Archive for the 'Music and Books' Category

Alice Cooper Interview

Billie, Anna, Will and I went to Circus Smirkus today - a troup of young people who travel around vermont and northern new york.  They were quite good (lots of gymnastics, juggling, etc.) and the kids had almost as much fun as Billie and I did. 

 Anyhow, the circus reminded me of Alice Cooper, so I’m embedding an interview with him that’s pretty amusing.  Check it out.

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 Here are also links to two articles about his faith:

Lady in Black

It’s harder than you’d think to get nice pics of Anna.  Here she is in a new black outfit.  I’d place her by the TV for the shot, but then when I’d move back to shoot the picture she’d run towards me.  Hence the “close-ups”.   Note the eternally scabbing cut on the bridge of her nose.  Noone remembers how she got it, but she’s had it for months and keeps picking at it so it won’t heal.

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She was hillarious with Renee and Diane today.  Diane asks her if she is going on a trip soon, and Anna answers “China”.  Then Diane says something like “you’re going there to get your brother, right” to which Anna replies “NOOO!!  CHIIINNNNAAAA!”.

By the way, “Lady in Black” is a classic Uriah Heep song.  There is a YouTube link to a cool cover version of it (by the romanian band Iris) here:

Odds and Ends

Not much to say this week, but I thought I’d add a few observations.


  • It’s too bad Boise State didn’t get their shot at Ohio State, because they would have creamed the Buckeyes.  I watched most of the game last night, and thought OSU looked terrible (though credit to FLA, who played very well).  I think the 51 day layoff really killed the Buckeyes, and just shows how stupid the whole system is.
  • Despite the Big Ten being exposed this bowl season, Penn State managed to sneak back in to the top twenty-five with their victory over Tennessee. =D   Now I can start building up unrealistic expectations for next season.
  • The Cowboys’ season is over.  I was so annoyed with them (see previous post) that I didn’t even watch their last game.  Turns out they lost in particularly heartbreaking fashion.  Good, I say.  Maybe this will give them some focus and edge for next season.

Music, Books, and Games

  • I’ve finally gotten Neverwinter Nights II tweaked to where I like it, and am having alot of fun with the game.  I’m about half-way through and the story is just getting interesting (seems like my character has more enemies than she first thought, and there have been some unexpected twists).  Playing a plot-based role-playing-game like this is like reading an action novel, except that you have some control over what happens and you get to try things over again if you don’t like how its going.  Overall, I think the original Neverwinter Nights was a better game.  THe great thing about both NWI and NWII is that people can program and customize the game, then put their modifications on the internet for anyone to download.
  • I actually bought a pop-music CD:  Evanescence’s second recording “The Open Door”.  They have a unique sound and, compared to most female pop singers, Amy Lee really pushes her limits vocally and lyrically.  I thought their first record was incredibly innovative.  “The Open Door” is similar in that it mixes heavy, orchestral, and goth elements with a basic pop sound.  It’s something that I can recommend to people who don’t like heavy metal but want something more interesting than the standard contemporary fare.  I had to ‘clense myself’ sly , though, by getting an extreme metalcore CD by “Heaven Shall Burn”, which is pretty hard-core stuff and not for the faint-hearted.
  • I’m in the process of trying to plow through a how-to on visual basic, to see if I can improve my programming skills.  This isn’t fitting in well with my schedule yet, though.  I was also reading a cool series of “Myth Adventure” books in the fantasy genre, but I misplaced it during the Christmas Holidays.  I’m planning to start in on the “Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever” series that my sister-in-law Nicki (and Tony) got me for Christmas.

World Events

  • What is the deal with penguins?  Did the waddlers hire a publicist or something roll ?  Suddenly, I’m seeing penguins everywhere on television and in film.  When did these creatures become fashionable?  They’re flightless birds, for heaven’s sake.  What’s the point of having a bird that can’t fly!!  Are we going to have “Save the Penguins” concerts next?
  • OK, I’m not optimistic about anything with politics lately.  To divulge where I’m coming from, I’m a soft-core libertarian who basically likes “conservative” economic policy (at least in theory - low taxes, fewer regulations, etc.) but have more “liberal” views on civil liberties and foreign policy.  I mainly hate the ulterior motives of most politicians, particularly as they relate to the so-called ”war on terror”.  GWB had several chances to ”declare victory” and get us out of Iraq, but didn’t do so.  Now I suspect the new ruling party in congress do everything they can to prevent us from either winning or gracefully backing out of Iraq, because the worse that war continues to go, the better it goes for that particular party in the next set of elections.  Then again, I think both the 911 attacks and the Oklahoma city bombing were goverment plots, so take what I say about politics with a grain of salt bleh .

Anna is Killing Me =O

  • OK, I can’t sleep, I can’t get my work done, and my brain is turning to mush as I spend most of my days with a toddler.  My little devil-baby knows how to press all my buttons, and when to turn on the charm.  She’s screaming her head off at this moment because Billie is holding her so I can write this post (this is my second try, by the way).  And just to save everyone the trouble, I realize she’s cute, adorable, clever, a blessing, and that everything is/will be wonderful wink

Quickie Reviews

I just got done reading the Baroque Cycle series by Neil Stephenson.  I realy enjoyed the trillogy, but it does take alot of “work” to get through it. 


The story takes place in the late 1600s and early 1700s, primarily in England.  It centers around three main characters:  Daniel Waterhouse, a puritan mathematician and political operative; Jack Shaftoe, a vagabond extraordinar; and Eliza, a financial market manipulator.   Their lives weave together at times, and they all end up playing key rolls in the developments that we might call “the enlightenment”: combining the birth of modern science (Isaac Newton is a key character in the books), modern politics, and modern currency and economics. The ending is, in my view, particularly clever and I couldn’t put it down when I got to the last few chapters of the third book.

I happen to like, and know a little something about, this period in history, so I enjoyed the books more than other people might.  I’d say its not as good overall as the Cryptonomicon, but still has some interesting and drop-dead-funny moments.  The sections with Waterhouse are the most witty, the Shaftoe sections are the most exciting, and, sadly, Eliza’s portions of the book drag a bit.

I am currently reading Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner.  As a statistics teacher, this is a particularly interesting topic for me.  Really, a set of topics, as the book is more about a methodology for looking at thing than it is about any particular subject.


With discussions on everything from “why crack dealers live with their mothers” to how school teachers cheat on standardized tests, it’s been quite a fun read so far.  I’ll give a full review when I’m finished with it (which will probably be in a week or less, at the rate I’m going through it).

I also just bought the new CD (it takes a conscious effort to avoid saying “album” for someone my age) by Into Eternity: Scattering of Ashes. 


 I’m liking it alot so far: it is more like “Dead and Dreaming” than to “Burried in Oblivion”, in my opinion, in that where the latter was pure speed and brutality, “Ashes” and “Dreaming” show more variation.  The band has a new vocalist who mixes “death” and “clean” vocals, sounding a bit like Rob Halford with the latter.  I like everything this band does because they sound new (incorporating several features of death, thrash, and even progressive metal) but don’t sound like all the other new bands that the industry is turning out these days (if you follow metal, you know that every new band sounds like Shadowsfall, Killswitch Engage, or Lamb of God these days).  I definitely recommend them.

Finally, I’m anxiously waiting for my local gaming store to get Neverwinter Nights 2.  I pre-ordered it from them, and last I heard they were expecting it to arrive on Halloween.  I hear they’ve improved the game quite a bit: I just hope my little computer can handle it.  I can’t wait.


Three for the Road (CDs, that is)

I’m still in the middle of a few books I wanted to review for you, I have no new Anna news, and I’m dreading what Ohio State is going to do to my Lions, so I though I’d post on something else.  For those of you who might share my eccentric tastes in heavy music, here are three new CDs that have me even more anxious than usual to get into my car and crank up the stereo.

11635742.gif Blind Guardian:  “A Twist in the Myth”

This German “progressive metal” outfit should be of particular interest to the people who are getting excited about Dragonforce, Lacuna Coil and other “melodic” metal acts.  I’ve been following Blind Guardian since I came across “Nightfall in Middle Earth” in the late 90’s.  I was a bit disappointed in their previous effort (“A Night at the Opera”) which I thought was a bit overproduced (you tend to lose some intensity with what seem like hundreds of tracks layered on top of each other), but am thrilled with their latest.  “A Twist in the Myth” has all the elements that make this a great band:  excellent vocals, interesting lyrics, a great “medieval” guitar sound, and an uncommon combination of musicianship and intensity.  My favorite track so far is “Otherlands”, which I pretty much play over and over again in my car.

11695582.gifIron Maiden “A Matter of Life and Death”

I know anyone under 40 reading this blog is chuckling a bit at my mention of Iron Maiden: too ‘old’ to be “in” but not old enough to be “retro”.  But I’ve followed Iron Maiden since college (starting with their debut, when no one had heard of them, by the way), and I wasn’t at the meeting where Iron Maiden was put on the “no longer cool” list.  “A Matter of Life and Death” isn’t just decent for a veteran act, but downright outstanding.  Several tracks stand out, including “These Colors Don’t Run”, “The Longest Day”, and “For the Greater Glory of God”.   This is actually an anti-war album, but the songwriting is orders of magnitude more thoughtful and sophisticated than anything you’ll get from a political punk or pop act.  This is the first record since “Fear of the Dark” where I feel Maiden is playing to their full potential.  Great stuff if you like metal.

10957765.gifLair of the Minotaur:  “The Ultimate Destroyer”

Considering the cerebral and musical qualities of Blind Guardian and Iron Maiden, Lair of the Minotaur is something of a guilty pleasure by comparison.  They combine dark death-metal like vocals with plodding, muddy guitars that, IMHO, capture the spirit of early Black Sabbath a lot better than the “doom” bands I hear about trying to follow Sabbath’s footsteps.  Even though the vocals are in the death growl style, you can actually follow the lyrics, which are campy horror story ‘fun’ following themes from Greek Mythology.  An example of a great slow-but-heavy track is “The Hydra Coils Upon this Wicked Mountain”.  The title pretty much shows the fantasy gaming spirit of the record.

———–{In the on-deck circle, I’m waiting to get my hands on the latest CD by Into Eternity, who is just about my favorite band these days.  They combine the speed and intensity of modern metal (post “nu-metal”) with progressive elements.  The new CD is just out, but the pony express hasn’t gotten it up to northern Vermont yet, and I’d rather buy it in a local store than order it on line if I can.  Meanwhile, if you don’t have “Dead or Dreaming”, find it – it’s arguably the best metal CD of the millennium so far.}


Summer Reading

Sometime I’m going to provide capsule CD reviews on this blog, but in the meantime I can share a couple of book recommendations.   I just got done with “Mayflower” by Nathaniel Philbrick.  It’s the story of the pilgrims from the time the leave Holland on the Mayflower to the end of “King Philips War”, a nasty conflict between the Pilgrims and a group of neighboring Indians tribes.  It’s a war a lot of Americans don’t know about that pretty much spoiled the (relatively) peaceful coexistence between the colonists and the Indians of New England.  The book is well enough written that it doesn’t read like a history book but more like historical fiction. 

For an “action” mystery book, I would recommend “Relic” by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child.  This is in “Jurassic Park” mode, and was just really fun to read.  One of those books you can pretty much read straight through without stopping.  I’m currently working on Neil Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle series.