Congrats to Moe and Adam on their nuptials.

Congrats to Andra (Moe’s sister) on her forthcoming family addition. For the record, there’s not really a cute way to say that without being likely to offend someone.

If you’re someone out there doing something worth congratulating, get a blog already.

We were in a movie theater the other day and one of those “commercials before the trailers” came on – this one was a commercial for the aforementioned Coke C2 and the song playing in the commercial was “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by the Rolling Stones. The connotation is simple – people who can’t “get what they want” (Coke) “get what they need” (C2). OK, kinda cute.

But then it hit me – the Rolling Stones are the freaking Rolls Royce of song licensing. There were gigantic headlines over how many millions of dollars Microsoft had to pay in order to use “Start Me Up” for their Windows 95 campaign. Disney tapped them for a “Rock and Rollercoaster” but had to settle on Aerosmith (truly the “poor man’s Stones”) for a tenth the price. The Stones have made $1.5 Billion since 1989 and it’s not due to screwing around.

So I guess this launch is pretty serious.

Ever have something you kinda keep up with for fun? It’s not really something you’re into nor does it affect you but it’s something you follow just for kicks? That’s sorta like my interest in the music group Van Halen. I’m hardly a huge fan, but the drama sure is interesting.

Van Halen was formed in the late 1970’s. The name came from the last name of the two brothers in the band, Eddie and Alex. Their lead singer was the eccentric David Lee Roth. They took the world by storm and became larger than life celebrities.

After their 1984 album, 1984, Roth left the group. Van Halen replaced him with solo artist Sammy Hagar and drove on. A number of people didn’t come along, and a number of others joined up for the first time. Hagar made the group sound different, and there’s pretty much an even split on whether or not it was for the best. Still, even though the band, to some degree, had to start over from scratch they topped their previous success by the mid ’90’s, the culmination of which was their 1991 album, For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge.

One of the band’s dynamics has always been to bicker and fight, and apparently they never stopped this. In 1996 the members of the band, sans Hagar, decided to come out with a greatest hits album with some new songs. Hagar disagreed, saying it was not good for the group at the time, and refused to play along. So the band members decided to call Roth back up. Roth came in and recorded two new songs. The band members decided that it was time to kick Hagar out of the group and did so via a phone call on Father’s Day. The album, The Best Of Van Halen Volume 1, sold truckloads, mostly on the premise that the old band was back.

Now, at this point I must interject – I’ve listened to all of the Van Halen albums and I must say: they’re much better with Hagar. Make no mistake, these are two separate groups, but the Hagar years are better. He’s got a better voice, the songs are better, etc. So why does everyone get excited when Roth rejoins the group. Well, besides the notion that most people just disagree with me, there’s also the fact that I think most people just really want their past back – their lives were probably much easier in the early 1980’s and they would love it if they could get even a little of that back.

So the culmination of all of this was the reunited Van Halen at the MTV Video Music Awards. Afterwards though the honeymoon was already over. The band started fighting again and it has been said that it all started coming back why they didn’t want Roth in the group to begin with (debate continues to this day as to whether or not Roth left to persue his bizarre solo career or whether he was kicked out). Roth was fired from the group. What tends to happen when a departed band member comes back they don’t get to rejoin the group, they’re intead “hired” as an employee to the band. KISS even goes so far as to “contract” its former members. The key difference is the much easier ability to fire them (or let their contracts expire) and of course they only recieve a fraction of the money they would get as a member. Roth was brought on as an employee of Van Halen and then fired.

So since they fired Roth and had fired Hagar they decided to go look for a third lead singer. They plucked Gary Cherone, fresh from the newly broken up band Extreme, and hired him. The resulting album, 1998’s Van Halen III, is widely regarded as the worst Van Halen album ever. Cherone is a poor power singer trying to sound too much like Hagar, and the songs themselves are just generally poor. After three years and tired of all the criticism he was recieving for “ruining” Van Halen (the second time VH’s been ruined, apparently) he left the group.

This is where the story gets odd and, to some degree, undocumented. Van Halen is in shambles. They have to either disband, hire a fourth lead singer, or hire one of their former lead singers back. Cherone is out, since he just left. Sammy Hagar has since gone on to a fantastic second solo career, while Roth’s has sputtered and died. The word is they went and hooked up with Roth to record new material – and then that went south again.

So for a long time nothing happened. Roth created a new group, The DLR Band, and dived further into eccentricity. Hagar remained friends with the Van Halen drummer Alex Van Halen, much to the chagrin of the other band members. Hagar and Roth then decided to tour together, titling the tour “Sans Halen”. They finished out the tour but Hagar vowed never to tour with Roth again, as he was difficult to get along with and apparently was oblivious as to his modern day relevance (or lack thereof). Even dedicated sites like the Van Halen News Desk decided to pack it in and call it a day.

For the longest time it looked like Van Halen was done for. But then earlier this year the rumors came down that they had decided to re-hook up with Hagar. The rumors were confirmed when a press release was issued – Van Halen was back together with Sammy Hagar and getting ready for a summer tour. A new 2-CD greatest hits compilation, The Best Of Both Worlds, is due to be released on July 19th. It will have three new songs, and none of the songs from the Charone era or the Roth reunion songs.

I’ve heard one of the three new songs, “It’s About Time”. It’s pretty good – classic, non-boat rocking Van Halen. The song title brings to light the “double meaning” of new songs. One of the two new Roth songs on Best Of Can Halen Volume 1 was “Can’t Get This Stuff No More”, alluding (I believe) to the older sound of Van Halen (a title which turned ironic when Roth was fired). The new song on the Billy Idol album was a cover of “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” – obviously a cry for a second chance. And you don’t have to even guess about the one new Michael Jackson song on Number Ones entitled “One More Chance” – another obvious cry for help even more ironic in the light of his recent round of litigation.

I’ve read they were experimenting with the Van Halen III album – the experiement failed. I’d usually say something about how bad it must be to be a group who can’t innovate – people (myself included) want them to sound the same way they always have (though in my case, I prefer their second incarnation), but hey – that’s life. There’s no law that says they have to continue at all, fired singers or no. They’ve tried the “we won’t do it” bit for six years now and apparently they’ve decided that their innovation or pride isn’t as important as continuing to do what they want to do.

Oh, and make piles upon piles of money off of now starved fans. Rock on.

It occurs to me that, if I have any dedicated readers other than my WIfe, I never updated with how my diet is going. Amazingly enough I’m still on it and have lost some 25 pounds. Had to buy new pants and everything. Still have some 20 or so to go but I’m still there.

More amazingly, I finally got used to Diet Coke. Diet Coke is something of an engineering marvel in that it has no carbs, calories or fat. It’s just that damned aspartamane you have to get used to. I couldn’t stand it for the longest time. I tried Diet Vanilla Coke and could tolerate it for a time but then I switched to Diet Dr. Pepper. I got sick of that but oddly enough by that time I could stand Diet Coke. Sometimes I even like it. The main reason I went through all of this at all (instead of, say, just drinking Crystal Light) is because these are the three non-water diet drinks my workplace supplies for free.

Now we have Coke C2. The unveiling of a new type of Coke usually has all the pomp and circumstance of a Rolling Stones release, but this rollout’s been sort of low key. Perhaps we’re just getting it here because we’re a big market. Anywho, the gimmick of Coke C2 is that it has half the sugar (corn syrup) of regular Coke, so it halves the carbs and calories. Neat – but at 19.5 carbs per can, it’s still too expensive for Atkins diets. I’ve tried it – it’s not bad. It’s kinda like hard liquor – you like it but you know if you’re smart you won’t drink too much.

I’ve noticed a lot of opposition to Atkins as a diet. I’m not strictly doing Atkins, I’m mostly just doing the low carb thing. The reasoning behind the backlash is simple enough (it flies in the face of conventional medical wisdom), but I think there’s something a bit deeper involved. Most people, like myself, wouldn’t diet previously because, besides not being obese (just overweight), diets are hard. But Atkins and low carb diets tell you lots of things you can eat.

You can eat A
But I don’t like A

You can eat B
I really don’t like B

Well you can eat C
Now that I can do! Hell, I’ll eat that morning noon and night!

C is of course something like a bacon cheeseburger with no bun, or a steak dinner without bread. As a result, if you like C and you don’t mind eating the same thing all the time, this sort of diet will work perfectly for you.

Of course to eat meat entirely is foolish, as is eating any one thing completely exclusively. I try to eat salads and chicken. I’ve yet to venture into too many vegetables.

But that’s not healthy eating
Well, was already eating really unhealthy – how can this be worse? Actually what I’ve found myself doing is consuming substitutes – and then much less of that. For example, the one “chip-like” thing that you can do without much carb consequence is pork rinds. So I ate the heck out of those things. Sure, it’s fried pork skins, but I figured if my weight loss stopped then so would I. Then I got to where I didn’t need to snack all the time. I never figured I was one of those “comfort eaters” since I never went home to eat while depressed – but turns out I was. I needed a Coke and some junk food to be happy. Now I can consume a little bit of food and a Diet Coke and be fine.

Plus being on a low carb diet is easier now than any time before. If anything out there is low carb, it’s very clearly marked. There’s low carb menus in most restaraunts and most things you like have a low carb equivalent. Quiznos does flatbread, Subway and Friday’s are actually on board with Atkins, and Frito Lay has a new soy-laced chip with fewer carbs. And some low carb items are pretty close to their equivalents – like the sugar-free Creme Savers and the low carb Russell Stover candies. Of course they feature the disclaimer:

Excess consumption may have a laxative effect

….

Well, there’s another way to lose weight I guess.

But as a result of all of this, low carb hysteria is at an all time high. So, people are resistant. I believe this is twofold. First, the natural reaction when overloaded with something is resistance. Do guys say they hate Jennifer Lopez and Brtiney Spears because they’re ugly? If anything their media overexposure should be a good thing. No, guys say they hate them because they’re so sick of them. But the other reason, I believe, is that as a result of all of the people on low carb diets, the number of people on diets has gone up exponentially. I’ve never been on a diet before (so lucky me that the first one worked), but now the odds of you knowing someone on a diet has gone up considerably. And if you’re someone who needs to be on a diet (as most people are – save for bodybuilders and the genetically lucky) then it’s easy to interpret the magnitude of people on these diets as a sign. And people really hate that.

But whatever. I’m one of like three people in my office on a diet, so I get cut out of certian things involving cake. And it’s somewhat asinine to have to limit yourself in a land of plenty. The one thing that concerns me about this diet is an “exit strategy” (obviously I can’t “go back”, so what then?) but in the meantime I’m going to go take a swig off of a Coke C2 and have thousand island on my salad.

Yeah, I’m naughty.

Okay, rant time. This one’s pretty minor in the scheme of things but I feel the need to vent.

One of my pet peeves is when people say something is “written in Visual Basic” or when something is referred to as being “all in Visual Basic” but then doesn’t go beyond that definition. Actually what really irks me is when people look at me like a space alien when I ask “Visual Basic what?”

So let’s clarify, shall we? Microsoft, as we’ve established, decided to kick start Windows development and go into Rapid Application Development with its Visual Basic programming tool/language. Visual Basic 1.0 was essentially a frontend for designing applications with a scripting language in the background. The language was based off of BASIC, but didn’t adhere to it strictly, mainly because BASIC had no standards bodies behind it (so you can’t say you’re ANSI compliant, like C++ compilers can).

Visual Basic was aimed at non-programmers and was fairly limited. Over the years it had six major version releases, with 1999’s Visual Basic 6.0 being the last. Each release added more power to the product, mostly through undocumented functionality (which had the interesting side effect of only the long-term programmers having access to them or the desire to use it). VB6 still retained the “only do what we thought of” mentality – it limited the users in ways that “to the metal” languages like C++ don’t. I’ve heard it referred to as the “glass cieling” of VB6 – at some point you’ll want it to do something that it simply cannot do. But in so far as being able to achieve a lot in a small amount of time, it couldn’t be beat.

But the language behind it was always kinda kludgey, and each release just grafted more onto it. What happened was – over time millions of people who weren’t considered programmers prior to VB’s release were now being considered programmers and these people demanded more from the product. Essentially Microsoft had created a beast – things they wanted to do with VB they couldn’t do without alienating their client base, and a number of things about VB never really worked, but the VB programmers worked around them anyway.

But then Microsoft hauled off and released Visual Basic .NET in 2002, as part of their .NET initiative. VB.NET changed a lot of things about the language, the environment, and the positioning of VB. Functions now had return types, VB could now power web pages, and everything written in VB to that point had to be redone. Additionally, while VB6 programmers were more or less standalone beasts, VB.NET programs ran in the .NET CLR meaning that the .NET Framework has to be loaded on the machine. Consequently, VB6 and VB.NET are considered two separate things, and a number of people have loudly decided that they will never move away from VB6 to VB.NET. Indeed, VB.NET is aimed at more advanced programmers and a number of VB6 programmers just don’t want to go there.

So that’s VB6 versus VB.NET. Then there’s VBScript. When Microsoft devised Active Server Pages, they conjured up a subset of VB functionality in scripting language (not compiled) format and called it VBScript.VBScript can run client side or servier side. Since ASP pages are server-based technology, the VBScript they use sprinkled within HTML is used to make the page more dynamic (for example, pulling things in from a database). ASP required an ASP-compatible platform, such as IIS running on Windows. Client-side, only Internet Explorer can do VBScript, which is why most web designers do VBScript on the server end and JavaScript on the client end. This practice of having pseudo-VB code running on web pages in the form of VBScript is the precursor to VB.NET’s running ASP.NET pages. VB.NET goes one step further, however, and can run the code in “code behind” – it’s in a separate file and is in fact compiled into a DLL tied to the individual ASPX page.

So that’s the three kinds of VB: VB6, VB.NET and VBScript. The part where it gets asinine is when the three get confused. Part of this is by design – Microsoft wanted the managerial staffs of the world to think VB.NET was a mere incremental upgrade on VB, which was only half right. If they knew the whole story they’d balk and not migrate, so the techies of the world played along since they wanted the upgrade. Same thing with ASP.NET and ADO.NET. But I’ve seen problems where people assume that VBScript is synonymous with all things VB and discount ASP.NET projects as “scripting”. This is nothing new – I hear of Java programmers being called to interviews where the person really needs a JavaScript programmer.

The rumor is that Microsoft secretly hates VB and would nothing more than to kill it off entirely – they’re rumored to be doing the majority of their future development in C#, including a complete rewrite of Office (though they have killed off previous efforts to do just that). Additionally, there’s word that with C# 2.0 (part of .NET 2.0), C# will get functionality that VB.NET will not – the two will fork off from each other. Why they would do that (since the MSIL would have to be updated and so therefore VB.NET could be upgraded as well) is puzzling (though for a C#-preferring language snob like myself it’s precious). The reason Microsoft came up with VB.NET to begin with is the fact that there’s some 3 million plus VB6 coders out there and they needed them to make their .NET push happen at all.

So that’s VB and the three faces of it. I don’t expect merely writing this to fix anything (since at least a few people who gave me the confused puppy look also happened to be seasoned programmers), but now at least anyone reading this knows another thing to be nitpicky over.

There’s this new concept in grocery stores. I think Albertson’s, oddly enough, innovated it. Just about every store around here now has “self checkout” lanes. The concept is simple – you scan in your own stuff, pay, then leave.

At first glance it’s a devilishly simple concept – just scan the things yourself and place it in the bags. Usually they’re arranged four in a “quad” formation, with one person at a desk to oversee them. I have mixed feelings on the one person thing – it could be that they’ve just eliminated the need for three workers, or it could be that that one worker is four times as effective.

Anywho, the first several times I saw these things I avoided them. Mostly it was because I was in a hurry and the last thing I needed to do was learn a new system. In fact, I saw these things deserted even though the lines for cashiers were quite long. Eventually though I decided to try one of these things out.

The first thing you have to do is scan whatever card you have to save money. This, ironically, is an advantage Wal-Mart has because they’re cheap to begin with. I don’t really mind the whole “savings card” idea at grocery stores (I have a keychain full of them), except for the fact that half the time these fuckers won’t scan. Anywho, you scan your card and then you scan your items. Once you scan your items, you place them in bags to the side. The bags and their dispensers are on a device which acts as a scale, which is how the machine figures out whether or not you have placed the item in the bag yet. Additionally, the system knows what the item would reasonably weigh, so it’s not enough to throw just any item in the bag. If you have produce, you place it on the scanner and either key in the code on the sticker or go through the interface to find the item in question. The scanner also acts as a scale and additionally has a camera so the overseer can make sure the item is what you say it is.

On the whole, this isn’t really a bad idea. It’s often times quicker than waiting in line, especially if you have just a few items. Sometimes though it just annoys the crap out of me. For starters, you have to do everything right. You have to scan each item individually and place them in the bag. If you get “off” from this rhythym then the system halts and the sixteen year old they hired yesterday gets to come over and place it in the bag for you. I think if you waited long enough (like ten seconds) then the problem would resolve itself, but in the meantime some kid gets to have a power trip. Occasionally the system gets confused on whether or not you placed the item in the bag already and then you have to “fake it out” – once I had to place an item in the bag along with a different item (so presumably the weight thing isn’t that precise).

And then there’s the payment method. Generally I use my check card by scanning it in the little scan thing. With a check card you can either do a debit transaction (which requires your PIN) or a credit card transaction (which requires your signature). Of all the places, Wal-Mart is the only one I’ve seen which lets you sign right on the scanning thing – even though some other stores use the exact same device to process your card. If you pick credit card at some other places then you have to go to the main cashier to sign and get your reciept. Not only does this negate the purpose (that you don’t want to interact with a cashier), but I always somehow seem to hit the one at Kroger while the main guy is taking a piss. Consequently, I go with the debit card option, even though my Wife doesn’t want me to – it’s just easier. Of course Wal-Mart’s little signing pad thingy has the resolution of an Atari 2600, so your signature never looks like your actual signature, so it’s kinda pointless to sign at all, especially since your handwriting is so botched by the unnatural angle you have to sign with in the fist place. And this is assuming the piece of shit holds still long enough to sign at all.

Now that people are starting to use these things it’s not uncommon to wait in line for them – and without fail I always get behind someone who doesn’t know how to use it. This isn’t awful – I didn’t know how to use them at one point either – but it never fails that the person has to pay in cash, feed bills into the machine (which, to its credit, has a much higher bill tolerance than a Coke machine), and then can never, ever figure out that the slot where the change bills come out is right below the scale. I guess it could be worse – it could give you your change in dollar coins like vending machines in post offices do.

The most amusing thing is the separate printer they have for coupons. You know, I’m never going to use these coupons (they’re never for anything you buy and hey, you don’t want to look cheap anyway) and I never wanted them when the human tellers would hand them to me and fill my wallet. At least now I can leave them there. Come to think of it, I would hate to see how these things redeem coupons, since it asks if you have any before you pay. This is of course right after they announce your total quite loudly – not sure if I want people in the back of Wal-Mart to know how much money I spentm but whatever.

Some stores at least have the plastic bags on a turnstyle, so you can get to more of them if you need – others just have two dispensers. Since at this point you’re too paranoid to move anything, lest the system dispatch someone to assist you and make you feel stupid, you tend to put everything into those two bags – consequently it’s only obvious when you’ve got too much when it’s too late. Fortunately there’s a “skip bagging” option for things like 12-packs of cans.

Ironically the other night I was willing to wait through a line of 2-3 people in each of the self-checkout lanes, just to glance over and see that the manned lane next to it had no one in it. I wonder if that means we secretly really don’t want to interact with the employees at a grocery store.

And all of this is really a new take that we are being trusted a lot more at the grocery store. I mean, unless they’re really being attentive and/or there’s something I’m missing, there’s nothing to keep you from just not scanning something in your cart. Now I see Albertson’s is introducing this new feature where you take a scanning gun with you and scan items as you go – then you put the scanning gun on a central station and pay there. This is crazy to me and would seem even more susecptible, except that you have to register to use this service so in theory they could hunt you down if needed.

But for all my complaints, if I have just a couple of things to check out with I’m still going to use this. But like those “voice recognition” services, I’m starting to get annoyed by the concept of “natural” human/machine interaction that requires you to act in a really unnatural way.

Seems that me and about a million other Bloggers got in on the GMail beta. It’s neat, but I need to try and actually use it some, so here goes:

schnapple@gmail.com

This is twofold – first to see if anyone wants to GMail me (great, another verb from Google) and to see if the Spam Filter is really all that great.

I’d normally have about five pages worth of blather here about GMail, but it’s been done elsewhere (try Slashdot) so I’ll be brief. The big advantage to GMail is that it offers you a gigabyte of space for free. Whereas Hotmail charges for more than like 2MB, GMail gives you ~500x more for free.

I never delete email (except for spam) ever. I have an outlook.pst file that has correspondence dating back to 1999 which has been travelling with me from reformat to reformat. It’s somewhere in the neighboorhood of 300-400MB. With hard drive space being so cheap and me being a packrat, I haven’t cared.

Hotmail has always served the purpose to me of being a “spam tarpit” – that is, when I sign up for something and I don’t want to give them my “real” email address, I give them my Hotmail address (though I’m not sure why – it’s not like I’m not already being spammed). I go and check it once a month at least (lest it gets shut down, which happens sometimes) and clean it out for shits. To Hotmail’s credit, the spam prevention’s gotten really good as of late – perhaps too good, but I don’t really “use” it, so I can’t vouch for it.

But it occurs to me – prior to Google coming out (and getting really good) the Internet was this sorta useful thing that could give you good information, provided you were determined enough to search for it. The “popular search engine” changed from time to time – Webcrawler, Yahoo, AltaVista, Hotbot, etc., but essentially you needed to search them all and wade through a lot of crap to find anything useful. The geeks on the whole didn’t mind – searching for hours to find the ultimate Quake site had a sense of accomplishment to it – but it wasn’t too practical.

Google changed all of that. I’m not going to say it’s perfect and infallible, but Google has turned the Internet into a useful tool. Google has become a verb (something Yahoo would kill for, something ICQ used to be). Google has made the printed Encyclopedia obsolete, made the Libraries of the world desolate, and made productivity go up. The Internet is now useful.

So we have web-based email, and have had for years now. It’s always been this kinda-neat thing and if you didn’t take your email too seriously it could be your main use of email. But for serious email, it’s never been that useful. But now since you could house some ten years worth of email on their servers, perhaps Google’s GMail will make Internet Email useful. It’s done this sort of thing before.

The beta is expected to go on for six months. This should prove interesting.

I bought a CD a few weeks ago, the first since Metallica’s St. Anger last summer. The CD was the new EP from They Might Be Giants. Weighing in at five songs, twelve-and-a-half minutes and $5.99, Indestructible Object is TMBG’s first effort since 2001’s Mink Car, which had the misfortune of being released on 9/11. This EP is a precursor to this summer’s LP release, The Spine. Three of the songs on the disc are new, one of which is a techno mix of the song used as the theme to the TLC show Trauma – Life in the ER. One of the songs is a redo of an old song of theirs (oddly enough, one from the first TMBG CD I ever bought), and the final track is a live cover of The Beach Boys’ “Caroline, No”.

Now what I find most interesting about this CD is this – it’s not available for download anywhere. I mean, it is – you can buy the tracks for 99¢ each on iTunes and save a buck or so, but none of the “usual haunts” have this CD for download anywhere. I thought at first it was because the CD was so short – but Everlast puts out a one-song promotional single to radio stations and that gets leaked for download. I then thought perhaps it was because the label the CD is on (Barsuk) is small and didn’t hand out promotional copies – but this EP has been out since early April and no one who’s bought it has leaked it. I thought maybe because it’s so cheap most people figured it wasn’t worth it – but at $7 retail price (I found it on “sale”) for 12 minutes of music, it’s not exactly cheap, value-wise, and it’s just the sort of thing that people like to rebel against.

Which leads me to probably one conclusion – the geeks of the world are conspiring to keep this CD off of the Internet. That’s intriguing.

They Might Be Giants formed in 1982 and was the subject in 2002 of a documentary, Gigantic: A Tale Of Two Johns. That title referred to the fact that the group is essentially two people, John Linnell and John Flansburgh. They have a backing band now, “The Band of Dans” because all three members are named Dan, but they started out as a duo. They had the fortune of hitting in the early experimental days of MTV when “post modern alternative” was just starting to crack through the hair band pop videos, and R.E.M. was still seen as innovative. Their quirky videos and odd songs were catchy to many, especially college radio. Among their innovations is the still-going Dial-A-Song where a phone call to 718-387-6962 gives you an answering machine message with a random song. You can hear new stuff, works in progress, early versions of songs for the next album, etc, as well as messages from the band.

In the late 80’s, they were signed to Elektra Records and released several albums under that label, untl they were pretty much lost in corporate reshuffling and left the label in disgust. In 1999 they made headlines by releasing the first-ever Internet-only album, Long Tall Weekend, only available on eMusic and quickly becoming the most downloaded artist on the Internet – legal or otherwise. The aforementioned Mink Car marked their return to original label Restless, though I’m not sure if Barsuk will now be their home for future releases or not.

On top of all of that, TMBG is the band you’ve never heard of but you’ve probably heard their work. They did the theme song for Malcom in the Middle, the theme song from The Daily Show, several songs for a series of ABC News Specials called Brave New World, the theme song for Austin Powers 2 and many others. Their song subjects run the gamut from robot parades, to racism and dead Belgian painters. Their most famous song is a cover of “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” from the movie They Might Be Giants (the title refers to Don Quixote fighting windmills), but they’re about as famous for the Tiny Toons-animated video for “Particle Man”, the true meaning of which baffles people to this day. And their cover of “Yeh Yeh” has graced Cadillac commercials.

Back when I started actively listening to them again in High School, it bugged me that they were such a consistently good (yet quirky) group and yet had no mainstream popularity. I always likened them to Toad the Wet Sprocket, probably because they both started around the same time and had weird names (they were also close to each other in the record aisles). Of course TtWS went on to unbridled mainstream popularity before fizzling out and breaking up about six years ago (they also had more “normal” songs) so perhaps it’s better that despite winning Grammys, TMBG has never had a #1 hit.

Which brings me back to the MP3 issue. Moby released album after album without notice. When he started letting people use his songs in commercials, his 1999 album Play sold truckloads. His 2001 follow-up, 18, didn’t do nearly as well. Though most would agree that it was due to being just a poor album (save for the strong opening track “We Are All Made Of Stars”), Moby went on record as saying that it sucks when your core audience is techies, since they don’t buy your record – they just download it.

Now to some degree what Moby said is true – most techie types will download your album, and you’ll never have 100% of them go buy it. But while a certian percentage won’t buy it because they just don’t buy music, a lot of them will go buy it if it’s any good. In the weeks preceding the 2002 release of Eminem’s The Eminem Show, it shot up to the #1 request from the Gracenote CDDB Database, meaning that more people were playing it on CD than any other album – and it wasn’t in stores yet. Like what happened with his previous CD, Interscope bumped up the release of the album and executives got on television to point out how this is the epitome of how bad piracy can be. Then the album blew away all sales records in stores.

Most people say that as a result of MP3 they buy fewer albums now, but that the ones they do buy are smarter. They download ten albums, one of them is good enough to purchase. Thet feel that they’re rewarding the artists that did good. Those are nice anecdotes, and everyone has some. The problem is the record labels don’t care – they liked the “no trying first” model. They abandoned the concept of the single, on the whole, because charging full price for an album is much more lucrative. And there’s other factors – a lot of people don’t like a lot of today’s modern music. I know I don’t. And in today’s less-than-ideal economy, paying $15 for a CD when a DVD movie is $20 doesn’t add up (though to their credit, CD prices are going down from major vendors).

But then there’s TMBG. By releasing albums as MP3 and not treating fans as prospective criminals, they created a lot of goodwill and as a result their new CD is nowhere to be found on the Internet. Metallica still hurts to this day, thanks to their Napster lawsuits and the polarizing St. Anger CD. I always noticed that the artist which would complain about MP3 is rare, and I always figured it was because most artists don’t have good contracts, so they don’t lose much money anyway. Not sure how true that is or was, but it does now seem like the artists that stayed out are reaping the benefits.

Daylight Saving Time is something I never really gave a second thought to in the past. I mean, I liked getting an extra hour of sleep in the fall (especially useful in the Corps) and in the spring I usually liked being reminded how summer was coming (which meant no school) but overall I never gave it a second thought.

Then last fall the time changed and the following Monday I had to work until like 6:30 PM or something. When I went outside it was pitch dark. This, I decided, sucked. Suddenly I hated the time change. And it wasn’t like it was just sorta dark – by 6 or 6:30 it was night time, and i had a good 30-45 minute drive home.

Compare this to the summer, when it’s still daylight at 7:00 at night. And it’s not just that the time shifted – spring and summer do that. Again, these are things I didn’t really pay attention to or care when I had a job that let out at 5 PM every day and a house five minutes away.

But now it’s changed back and I like it. I don’t know what I’ll feel like once it goes back to where it was in the fall, but we’ll see.

I started Atkins today, me and my Wife. I’m sitting here next to a salad I didn’t finish and a Diet Coke I’m not sure I’ll ever learn to stand. I had a 2-carb shake and turkey bacon for breakfast. I’m consulting Nutrition Facts lists to see what I can eat. I’m staring homicidally at people holding french fries. If carbs are really the answer then I don’t know how I’ve survived this long because everything I eat has a shit-ton of them. The “Induction Phase” allows for 20 carbs a day – the Cokes I used to power down have like 39 each.

This is going to suck, but I’m trying (already) to make the best of it. All I want is for my belly to not spill over my desk at work anymore.

First things first, my Wife has her own blog now (oddly enough on Moe’s real estate), so go head over there to see what she has to say – and be nice or I’ll kick yer ass…

Second off, the aforementioned Moe has become engaged to the hopefully-now-more-contnent Adam, much to the chagrin of pathetic male Internet lurkers everywhere. Congrats you two.

Now then, the most impressive game package I’ve seen in years I picked up last week. It’s the DVD Special Edition of Unreal Tournament 2004.

Back when Unreal Tournament came out, I still had this thing/complex about game loyalty. Now to some degree this never goes away – unless id Software passes a real turd I’ll continue to buy their games day one (hardware requirements permitting) – but back then I had this attitude that you had to play one game to exclusion of others. Back then that game was Quake 3: Arena, whch had several novel concepts – for starters it was the first id Software game to require a 3-D accellerator, and it was multiplayer-only, a response to the fact that despite the inclusion of a single-player component in the previous two Quake games, all anyone seemed to care about was the multiplayer component. The only problem was, someone else happened to have the same idea – Digital Extremes and Epic happened across the same idea at more or less the same time. Although Quake 3 was the more popular of the two, most critics favored Unreal Tournament. id Software had come out with Quake and Quake II in the timeframe it took DE to come out with Unreal, but the Unreal engine was considrably more impressive than either of the Quakes. Most people agreed that the Quake 3 engine was more impressive than the newer Unreal Tournament engine, but that Unreal Tournament did more with what it had and, more importantly, Unreal Tournament was released, it had more bang for the buck – more modes, more maps, more innovations in gameplay. Whereas id Software charged for additional content in the form of an expansion pack, Epic/DE released four bonus packs for free online.

id Software moved on to work on DOOM 3 and Epic/DE moved on to a sequel to UT. What was once known as Unreal Tournament 2 became Unreal Tournament 2003. The name change implied that yearly updates were coming, and Epic/DE’s line was that the updates were more akin to a sports game and more aimed at professional play. This got some gamers upset, since the pattern with most sports games is to come out with marginal upgrades and then charge full price – only console hardware breaks cause engine upgrades. When Unreal Tournament 2003 was released, most gamers who loved the original game hated it – the more subtle nuances had been traded in for the more popular mechanics of the Quake series. Me personally I liked it and like its predecessor, it was an impressive package – weighing in at 3 CD’s, it also included the Linux port straight out of the box and the Maya Personal Learning Edition with an UT2003 plugin for modifications.

When UT2004 was formally announced, most gamers scoffed. Despite selling over a million copies, UT2003 for some reason never really took off with gamers. Most servers had bots enable by default for whatever reason and it gave many the impression that the game wasn’t popular since filtering out non-bot servers with server browsers meant few were left. Ergo, releasing a sequel so quickly was seen as some as desparate. The most popular game online was and still is Counter-Strike, but coming in at second or third is Battlefield 1942 with its Desert Combat modification – in more or less the same timeframe as UT2003. Another seemingly desparate move was the inclusion of vehicles – something done well in BF1942 and poorly elsewhere.

But then a few weeks back they released a demo – and the results were quite well recieved. More of the original UT style of gameplay had returned (which had been previously been incorporated in a bonus pack for UT2003) and most liked maps and vehicles. But the biggest surprise was Onslaught mode. Something of a cross between Tribes 2 and BF1942‘s Conquest mode. Couple this with the fact that the game has more than twice the maps of UT2003 (and has all of the maps from UT2003) and only retails for $40 before a $10 mail-in rebate for UT2003 owners, and most cynical gamers became converts.

The game weighs in at six CD’s, but thankfully, Epic/DE released a second version on DVD-ROM. Originally the DVD version was going to retail at $60, but it was brought back down to $40 at some point. This is the version I picked up, since I not only have a DVD-ROM drive, but I support the movement to DVD-ROM. However, not only did they ship the game on a DVD-ROM, but they included a second disc of video tutorials from 3D Buzz covering everything from scripting to level editing to Maya. Some gamers have reported that they have spent more time watching the videos than playing the games.

And as if all that weren’t enough, it came in this neat metal box and it even came with a pair of Logitech headphones with microphone. It’s really overkill – but it’s cool. The installation takes a 5.2GB chunk of your hard drive, but that’s the cost of doing business these days. The second bonus disc even has DVD-Video trailers and designer interviews for your DVD player.

The one thing I was looking forward to that didn’t make it into the final product was network compatibility between UT2003 and UT2004. I’m not sure to what degree the games are compatible, but I know that UT2003 mods are compatible with UT2004, but UT2003 players and UT2004 players using the same mod can’t play against each other. I do believe this actually was for technical reasons, but it does have the convenient side-effect of promoting sales of the new game.

The only thing that concerns me is that, if there is an Unreal Tournament 2005, I don’t know how they’re going to top this. This may sound like I’m kidding, but what I wonder is – what if they can’t come up with a mode better than Onslaught mode? What if there’s not another vehicles-like innovation in the pipes? What if more maps won’t be enough? Most gamers expected an incemental upgrade and instead got over 100% more – what if that’s not enough next time?

We’ll see next year. In the meantime, I’m off to play…