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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Review: Sonic Highways by Foo Fighters

Sonic Highways by Foo Fighters. First things first, general impressions, you can definitely tell they’re aging. The album feels older, Something from Nothing gives me vaguely Motorhead vibes. 

However this is definitively Foo Fighters, they’re consistently putting out great new musical ideas but without losing sight of who they are. 

The album opens very strong with the trio of Something from Nothing, the Feast and the Famine, and Congregation, and following the classic Foo Fighters album format, it goes from edgy, energetic and crunchy to a mellower, smoother sound. 

What Did I Do/God as my Witness seems out of place, it’s a closer with a fade-out (which you don’t hear too often anymore) in the exact center of the album, but a great song nonetheless. 

Here I noticed we seem to be moving backwards in time in Foo Fighters Albums, going from a “Wasting Light” sound in The Feast and the Famine, “Echoes, Silence, Patience and Grace” in Congregation, to a general “Nothing Left to Lose” vibe in the second half of the album. 

Outside is fun, but definitely seems like a filler, and In the Clear reminded me why I love Dave Grohl so much. Throughout the whole album his lyrics are on point.

I also noticed, they’re also getting that “grand” sound, that the Black Keys, Fall Out Boy and OK Go suffer from, but unlike those three, Foo Fighters made it work, they didn't change their entire sound, they supplemented it. 

I loved Subterranean, and how it faded into I Am a River. I Am a River is a fantastic, if a bit repetitive, closer and again, I love how they mixed it up with the subtle guitar picking and chords, something I don’t remember ever hearing from Foo Fighters. 

The album as a whole has a very transcendental progression, starting from gritty, grounded themes, to an abstract, grand biblical ascension, and, surprisingly, the end of the album reminded me a lot of Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible album. My final rating is 9.3/10, with a footnote that says “Foo Fighters is a river, constantly changing and flowing, but still the same river.”


Much has changed since my last post. Right now it is December, I have a Calculus final in about four hours. I'm wicked stressed. I've decided I need to start writing again.

So what's changed?

Well, a lot, as it turns out.

I'm officially a WUML DJ, so I'm going to start posting new album reviews as I write them, I've become more social, and a bit less of an introvert, which is part of the reason I stopped writing, and a lot of the reason I stopped gaming. I also came out as bisexual.

I've also gained a new perspective on the universe and how it works (completely because of this channel which everyone should watch, it's incredibly enlightening).

I have new friends, new places to go, new things to do, a hell of a lot has changed. I can feel myself growing as a person, and it's got me thinking, what kind of person do I want to become? Should I even aim for being a specific person or just go with the flow?

I've become more reserved in my opinions, I try to be pragmatic in my views and actions, I try to listen more than I speak, I do my best to avoid arrogance and breed humility. I'm a better student than I ever was, I think about the future a lot more, and I try to enjoy the moment whenever I can.

I'm completely aware that I will likely look back on these years as the best years of my life.

I think more, I see more, and I try to be more.

I feel myself becoming a different person. Better? Maybe. Older? Absolutely.

This post is a bit on the shorter side, but more will come.
Welcome back to The Man who Rules the Universe

Friday, June 27, 2014

This Generation is Awful

It really bothers me when people say they hate things, but don’t really have a legitimate reason for doing so. Everyone has heard someone else do this, and most people are guilty of it. Posts of “I hate this generation” or “people are stupid” plaster social media sites, aggregate this trend of social disapproval. It is cool to hate.

Some might call me a hypocrite for this post, and they’d be right. In the past, I have fallen into and followed trends of hatred, but only recently have I looked at them with a grain of salt, and asked myself, is this really all that bad? More often than not, the answer is no. Not to say that I like everything. There are several things and people I despise, but for damn good reasons. (You know who you are).
Haters are common because of its ease, and its implications. When you hate on something, you put yourself above them, you are attempting to establish your superiority by dismissing the subject as somehow worse, worthy of pity and ridicule. People hate because it’s an incredibly easy way to feel that sense of superiority, further validated and fueled by the volume of other people doing the exact same thing. Tossing out a good insult can be surprisingly relaxing and relieving. In a heated argument, the punch of an original and well placed slur can be satisfying to the point that your body respond to it. Saying something like “Listen here, shitdick” at the right place and time can be amazingly therapeutic.

Maybe that’s just me.

Regardless, it’s human nature to enjoy that sort of superiority, that sort of power. Selfishness is part of our nature, and its fun to be selfish, but when you look at it from the right side; we lose so much from this hatred. There was a time I took a firm stand against any music that you can’t play with a physical instrument. Blindly, I hated it because I was on the bandwagon of “old music is good music”, listening to bands like Tool and Nirvana. I was very nearly one of those “born in the wrong generation” kids, Wishing I was born a decade or two earlier. I hated by generation, because I thought the only true culture was the culture that existed before me. I was surprised to enjoy Dubstep and EDM when I gave them a fair chance, and took them for what they are. They are my generation’s mark on history, this is how our music will be remembered, and I’m okay with that. I like Dubstep, its energy, its heaviness. I am content with it representing my generation, because I do not hate this generation, we’re an alright bunch of kids. Had I stayed on the hater bandwagon, part of who I am today, and a huge part of what I enjoy, would be lost.

My initial hatred bias of music is only one example of a phenomenon that happens in every generation. The older generations create their culture, and then look down upon the ones that came after them. That younger generation looks up to them, sees their culture, and envies it, before growing up and doing the exact same thing. It’s a cycle, perpetuated through every generation, looking down upon the new kids on the block doing exactly when the old guys were doing in their own youth. Every generation creates their culture and claims its better instead of just agreeing it’s different. In the grand scheme of things, it seems a bit pathetic.

How ironic of me, hating on hatred. Now I have to ask myself, is this post a legitimate criticism of this culture? Am I simply fulfilling my desire to feel superior to the world by using the very same means I attack?


Maybe this entire blog is just an attack on the world, maybe what I perceive as my love of culture is, in reality, just a hateful rejection of societal norms, fulfilling the exact same function as hating on Rebecca Black. I can think of no way to reconcile this possibility, no way to dispute it, besides the word


Sunday, April 20, 2014


I suppose I should start writing again.

The past few months have been a blur, thankfully, because if I stopped to pay attention to what I actually want, I wouldn't know what to do. I've barely had a moment to breathe, but I do now, and I realize how stagnant this air is.

I've become a bit of a workaholic because I need distractions. Anything. I need to do something that distracts me from several things that have been on my back for a while now. Because as soon as I stop, they rise from my subconscious and fill my mind. The only solution I've found is distraction. Anything to just make it go away, at least for a little while.

What is it?

Dread, fear, frustration, anger, paranoia, loneliness, a writhing potion of pent up bottled emotions that I don't know what to do with. I just sit and struggle with it until I think of something better to do. It started when I learned about how the universe will (probably) end. It's called Heat Death. In about 10^100 years, particles will be too far from each other to interact, there will be no transfer of energy, no activity, no information, and nothing or no one to observe it. It is the inevitable conclusion that the universe will come to. A complete dilution and deletion of everything anyone knows, has known or will know. Any impact any of us have on the universe will ultimately disappear.

When I learned about heat death, the concept of mortality really hit me. For the first time, I truly realized that my time, influence and experience is finite. I always had a sort of vague sense of  this idea, but it had hit me with a new clarity, and filled me with a sense of urgency to the point of fear and panic. I was filled, and still am, with this overwhelming yearning to mean something. To have a permanent impact on the world, to defeat death, and somehow have my influence break beyond the confines of this doomed universe.

Yet I know this is impossible, so all I am left with is this frustration, this overwhelming insignificance, this overpowering dread. Every night I lie in my bed, knowing that I will be forgotten. There is a point in the future where my name will be spoken for the last time.

I want to explain this to someone, but I also don't want to ruin anyone's day with my problems. So I write.

Beyond this existential depression, however, I find comfort in humanism. I've found that I not only like culture, but the very idea of it. Everything man-made, I embrace. There is such a variety of life that never fails to bring a smile to my face. Every painting, every song, every poem, every building, every car, every street, I look and I can't help but connect with the human that made, designed, lived in, drove in or on them. Humanity is beautiful because despite what everyone wants to believe, there are so many good people out there.

I want meaning in my life, and to leave something behind. Though I may not have the means to do it, I know what I want to leave. I want to tell the world to live.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Spotlight on Games: The Stanley Parable

First things first. Go play the Stanley Parable. This is a game where the story carries the entire game, so I can't possibly review this without spoiling pretty much the entire game. I recommend that you play this, not because it's a fun or necessarily good game, but it's a very interesting game. It is guaranteed to give you something to think and talk about. A little bit about the price, it is a bit pricey for the amount of gameplay. I paid 8 dollars and still feel like I wasted some money, but then again I am really cheap when it comes to games. Watch the trailers and try the demo and you might be intrigued enough to buy it, but whatever you expect from it, don't. Go into it with an open mind or you will walk away disappointed.

Spoilers Begin Here

The Stanley Parable is an experiment. It's a look into the nature of gaming and story telling, almost a satirization of the way most games present choices and the illusion of free will. You control the character of Stanley while a narrator explains a story. However, you can deviate from the narrator's instructions and try and forge your own story. You quickly discover that the narrator is aware of the player, and the fact that he is in a game. The fourth wall is broken very early on when the narrator begins to directly address the player as a player. You also quickly discover that the creators were meticulous in their storytelling. Every choice you can possibly make is accounted for and followed through. This gets very frustrating, because the way the game is presented demeans and humiliates the player and the very nature of gaming. Trying to explain it like this is kind of vague and confusing, so I'll take this one element at a time.

The story, I must admit is superb in its use of symbolism and analogy. You begin as Stanley, office worker 427, a man who spends all day pressing keys at a computer that tells him what keys to press and how long to press them. This is an analogy for gaming, because technically gaming  is just pressing buttons at a keyboard. Stanley is perfectly happy with his existence until suddenly the computer stops giving him instructions and all of his coworkers disappear. Stanley is then prompted by the narrator to go explore. From that point, you come to a room with two doors, the first obvious choice you are allowed to make, and this is where the major gameplay element comes into play: choice. The narrator says the Stanley takes the door to the left, but the door to the right is open and it is simple to disobey and take it. On my first playthrough I began with the right door, so I'll do the same here.

Entering the right door, the narrator's voice becomes slightly irate and he changes the story and gives you essentially the same choice, go back onto the path of the story or continue disobeying. Continuing to disobey makes the narrator realize that you are in fact a player, and he addresses you as such. The interesting thing is, the more you choose to disobey, the less options become available to you, and eventually you are forced to follow the linear story that the narrator has set out, but a "broken" version, one you are unable to complete. 

If you choose to follow the story completely, relinquish all choice and let the narrator guide you, the story tells you that you have been under mind control the entire time, and eventually you disable the mind control device and you reach the only "good" ending in the game, Stanley goes free. The irony of this ending is palpable, freedom is obedience, you break free of the mind control by having someone else tell you what to do. It's by far the most satisfying ending, and says a lot about the narrative strategies in other games where straying from the storyline, trying to "break" the game is often unsatisfying and unrewarding. 

Yet The Stanley Parable is a game where the player is compelled to break the game, just to escape the grasp of the narrator. The most frustrating part is that everything you try, every action you take has been accounted for and laid out. You can try and kill yourself but the narrator just keeps on narrating and the game restarts. You can try to escape through a window, you can fall out the map, every way you try and break the game, you think you've won but suddenly the narrator just keeps on talking, and the frustration mounts. This is the message of the Stanley Parable: Control.

The defining moment of this theme of control is the countdown ending. You're in a very boss-battle like room, littered with buttons and monitors that drop clues to which buttons you're supposed to press to stop the countdown. The only thing is, it's impossible. The buttons do nothing, the clues mean nothing, as soon as you choose this ending you've already lost. As you run around the narrator taunts you for trying to beat the game, taunts you for thinking that you actually have any control over the narrative. This is the truth the Stanley Parable conveys, the truth it reveals about any game you play, your decisions mean nothing. You only have the illusion of choice, of free will, you are trapped in the game. As long as you play the game the game has complete control over you. Yet, in another ending, you can torture the narrator by repeatedly throwing yourself off a stairwell, trying to kill yourself rather than live in safety with the narrator. The narrator pleads you to stop, but the only way to advance the narrative is to continue.

This is the symbiotic relationship between the player and the game, the viewer and the art. Art is meant to be taken in, experienced, and The Stanley Parable, does an excellent job of portraying how much the narrator, the game needs Stanley, how much art needs someone to appreciate it. Without the viewer, there is paint on a canvas, mere lines of code, but with a viewer, a player, someone to appreciate and understand it, there is art, there is meaning, there is a message, there is more than meets the eye.

Yet this relationship has some troubling implications. The narrator implies games are mind-control, a prison, a place where the player has no control, yet it is a prison that the player voluntarily enters, and as long as they are there they have no control. The Stanley Parable criticizes the pastime, saying gaming is living someone else's fantasy, there are times when it seems the narrator is addressing Stanley when the narrator is actually addressing the player. The narrator tries to tell Stanley that he isn't in fact experiencing this world, but pressing keys at a keyboard, but as I played through this part I was oblivious to the fact that the narrator was in fact describing me. This is the genius of the Stanley Parable, it immerses you while trying desperately to break you out. It makes you ignorant to the lack of free will you have in the game, and the free will you have in the real world.

The only way to beat the Stanley Parable it to stop playing. There is no satisfaction to be found in any of the endings. This is not a game you play for pleasure. Hell I'm even hesitant to call this a game. The Stanley Parable is an experiment of the mind. It's a message addressed to Stanley but meant for you. It asks questions without questioning them, it points out incongruities and hypocrisies without pointing at them. The goal of the game is not to win, it is to send a message, to convey an idea. This is not a game, it is an art. Not satisfying, but visceral, not enjoyable, but interesting.

As a game, I hate the Stanley Parable,
but as art, it was beautiful.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Pens, Quizzes, Papers and Love: A Short Story

Third period was my Teacher's Aide block. I graded papers. I sorted files. I made copies. I was at the beck and call of the Freshman History teacher. I would spend an hour each day of the week at a desk, doing whatever she needed me to do. It wasn't bad, actually. To be honest I sort of enjoyed the time. It gave me the sense that I represented something official in the school, and that what I accomplished during that period was important and helpful. The teacher was pleasant to talk to, and we had some interesting conversations on recent events, politics and other similar topics. My TA block was not necessarily always pleasant, but I never particularly dreaded it.

Nothing particularly noteworthy ever happened. Not until one perfectly normal, and uneventful day when something perfectly normal happened, it should have meant nothing, yet for some peculiar reason, it meant so much more to me. Too much. I was grading tests. Thumbing through the stack of mildly handled papers that represented these students' futures in history (some promising, some, not so much), I realized I was bored. Glancing at the clock, I sighed with resignation and got to work. Pen in hand, I followed little imperfectly, but fully filled bubbles and compared them to the quick coffee-driven squiggles of the teacher's answer key. Down each row, and to the next, then down again, and to the next, marking sharp crosses on the wrong answers and leaving the rest unpunished. Five papers in, I started noticing patterns that allowed me to grade faster. Ten papers in, my hand began cramp mildly and my mind wandered, likely giving some hapless student a lower (or perhaps higher) grade than they deserved. Exactly sixteen papers in, a student had drawn a heart.

I paused for a moment, looking at the doodle. The heart lay next to the name of its illustrator. In wide, smooth curly letters, Jessica Grime's signature adorned the top of the page. For a brief moment, I considered the unfortunate surname in such a prim font. The name seemed familiar, and I remembered the freshman that had added me as one of the thirteen hundred hundred friends she already had on Facebook. I assumed she had simply added me because of the amount of mutual friends we shared, going to the same small-town school, but perhaps she had actually...

No, ridiculous, I pushed such adolescent notions out of my head and focused back on the paper, giving it an unceremonious grade at the top and letting the decorated paper drop to the top of the already graded papers on the floor by my feet. I glanced at it once more, with a subtle sense of regret, but returned my focus to the papers ahead.

Several days of copying and sorting passed before I received the opportunity to grade papers again. As I worked my way through the papers, a small sense of apprehension grew, while my logical side reproached me for it. I dutifully continued my task of grading until paper number seven. There she was, with her graceful slim-lined letters tracing her name, Jessica Grime, and her telltale heart by her name. Again, I paused rolling the name in my mind; Jessica Grime. Jessy Grime. Jess Grime. Such an unfitting name, yet, somehow, endearing. Realizing what I was doing, again I reproached myself, and continued grading, but not before carefully inscribing an immaculately kerned grade at the top of the page.

This pattern continued for weeks, and by the end, whenever an opportunity to grade came up, my heart fluttered as my mind rolled its proverbial eyes, and I took it, just to see the prim heart, the curvy letters, just to feel the paper she touched. Was this love? Had I fallen for mere text and a heart? Or was I merely infatuated? My line of thought circled in a mess of meta-contemplation as I tried to derive a reason for my irrational obsession. No, I told the papers, this can't go on any longer. It's not you, it's me, we have to stop this now. I let another paper fall to the finished pile with yet another carefully lined grade adorning the top of the page, right next to the heart.

Every day of grading, some part of my mind grew ever more desperate. Was she noticing my subtle efforts? What were the chances? Perhaps she compared her paper to a friend's and noticed the difference in care when I penned the grades at the top, perhaps she noticed the careful crosses that marked her careless mistakes. I was on my best behavior grading her tests and her quizzes, but was she perceptive enough to see it? My rational mind stepped in, of course not, it's too subtle of a clue, to quiet of an outcry. Even if she did notice she would have no idea what to make of it, she doesn't even know the teacher has an aide.

I decided then that I would have to definitively sever my ties, the only way to return to normal was to start somewhere, but the fact of the matter was, it only got worse. I tried to return to the unceremonious, scratchy grading that I used on all the other papers, but my self-awareness progressed too far. I became even more careful to make sure my grades looked sufficiently careless, and began to panic that she would notice this change as well. I could not longer tell if I still loved her or if it was merely the expectation I set for myself to not think about it that caused me to think about it, and consequently fall back into this circular meta-cognitive trap.

I asked myself, how careless is careless enough? Should I skip her paper once or twice? But then I'd have to skip others to avoid rousing suspicion, but would she really be suspicious, of what? Of the teacher's aide the fell in love with her name? No, I said, this has gone long enough, this has to stop. It's not you, it's me, its over. Done. Finished. No more. I dropped that TA period at the end of the semester and hoped for some peace of mind

That same day, as I walked to my new third period class, Jessica Grimes bumped into me in the hallway and slipped a small paper into my hand. I stopped walking, and looked at it. It had her number, a heart, and a little message in prim, curved handwriting that said "I noticed". I turned around and watched her walk away. Her graceful steps matched her graceful font. She tilted her head back at me and gave me a sly smile and wink.

I threw the paper in the trash.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013


I've always wanted to write something beautiful. Something that resonates with the reader on a fundamental and visceral level, something so profound and moving that it leaves people in a stunned, contemplative silence for a few minutes. I want to write something so charged and powerful that people are awed and amazed. I want to send a message that holds so much truth that weight that people don't know how to respond.

You know who knows how to send a message like that? The Buddhists. On June 10th, 1963, Thich Quang Duc performed his self-immolation in front of the Cambodian embassy in protest of the Diem government's oppression of the Buddhist people. Burning yourself alive is a hell of a message to send. Photographer Malcolm Brown took a picture of the event which later won a Pulitzer prize and the 1963 World Journalism Photo of the Year. The monk remained motionless and stoic while he burned alive. It even ended up as the cover art for Rage Against The Machine's first album.

This picture always awes me. The incredible ability of this monk to remain motionless in searing agony, it puts me in a grisly silence, and it makes me wonder, what went through his head during his final moments? I have a profound respect for Buddhists, the lives they lead, the control they have over their bodies, the absolute dedication they have to their cause, their philosophies of life, everything. And man, what a way to send a message. There's a kind of juxtaposition between the act itself and the words he spoke beforehand. He respectfully asked the Diem government to allow and respect religious equality, calmly and colloquially. Then he burned himself alive. There's a a subtle, yet undeniable hostility in the act, and I'm hesitant to even call it a nonviolent protest because of the intense way it conveyed that the Buddhists are not fucking around with this one. In no way could anyone possibly take this lightly. This was a calculated, savage message saying one thing: we will not live like this.

That is one hell of a message.

That's the kind of message I want to be able to send. I want to be able to put the same effect of Thich Quang Duc's, message into words. I find the concept of literature fascinating. Through the right combination of words, you can invoke any emotion, any feeling, any concept (though some would disagree), you can communicate nearly everything and anything.

Well, nearly.

As a construct of humanity, language is as fallible as its creators. I was faced with this problem a few days ago when I tried to argue that not all revolutions, not all changes need "hate" as a catalyst. There are many revolutions, driven by hate, but I used the example of Gandhi's revolution of civil disobedience. I know the concept, the feeling that Gandhi likely felt to lead this revolution, but I struggled to find the right word. I tried "discontent", but it's too mild, and it it's a bit off to the side of the concept I was looking for. This was about a week ago, and right now the best word I can think of is "righteousness", which is much closer than "discontent", but it still doesn't seem to quite capture the idea, the essence of Gandhi's message. No, it's more comforting, more embracing than righteousness, it's similar to love, but, more righteous. A defiant love if you will. I simply cannot think of a word for that and I'm convinced it doesn't exist. But I can still convey the idea I want through a combination of similar words.

Right now my question is; is there a message that no combination of words can possibly communicate? Is there something that we can feel that we are powerless to share?