play all kinds of wacky havoc with causality. Hey, in the future I might even be able to post an entry on this blog before I even begin to type it! Neat, aye? :-P

Friday, September 23, 2011

In the wee hours of this morning, I finished GEARS OF WAR 3

It's taken me twelve hours to mull things over about it.

So here's what I'm gonna say about it...

Darn you Cliff Bleszinski!! Because of you and your team at Epic Games, you made this grown dude cry harder than I have because of any work of art in... maybe ever.

That... was effective. The entire whole heapin' thing. I mean the complete Gears Of War experience: from Dom breaking Marcus out of prison in the very first scene of the first game, through to that touching final shot at the end of Gears Of War 3. Along with everything in between.

Not everything was answered. In fact, I can think of quite a lot of outstanding questions that remain. But you know what? After finishing this final chapter of the story of Marcus Fenix and Delta Squad, it doesn't bother me at all that those mysteries haven't been adequately addressed (yet).

Because in the final analysis, this is a story about true brotherhood. It's a story about family, and what we find ourselves doing for that family. Making this game focused on answering lingering questions would have taken us out of that sense of family. Gears Of War is a saga about very realistic characters, with all of the strengths and weaknesses that any of us have.

And I can't think of any other video game series that has compelled us to experience the human condition in all it's fulness. Or elicited this sense of catharsis.

A solid and wildly satisfying end to a genuinely epic tale. Easily the single best experience that I've ever had playing a video game.

Nothing else to say, except... bring on Gears Of War 4!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A theological thought or two this evening

God is not a bureaucrat.

Salvation does not derive from procedure.

Been playing GEARS OF WAR 3

I got it at the local GameStop at midnight yesterday morning/late Monday night. Got an hour or two in before going to bed and didn't play it at all throughout the day yesterday (had other stuff going on) but I was able to play it for three hours this afternoon.

Cliff Bleszinski and the crew at Epic Games have done it. Again. I don't know if "video game" is even applicable to Gears of War 3. There is plot and pacing and dialogue here that trumps that of most Oscar-winning motion pictures.

This is a whole new character-driven visceral form of narrative art. One scene in particular stands out in my mind: early in the game, you play as Cole leading a squad in search of supplies around his old hometown of Hanover. Cole and the squad enter a grocery store and come across a life-sized cardboard stand-up of Cole, looking as he did 17 years earlier, in his thrashball uniform advertising Thrashies cereal. Cole looks at himself from so long ago and says something about "Ever feel like you're dead, but nobody told you?"

It's a very simple and quiet moment but... it says so much more than any hail of gunfire or highly complicated scripted moment of cutscene.

It's gonna be a rainy evening, and I'm ahead on some stuff. Gonna crank up the Xbox 360 and head back to the front lines :-)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A prayer for all people, in all times

Confederate Soldier's Prayer

I asked God for strength, that I might achieve,
I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked God for health, that I might do greater things,
I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.
I asked for riches, that I might be happy,
I was given poverty, that I might be wise.
I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men,
I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life,
I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing I that I asked for but got everything I hoped for.
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am among men, most richly blessed.

-- Found on the body of a Confederate Soldier, 1861-1865

Good friend, fellow historian and Civil War buff Taryn Farmer shared this with her friends earlier today. I thought it would be well worth sharing with this blog's readers.

As of two hours ago...

...at the behest of President Obama, the armed forces of the United States have officially ended the "don't ask, don't tell" policy regarding homosexuals in the military.

Bad, bad move by the Obama administration. And I am only saying that with it being borne in mind that military life is by definition radically different from civilian life. It is not a situation that allows for attempts at social engineering. Those who enlist by and large know this. They accept it. When you sign up to serve in the armed forces you give up a significant portion of what freedoms you would have had outside the military. This is necessary for the cohesion and morale of the forces as much as it is for optimizing the individual to serve to the utmost of his or her ability. If this is not a tolerable situation for a person for whatever reason, that person does not have to enlist. There is no such thing as a draft in the modern United States and hopefully there never will be need of one ever again.

Those who think that ending "don't ask, don't tell" is some progressive step forward, fail to understand that armed forces life revolves around the needs of others and not the "needs" of self.

Expect to see fewer young people choosing to sign up to serve, if this kind of playing games with the military goes on...

Monday, September 19, 2011

How about a Mister Magoo cartoon?

Couldn't resist sharing this lil' gem that I found a few days ago. Okay yeah it's awesome all on its own. But for me there's whole other significance. You see: this was the very first thing that I watched on a VCR in my own house! It was sort of a "late Christmas present" to ourselves. So on December 31st 1983, I came home from a sleepover at my best friend's place and Dad was hooking the first VCR we ever owned up to the TV, and to try it out he rented a tape with a bunch of Mister Magoo cartoons on it. I think we must have watched that thing over and over half a dozen times before the tape went back to Cobb TV and Stereo Barn (the only place in Reidsville at the time to rent videotapes from) on Monday morning.

So from 1957 here is "Magoo Breaks Par", in which our nearsighted hero (voiced by Jim Backus) thinks he's off to play golf at the Ritzy Vista Country Club... with hilarious results!


Magoo Breaks Par

I've read that there is movement afoot to make all the Mister Magoo theatrical cartoons available on DVD. If so, I'll be the first in line to buy that set :-)

Genes found with links to schizophrenia and bipolar disorder

For those wondering about this blog's Being Bipolar series, I haven't stopped it at all. Just been trying to figure out what to write about next: something that I've changed my mind about something around 18 or 19 times now. 'Course, having bipolar disorder can sometimes be the worst impediment to writing about it, ironically. Hoping to write the next installment sometime this week or next.

In the meantime though, new research has been published about a possible cause of bipolar disorder, as well as schizophrenia...

Broad sweeps of the human genome have exposed genetic mutations that boost the risk of the devastating yet baffling diseases of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, according to two studies published Sunday.

The independent studies, each conducted by a consortium of about 200 scientists, also found significant genetic overlap between the debilitating mental disorders.

Schizophrenia patients typically hear voices that are not real, tend toward paranoia and suffer from disorganized speech and thinking. The condition is thought to affect about one percent of adults worldwide.

Previously known as manic depression, bipolar disorder is characterised by hard-to-control mood swings that veer back-and-forth between depression and euphoria, and afflicts a similar percentage of the population.

The biological profile of both conditions remain almost entirely unknown. Doctors seek to hold them in check with powerful drugs.

Scientists have long observed that each syndromes tends to run in families, suggesting a powerful inherited component.

(snip)

For the study on bipolar disorder, also appearing in Nature Genetics, a team led by Pamela Sklar of Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York first looked at the genomes of 7,481 patients and 9,250 healthy individuals.

A second sweep focusing on 34 DNA suspects involved some 2,500 other patients and 42,500 controls.

The study confirmed a significant link with a gene, CACNA1C, that also has been previously associated with schizophrenia.

It also uncovered a new gene variant at another location, known as ODZ4, that suggests neurochemical channels in the brain activated by calcium play a role in boosting the risk of developing the disease.

For both studies, scientists hope that learning more about pathways in the brain affected by the diseases can lead to a better understanding of the causes and drugs to ease or block the symptoms.

I would seriously like to have somebody put the genes of my own family under the microscope. As I've said before on this blog, the symptoms of bipolar disorder run in my family, even though so far as I know I'm the first to be medically diagnosed with the condition. I've got it and my grandmother and her father probably had it (though my own Dad has never exhibited the symptoms, thankfully).

The optimistic part of me really wants this to lead to more effective medication for bipolar and schizophrenia. It might take decades. In fact, it most likely will. But I'd love to within my lifetime be able to see that nobody would ever again have to endure the hell that this particular brand of mental illness has put me and my loved one through.

Reading about this research, I can't but feel excited :-)

President Obama wants $1,500,000,000,000 in new taxes

And this is supposed to create new jobs... HOW?!?!?

Read about the insane proposed new taxes here.

And in his speech Obama invoked the words "fair share" to justify the increased taxes on those who make more than a million dollars every year.

Y'know, I'm a far cry from being among the most wealthy people in the country. I'm just a guy whose trying to hack it as best he can. I take a few odd jobs here and there, do some writing and videography. I don't have a "regular job" like most people would consider it (though there is an occuptation which keeps me employed almost 24 hours a day). Believe me when I say this: that I would like nothing more than to be making more money. Not just for myself but to provide for a family when the Lord, if He's willing, lets me have that.

I'm not monetarily wealthy... and I'll be damned if I play along at all with Obama's immoral game of class welfare!

You wanna know what my biggest dream is? It's to make it as a filmmaker and be able to work with the people I care about and to produce EMPLOYMENT for some, where there hadn't been employment before. Think about that: being able to create work that lets others earn money and in turn pursue their own dreams. That's the way it used to be all over this country: there were good-paying jobs that would let anyone put a roof over the family's head and pay the bills and let him or her be free to chase after their own aspirations.

High taxes and class warfare destroys those things. Higher taxes make it increasingly difficult and ultimately impossible for jobs to be created by the private sector. How much of our industry has gone overseas during the past two decades? If it weren't for people who had a lot of money and were able to build factories and fund innovative research with that money, there would have been no industry for a lot of other people to earn money to fund their own opportunities.

And now, President Obama wants to take away even more money from the people who create the jobs.

Why the hell do we keep electing foolish people like this as our leaders?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Nicolas Cage is a time traveler!

A few years after the Civil War ended, Nicolas Cage was transported into the past and posed for this photograph in the vicinity of Bristol, Tennessee...

You can purchase the above photograph on eBay, provided you've got $1,000,000 to fork over for it.

From the item's eBay page...

Original c.1870 carte de visite showing a man who looks exactly like Nick Cage. Personally, I believe it's him and that he is some sort of walking undead / vampire, et cetera, who quickens / reinvents himself once every 75 years or so. 150 years from now, he might be a politician, the leader of a cult, or a talk show host.

This is not a trick photo of any kind and has not been manipulated in Photoshop or any other graphics program. It's an original photo of a man who lived in Bristol, TN sometime around the Civil War.

I've had a lot of questions asking where I purchased this. As followers of my website know, I collect antique memorial photography - images of dead people - from the 1800s. This photo was found in the very back of album that contained an unusual number of Civil War era death portraits (which is why I purchased it). All of the other people in the album, living and dead, were identified by name - this man was not.

Submitted for your approval.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Review of Steve Jablonsky's GEARS OF WAR 3: THE SOUNDTRACK CD!

Ooh-boy, how am I going to handle this?! I mean, Gears of War 3 doesn't come out until September 20th, this coming Tuesday. And there ain't no way that I'm gonna get an advance copy of the game itself. Hey, I've got connections, sho 'nuff... but they don't penetrate into the inner sanctum of Epic Games (even if it is just a few miles away in Cary).

But a package arrived in the mail this week: a copy of the CD of Gears of War 3: The Soundtrack, composed by Steve Jablonsky.

Hmmmm. The score CD for the next Gears of War game. Composed by the dude who did the score for Gears of War 2, the Transformers movies and a bunch of other great stuff! Y'all think I'm not gonna review this bad boy?!

The thing is, I can listen to this abundawonderful score all I want... as I already have! But until I play the game itself, there's nothing to put this music in context with. I've done reviews of Jablonsky's Transformers scores and posted a review of Gears of War 2: The Soundtrack three years ago.

But writing a review of a Steve Jablonsky album without first experiencing the work that it's been composed for? That's a new one...

Okay so here's what I wound up doing. I set this CD a'playing and as each track ran, I composed my thoughts for it. So what you're about to see is something of a "running commentary" for the score.

I'll preface that stream of consciousness by saying this: that Gears of War 3: The Soundtrack is already one of my favorite scores for any medium! This album easily represents Steve Jablonsky's finest work to date. His Gears of War 2 score was already one of the most-played on my iPod (it's terrific listening for when you're in the chair at the dentist's office) and for Gears of War 3, the man has ratcheted up his game to intense new heights of instrumental emotion. Jablonsky's work on the previous game garnered great acclaim and some awards... but what he has turned in for Gears of War 3 will arguably set a whole new standard for the art of video game music. This is legendary accompaniment for a legendary saga.

Awright well, on with the tracks!

1. “Restless” – Some subdued strings building up to... something. Trailing off with a nice bit of piano.

2. “Gears Keep Turning” – This must be the “main” theme music of the game. The now-familiar Gears of War titles that Jablonsky so beautifully elaborated upon in Gears of War 2, given a drastically industrial tone. LOVE THIS TRACK!!

3. “Meanwhile Below Deck” – Lot of rising tension. About what, I haven’t a clue. Brief but wicked.

4. “Stalk City” – Having read all of Karen Traviss’ Gears of War novels (including Coalition’s End released last month) I’ve a pretty darned good idea what’s going on here. The Lambent are coming, people... and now we have proper music for it!

5. “High Seas Tension” – A bit sneaky and espionage-ish. Why am I thinking of Chairman Prescott when I listen to this?

6. “Infected Large and Hungry” – Hard, harsh, fast and riveting! Whatever this is music for, it sounds honkin’ big and pure angry. No doubt something that needs to be killed in the worst way...

7. “Marcus’ Rock” – More industrial with lots of heavy drums. Well, it’s a track named for a heavy guy, ain’t it?

8. “Calm before Chaos” – A quieter piece with underlying menace.

9. “Bridge Too Far Indeed” – Probably a track for an extended action sequence in the game with heaps of frantic. At 3:42 this is the longest track of the CD so far.

10. “Those Aren’t Stranded” – A piece with an urban edge to it. Can’t help but wonder if this might be used with Ice T’s character somehow...

11. “Forever Omen” – One word has come to best describe the Gears of War saga in my mind as this story has progressed over the past five years: “desperation”. This track, more than anything else on the CD thus far, evokes that sense of dread and increasing hopelessness. A beautiful and provocative piece.

12. “Hanover’s Favorite Son” – Didn’t Augustus Cole play thrashball for Hanover? Seem to recall that from the books. So I’m thinking this track has to do with Cole. Starts off surprisingly quiet then uplifts to a very patriotic-sounding crescendo. Another beautiful piece!

13. “Fence House Suicide Pills” – Something terrible is happening alongside this track, and I could write that even if it had been named “Happy Little Squirrels Dancing”.

14. “Ghost Town” – This brings to mind the journey to Mount Kadar and into Nexus from Gears of War 2. Maybe the fight through the ruins of Landown as well.

15. “A Fine Mess” – Most likely something for another crucial battle scene.

16. “Loss of a Leader” – Some mournful segments throughout this piece. But as for which leader (and who or what he/she/it is a leader of) I can’t clearly tell, though there is a COG-ish suggestion to it.

17. “Deadland Dance” – At 5 minutes and 17 seconds this is the longest track of the Gears of War 3 score. Somewhat bifurcated around the 2:20 mark, make of that what you will. The second part is fraught with increasing tension. Love how Jablonsky has worked the Gears of War main theme into this (as he is doing with much of the score already).

18. “Creeping Dread” – This has me thinking of the very first time that I played the original Gears of War, that first level where Dom breaks Marcus out of the Slab.

19. “Hammer Meets Anvil” – The title of this track alone has me giddy! The Hammer of Dawn being used at Anvil Gate perhaps? Hey, I’m stoked simply about the fact that Anvil Gate is reportedly a location in the game! A hard, brooding and threatening piece ending with what could be a countdown chanted by the Locust Horde’s Kantu priests.

20. “Corpser Ambush” – Another action-ish track. I’m guessing it has the player shooting at a Corpser. Maybe even more than one...

21. “Last Resort” – I have no idea what this is supposed to be music for. It’s beautiful, but... it could be set to anything.

22. “Full Circle” – Opens as if it’s written for a dramatic cutscene then quickly jumps to fast-paced action, before resolving into an even deeper and darkly brooding piece and ending with soft piano interlude. Something massively important is taking place here... I can feel it.

23. “Jumped Species Barrier” – That doesn’t sound good. If you’ve read the last two Gears of War novels, then you know that doesn’t sound good at all. This track echoes that.

24. “Ashes Fall Down” – The second-longest track of the CD (4:02). A wrathful piece of sound and fury.

25. “Fathoms Below” – If this is supposed to be “fathoms below” the surface of the ocean, there’s an awful lot of combat taking place down there. Or it could be fathoms below down in the Locust tunnels.

26. “Gasbag Airways” – Does this mean we’re gonna ride a torture barge again? Track continues the fast action pace of the previous few.

27. “Paradise Found” – There is a slightly alien sound to this track. Or at least exotic. And then it ramps up fast and crazy toward... what?!?

28. “Father and Son” – Another track whose title alone makes me eager with anticipation. Listening to it, I honestly can’t help but envision Marcus Fenix and his father Adam Fenix having their reunion. Gears of War has become a multi-generational epic on the same level as Star Wars and Harry Potter (not to mention The Godfather saga). This piece resonates that quality.

29. “Fury of the Tempest” – Stormy and apocalyptic. Full of rage.

30. “Live for Me” – A track of tragedy. Reminds me too much of “With Sympathy” from the Gears of War 2 score and if you played that game, you know what scene it was set to. Are we gonna cry just as when we get to this part of Gears of War 3? But no time to be tearful ‘cuz then it finishes on an action-suggestive tone.

31. “Finally a Tomorrow” - WOW!! The chorals alone set this track apart from darn nearly anything else we’ve heard from a Gears of War game. Could it be? Dare we hope that… there really will be a happy ending to this story after all?! Jablonsky is evoking an optimism that we just haven’t heard at ALL in this series. This is the flip side of the coin from the sinking of Jacinto at the end of Gears of War 2. And it sounds stunning!

Gears of War 3: The Soundtrack by Steve Jablonsky is published by Sumthing Else Music Works, and will be available on September 20th from Amazon.com and other fine retailers. But if you just can't wait, you'll be pleased to know that it's already available via Apple's iTunes Store! So you can buy it now and buy it next week too (hey, I wound up getting it from iTunes as well as the nice shiny physical media currently and legally in my grubby lil' paws).

However it is that you buy it, Gears of War 3: The Soundtrack gets this blogger's highest recommendation! Go get it. Or perish in flame. It's your choice. But, not really.

The most heartbreaking post in The Knight Shift history

sigh...

For a week now, even during the trip to D.C., my mind has been in agony over how to approach this.

I've gone over it a thousand times and more. But, I suppose there's nothing left to do, but to go ahead and address this. And maybe... maybe... some of us can get up the courage to move on.

For a while now I've been posting photos on this blog of my incredibly sweet and ravishingly beautiful cousin, Lauryn. And they've become something of a hit. In fact, I've even received numerous e-mails from single guys asking, sometimes begging, me to get them in touch with Lauryn.

Here she is from a few days ago, as a bridesmaid for my cousin Angela's wedding. That's Lauryn on the right (with Angela's sister Rachael on the left)...

Lauryn is a beautiful bridesmaid.

And she's going to be even more beautiful as a bride.

It is my great pleasure to announce that as of a few days ago, Lauryn is engaged! She'll be taking the vows with her boyfriend Jason later this year.

Congrats to Lauryn and Jason! Y'all are an incredibly lovely couple and I'm really looking forward to seeing the two of you embark on this journey that God has set you upon.

As for this blog's single male readership, be of good cheer: there are lots of young lasses in my family that probably won't mind becoming The Knight Shift's new pinup girl!

(But for the time being, I'm taking a rest from wielding that big heavy stick. To say nothing of Lauryn's dad Bob finally able to put the shotgun down...)

Pat Robertson sez: Alzheimer's is grounds for divorce (Pat, shut up sir!)

I'm looking at this one of two ways: that Pat Robertson sincerely believes what he is saying here. Either that, or as I have heard it said a number of times in my life: "Whom God would destroy, He first makes mad."

During a broadcast of his 700 Club this week, Christian Broadcasting Network founder and "evangelist" Pat Robertson said that it was perfectly justifiable to divorce a spouse with Alzheimer's disease, on the basis that the illness is "a kind of death".

What. The. Hell. ?!?!?

In all honesty, I can't see how Pat Robertson - if this is his genuine belief - is any different from those who support abortion and the "right to choose". You know: the things that his Christian Coalition was alleged to be standing against for all those years?

(Well, as a follower of Christ, I always thought that the Christian Coalition was a bullsh-t organization anyway, which was only concerned with accruing political power. It had nothing to do with earnestly seeking after Christ and what He would have us to do in this world.)

Yeah, how is this different from aborting a child? The rationale that Robertsin is offering is the same as that for killing an unborn within the womb: that it is a life too "inconvenient" for those who would rather live life to their own ends.

Marriage is something that a man and woman enter into "in sickness and in health". When a person enters into marriage he or she is publicly declaring that it will be to the end, enduring all trial and hardship. Alzheimer's is not a "kind of death". It is a disease that gradually robs a person of precious memory and identity...

...and Pat Robertson says that if the other spouse cannot take it, then he or she is free to abandon his or her husband and wife and go after another?!

My God.

Whatever the hell it is that Robertson is espousing, it is NOT a love that is scriptural or suggested at all in the Bible. Love between a husband and wife is something meant to be patient, kind, and longsuffering. If a spouse falls victim to Alzheimer's or any other illness, the other spouse will never abandon and leave them. That is, if there was truly any real love at all.

To say this sort of thing is beyond the pale. I have been saying for years that if Pat Robertson was serious about making the Bible the pattern to follow in this land, then he should have long ago been taken outside the Virginia Beach city limits and stoned to death for all of his nutty false prophecies (made in the name of God). But now, there is no question: his family should take him off the air. And lock him down in the basement for good measure.

Pssst... Hey, iTunes Store not opening for ya?

So for the past several weeks my iTunes hasn't been up to snuff. iTunes starts up okay... but when it comes to the iTunes Store it did nothing but show a blank white page with "iTunes Store" printed in the center. And whatever has been the problem with that, it also has kept iTunes from properly updating my iPad. I'm still using Windows Vista (no jokes, please :-P)

I tried everything but nothing worked to make iTunes Store functioning on my computer. I even uninstalled and re-installed iTunes... three times! And still the iTunes Store wouldn't come up. When I ran the Diagnostics tool it gave me some crap about how iTunes Store couldn't make a secure connection.

Well, as of about an hour ago it's finally working again! It took me the better part of three days of actively addressing the issue and a whole wazooload of Google searches. Lo and behold the solution came from a YouTube user named audsmithl15, who posted it as a comment on a video demonstrating the exact same problem.

Here is what audsmithl15 came up with. I'm re-posting it here, for sake of anyone else who might be searching for the fix...

1. Go to C:\ProgramData\Apple\Installer­Cache\AppleApplicationSupport 2.0.1

2. Right click

3. UNinstall

4. Go to C:\ProgramData\Apple\Installer­Cache\AppleApplicationSupport 1.5.2

5. Right click

6. INstall

7. Restart PC

Took less than 10 minutes to apply the fix and after that, iTunes Store comes up fine!

Bigtime props to audsmithl15 on YouTube for hitting on the solution :-)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

"Dust to Dust": GEARS OF WAR 3 trailer continues a grand tradition

From the very beginning of the franchise, Gears of War has been as acclaimed for its mesmerizing advertising campaign as it has for its intense and engaging gameplay, its story and its so-very-endearing characters who we couldn't help but to feel for, to sympathize with, to cry for. The first game's "Mad World" commercial is considered by many to be the best ad for a video game in history. Three years ago Gears of War 2 brought us "Last Day": an ad that yanked our heartstrings hard. It also introduced me to the music of Devotchka ("How It Ends" subsequently became one of my favorite songs, for a lot of reasons). Then April of 2010 we got the announcement of Gears of War 3 with the "Ashes to Ashes" trailer, which had me looking for more music by Sun Kil Moon.

And then there was "What Have I Become?", a fan-made trailer for Gears of War 3 that used Johnny Cash's immortal cover of "Hurt". It was an effort so impressive and haunting that Gears of War creator Cliff Blezinski even acknowledged how stunning it was.

Well, it's been out for over a week already but I'd be remiss in my duties as a devoted Gears of War fan if I didn't also point y'all's attention to the final trailer for Gears of War 3. And it proves to evoke no less lingering emotions than the spots that have come before. Accompanied by "Into Dust" by Mazzy Star, here is "Dust to Dust"...

The saga of Marcus Fenix, Dom Santiago, Augustus Cole, Damon Baird, Anya Stroud and the rest of Delta Squad comes to its conclusion a week from today.

"Brothers to the end."

"We'll never be caught..."

"We're on a mission from God."

The New Blues Brothers! Chris (AKA me) and Ken (AKA my girlfriend's dad) hanging out before a wedding reception this past weekend.

It was pretty cool: the reception was in the ballroom of a hotel across the Potomac River from Washington D.C., so in the background we could see the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, the top of the Capitol off in the distance, and on the other side of the room it looked across Georgetown to the National Cathedral.

But I have to admit: ever since playing Fallout 3 I just couldn't look over that landscape without seeing the Capital Wasteland strewn out before me. Too bad my car radio couldn't pick up Three Dog...

Interesting things are beginning to happen

And, I am feeling much better than where I was the last time I posted.

So it's time to return to blogging, right now...

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Awright, here's what's REALLY been going on lately...

Apparently some quarters are rumormongerin' that this blog has been hacked, that I'm in the hospital, that I'm really missing, stuff like that. Which makes me giggle quite a bit, that my blogging is so closely watched that when I'm absent from it, it becomes cause for alarm :-P

Okay well, as much as the mischievous little "id" creature deep within my nature loves that sort of thing, I'm gonna come clean and be honest about what's really been going on behind the scenes here. It's the sort of business that in recent past I would have kept to myself, but since in the past year I've gone so much on record about it...

The truth is, that for the past few weeks I have been experiencing an episode of bipolar depression. And it has sucked darn nearly all of the passion and motivation out of me.

I've been writing for almost a year now about what it means to have bipolar disorder. And if this was "regular" depression I might yet be able to make something in spite of that, because I've had clinical depression and know what that's like. Bipolar depression however is an entirely different beast. This latest episode struck a little less than a month ago (so far as I can tell) and I'm still fighting it. Not much that can be done except that like a hurricane, to just ride it out.

(But even with it, I can at least write about that if I can't write about anything else... because that's how I roll :-)

When you're going through a bipolar depressive episode, you lose your passion and feeling for everything. You can function outwardly, if you absolutely must. But it is a tremendous struggle to do that and it sucks out what little drive and determination you have left to you. You aren't left with a life: you are made to endure anti-life. Existence in the negative range. Sometimes the only feeling you have is feeling like you want God to just let you die and not have to go through this hell for any moment longer.

Happily though... and I know this more than ever before... these times do pass. This episode will pass. I know that I'm not really wanting to die. Heck, this is the first time in my life that I've had a chance to enjoy a normal life like most people get to have! I am not going to take that for granted and I am not going to let it slip because of a temporary relapse of a medical condition!

So that's where I've been: working through this episode, trusting God to bring me through this just as He has brought me through all the others.

But while I have brought myself to the browser (which has been acting wonky lately, enough that it has made blogging unreliable until just the past few days), I'll also address some things which have piled up. First thing is: I thought last week's Doctor Who episode, "Let's Kill Hitler", was the most brain-warping single episode in the show's entire history (I watched it with my girlfriend and we were screaming in stunned disbelief the entire time). I'm keeping a wary eye out on Hurricane Katia: at this point it could go anywhere but my gut is that it might blow on out to sea (though I've been wrong before). Oh yeah, and in the past few days I've had an epiphanous thought about the nature of the church, and when I'm finished mulling it over I'll post something about that.

(And I might have had an idea or two for a new film, which would be my first in awhile... and I'm extremely looking forward to getting back into that saddle again :-)

Anyhoo, there y'all go. I'm good. Just having a bipolar depressive episode that I felt led to write a report about and submit it into the pile of material already accumulating on this blog about it. As always, parse it as you will.

And Lord willing, I shall be back to full bloggin' strength soon :-)