Saturday, September 27, 2014

Why is street parking so fucking hard?

Street parking.

Why is this so fucking hard? Those of you who live in East Bumblefuck won't understand this, but I must commiserate with my fellow urbanites.

  1. When street parking is constrained, it matters where you park. To be a considerate neighbor, do not park 7 feet from the nearest driveway cutout, and/or leave 5 feet between you and the next car. All that does is reduce the parking capacity of the street.

    Earlier this week, there were two cars parked along a section of curb that normally accommodates 3 or 4 cars. The first car was positioned about ¾ car length from the stop line; then a gap that one might have squeezed a compact car into, with a few floor jacks; then another car about ¾ car length from the driveway cutout. Those gaps add up to almost 2½ car lengths.

    Be considerate when deciding where to park your car. If you can't tell how far you are from the nearest driveway, or from the car behind you, get out and look. It's not that fucking hard. Eventually, with practice and observation, you'll develop a much better feel for where your car is in relation to other objects, which will help in driving, as well.

    A corollary to this is not to box someone in. After you park, take a quick look to see whether the cars in front of and behind you are able to get out. If they aren't, you should move.
  2. I see this one all the time in the winter: a snowstorm drops a foot or two of snow, which turns to ice when it is not moved before the next warming/cooling cycle. People then conclude that it is okay to park next to the huge, 2-foot wide block of ice adjacent to the curb, thus effectively reducing the width of the road by 4 feet when parking is permitted on both sides.

    The best part is when the person who parks this way leaves their car there for weeks after all the snow melts. This actually happened on my street last winter: one woman's car was practically sitting in the middle of the road for two weeks until she finally got around to moving it. Mind-blowing.

    Don't do this. If you have a truck or SUV, it's probably okay to drive up onto the ice and leave it there to slowly descend as the ice melts. If you don't, either break up the ice or call the city and have them do it. (The ice is in the right of way, so they should take care of it upon request.)
  3. Do not park in front of someone else's driveway. Ever. For any reason, and for any length of time. Seriously, does this even need to be said? Where did the people who think this is okay grow up?
I must be forgetting some. What else do bad urban street parkers do?

Sunday, September 21, 2014

ProgPower USA XV Review

It's been slightly more than a week since my 14th ProgPower officially ended. Hard to believe on both accounts: that it's been over for a week, and that I've now gone to fourteen of these, having only missed the first one in Chicago owing, I guess, mostly to my general obliviousness at the time. (Actually, I still don't know what motivated me to go to ProgPower II, but I'll forever be thankful that I did.)

After digesting the festival's events over the course of the succeeding week, I feel like I'm ready to review the sets with a keen, completely-biased eye toward what I like and what I don't like. And so, with the caveat that my tastes are unlikely to align perfectly—or at all—with yours, I present the official

Crows ProgPower USA XV Review

Day 1: Wednesday night Mid-week Mayhem show

I'll admit to not having paid much attention to either Vangough or Theocracy, as I was mostly reconnecting with old friends I had not seen at Lara's Sausagefest the night before. This always happens for me with the Wednesday night show, something that is often a good thing (see: Midnight's performance as the first opener for Circle II Circle in 2008, when he occasionally mumbled loudly enough for someone to hear him; RIP) but is often unfortunate (Mindcrime, the Chris Salinas-fronted Queensrÿche tribute band that can do the old songs much better than any incarnation of Queensrÿche/Fakerÿche can today).

Pain of Salvation I was ready for, but it was clear they did not take this show very seriously. After the band finally started playing music about 10 minutes into hitting the stage, with Daniel going on about something or other, they had some rousing performances of some old tunes, including "People Passing By" from Entropia, before Daniel did the worst drum solo I've ever heard in the history of boring drum solos (yes, you read that right: Daniel, on drums, doing a solo), after which I punted and headed back to the room for some late dinner. I don't mind some banter and screwing around, but (a) it has to be intelligible and (b) it should be in small doses. This would turn out to have put a bad taste in my mouth for PoS, as we'll revisit in my later review of their main-stage set.

Day 2: Thursday night Kickoff

In a show highly-anticipated by at least 50 people, Pagan's Mind was to play all of Celestial Entrance as the headliner of this show. While I don't really give a rat's ass about Pagan's Mind, I appreciate promoter Nathan Block's enthusiasm and wanted to support his efforts to bring high-quality bands to the Kickoff stage, so I again sponsored the Kickoff despite not being nearly as excited about any of the bands as for Luca Turilli's Rhapsody the previous year.

Draekon had a ton of energy and some great hooks, but they don't have a lot of material and there's nothing there that I haven't heard before. Between Pagan's Mind and DGM, DGM turned out to be the relative highlight for me. I don't have much to say about either band: I found both sets enjoyable, but I don't know either band's material enough to really comment on it besides that simple observation. The Kickoff for me this year was merely an appetizer for the main festival.

Day 3: Friday night main festival

This was easily my most anticipated day of music, having 2 of the 3 bands I most wanted to see: Stratovarius and, of course, Leprous. As a sponsor of Leprous, I caught only a few songs of Need and then the very end of Orden Ogan's set, punctuated by lunch, and after which I had to scurry downstairs to retrieve from Glenn the "Don't fuck with me, bro" badge that would allow me to remain in the photo pit for all of Leprous's set.


I got a high from this set that I don't know that I'll ever duplicate from watching a band perform: as Bilateral and Coal are both in my top 10 albums of the millennium, and Bilateral fighting with Ocean Machine as my favorite album of all time, I had very high expectations for this show, all of which were blown away by the actual set. This was the best performance I've ever seen by any band ever, and the crowd behind me seemed to agree as they chanted "Ho-ly shit" over and over after the closing performance of their magnum opus, "Forced Entry". As I remarked to several people, I'm pretty sure at points I was dancing around like Elaine Benes from Seinfeld and screaming lyrics—hopefully not too loudly or off-key—something that I pray was not captured more than fleetingly on video. The only two songs I really would have liked them to play in addition to what they included are "Dare You" from Tall Poppy Syndrome and "Mediocrity Wins" from Bilateral... though, of course, they could have played a completely random set of their songs and still been amazing, because (as Matt Lee says) they have no bad songs.

Upon meeting the band downstairs after the show, and missing most of Overkill's set to do so, we discovered that the show might have been even better had all their tech worked. Unfortunately, in a festival setting like ProgPower, breakdown/setup time between bands is limited, so the band has to make do with what is available: for Leprous, this meant foregoing their video screens and backing audio tracks, and having a few technical flubs during the performance, including two microphone swaps by the very capable ProgPower stage crew. I was not able to attend any of their other shows on this tour, the closest to Boston being in NYC the night before the writing of this blog entry, but I am curious as to what others thought of their show in comparison to the ProgPower performance, which I can't imagine suffered in any way by the absence of those things.

Following Leprous, I caught two of Overkill's set from the seats, followed by a few more from the lobby, followed by a return to my room to take a short nap. I returned in the middle of Seventh Wonder's set, mostly because I wanted to see the end result of the hype machine, because it seems like everyone but me really seems to like them. Perhaps it would have made more sense were I familiar with the story behind Mercy Falls, but I just don't find their music itself compelling emotionally, and at this point that's pretty much a requirement for me to care about a progressive metal band. This might just be a case of "I'm now old and out of touch", or it might be me just being cantankerous and/or contrarian, but either way I appreciate that a lot of people really enjoy their music while not really being able to get into it myself. 

Up last for the night was Stratovarius. Having seen them last at ProgPower VI in 2005, a set in which a seemingly-interminable 90 minute changeover was followed by a tedious 10 minute video, followed by a set dominated by the visual show rather than by the music, this was a remarkably subdued but still powerful Stratovarius without the Tolkki juggernaut steering the band in questionable artistic directions. Timo Kotipelto sounded great on the Visions material—frankly, he sounded almost exactly like he did when recording the album 17 years ago, without any of the loss of timbre or range that plagues some older soaring vocalists like Bruce Dickinson—and the rest of the band was more than up to the task of reproducing the classics from that album, all without the pomp that distracted from the 2005 show. It was a little strange seeing Kotipelto and Grandpa Johansson on stage with other musicians who probably weren't old enough to drive to the record store on Visions' release date in 1997, but the experience for the audience was great. It was satisfying to see this band perform with dignity a true classic of power metal.

Day 4: Saturday night main festival

The final day of the festival was almost a wind-down for me: I was really only interested in the two headliners, Pain of Salvation and Jon Oliva's Pain, but I did catch a bit of Divided Multitude, Voodoo Circle, and Masterplan, all of which were entertaining even though I was not super-familiar with their output. After several straight nights of partying until nearly dawn, and with some unfortunate drama precipitated by a douchebag in the Artmore courtyard the night before, I spent more time during the day sleeping than I otherwise would have.

When Pain of Salvation finally hit the stage after over an hour, they played halfway through their first song before Daniel stopped the music, made some vague comment about the crowd not really being into it, and asking the crew to close the curtain so they could reappear with more energy. A lot of feathers, including mine, were ruffled by this action, especially after the extended delay in getting their asses on stage in the first place. That said, there were mitigating factors (aren't there always?) that I was either unaware of at the time or oblivious to: (1) PoS were recording their set for a DVD, which meant that visual presentation was critical to the performance; (2) their in-ear monitors (IEMs) were not working, which meant that they could not hear themselves, making it very difficult to stay in-sync, especially critical when your performance is being recorded for posterity; and (3) Daniel is unable or unwilling to treat the audience as a group of mature adults, frankly informing us of the issues with some statement like "We are filming a DVD, and so we need to get the intro right, and our equipment is not functioning correctly, so we have to start over. My apologies for the delay."

At this point, because I have limited information and a lot of what I do have is contradictory, that is all I have to say on the matter.

And honestly, it doesn't really matter. After the amazing show they put on playing Remedy Lane in its entirety—a technically-challenging album played almost flawlessly live under less-than-ideal conditions—no one is going to remember the delay a few years hence. Their show was amazing enough to untwist even my panties. Remedy Lane is probably my second favorite PoS album after OHbtCL (I apparently have unusual tastes), and their live rendition was incredibly powerful, effectively bringing forth the raw emotions Daniel must have felt when writing it. Even 12 years later, with a few mediocre and some entirely forgettable The-Daniel-Gildenlöw-Project-in-all-but-name albums released in the meantime, Remedy Lane still packs the same punch it did when first released. It is a true classic of progressive metal, having pushed the boundaries of metal to a place few artists can emulate, much less build upon. I am very glad I stayed to watch this set after the long delay and false start, and I know a lot of other people are also. (Daniel probably also wins the award for funniest line of the festival, with his "So, now we're going to play some songs from other albums. (Audience grumbles.) Ok, I guess we're not" line.)

Last up was the Mountain King, Jon Oliva himself, performing Streets: A Rock Opera in its entirety with his touring band. This set was everything I expected and only a little more, which in this case was exactly perfect. Having seen Oliva perform several times at ProgPowers over the years, I was mostly surprised at how spry he's become, jumping up from his fake plywood piano to dance around stage with the microphone, all the while making fun of everyone from himself to his band to the audience to the frequently mispronounced "Glenn Harvester". Otherwise, the set was exactly what I expected, which means "amazing". In contrast to the technically-demanding Pain of Salvation set played mostly seriously and with intense concentration by DG and company, JOP clearly had a fun time not only playing an album from Oliva's past but sticking it perfectly, with barely a flaw. I admit to not being the hugest Savatage fan—my favorite album of theirs is probably Dead Winter Dead, hardly from their golden years—but even I was brought alternately to cries of laughter at Oliva's lovable-goof antics and to wonder at the emotion and power they brought to the stage. I'm kind of glad they broke the seal with "When the Crowds Are Gone" at the end of their set, because it means Glenn can't use that threat against us as the unique harbinger of ProgPower USA's demise when he finally decides to hang up his Hawaiian shirts for good.

Over the years, I've been blessed with final Saturday sets by bands I care not a whit about (e.g., Jorn, Iced Earth, Hammerfall, Sabaton), which means I get started partying a little early. I was determined this year, however, to make it through to the house lights turning on, as I felt that would give me a sense of closure about the festival that I frequently find lacking when I wake up on Sunday or Monday, thinking, "It's all over?" This seems to have mostly worked: the main feeling I've had over the past week is not one of emptiness but rather one of exhaustion, mixed with joy that I got to experience this amazing festival with amazing friends for another year. Thank you, Glenn Harveston and crew, for your hard work in putting this thing together and keeping it going through good times and bad. ProgPower USA forever.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Thoughts from road-tripping

I've decided to try to get back into the business of blogging, but I'm mostly going to limit myself to bitching about things, because I don't really have the patience to write anything in-depth.

So, for today, I have two thoughts from road-tripping to ProgPower XV, and an additional thought related to my drive home from the gym tonight:

  1. I want the climate control system in my car to be smarter. To be fair, it's already much better than the old style in which you slide a thermostat labelled only with red and blue, and not connected to any actual temperature, and set a blower speed explicitly, and have to constantly adjust them whenever conditions change in the slightest so you can avoid burning up or freezing. At least my car lets me set a specific temperature by degree, which the car attempts to maintain for each of the two zones.

    The problem is that this isn't quite what I want. Humans don't feel temperature directly so much as heat gain or loss. What I really want from A/C is for the car to detect how much my body is warming up, and where, and direct more or less cold air to each spot (and I also want air-conditioned seats, but that's another issue). When I am driving into the sun, for instance, I'm going to feel a lot hotter than if I'm driving at night, even if the ambient temperature within the cabin is the same in both situations. What I'm forced to do now is to turn the temperature down (or hit "Max") when the sun is beating down on me, and then switch it back when the sun disappears behind the clouds.

    (First world problems.)
  2. When you are traveling 15 mph, you do not need to leave 10 car lengths between you and the car in front of you: I assure you, if that car comes to a sudden stop, even 1½ car lengths is more space than you actually need to stop safely so long as you are paying attention. This comes into play mainly at left turn arrows, where instead of the 15 cars that could make it through before the light turns red, only 4 do.
  3. Related to point 2, some will object that you don't want to be caught in the intersection if there turns out not to be space on the receiving road before the light turns red. And it's a good objection: instead of one constraint (maintaining something close to the minimum safe distance between cars), there are now two (also making sure there is space for you on the other side of the intersection before proceeding into it). I will politely suggest that if you cannot juggle two simultaneous constraints on safe and respectful movement of your vehicle, then perhaps it would be best if you were to leave the driving to other people.

Monday, December 25, 2006

10 myths about atheism

Merry Xmas to all! Today seems like a fitting day to help dispel myths about us infidels:

http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/la-op-harris24dec24,0,3994298.story?coll=la-opinion-rightrail

Friday, February 21, 2003

10 best albums of the 1990's

I haven't done a blog in a while, and there's nothing that's stoking the political fires enough to make me want to write. Therefore...

I present my opinion of the best 10 albums of the 1990's. If you know anything about me, you know that I'm a hard-core metal fan, so that preference inevitably colors this list.

10. Loreena McKennitt / the mask and mirror (1994). While not her strongest album, it speaks volumes about the quality of her albums that I would still include this among my top 10 of the 1990's. Ethereal, textured, haunting: these are all adjectives that accurately describe the music. Ms. McKennitt's voice, however, is what really draws me to the music: her range is huge, and her power at the high end unmatched by any of the other non-Opera singers I've heard.

9. Pearl Jam / Vs. (1993). Their best album is also the finest example of alternative rock: plenty of anthems balanced with slower, more personal poems. With the exception of a few lyrical slaps at the vast majority of his listeners, Eddie Vedder has never sounded better, either as a lyricist or as a singer. If the Atlanta concert were a real album, I'd have put that here, but this is a close enough second still to qualify for my top 10.

8. Dream Theater / Images and Words (1992). The archetype of 1990's progressive metal, Dream Theater produced their best work early on and slid downhill shortly thereafter. Still, that fact does not diminish the beauty, technicality, or influence of this album, nor does it take away from the (admittedly still) virtuoso playing of John Petrucci, John Myung, or Kevin Moore. As progressive metal albums go, this is the best of the best.

7. Gamma Ray / Land of the Free (1995). This album marked a sea change in the future of European power metal: before this album, the genre was locked in a self-parody of bands attempting to reproduce Helloween's Keeper of the Seven Keys Part 1 but failing miserably. Gamma Ray finally managed to break out of the mold and produce this highly-influential opus of speed and happiness. Countless bands (including Gamma Ray themselves) have tried unsuccessfully to copy the formula that made this album so incredible, which may diminish its reputation among clone watchers; however, those of us who are connoisseurs of the Euro power metal genre know true quality when we see it.

6. Sarah McLachlan / Solace (1991). After the compelling but not-quite-arrived immaturity of Touch, Ms. McLachlan established herself as the "other" favorite Canadian pop singer with this collection of uniformly-strong tracks, from the high-energy "Into the Fire" through the wistful contemplation of "Home" to the cover of Donovan's "Wear Your Love Like Heaven." Her follow-up, Fumbling Towards Ecstasy, receives most of the critical accolades as well as the strongest singles, but the songs on this album are simply more enjoyable overall.

5. KMFDM / Nihil (1995). While KMFDM had so many good albums in the 1990's, it was not difficult to pick Nihil as the clear winner among all of them. From the blaring guitar attack that Sascha never managed to properly incorporate into any of his later albums (including the last great KMFDM album, Symbols) to the infectious beats of "Juke Joint Jezebel" and "Disobedience," Nihil can be either a devestating aural assault or a calming, focusing drug, depending on the listener's state of mind. Despite being the only KMFDM album without the amazing Brute! artwork on the cover, it still qualifies as the best industrial metal album ever.

4. Megadeth / Rust in Peace (1990). Megadeth starts out the 90's with the last great 80's thrash album, only to find out shortly thereafter that the popular music world has forsaken them for a less pretentious style, strange as that adjective might seem when applied to these guys. This is the album that finally turned true metalheads away from the curious progression of Metallica, and toward Dave's vision of 1990's heavy metal; unfortunately, it was too late to really matter. IMO, it's simply too bad there wasn't enough room in pop culture for both metal and alternative.

3. Meshuggah / Destroy Erase Improve (1995). The album that really introduced me to metalcore also wound up giving me a taste for jazz fusion. DEI is a nearly perfect combination of aggressive and technical playing, combined with songwriting that leaves you wondering how such seemingly monotonous riffage can stick in your mind so easily.

2. Fear Factory / Demanufacture (1995). What can you say about possibly the finest example of industrial metalcore thrash ever made? Even moreso than Strapping Young Lad's City, which was certainly more full of raw emotion, this album is, if not in content, perfect at least in execution, buttressed by the aggressive yet dreamy vocals of Burton Bell and the inhuman drumming of Raymond Hererra. Although Obsolete had more hooks and was certainly more accessible, it doesn't even come close to dethroning this masterpiece.

1. Devin Townsend / Ocean Machine: Biomech (1997). This is the first album I ever heard that caused me to preemptively buy several copies to give to other people: like Vernor Vinge's Sci-Fi epic A Deepness in the Sky, this album is so good that I felt it my moral duty to introduce it to other people. Even after having listened to it over one hundred and fifty times, I still consider a run of this disc to be one of my most intense emotional experiences: the album runs from the heights of glory through the uncertainty of temporary setbacks to the depths of despair, its lyrics covering such topics as suicide, God, and death along the way.

This is not an album of singles: this is, in truth, one big song that must be listened to in its entirety from beginning to end, lest the full impact be lost or the message be divided into different parts in one's mind. It is like a Greek tragedy in structure, with the Hero starting out at the top, developing doubt through the course of the play, and in the end being defeated by some choice he made in ignorance long ago.

This is not simply my favorite album of the 90's; this is the best album ever made in any genre.

Honorable mentions: Symphony X, Twilight in Olympus; Sepultura, Chaos A.D.; Dark Tranquillity, Projector; Ministry, Psalm 69.