Guitar Hero

I’ve recently been introduced to the world of Guitar Hero, a video game where your controller is shaped like a half-sized guitar and all of the strings/frets have been reduce to five colored buttons. The game plays a song, and you are supposed to play the guitar line along to the vocals and other instrumentation. It’s a lot of fun. I wasted countless hours on this game on my recent vacation to visit some old roommates in San Diego. In general, I do not like video games. In fact, this is the first video game to hold my attention since The Secret of Mana on Super Nintendo. My friends were surprised that I actually enjoyed playing a video game, and one of them asked me “So you approve of this video game?”

At that point I had to stop and think. It IS fun, but it kept reminding me of an NPR program I heard where some guy wrote a book about the role music plays in various societies. He talked about how traditionally, music was something all members of a community shared. Almost all members of a community were able to play instruments, sing, and participate in music performance in informal group settings. He argued that this was a good thing – a way to bring communities together with a common interest. He then argued that American society has only recently abandoned this traditional role of music. These days, we have reduced playing music to something that only professionals do. The rest of us are spectators. Those that play music are elevated to rockstar status while the rest of us are seldom comfortable even singing a simple song in front of a group of friends. So what role does Guitar Hero play in our society? Here’s my list of pro’s and con’s about the video game.

PRO’S:
It IS fun. It makes me dance while I play and I greatly enjoyed it. It cleverly makes a lot of jokes and uses words that make me laugh (i.e. the knobs on the pictures of amps go up to 11 – a joke lost on probably 75% of the kids who will play this game, and they use the word “wankery”).

It will expose kids to music that otherwise they wouldn’t know existed. Since half the kids playing this game are ages 15 and under, they weren’t around when most of the songs were released (i.e. how many 15 year olds today know the band KANSAS?) Although most of the music on the game can be classified as “rock,” it still has a relatively diverse selection of songs.

It improves hand-eye coordination – maybe. I’m not sure this is the case, but this argument has been used to promote every video game since The Legend of Zelda, so I guess I’ll keep the trend going.

At least it gives kids SOME idea about music and rhythm.

CONS:
The music on the game isn’t the original versions of the songs, but shitty knock-off versions of classic songs. Some of the renditions are better than others (whoever is attempting the Axl Rose impersenation is lame).

The game falls short of actually teaching how to read music or understand notes. The game uses a pretty half-assed method of representing rhythms (It’s a visual method, not a mathematical method).

While I play, I wonder, “If playing the guitar is so kewl, why can’t we get kids to play REAL guitars, instead?” The answer, of course, is that guitar hero is so much easier. It’s instant gratification. A kid can play Bark at the Moon within an hour of picking up the half-sized plastic guitar, a feat hardly possible with a real guitar. The game may be unintentionally reinforcing to kids that the easiest route is the best route. A friend raised the idea that perhaps the game would encourage kids to pick up real guitars. I only hope this is the case – but have little hope that it is. How many kids, after playing a soccer video game, decide that they would rather be outside playing REAL soccer? I’m sure there are some…. but most just keep playing the game because it’s so much easier.

THE VERDICT:
Overall, if we accept it for what it is – a stupid video game used in moderation – then it’s a great thing. It’s mindless fun, and I’d rather have kids playing this game than watching stupid tv shows all day. But it’s still a little depressing that most people (including myself) will spend HOURS playing this lame video game, but won’t devote 10 minutes to a REAL guitar that would teach me ACTUAL music. Who knows… I’m sure “Drummer Hero” or something will be produced before long – maybe I’ll feel entirely different about it then.

Victories & Injuries

My girlfriend and I built the sweetest set of shelves a couple of days ago. They’re awesome, even though they’re a little bit crooked. The good news is that I got to buy a new circular saw. It’s a Makita 7.25″, 15 amp, built only for the toughest of wood warriors. not really.. but it’s good enough for anything I’ll need it for.

I also had a run-in with a Porter*Cable cordless drill. We were using it do drive all the screws, so we just had a phillips head bit in it. This thing kicked my ass on at least one occasion. I made a rookie mistake, and left my thumb in the way in case the bit jumped off the screw. Well, the bit DID jump off the screw, and landed right on my thumb, and of course it happened so fast that I’m still sitting there holding down the trigger drilling a hole THROUGH my thumb. yes. I said THROUGH my thumb.

All in all, my injury wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been, considering I had a jagged piece of metal rotating inside my thumb. I can still feel 75% of my thumb, and am hopeful that number will rise to 80% over the next two weeks. Was it worth it? You bet. They’re the best shelves in town… or at least the best shelves in the basement of my girlfriend’s house.

Melanie and I have been doing all sorts of home improvement projects lately. It’s great. I want to own a house, too so that I can build stuff for my house. But with a total annual income of about $12,000 I don’t think I’ll be qualifying for any loans anytime soon. So I’ll just have to settle for building stuff at my girlfriends house. This weekend we were supposed to install her new garage door opener, but we chickened out since it’s the coldest weekend of the year so far… so it’s still in the box in the garage. Also, I’m trying to get her to reconstruct her bathroom, but it will be a big job, and we’d have to hire at least some of it out. I don’t know how to weld copper pipes, for example, and I don’t know how well I’d do at tile.

Building stuff rules.

A Message From An Unknown Author

I’m in the process of moving into an new apartment and I’m so happy about it. I slept there for the first time last night and I’ve rarely slept so well. I finally feel like I’m home. For the past year I’ve unhappily lived in a house with several other people. One of my roommates is named Aimee, and her parents own the place, which means it always felt like ‘her’ house – not mine. I never felt at home and I’m so glad to finally be out of there. My new apartment is extremely small, but it’s MINE. I feel so at home there already, and I’m not even moved in.

As I was moving out, I moved a bookcase out next to the street, and then decided that I didn’t want to take it with me, so I just left it there on the side of the road overnight. When I came back this morning, one of the scallywags from the public housing across the street had scribbled “rich people suck” in very large letters across it. I got tagged – BIG TIME.

I can’t be certain that the author was referring to the owner of the bookcase or if the bookcase was simply a convenient canvas on which to display a general observation. But I took it personally, feeling that the scallywag was implying that I was rich… and that I sucked. Setting aside the very real possiblity that I suck, I thought for a second about the implication that I am rich. Let’s consider the bookcase. It is one of those generic Wal-Mart bookcases made of cheap particle board with wood-grained stickers applied over the top to make it appear as if it was made out of expensive hardwoods. As is common, the backing is not wood at all, but cardboard tacked into the wood. I’m not the original owner, but I imagine the original retail price was about $40. Since it’s creation, however, it has been involved in at least one flood, much of the particle board has expanded (the way only particle board can when it gets wet) and much of the wood grain stickers have fallen off. The previous owner had thrown it to the curb, where I picked it up for free and carried it home. It is hardly the type of bookcase I would expect a ‘rich’ person to own, and in my opinion, owning a piece of furniture like this hardly qualifies someone as ‘rich.’

But perhaps the scallywag was more thoughtful than I originally thought. Perhaps he or she had actually seen me enter or exit the house previously and was familiar with many of my belongings. Perhaps he or she has been watching tenants parade all of their belongings in and out of the house every year as tenants come and go. Or perhaps the act of living in a house (as opposed to public housing) qualified me as ‘rich’ regardless of the quality of my bookcases. Perhaps the author knew that all of the tenants in this house were graduate students, medical students, one is even a practicing dentist. Maybe it was simply an obervation that I might have more than the author.

The more I reflect on the situation, I have decided to interpret the message as a well-intentioned reminder from a member of society of how blessed I am. In an attempt to humble myself, I choose to interpret the message as follows: Despite the poor condition of my bookshelf, I have still been quite blessed with many wonderful opportunities (and belongings), and I ‘suck’ for doing relatively little to help those around me enjoy the same quality of life.

My Best Friend Maury

My best friend is Maury Povich. I’ll be damned if he and I don’t get together and waste hours at a time doing nothing useful. This morning he and I performed paternity tests for women who didn’t know who the father of their children was. One case in particular was notable. One lady approaced Maury and I with FOUR men who could possibly be the father of one of her children. We performed the DNA test, and determined that none of them was the father of her children. Can you believe it? Not one of the four men we tested was the father of her children. Hmmm….

Currently, maury and I are viewing “shocking videos” of traffic stops, robbery attempts, assaults, and other amazing stories. It’s an absolute riot. Two young gentlemen out fishing heard some strange noises coming from a piece of trash floating in the water. They thought they were saving a kitten trapped in a plastic bag when they pulled it ashore, but as they opened it, they found a young female human, less than a month old. Shocking!

Maury and I go way back. I’m so grateful for my best friend Maury. One of my favorite memories is the time we got together and beat the shit out of Montel Williams. Then we heckled Oprah, and shaved Geraldo’s mustache…. oh man. he was pissed about that mustache! Then he told me that he had a crush on Jenny Jones and I was like, “WHAT? THAT’S INSANE, MAURY!” Then he popped me one right on the chin and i was like, “oh. i guess i hadn’t thought of it like that before.”

Damn Straight. Next week we’re going to get together for some nachos, throw on the new John Legend album, and prank call Carnie Wilson.

A Broken Man

When I was about 12 years old, my mother arranged for my sister and I to play our violins in sacrament meeting at church. We got to sit up on the stage where everyone could see us because we were part of the program – I thought it was very exciting. Our violin teacher, a funny old man with a hairpiece played with us. He was a beautiful violinist. He was also not a member of the church. Everything went well until the Sacrament Hymn. I don’t remember what hymn we were singing, but it was a common song, and one that my teacher was familiar with, even though he was not a member of the LDS church. He stood up and began playing his violin along with the hymn – It was beautiful. After about 10 seconds, the bishop stood up and asked my teacher to stop playing. You could see the old man’s heart break. He lived for the violin and on his first visit to an LDS church, he was made to feel that his violin playing wasn’t good enough.

This is my earliest memory of opposing actions taken by the church. I couldn’t believe they asked him to stop playing. I don’t know why they asked him to stop…. tradition? policy? personal preference of my then-current bishop? I don’t know. But beginning that day, I realized that the church would make decisions, policies, declarations, or take actions that I would disagree with.

Although it seems like such a small incident, it had a large impact on my life. I was always taught to support the church leadership no matter what decisions they made. How do you reconcile, especially at the age of 12, when an individual you’ve been taught is a representative of God makes a statement or takes an action that you disagree with on a fundamental level? No part of my soul could believe that God objected to an old man playing a violin along with a hymn. How could I support a local church leader that did? small potatoes, perhaps… but what about the next time it happens?

I’m So Productive

It’t 9:04 a.m., I’m eating french fries and watching the Tyra Banks show. Danielle Fischel is on the show and she’s heading up the “Booty Patrol.” She’s walking around asking women ages 6-35 “How do you like your booty?” Later, they’re going to talk about boobs. I have so much homework to do, that I’m amazed I’m wasting time watching this show.

Also, I had class starting 9:00, that I’m obviously not going to be attending today.

We’re supposed to get a foot of snow in the next couple of days. This may be my first time cycling in deep snow. We’ll see how it works, and then I’ll let you know.

Snubbed

So i moved into a new apartment this summer, and it’s sort of funny the way it’s worked out. I moved into this place in a hurry because i was being thrown out of my old apartment because my roommate decided he wasn’t going to pay rent anymore. So I pretty much took this place because it was the first place I found. I’ve got 4 roommates, none of whom I had ever met before moving in. Eric lives in the basement with me. He’s my favorite. We chat from time to time – he’s a nice guy. He’s the only one I know anything about other than his name. Eissa – very nice. We always say hi to each other. I like her. I think she likes me, too, because once she dropped her grandma’s pearl earring down the bathroom sink and I dismantled the drain system to retrieve it for her. She was very grateful. Matt – hmmm. always nice to me, I don’t know anything about him. I have no idea where he’s from, what he’s doing… i know that his name is Matt and he cooks a lot. Aimee – her dad owns the place…. that’s it. she doesn’t say Hi to me anymore when we’re in the same room, so i stopped saying hi to her, too.

Pretty much, I’m living with a bunch of strangers, and I think they all hate me. Matt thinks I ate some of his leftover pizza (i didn’t eat it) so I don’t think he likes me. Also, I think he’s sort of dating Aimee, who hates me, so he’s probably not that fond of me. The other four roommates sort of pal around a little bit. I think the go out once in a while… maybe not. I don’t know since I don’t pal around with them. All I know is that if I have spare time, I don’t spend it at home. I’m always at my girlfriend’s house, and it works out just fine for me. If the kitchen and bathroom weren’t upstairs, I’d probably never go up there at all.

The newest evidence that someone isn’t very fond of me: We all got christmas stockings hung on our bedroom doors – including Bella, the dog. Eric and Eissa both got very nice stockings. Someone had put a lot of time and effort into decorating them. Cut out felt shapes, and 3D shapes and stuff. Eric’s has a snowman, Eissa’s has a reindeer. Matt and Aimee live on the 3rd floor, so I don’t know if one or both of them have stockings on their doorknobs (i’ve been on the third floor of this home only twice, i think). The dog and I got undecorated stockings. Ha ha. Whoever handed them out – and I’ll bet it was Aimee – didn’t bother to decorate mine.

It cracks me up. I don’t mind that mine didn’t get decorated. Frankly, it’s a little strange that I got one in the first place. I wouldn’t expect a stocking from a girl with whom I am barely on speaking terms. And I certainly wouldn’t expect a girl who has some sort of grudge against me to spend a lot of time or effort decorating a stocking for me. At any rate, it’s a little strange.

I don’t know why I seem to be on such bad terms with Aimee. I’ve never insulted her that I know of. I’ve been nothing but nice to her. It’s sort of like she has something against me because I make no effort to spend time with everyone else here. I feel like she want’s there to be a lively and vibrant social scene here in the apartment and resents that I would rather be at my girlfriend’s house than here. Oh well… i ain’t gonna sweat it.

A Step Towards Normalcy

As some of you may know, I recently sold my truck and for the first time in 10 years, am automobile free. I’m loving every minute of it. It was a big step for me to make…. a step I had been trying to make for the past year, but never had the guts. I was a little afraid of being outside the norm. I thought that by giving up my automobile, I was stepping outside of what a normal person would do. I’m beginning to realize that I was wrong.

In fact, there are tons of people who don’t own automobiles. Not all of them don’t own vehicles out of their own choice, most of them simply can’t afford a vehicle. It’s dawned on me that this is exactly the same reason I don’t own a vehicle. If I had unlimited amounts of cash, I would definately OWN a vehicle, even if I never used it. So I’m just like everybody else. I don’t own a vehicle because I don’t have the money. In my case, it’s not that I can’t afford a car, it’s that I simpl don’t want to afford a car. I could afford it if I really wanted to, but the benefits simply aren’t worth the costs for someone in my stage of life.

In fact, by selling my truck and being automobile free, I am more normal than I was when I still owned it. What is even more odd than a person who doesn’t own a vehicle, is someone who owns a vehicle but never uses it. Economists estimate that 70% of the costs of vehicle ownership are fixed costs, meaning you pay them regardless of how much or how often you drive. It is truly odd that for an entire year I chose to pay 70% of the costs of vehicle ownership, but didn’t recieve any of the benefits because I left the truck parked the whole time.

I’m glad I can finally join the mainstream by living automobile free.

Bike v. Car: Round I

I got hit by a car this morning. Actually a very large truck. F-250 I believe. But it was big…and tan. You’d think I’d be able to tell you more about the truck, since I got a pretty close look at it…. but I can’t. It’s pretty embarrassing how it happened, actually. I made a rookie mistake: I assumed a motorist had seen me without making eye contact with them. We both came to a complete stop at a 4 way intersection perpendicular to each other. We had arrived at pretty much the same time. Maybe I got there a little before he did, but pretty much the same time. According to traffic rules, he was on my right, so he had the right-of-way. We were both stopped at the intersection for several seconds, and I was waiting for him to pass through the intersection. But many drivers don’t follow the same rules when bikes are involved, and often give the bicyclist the right-of-way, even if legally, the car should have it. After the truck was stopped at the intersection significantly longer than what I thought was normal for a vehicle to wait at a stop sign, I assumed he had seen me and was waiting for me.

This proved to be an incorrect assumption. As soon as I was half way across the intersection, he accelerated and hit me. I can’t remember exactly what happened. I don’t remember exactly how I fell, except to note that after I hit the ground I was pointed in the wrong direction. But I do remember laying on the ground thinking, “please don’t run over my legs… PLEASE don’t run over my legs.” I knew the rest of me was ok, but I also knew part of my bike was underneath his wheels, and I wasn’t exactly sure where my feet were. Since I am one of the 46.6 million Americans without any health insurance, the last thing I needed was a trip to the emergency room.

Luckily, i was not seriously injured, suffering only minor scratches and bruises, and the only serious damage to my bicycle is a bent wheel.

I’m frustrated about this incident for several reasons, and the original intent of this blog was not to describe the incident, but rather to discuss bicycle policy issues, but I guess I don’t feel like discussing it anymore, and this is already getting pretty long. I’ll have to save it for another day.