Super Mario Kart Wii

April – August 2014 Video Games Report

April:

Civilization V (7 hrs): Met Dan in Mesa Bros; Waiting in Lefties Game

May:

Civilization V (11 hrs): More of the multiplayer games.

June:

Civ V (3 hrs): More multiplayer games.

Super Meat Boy (30 min): I played a few levels until it began to get too hard for me. It is a very well-designed game, but I was never that good at platformers. Really, I just stuck to Mario and Sonic growing up. The others were often too hard for me; at times even Mario and Sonic were too much. I don’t think I ever beat a Sonic game although with one of them (3 or S&K) I used to always get to the final Robotnick.

Guacamelee Bilingual Bonus! (If you speak spanish you will get a bit more out of the game)
Guacamelee Bilingual Bonus! (If you speak spanish you will get a bit more out of the game)

Guacamelee (30 min): To say that this is a fun action game filled with fun Mexican stereotypes is possibly to sound a bit too harsh. Then again, I’m Cuban, not Mexican, so I’m not in the best place to say what is and isn’t cool for stereotypes. However, it all seems to be in good fun – I only played the first few areas so far. My character is a tequila distiller who saves the governor’s daughter and ends up putting on a luchador mask that gives me special powers. Each area has a regular version and a land of the dead version. Overall it’s fun. I intend to get back to it in 2015 after I graduate.

July:

Civ (30 min): More multiplayer

Aug:

Beatles Rock Band (1 hr): I’ve been trying to help Scarlett make the connection between instruments and music and one of the best examples I have (since I lack music-playing talent) is Rock Band. Scarlett actually really enjoyed both playing the drums and the guitar (even though she wasn’t really doing anything)

Mario Kart Wii (I won!)
Mario Kart Wii (I won!)

Mario Kart Wii (1 hr): I was experimenting with getting the Wiimote and the PS3 remote working with my main Linux computer (Supermario) and it paired over Bluetooth perfectly. My Kubuntu machines are using an older version of BlueZ so they didn’t work, unfortunately. I don’t yet have an IR source, so I wanted to see if that would affect driving since the steering wheel has a hole for the IR receiver. Nope! I was able to drive perfectly. I’d forgotten some of the controls but quickly learned them and took the cup.

Mario Kart Wii - I won the whole cup
Mario Kart Wii – I won the whole cup

Civ V (1 hr): A little more multiplayer.

Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island
Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island

Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island (30 min): Scarlett’s been obsessed with Mario so I figured it’d be fun to show her a game with Baby Mario. She enjoyed the heck out of it for a about 10 minutes. (Which is pretty good for anything that isn’t a cartoon she already likes)

Mid June Photojojo

It’s once again time for my latest Photojojo post. For those of you who haven’t been following my blog for a long time, Photojojo is a digital time capsule service. Every two weeks they send me an email that has my most interesting photos posted to flickr from one year ago.

Scarlett at the Beach in Florida and my dinner at Universal Studios.

Review: Striptease

Strip TeaseStrip Tease by Carl Hiaasen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve listened to somewhere between four and five dozen audiobooks (used to be an Audible subscriber) and the voice acting/narration on this book is definitely in my top three, if not in the top spot itself. Although the narrator slipped a bit in the last chapter with Garcia sounding a bit like Chad, it was otherwise an amazing performance. The narrator did something like 15 different, distinct voices. It’s not always necessary and it’s distracting if done poorly, but for this book it really brought something special. I’ve been a huge opponent of those who have used ebook DRM to prevent book readers from autoreading books to the sight-impaired. This book is a perfect example of why they shouldn’t prevent sight-impaired people from having a machine read a book. That’s just someone reading a book. It’s nothing special. But a performance, like in this recording of Striptease, that’s something worth paying for and something MANY years away when it comes to machine reading.

As for the substance of this book, I can see why Hiaasen has such a following. The satire and wit was sharp and biting. I almost fell out of bed with the hilarity of the final scene with Chad in the last chapter (not the Epilogue). I shouldn’t feel bad spoiling a book that’s 20 years old (and made into a cult classic movie – which I haven’t seen), but I had such a great time with this book, that I’d like to not be the one to spoil it. Here’s what’s great about this book: all the characters are real Characters. I never found myself bored with any of them. The political satire is top notch and hasn’t changed in the past 20 years. The social commentary is a lot of fun. The book also does something that society and pop culture haven been good at – portraying the dancers at the strip club as human beings. It really shouldn’t matter WHY someone chooses to do something that isn’t hurting anyone, but the main character certainly has a reason that goes along with something the majority of society would find acceptable. The lawsuit satires are definitely of the 90s. I mean, we’re still with them (Ancient Greeks and Romans were incredibly litigious as well – it’s a human trait, I think). But I remember that there was a real lawsuit zeitgeist in the 90s and this book taps into that in the most hilarious way. Finally, the divorce plotline is a great satire in the spectacular ways the system can fail us.

My only two complaints with the book were that, one, Daryl’s luck makes him second only to horror movie villains in his ability to terrorize. Even in a book full of outlandish ideas it can reach ridiculous heights at times that took me out of the story. Second, while the book was overall paced very well, it does take some tangents where it’s pretty obvious Hiaasen is messing with you because he just left a plot point dangling. At times I found myself wondering how I had so much more story left.

Overall, I STRONGLY recommend this reading of the book – Goodreads says cassette, I think, but I got this as MP3s from a Humble Bundle. I also really recommend this book (even if you have to read it to yourself) whether or not you’ve seen the movie. I enjoyed it a lot without having seen the movie. Now I’m curious to see if the characters match what I saw in my head.

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Review: From Hell

From HellFrom Hell by Alan Moore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There’s something to be said for the rough style of this graphic novel. It goes quite well with the subject matter. There’s also a bit of – “oh, the gore’s it’s not so bad if it’s in black and white” like Hitchcock’s Psycho. And, like Psycho, there’s the added benefit of us being able to suspend more disbelief because it’s in black and white. Hitchcock used syrup or chocolate, I can’t remember, for the blood. Similarly, we can get caught up in the story and the gore without being taken out of it with the blood being the wrong color. Also, as I’ve mentioned on some of my reviews here and on www.comicpow.com , color affects the way you interpret the comic – is it more cartoony or realistic. I remember a few years back hearing someone having issues with a sci-fi comic because the palette was all wrong. All that said, the lack of color and the rough drawings sometimes made it hard for me to keep track of who was who.

I’m sure, like most of his other stories, the movie is a departure from his comic vision, but now I’d like to give the movie a viewing.

I don’t know if this goes without saying, but this book is not for kids – it has profanity, explicit sex, and crazy violence.

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Review: How Music Works

How Music WorksHow Music Works by David Byrne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is not a book about how the mind interprets music or why we make music from an evolutionary point of view (although the topic is explored in the last chapter). It is probably more suitably titled How Music is Made – although I can see why they didn’t pick that title – people might expect a set of steps for making music on their own.

Instead, David Byrne has a thesis he looks at from multiple angles – music is influenced quite a bit more by external factors than we usually realize. Yes, the artist needs to bring his/her inspiration and talent, but there is a lot that colors the creative choices the artist would even think of making. A lot of this is obvious in hindsight, but most of it I had no idea about ahead of time. This includes things like the obvious cultural and the less obvious types of venues available, types of recording medium, and cost of record production (plus many more).

I found nearly all of the book to be a very interesting and illuminating read. The only parts I didn’t care as much for were the autobiographical bits. I know it provided his bonafides, but since I have no experience with his output, it mostly didn’t mean anything to me. As I mentioned during one of my updates, I really like that he is very honest about both sides of every issue. You can almost always tell what side he falls on, but he still provides cons to those positions and pros to the ones he disagrees with. I really appreciate the honesty because it helps show that the music world is much more complicated than black and white. I also really appreciated his full disclosure on how much money he made on one of his albums when comparing self-publishing to a more traditional deal.

I think anyone who is a music nerd (say you listen to All Songs Considered or read AV Club’s extended music features) should really read this book. It’s pretty eye-opening to see how things have changed and how things work from someone who seems to prize information over enforcing a certain point of view.

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Review: Don’t Know Much About Mythology: Everything You Need to Know About the Greatest Stories in Human History but Never Learned

Don't Know Much About Mythology: Everything You Need to Know About the Greatest Stories in Human History but Never LearnedDon’t Know Much About Mythology: Everything You Need to Know About the Greatest Stories in Human History but Never Learned by Kenneth C. Davis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is a great primer on mythology. Although it spends a lot of time with the myths we are very familiar with (middle east, Greek, and Roman), it does also cover lesser known myths like Indian and Chinese. The best part of each section is the list of gods. I would recommend the book as a jumping off point for anything that interests you about mythology.

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Review: Fight Club

Fight ClubFight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s been nearly 15 years since I first saw Fight Club, the movie. Since then I’ve seen it front-to-back maybe twice. But it really stuck with me. As I listened to this audiobook I found myself wonder when this or that scene would come up since the movie turned out to be an incredibly faithful adaptation. There are a few key differences, most notably the ending. But also a more sympathetic Marla in the book. But, for the most part, all the best lines in the movie came from the book. It’s rare for such a perfect adaptation to work, especially with a narrated book. But somehow it did. I also loved the narrator of this version and how he did different voices.

I think the best part of the book and then most powerful part of the book over the movie (although I think the movie does it once or twice) is the repetition. Sentences and sentence fragments are repeated and it has a powerful effect – both reinforcing and ironic – depending on the context.

I had a different takeaway in my 20s compared to my 30s, but I still enjoyed the story, even if it was from a different point of view. I like the fact that it can be enjoyed whether your sympathize with the main characters or the author (at least that’s the way I read it – both meant to make you think and to satirize the solution the characters come up with).

If you’ve only ever watched it, I encourage you to read it – it was a short audiobook – 5 hrs unabridged.

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Review: Comics: A Global History, 1968 to the Present

Comics: A Global History, 1968 to the PresentComics: A Global History, 1968 to the Present by Dan Mazur
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Disclosure: I received this book as part of the Goodreads.com First Reads program in which the winner recieves a copy of the book in exchange for a review. (It’s slightly more complicated than that, see the Goodreads First Reads terms for all the details)

I love reading these types of histories about culture. I have read similar books about photography and animation published by Taschen. This isn’t my first time reading about the history of comics, I also read 10 Cent Scare and Grant Morrison’s Supergods. Anyone who’s been reading my reviews for a while knows that I love comics and actually run a comics analysis site, www.comicpow.com.

The best thing about this book is that it starts from the 1960s. So far everything I’d read about comics can be compared to the way I learned US history growing up. Every year we’d start with Christopher Columbus. We’d learn about the Pilgrims and Jamestown and so on. Every year, when February rolled around we’d learn about the Civil War. We rarely made it past World War I. As a result I barely know anything but the pop history version of events from the 60s to now. I know more about America’s founding than I do about the decade in which I was born. The same often happens with comics. We start off learning about newspaper comics and The Yellow Kid. We learn about the 1930s and how revolutionary Superman and Batman were. Then there’s the creation of Marvel. Then some Brits came over and things got edgy in the 80s.

What this book does, by starting at the 1960s, is to give a lot more weight to the silver and bronze age as well as giving some nice, important perspective into the 80s and 90s. Perhaps more importantly, the book explores each decade by looking at America, Europe, and Asia. Every history I’ve read until now has operated as if only America and England mattered when it comes to comics. Until reading this book I had no idea that Europe had such a rich comics history. (Other than hearing about Tin Tin and The Smurfs) This also allows the authors to explore how each region influenced the other. It is true that Europe hasn’t had as much of an influence in this direction as England and Japan, but it has had some influences and that was nice to see.

Overall, I think the biggest weakness of this book is that it’s a physical book. As such it was limited in many ways and, as even as someone who didn’t have regular internet access until about age 14, I just kept thinking the book had so much more potential. This book is amazing, but it really brings into relief the power of the Internet over a book when it comes to a huge tome just like this one. The text is amazing, but the images leave me wishing for more examples. Also, I’d like the images to be closer to where the artist and/or writer is being discussed. But this is much more easily done online than in a book. Also, I think links between related topics would be awesome in this book. Finally, links to buy the awesome works I’m reading about. This book crossed with wikia would be a dream come true for any true fan of the medium who wants to know about the creators, not just the characters. It’s the ultimate irony that the breadth could easily be surpassed by a wiki, but what makes this book worth buying is that the authors use their research to draw a through-line of trends that would be lacking from the anyone-can-edit environment of a wiki. Perhaps the growth of the Internet and technology will eventually lead to a situation where people can provide a wiki-like experience but gain the money needed to pay for the research.

And while my main complaint was with the images, there were some glaring omissions in the text for space reasons. In the 60s the Kirby and Adams text was pretty sparse for such important titans in the industry. The chapter on manga through the 80s clearly proves my point about how, while the research is phenomenal, it suffers from being a book (rather than a website) as many landmark manga are left unillustrated in the book. Another limitation of the book format, the following only get one sentence: 100 Bullets, Y: The Last Man, and Fables. One last complaint – it focused a LOT on art trends and less on storyline trends. The line had to be drawn somewhere (no pun intended), but I’d love a companion book that looks more closely into that aspect of comics history.

For examples of what I found neat within each chapter, check the status updates which (at the time of this writing) are included at the bottom of the review page on Goodreads.com. I would recommend doing as I did and reading it sequentially at least once because that gives the reader the best chance of understanding how the trends evolved through the decades. After that, I’d use it as a reference to look up certain periods and I would definitely recommend using it as a recommendation engine equivalent to those lists of movies or books that you MUST read. Despite the limitations of its form factor, I would heartily recommend this book to anyone who’s interested in the history of comics and how we got here.

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Last.fm Listening Trends 2014 Q3

This quarter was a mix of new music, continuing to listen to my music in alphabetical order (by artist), and whatever I happened to listen to on my phone. And that resulted in a little something like this (a lot more ties than usual):
1. The Beatles (243 listens) – For the first time in a long time the Fab Four are back on top. I continue to love their later stuff although their older stuff is played out having spent my childhood listening to oldies.

2. Five Iron Frenzy (116 listens) – I still love the new album. I can listen to it over and over.

3. Alan Menken (104 listens) -  Blame Scarlett and her love of Disney Music.

4. Mandy Moore (89 listens) – Blame Scarlett and her love of Tangled

5.The Beach Boys (67 listens) – I think this is one listen to every Beach Boys song I own

6. Anberlin (44 listens) – Trying to get ready to see them at the Vans Warped Tour

7. dj BC (39 listens) – If you thought a Beatles and Jay-Z mashup was good, you need to hear these Beatles and Beastie Boys mashups.

8. Kristen Bell; Idina Menzel (38 listens) – Blame Scarlett and her love of Frozen

9. Donna Murphy (37 listens) – Blame Scarlett and her love of Tangled

10. I Fight Dragons (35 listens) – Another artist I am brushing up on for the Vans Warped Tour

10. Fitz & The Tantrums (35 listens) – Got the new album for Danielle. It’s pretty good although I really have a soft spot for the first album. I need to give this album another listen.

10. Beebs and Her Money Makers (35 listens) – Yes, I am going to see her for the second time at Warped Tour (first time was the Five Iron Frenzy concert last fall), but this was also about listening to her new album, which I Indiegogo’d. It has a great cover of TLC’s Waterfalls, but my favorite song on the album is Miss Captain Kangaroo.

Yeah, it’s not ska, but I REALLY like the song. It has a real classic rock feel to it. I LOVED it at last fall’s concert. It was the one that I said was a highlight that I thought was a cover. But from my research, I couldn’t find it anywhere else.

13. MC Frontalot (32 listens) – I just really wanted to listen to this one day, so I waited until i was taking care of Scarlett and Danielle had buggered off to some errands out of the house. Then I nerdcored my brains out.

14. Audioslave (26 listens) – Listened to this as I went through the alphabet. Still some good songs, but mostly it’s wearing off its welcome.

14. Relient K (26 listens) – Listening to the new album, still don’t like it as much as the previous ones.

Stats

Total Songs (in my collection): 15042 (up from 14472) – an increase of 570 – or half as many as last quarter. I think this has, at least partially, to do with the fact that RollingStone.com stopped giving away a track a day.

Total Artists: 4421 (up from 4309) – 112 – again, about half as many as last quarter.

Total Albums: 3454 (up from 3333) – Again, it tracks well with the total artist increase as I didn’t very many albums for artists I already previous had.

Average Songs Per Album: 4.35 (a slight increase from last quarter)

Average Songs Per Artist: 3.4 (increased a bit from last time – again, less singles from RollingStone and more samplers from NoiseTrade)

Total Scrobbles at End of Quarter: 78080 – Got close to reaching the next 5k milestone, but then went on a business trip and I didn’t spend much time listening to music. Listened to a song or two on the drive in/out of work, but that’s it.

Total Scrobbles for this Quarter: 3228 – close, but not quite as much as last quarter. Even listening to as many as last quarter wouldn’t have made it to 80k listens, but would have been a lot closer. The Top 15 most listened to songs this quarter accounted for 966 scrobbles or 30% of the listens – even less than last quarter. Makes sense since I listened to a lot of random music on my phone and artists with only a couple songs while going alphabetically.

Mid-May Photojojo

It’s once again time for my latest Photojojo post. For those of you who haven’t been following my blog for a long time, Photojojo is a digital time capsule service. Every two weeks they send me an email that has my most interesting photos posted to flickr from one year ago.

Scarlett goes to Coney Island.

On Upgrading the CPU, Motherboard, and RAM in SuperMario

SuperMario is my main Linux computer and its motherboard was dying. The first signs were the DVD burner no longer being read (knew it wasn’t just that one because I swapped out DVD burners) followed by the front panel USB not working. Then, last week, it stopped booting reliably. It was time to finally replace the motherboard. This was the Linux computer I’d built the first time I was trying to convince Danielle to use Linux (seven years ago) so it had a Core 2 Duo in it. So I’d need a new motherboard, CPU, and RAM. Here’s what KinfoCenter looked like before the swap:

Original Super Mario System Components
Original Super Mario System Components
Original Super Mario System Components 2
Original Super Mario System Components 2

And here’s how it looked afterward:

New Super Mario System Components
New Super Mario System Components
New Super Mario System Components 2
New Super Mario System Components 2

I timed a few things to see what this epic leap in CPU power would gain me:

Login to desktop with the old CPU took 4 minutes before it was ready for me to do something productive. Login to desktop with the new CPU took 2m 46 seconds. An improvement, but not quite what I was expecting. However, whatever is causing it to take so long to load up is disk intensive so perhaps I just need to get to a faster hard drive or SSD to get the login times I want. Amarok took 47s with each CPU.

Tasks that are not as disk intensive work nearly instantaneously now. Activity switching in KDE is nearly instantaneous. Before it was only usable because I’m a pretty patient person and get enough use of activities to be worth waiting for. Choqok also loads my twitter feed instantaneously instead of taking a half minute or so. Finally, the Dolphin Emulator (Gamecube and Wii) is actually usable now. Before some Gamecube games were playable, but Wii games were a non-starter.

Overall, I’m very happy with it, even if the hard drive is still the bottleneck.