Friday, April 29, 2011

Media update spring 2011: music

This post seems a tad redundant since I posted my thorough 2010 year-end review only a few weeks ago, but I figured that I would post it anyway, given that music is now the only medium in my life in which I have not released an update recently. So here it is, my summary of what I've listened to lately and what I'm looking forward to. As I commented in my year-end review, I still not purchased much new music lately; in fact, I have not bought any music released so far in 2011, and only two new CDs. There hasn't been much of interest to me so far, but here's my commentary on what's happened so far.

Five albums I've listened to the most in the past few months:
Decemberists – The King Is Dead
Jonsi – Go
Needtobreathe – The Outsiders
Sufjan Stevens – Age of Adz
Temper Trap – Conditions

Ten albums I'm listening to currently:
Abandon – Control
Adele – 21
Brett Detar - Bird in the Tangle
Bright Eyes – The People’s Key
Explosions in the Sky – Take Care, Take Care, Take Care
Cake – Showroom of Compassion
Cold War Kids – Mine Is Yours
Mountain Goats – All Eternals Deck
Paul Simon – So Beautiful or So What
TV on the Radio – Nine Types of Light

Top five albums released in 2011 to buy:
Decemberists - The King is Dead
Derek Webb – Feedback (I haven't heard it yet, but judging by his output thus far I'll love it)
Emery – We Do What We Want
Foo Fighters – Wasting Light
Glee: The Music - Presents The Warblers (they're so smooth!)

Top five albums released in 2010 to buy:
Deas Vail – Birds & Cages
Jonsi – Go
Keane – Night Train EP
The National – High Violet
Sufjan Stevens – Age of Adz

Five artists I'm investigating more deeply (ie. listening to their discography):
Black Keys
Cold War Kids
David Gray
Electric Light Orchestra
Wilco (pre-2002)

Five albums releasing soon that I'm excited to hear:
Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues (05/03)
Manchester Orchestra – Simple Math (05/10)
Death Cab for Cutie – Codes and Keys (05/31)
Blindside – With Shivering Hearts We Wait (06/07)
Owl City – All Things Bright & Beautiful (06/14)

Five rumoured 2011 releases I'm eagerly anticipating:
Mat Kearney – Young Love
Switchfoot - Vice Verses
U2 - Songs of Ascent

And so concludes my most prolific blogging day ever (I think) with my fourth post in four hours. Feel free to respond with what you're listening to lately.

Election 41: the final push

It's the final push in the federal election, and it certainly has been an unpredictable one. Few political analysts, myself included, though that the NDP would be more than an also-ran in this election, but they are poised to have their best showing and perhaps even form the Official Opposition. Jack Layton has his party as strong as it has been since Ed Broadbent's leadership performance in 1988, and the NDP are actually being regarded as a viable option to the rapidly-sinking Liberals, who seems almost inevitably headed toward a leadership debate and perhaps a worse showing than under Dion in 2008. Then again, polls do not necessarily reflect the reality on voting day, so the Liberals may pull it out over the NDP, though there seems to be little doubt that the Conservatives will again form government. I still haven't changed most of my opinions from my initial observations a month ago, but we'll see what happens on Monday.
I also wanted to comment briefly on my own riding, Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca, which was named in The Globe and Mail as one of the 50 to watch. Liberal Keith Martin won over Conservative Troy De Souza by 68 votes last time, but Martin chose not to run again in this election. De Souza seems to have been treating this election as a gimme, and I had initially feared that that might be the case. De Souza has focused as his primary issue on the "Colwood Crawl", a traffic jam on the main route into Victoria; he has continued to push into this issue despite the commentary presented that not only is there little he can do as a backbencher but that infrastructure is primarily a municipal and provincial issue. I won't say for whom I am voting, but suffice to say that it's not Troy, since I want an MP who understands the role of the government. But my point in bringing this up is that the difficulty for me has come in who to support locally as opposed to voting federally. If the Liberal candidate were the most likely to defeat De Souza, could I vote for Ignatieff's party in spite of their pitiful performance in this campaign? Should I vote based on federal issues or local concerns? It's one of the primary issues in our first-past-the-post system, and it comes up again every election for me. But at least I don't still feel like my best option is to spoil my ballot.

Stanley Cup playoff updates, round 2

To start, a brief summary of my round 1, with brief commentary:

My initial predictions:
(1)Washington over (8)New York in 6: RIGHT winner, wrong number of games (5). The only surprise in this series was that Lundqvist didn't steal one more game from the Caps. It was a nice warm-up for Washington.
(7)Buffalo over (2)Philadelphia in 7: WRONG winner, right number of games. When it goes to the seventh game, it's often a matter of who's better that day. The Sabres, however, were up 3-2, and they could have done it. They'll regret this one all summer, but watch out for them next year.
(3)Boston over (6)Montréal in 7: RIGHT! It took till OT, but the Bs did it. It was a hard-fought, even series, and Montréal really has little to lament.
(4)Pittsburgh over (5)Tampa Bay in 5: WRONG winner and wrong number of games (7). This was the most surprising result in the first round to me, especially since the Penguins led the series 3-1. Kudos to the Bolts, who showed a lot more resilience than anyone expected.

(1)Vancouver over (8)Chicago in 6: RIGHT winner, wrong number of games (7). The tension in BC was palpable after Game 5, and it's still amazing how quickly Luongo goes from hero to public enemy number one here. Chicago played a hard series and they have nothing to regret except not winning. Vancouver, on the other hand, has some work to do if they hope to keep winning, as the Hawks showed that the Canucks are a beatable team, as Toews asserted after Game 3.
(7)L.A. Kings over (2)San Jose Sharks in 6: WRONG winner, right number of games. I still think the Kings should have won it, but they lost too much momentum after their Game 3 collapse. Watch out for them next year, though, now that they've got a chip on their shoulder.
(3)Detroit over (6)Phoenix in 5: RIGHT winner, wrong number of games (4). The only surprise here was that Phoenix didn't put up more of a fight.
(5)Anaheim over (4)Nashville in 7: WRONG winner, wrong number of games (6). They split the first four games, but Anaheim just looked tired in the final two losses. It seemed like a year of fighting to make the playoffs wore on them, and Nashville had more to play for.

Overall: 4-4, with three big flubs and one game 7 loss. Not a horrible start, but I did also lose two of my predicted conference finalists (Anaheim and Pittsburgh). With that in mind, here are my Round 2 picks:

Eastern Conference:
(1)Washington vs. (5)Tampa Bay: The division rivals meet again, and this time it really means something. I think Washington has more to play for in terms of expectation, which could act for them or against them. Tampa can play a little looser, since few expected them to get this far, and Roloson is playing really well in net. I think Washington will still pull it out, but it will not be an easy series. Washington in 6.

(2)Philadelphia vs. (3) Boston: The rematch the Bruins have been waiting for since last year's historic collapse. This will be a grueling series, and the biggest surprise for me will be if it doesn't go to seven games. I think I'm going to take the Bruins in the redemption round. Boston in 7.

Western Conference:
(1)Vancouver vs. (5)Nashville: This is both the best and worst possible matchup for the Canucks. Nashville won their first playoff series ever with Mike Fisher playing as well as he ever has, and they're hungry for more. The Canucks survived nearly completing the worst collapse in NHL history, and they will have to pick it up against the Predators if they hope to keep going; the Sedins especially need to find their scoring touch. I think the Canucks will still do it, but don't count me too surprised if they stumble and the Predators take advantage of them. Vancouver in 6.

(2)San Jose vs. (3)Detroit: I'm really interested to see what happens in this series, a rematch of last year's second round series won by San Jose. They're teams that play a similarly uptempo style, and they're both rolling really well right now. The injury to Zetterberg may be the key to this series for both teams, especially if the Sharks can neutralize Datsyuk. I think the Sharks will pull this one out, unless Niemi continues to stink up the net. San Jose in 6.

So, despite the fact that I predicted both 2-seeds would be upset in the first round, now I'm calling them both for the Conference Finals. And at this point, my prediction for the Finals (Vancouver over Washington) still stands. For now.

Media update spring 2011: Movies

Since I've already updated about board games, video games, and television, I figured it was time to update about my movie-watching habits. I doubt there are any surprises here, but it's still good for me to evaluate every so often. As expected, the first part of the year has consisted primarily of catching up on movies from the end of the previous year, rather than watching any of the dreck being released in theatres. I've seen one 2011 movie so far, and as you'll see, there weren't many more that I felt the need to see, either. The main changes in my movie watching and reviewing habits are that I'm on Netflix and back on Flixster; so far, it seems like any reviews that I need to write can be encapsulated in a few sentences, rather than a full post. Anyway, here's where I've been and what I'm looking forward to, with a little bit of commentary on the way.

Last five movies I've watched:
Get Low
The Ghost and the Darkness
The Fighter (second time)

Last five movies I've seen in theatre:
The Fighter
The King's Speech
True Grit

Progress I've made recently in my ongoing quest to watch the AFI Top 100:
The Last Picture Show (1971)
Taxi Driver (1976)

Three other ongoing "projects":
Terrence Malick films
Terry Gilliam films
1970s films

Five movies that I'm currently most ashamed to have not seen:
Apocalypse Now
The Godfather
Schindler's List

Six movies from 2010 that I most want to see:
127 Hours
Black Swan
Inside Job
The Kids Are All Right
Never Let Me Go
Winter’s Bone

Five movies released so far in 2011 that I would like to see:
Cedar Rapids
Green Hornet
The Way Back
Win Win

Four limited release movies that intrigue me this summer:
The Beaver (May 6)
Everything Must Go (May 13)
Tree of Life (May 27)
Another Earth (July 22)

Five blockbuster movies I'm actually looking forward to this summer:
Thor (May 6) - Kenneth Branagh directing!
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (May 20) - as much as 3 stank it up, it looks like the franchise could have new life. Plus Ian McShane as Blackbeard!
Cars 2 (June 24) - never count out Pixar.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (July 15) - It's about time for this franchise to end.
Cowboys & Aliens (July 29) - This could be really good. At least the trailer is awesome.

Five blockbuster movies that I'll probably see anyway but that might not be worth the price of admission:
Kung Fu Panda 2 (May 26)
X-Men: First Class (June 3)
Green Lantern (June 17)
Captain America: The First Avenger (July 22)
Rise of the Planet of Apes (Aug. 5)

Five movies you could not pay me to see this summer:
Bad Teacher
The Smurfs
Transformers: Dark of the Moon

I'm glad, at least, that we have a cheap theatre near us that gets most of the movies that I'm dubious about. When I can spend $20 for me and my wife and get snacks, it's not such a huge loss if the movie stinks. Which Green Lantern almost certainly will. Anyway, should be a fun summer.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Media update spring 2011: television

I'm becoming increasingly annoyed with network television, and not because of the ever-present dearth of quality programming; I've addressed that problem by not watching most of it. My issue this year has been the sporadic, undependable nature of airing of new episodes of shows that I do watch. Of the network shows I'm watching, only Survivor: Redemption Island has been constant in its airing; of course, it is a shorter season with more intentionality in its distribution, so that makes sense. The other shows I'm watching seem to go on and off the air with indiscriminate impunity, much to my consternation. I’d much rather see networks move to two "mini-seasons" of a dozen episodes each, or even to four mini-seasons of six episodes, rather than this odd "2 on, 3 off, 1 on, 2 off" randomized sequence that seems to permeate current network thinking. It's no wonder fewer people are watching the four networks, and that new shows are not succeeding. Anyway, now that that diatribe is over with,

Shows I've watched recently:
Better Off Ted (S1+S2)
The Shield (S1)
Justified (S1)
Futurama (returns in June!)
Dexter S5

Six shows I'm watching now:
Chuck S4
Justified S2
Survivor: Redemption Island
Community S2
30 Rock S5
Big Bang Theory S4

Four shows I’'ve tried this year but couldn't get to stick:
Running Wilde – It worked occasionally, but I'd rather rewatch Arrested Development to get my Mitch Hurwitz fix. On the plus side, it is only nine episodes long, and it's on Netflix.
Raising Hope – I watched two episodes with a mixed level of amusement. I think I'd rather rewatch season 1 of My Name Is Earl to get my Greg Garcia fix.
No Ordinary Family – I lasted two, maybe three episodes. I just couldn't buy into it, seeing Michael Chiklis playing an emasculated version of Vic Mackey. As a result, I'm watching through The Shield.
Boardwalk Empire – I watched the first five episodes, and although I acknowledge the brilliance of the story, the characters, and the attempt to complete something of this scale in an episodic format, I didn't keep going. I think I just found more interesting things to watch (and with Dexter, I already had one show my wife wouldn’t watch; I'm not sure I could support two). I might come back to it, but I might not.

Two shows I'm losing interest in:
Glee – It's not that I'm not watching it; it's just that I'm not "watching" it. Between the sporadic nature of new episodes and the lack of interesting characters, I'm not invested in Glee at all this year. I'm two episodes behind, and I’ll probably watch them at some point, but it's more out of obligation than interest. Sure, there's still often one dynamite musical number in each episode, but is it worth the investment of time when I could just YouTube it afterward? I'm not sold.

The Office – Perhaps "losing" is not the right word; "lost" might be more appropriate. I haven't watched the show since Jim and Pam's wedding last season, and I haven't really missed it. I've found it difficult to keep watching the show after the primary conflict (ie. Jim and Pam) was resolved. I have some interest in Michael Scott's last days and what's happening with his replacement, but I'm not sure if it's enough to watch through forty episodes to get to it. I think at this point that I'd rather just rewatch seasons 2 and 3. I hope that they make next season the last, since it seems like the show has run out of ideas (as do most sitcoms in their sixth and seventh years).

Five shows on recently that I have intended to watch:
The Borgias
The Cape
The Chicago Code
The Killing

Five shows I’d like to catch up with before the next season starts:
Breaking Bad
Burn Notice
Mad Men
Parks and Recreation (I know, I know. How am I not watching this yet? My hope is to catch up with it over the summer so I’ll be ready for Season 4.)

Five completed shows to watch through:
Band of Brothers
Battlestar Galactica
Friday Night Lights (S3-5)
The Shield (S2-7)
The Wire

Five other shows on my radar to check out or work through sometime:
The Big C
Curb Your Enthusiasm
The Dead Set
Freaks and Geeks

(And yes, I realize that I just listed twenty TV shows that I would like to watch.)

Monday, April 18, 2011

Halfway on the hustings

We're halfway through the election campaign, so I thought I would post some of my thoughts on what has happened (or not happened) so far. It seems that one or two of the predictions I made two weeks ago are in danger of not coming true, though given the nature of this campaign, it seems likely that my prediction of the lowest voter turnout ever will stick. This has been perhaps the most lifeless, mundane, inconsequential campaign I have seen almost entirely across the board. It seems that each leader has little sense of their actual standing in the election, so I'll give the midterm grades for their campaigns, as far as I see it.

Conservatives: Harper and company were destined to have difficulty in making new promises because they had just proposed a budget and they have governed for five years. Their main promises have all been dependent on their presence in government in several years, and Harper has been candid in his talk about voters having the choice between an unstable coalition and a Conservative majority government. It's a gamble, but it could pay off in the end if some of the swing seats switch to Conservative hands. The Conservatives have portrayed the kind of methodical poise that Harper has ingrained into them since uniting the right, and they are more prepared than ever to form that majority. I still don't think it will happen, but they are presenting the only viable option for government right now. I'm not supporting everything they're saying or promising, but I haven't seen anyone else step up and take the focus off of Harper. Grade so far: B+

Liberals: I'm not sure anyone could have foreseen Michael Ignatieff's rapid downward spiral in the past few weeks. After crowing for the first week about how "Canadians want an election", Iggy wisely downplayed that line after it was pointed out to him that most of us, in fact, didn't. He currently has a lower approval rating than Jack Layton, and it is possible that the Liberals could not only lose seats, but could lose the Official Opposition. It seems like it would take a huge turnaround for Iggy and his cronies to even make marginal gains from their current position, and I doubt that using Paul Martin will make any kind of difference in the end result. It's really kind of sad to see him reduced to the kind of mud-slinging rhetorical politics that we've seen so far, since it seems like he is capable of so much more. However, we haven't seen much of a platform from his party despite his continual assertions over the past two years that he would form a better government, and just saying the Liberals would form a better government won't make Canadians think it's true. Grade so far: C-

NDP: If Jack Layton led the Liberals, he'd have a chance of being Prime Minister. Unfortunately, he leads the third/fourth party in the parliament. His confidence has not transgressed into bravado or ego, and he has not been as blustersome as the others. The party's platform has not been that clear, but Layton's positioning himself as a sober second option to the falling Liberals has been successful thus far. They may lose seats, but I think they'll actually gain in the popular vote. Grade so far: B

Bloc Québécois: Gilles Duceppe may be our next leader of the opposition, and all he has to do is keep campaigning in Quebec. He and the Bloc haven't done much in this campaign, but they have not had to. Their success is part of the weakness of Canadian politics. Grade so far: B-

Green Party: Have we seen the peak of Green politics already? Elizabeth May was not included in the leaders' debate, and although she found a way to still contribute to the discussion, it hurt her party's chances. They've got a solid platform, but they still need that foothold of a seat or two in Parliament, as well as some higher-profile candidates. They're fighting an uphill battle, and though it seems likely that they will increase their total of the popular vote from 2008's 6.8%, they also are not likely to hit the 10% mark required from Elections Canada for funding. Grade so far: B-

Election 41 (overall): There are still two weeks left for this election to not go down as the least engaging Canadian election yet, but it's not looking good. Even though some of the parties and leaders have had moderate success, the overall campaign has been bleak. There has been little agreement even on what the issues are, so there has not been much intelligent debate on those issues. I'm really hoping to see some life coming in the second half, but I'm not too optimistic that there will be. Grade so far: D-

Stanley Cup playoff predictions 2011

Note: I know that the playoffs started a few days ago, and that some series are three games in. I have not had the chance to write out my predictions yet, but I promise that I'm sticking to what I originally thought. Honest.

Another season done, another Leafless playoff year. But despite that fact, there are some interesting storylines in the playoffs this year. Here are my predictions for the first round, as well as some thoughts on how things might go beyond that.

Eastern Conference:
(1)Washington vs. (8)New York Rangers - Washington just kept getting stronger, even without Mike Green, while the Rangers surged into the playoffs with an unbelievably strong finish that might be their peak. Lundqvist will likely help steal a game or two, but I don't think the Caps want to be upset again. Washington in 6.

(2)Philadelphia vs. (7)Buffalo - Both teams struggled near the end of the season, and both have some question marks in this almost inevitably long series. Miller will take a game or two, but I think it will come down to Game 7. I'm actually going to call the upset here, since Philly flagged so badly down the stretch. Buffalo in 7.

(3)Boston vs. (6)Montréal - The classic matchup comes again, and this time with a bit more vengeance thanks to Pacioretty's injury. Montreal may have some momentum, but I think Boston has more stamina, as well as the importance of home-ice advantage. Boston in 7.

(4)Pittsburgh vs. (5)Tampa Bay - This is probably the best matchup the Bolts could ask for after their extended playoff absence, as it should prove to be an offensive shootout. Even sans their stars, the Penguins should be able to move through their opposition without much difficulty. Pittsburgh in 5.

So I just predicted no upsets, but two seven-game series. If it all happens as I think it should, that would make the second round matchups Washington vs. Buffalo and Boston vs. Pittsburgh. I'd take Washington and Pittsburgh as the winners of those series, with Washington finally breaking through to the Finals.

Western Conference:
(1)Vancouver vs. (8)Chicago - In some ways this is the best and the worst possible matchup for Vancouver. Chicago could derail the Canucks' quest for glory, but they could lay down and die just as easily. I think the Canucks are too good to be upset in this round, but the 'Hawks are too proud to not play a few tough games. Vancouver in 6.

(2)San Jose Sharks vs. (7)L.A. Kings - Almost every year, a 7-seed upsets a 2-seed. The Sharks seem ripe for the picking, and I think that Jonathan Quick will make the difference for the Kings, who are aching for something past the first round. Kings in 6.

(3)Detroit vs. (6)Phoenix - I want to pick Phoenix. I really do. Unfortunately, the Wings are so well composed that it's hard to imagine them losing so soon, even with Zetterberg not around. Detroit in 5.

(4)Nashville vs. (5)Anaheim - I'd like to think that Nashville could make it past the first round, but the Ducks might present the worst matchup for them. Corey Perry is at the top of his game, and Teemu Selanne always seems to be good for a key OT goal. So I'll pick the Ducks in 7.

With these picks in mind, it would look like Vancouver vs. L.A. and Detroit vs. Anaheim in Round 2. I'd take Vancouver and Anaheim, with Vancouver going to the Finals over the by-then-exhausted Ducks.

This does mean that I'm picking the top seeds in each conference to advance, which does not happen very often; there's often one, but not two. With these two projected finalists (who I had similarly predicted to meet a couple of years ago), it would also mean that one long-suffering franchise would break through and finally win a Cup. Maybe it's just too statistically unlikely to happen, but that's what I'm thinking. Then again, given my track record in recent years, my opinion might not mean much. I correctly picked Anaheim to win it all in 2007, but I haven't had even the right finalists in 2007, 2008, or 2010; for some reason I didn't pick in 2009 or before 2007. With that in mind, I'm actually going to pick the Canucks to win it all this year. It seems like it's time for that to happen, unless the hockey gods just hate Vancouver. Maybe I should rethink this...

Friday, April 15, 2011

Media update spring 2011: video games

After posting yesterday about my current board gaming status, I thought it might be interesting to explore a similar area in which video games I'm currently playing. Much to the consternation of some of my friends, I'm not really into the 360/PS3 end of gaming. I've been thinking lately about whether I'd like to buy a PS3 for some of the games on the system, as well as the Blu-ray player, but I think for now I'll have to stick to my Nintendo systems and classic gaming. Here's the breakdown of where I'm at with my video gaming habits currently:

Five most recently played:
Donkey Kong Country Returns (Wii)
Illusion of Gaia (SNES)
Metroid: Other M (Wii)
New Super Mario Bros. (DS)
Super Mario RPG (SNES)

Five most recently purchased:
FlingSmash (Wii)
Kid Icarus (NES)
Lego Batman (Wii)
Rubik's World (Wii)
Zoda's Revenge: Star Tropics 2 (Virtual Console)

Top 5 games I'm playing currently:
Kid Icarus (NES)
Lego Batman (Wii)
Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story (DS)
Metroid Prime 3: Corruption (Wii)
Zoda's Revenge: Star Tropics 2 (NES - Virtual Console)

Top 5 games to finish:
Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask (N64) (This one's been on my list for a decade. I haven't gotten more than halfway through before leaving it, and because of the nature of the game, it's really hard to pick it up after an absence. I really would like to finish it, though.)
Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass (DS)
Mega Man 9 and 10 (WiiWare)
Pikmin 2 (GC)

Top 5 Wii games to try (or most anticipated):
Kirby's Epic Yarn
Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
Mario Sports Mix
Wii Party
Wii Play: Motion

Top 5 WiiWare games to buy:
Chick Chick Boom
Gods vs. Humans
Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Episode 1
You, Me, & The Cubes

Top 5 WiiWare games to try:
Jett Rocket
LostWinds: Winter of the Melodias
Max & The Magic Marker
NyxQuest: Kindred Spirits

So, what have I learned through this evaluation process? Apparently, I have too many games on the go, and I sometimes have trouble finishing games when I leave them for too long. It seems to be a lot like reading books, which are similarly much better when they are immersive; if I get distracted from a book, it's hard to pick up and get back into the story. Anyway, that's where it's at for now; I'll report back in the fall.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Retracting the gamer's lament

Do you remember a few months ago when I wrote about how I didn't really get to play board games much, if at all? Well, it seems that a lot has changed since then. Not only has my wife rediscovered her affection for beating me at any game we play, but I have made several new friends in recent months who are into board games, as well as rekindled some gaming relationships back in SK on our jaunt there. So, in the past few months, I've bought (or received) Citadels, Puerto Rico (both based on one initial play), San Juan, and Chrononauts. I've had the chance to teach Killer Bunnies to several friends, including the awesome new chocolate expansion. I've tried out Tikal, Carcassonne: Hunters and Gatherers, and several games of the family version of Agricola, as well as most of the variations of Settlers in Traders and Barbarians, so it's actually been a great few months of gaming since I publicly lamented my situation, so much so that I struggled to answer the question of which games I would go out and buy immediately if I came into some money expressly set apart for that purpose. I would buy some expansions, but since I still find that I like to try a game before I buy it (novel idea, I know!), I have a longer list of "must-tries" rather than "must-buys". So I figured I should present all three lists here in what I hope will be the first of a semi-annual review of my board gaming habits.

Top 5 expansions to buy:
Killer Bunnies and the Journey to Jupiter: Laser Red Booster Deck.
Carcassonne: Princess and the Dragon, Abbey and Mayor, Bridges...
Thurn and Taxis: either expansion

Top 5 games to buy:
Settlers of Catan (and its various permutations)
Ticket To Ride Europe

Top 10 games to try:
Jump Gate
Lost Cities
Power Grid
Race For The Galaxy
Small World

EDIT: I realized that I failed to mention which games I'm enjoying most now. I mentioned them, but didn't make it clear, so here are my current top 5 favourites:
Puerto Rico
San Juan
6 Nimmt!

Of course, all it usually takes is one suggestion to put a game on my radar, so please feel free to pipe up and let me know which games you're playing. I know I'm trying to keep my BoardGameGeek account updated, which is even easier with the app on my phone. Let the gaming continue!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Great expectations

I went to a men's retreat on the weekend that focused a lot on connecting in weakness, giving up control, and being intimate with one another. It was a great weekend of connecting with other men in my church, and there was one experience that sticks out above the rest as I reflect on it. On Saturday afternoon, we went out for a round of disc golf at one of the few disc golf courses in BC. The course is challenging, as it is full of trees, rock faces, and hidden hazards, but it is a lot of fun. I've run the course once before, and only disc golfed one other time (at Bowen Park in Nanaimo), and I enjoyed it, but I found myself not enjoying this time through. I realized, after some introspection, that I had higher expectations for myself than what I was achieving (in terms of score), and I was making myself miserable. As I thought about it, though, I realized that I had no reason to have such high expectations of myself; after all, I had only disc golfed twice, and the sport requires a unique skill set separate from sports like ultimate. There was no reason for me to expect myself to do better than I did, and I am actually somewhat pleased with how I did in the end (74 on par 56, or +18 on 18 holes). Once I realized my expectations were unreasonable, I was able to enjoy myself more in the moment and appreciate that I was having fun trying something I enjoyed with a group of people I liked. Afterward, I started thinking about how often I do this in the rest of my life; I place expecatations on myself that I cannot possibly hope to meet, and then it destroys me when I don't meet them, even as sometimes I am aware of the disparity between fantasy and reality. I think this happens most often as a husband, but I'm glad to have a wife who can call me on those instances and show me how unreasonably I am treating myself. As I think about it, a lot of my journey this year has been about rewiring my expectations for myself and all of the facets therein: husband, relative, friend, teacher, employee, Christian, even father (eventually - it's nowhere near a reality yet). As I have allowed my expectations to shift (through spending time in reflection, dialogue, and prayer), my ability to evaluate my success in my circumstances has also shifted, and I have gone from being miserable to enjoying this time. I'm still working through what the future looks like for me, and what the next shifts are, but at least for now, I'm meeting my (adjusted) expectations, and I'm allowing God to exceed those expectations. In this process, I have felt that my focus is shifting to "freedom" for the next phase of life, although I'm not sure how long that will take. Whatever that means, it's pretty awesome.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Life in HD

Some friends popped over for supper last week with a Papa Murphy's pizza and a 32" flat-screen LCD HD television. For us. Free. We were (understandably) flabbergasted, and they seemed almost more excited to give it than we were to receive it. The new TV replaced our latest hand-me-down TV, and we are certainly appreciating finally entering the HD generation. This is easily the nicest TV I've ever owned - but then I realized that I've never paid for a TV. Ever. Or most other home entertainment electronics, for that matter - one of the perks of having a father whose chosen profession was fixing home electronics. In reflecting on this, I've realized how much of my life is spent "making do" with what I have or can get cheaply. I'm still using an RCA DVD player from 1999 that has trouble reading some burned discs and comes from an age before ".avi", when ".mp3" was the domain of Napster. I still have my original 17" computer monitor; I've decided to keep it while it's working and not move it again, but it still takes up a lot of space on the desk. Even our computer is an amalgamation of parts that are anywhere from three to six years old; when I took it in to see if I could improve its speed somehow, I was advised that it was time to upgrade my system entirely rather than overspending on out-of-date parts. I am realizing that I don't have to just "make do" all the time; I can actually spend money responsibly and upgrade as I need to. Maybe it's time to finally get a Blu-ray player, or that computer we've needed for years, or a new car. I still think it's important that we not incur excessive debts in pursuing "things", but it's good to be reminded that I don't have to live in that student self-preservation mentality anymore. I'm still careful about what I purchase and in not paying more than I need to, but I'm not nearly as afraid of buying things new, rather than having to find them second-hand. It feels like I've made the shift from analog to digital; now I can shift into living in HD.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Help me help you!

I recently watched Jerry Maguire for the first time. (This is where I'd normally give a "spoiler alert!", but I think that a decade and a half of release is enough time not to warrant that formality). It was entertaining as an exemplar of 90s pop culture (I'm so glad that whole baggy sweater and tight jeans fashion trend is over), a reflection on the acceleration of sports contracts in the past fifteen years ($11.2 million over four years for a top NFL WR seems quaint, at best, in today's terms), a reminder of when Tom Cruise could channel his crazy into his characters, and an influential prototype of a male-centric (b)romantic comedy. What really resonated with me, though, was the role of relationship in the film. Maguire has spent so long in superficial relationships without depth or significance, and finally is able to work through his vocation, his love life, and his friendships with a new perspective on what they mean and how they can help him through his transition. I found it amusing how much I was able to identify with Maguire throughout the movie, though my character did not start at the same place. Like him, I began this portion of my life with being suddenly and unexpectedly unemployed a year ago, and I have not known how things will end up. Maguire spent his year vacillating between love and loyalty and friendship and duty; I have spent much of the year working through what it really means to be in relationship with those around me, particularly in my marriage. I don't think I have the same ego issues or emotional hangups that Maguire does, but I do know that I have had to work through issues relating to my knowledge and emotions over the past year. But where it diverges (in a sense) is that, as a viewer, I always knew that everything would end up okay. I knew that Tidwell would get his contract, Maguire would get the girl, and some cheesy pop song would roll over the final credits. I don't know the ending to my story in the same way, but I know that there is an ending in sight somehow, and that even if things don't look like I might expect them to, that it will be good for me in this season. I think it's too bad that we haven't been able to see Maguire age, or how the experience chronicled in the movie changed him in his everyday life; the good news for you is that you've got a front row seat to seeing how this year has/is/will affect-ed/-ing/-_ me. Hey, no matter how things work out, maybe I can turn this whole experience into a movie or TV script. (And I'm only partially kidding on that last note.)

Friday, April 01, 2011

2010: The Year In...Music

Note: I’ve had this post composed for well over a month, but I had forgotten to finish it off. I figure it’s better late than never.

I was sixteen when I really started to listen to music. I had had a few albums that I bought, here and there, but it wasn’t until 1999 that I really started to invest in my own listening and collection. That collection currently sits at somewhere around 600 albums + my music on my computer totaling around 50 GB of music, so it is getting increasingly more difficult for new artists and new albums to work their way into my playlists. Perhaps in a corroborated development, I have bought fewer albums this year than any in the past twelve. Not only that, there are fewer albums I want to buy from this year than any other annum in that period. 2010 has been an interesting year for me in music, and it was notable for a couple of trends:

1. Addition by subtraction: Though I have not purchased as many albums this year, I have had more time for the albums I have bought because I have gotten rid of over 100 CDs in the past few months. It was the biggest purge I’ve had since moving to Victoria, and it was long overdue. I’m sure there’s more to come in the years ahead, but I feel a lot better with my music collection without the presence of a lot of music I thought was awesome when I was 18. Go figure that my taste is different now.

2. Glee. After watching through the first half season in a weekend, we got hooked and spent a fair amount of time listening to the soundtracks. It’s backed off in the months since, but there’s a lot of music generated there that has taken some of my attention away from other listening. It even provoked me to listen to more popular music than I have in recent years, just to see what was happening in the mainstream; of course, I did not like most of it, but I still tried out albums like Bruno Mars’ Doo Wops + Hooligans, Charice’s self-titled effort, Robyn’s Body Talk, and even Taylor Swift’s Speak Now.

3. Old country music. Crazy Heart hit a note in me that re-awakened my love of old country music. Between that soundtrack and Johnny Cash’s final album, I spent most of the first few months of the year listening to some classic country crooning. They’re not the best albums of the year, but they’ve got a special place in my heart now.

Now, to the commentary on the year that was. There were a number of albums that were released this year that I can recognize were creative and even perhaps great, but that were not my kind of listening. Foremost among these were Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs. I tried them both repeatedly, and though I recognize that they do belong probably as the 1-2 punch on most “best of” lists, they’re just not there for me.
Some albums I tried just plain didn’t catch at all, including: Basia Bulat – Heart Of My Own, Ben Folds and Nick Hornby – Lonely Ave, Brian Eno – Small Craft on a Milk Sea, Eric Clapton’s Clapton, John Legend and The Roots’ Wake Up!, the previously unreleased Valleys of Neptune from Jimi Hendrix, Robert Randolph’s We Walk This Road, The Rocket Summer’s Of Men and Angels, and She & Him’s Vol. 2 I also listened to a number of alternative and indie favourites that did not connect with me for more than a song or two, including: Band of Horses – Infinite Arms; Broken Bells - Broken Bells; Broken Social Scene – Forgiveness Rock Record; Gorillaz’ Plastic Beach; Kings of Leon – Come Around Sundown; MGMT – Congratulations; My Chemical Romance – Danger Days…; and OK Go – Of The Blue Color Of The Sky. Although I tried some of my previously favourite styles and artists, I found that I had outgrown them. These included the metalcore of Living Sacrifice’s The Infinite Order, the nu-rock stylings of We Are The Fallen in Tear Down The World, Lifehouse’s most recent alt-adult-contempo-rock-ary lightweight Smoke & Mirrors, Brandon Flowers’ incessantly off-key crooning in his solo debut, Flamingo, or CCM mainstays like Jars of Clay’s Presents: The Shelter and Third Day’s Move. And, just for good measure, I still have a few albums that I’m listening to that have an outside chance of becoming additions to the collection, including David Gray’s Foundling and LCD Soundsystem’s This Is Happening
With that all sorted out, there were a few albums that worked their way into my collection – mostly based on previous efforts by the artists – but that still couldn’t crack my top 10. These included: the mellow efforts of Corinne Bailey Rae on The Sea and Jack Johnson on To The Sea; live albums from MuteMath and Project 86; not-as-good-as-previous-efforts-but-still-interesting albums from Anberlin, As I Lay Dying, Demon Hunter, Keane, and Underoath; and EPs from Switchfoot and Sufjan Stevens. So what’s left? My favourite albums of the year. Unlike previous years, there is more of a hierarchy in these top ten, with a clear number one album of the year. It’s a much more eclectic list than usual, consisting mainly of artists I haven’t featured in previous lists; at most I might have expected five of the ten to be this significant to me before the year began. So here is my list of albums of the year for 2010, starting with three “honourable mentions”, then the nine “runners up” in alphabetical order, followed by my album of the year.

Honourable mentions:

The Bird and the Bee – Interpreting the Masters, Vol. 1: Hall and Oates. The pop-synth duo decided to rework some synth-pop classics, and they picked a doozy in Daryl Hall and John Oates. It’s an unfortunately short album at only seven covers and the original “Heard It On The Radio”, but every track oozes kitschy saccharine pop goodness. I’m intrigued to see where they go next in the series.

Chemical Brothers – Further. The duo’s trip-hop foundations shine through seven infectious grooves; my only complaint is that there are not more songs here. Expect to hear these tracks in movies for the next several years.

David Byrne and Fatboy Slim – Here Lies Love. The combination of these two eclectic musicians was sure to produce something noteworthy, but this album flew under the radar. It’s too bad, because it is one of the more interesting projects of the year – a two-disc musical opera featuring almost two dozen voices telling the story of Imelda Marcos. A few of the tracks drag slightly, but the heights (like the self-titled album opener featuring Florence Welch) make this unique effort more than worth the listen.

And now for my top ten albums of the year:

Black Keys – Brothers. A deceptively oversimplified cover and album motif disguises fifteen songs of lo-fi rock-pop-jazz-funk genius, like if the White Stripes had less angst and more groove. There’s not much more to say; just go listen to it.

Deas Vail – Birds and Cages. I waited for this album for several years, and it did not disappoint me. The ambience, the falsetto, the complex simple chords – everything I remembered about their previous album was back and better. Birds and Cages was worth the wait.

Jakob Dylan – Women and Country. Dylan stepped out a little more on his sophomore effort, and we were rewarded with some of the most heartfelt alt-country tunes this side of Wilco. Dylan’s had two reputations to work through – his father’s and his previous band, The Wallflowers’ – but he is quickly emerging as a unique and captivating voice.

Cee-Lo Green – The Lady Killer. The vocal half of Gnarls Barkley had the unexpected breakout internet hit of the year with a song that couldn’t be played in its original form on radio, but the album is much more than an invective aimed at a previous lover. Green swoons and croons his way through an album that pulls heavy influence from Motown and R&B and reminded me of Marvin Gaye, Bill Withers, or Al Green. It doesn’t get much smoother than this.

Jonsi – Go. I heard the sophomore solo album from the lead singer of Sigur Ros once, and I knew it was one of my top ten. It’s not just that people are going crazy for this album as a way to instigate a worship experience; it is a worship experience. Jonsi shows that there is a place for ambient, reflective, intelligent music, and that people of many different stripes can connect with spiritual reality through music.

Janelle Monàe – The ArchAndroid. It’s a weird cover, and a strange concept: she seems to think she’s sent from the future and she’s living in the present and trying to get back, or something. I couldn’t quite figure out the “plot” of the album, or even if there was a concept to be grasped, but that does not take away from the music: a fantastic blend of upbeat hip-hop, mellow R&B, and smooth rap delivery. At least half of the songs on the album are the kind that you cannot get out of your head – in a good way.

The National – High Violet. After Boxer blew everyone away three years ago, The National had nowhere to go but down – or so we thought. Instead, they went sideways. Violet does not feel like a companion album to Boxer, but it does allow the band to explore a different creative outlet. It’s still very much their sound, but it’s different. And that’s a good thing.

Shad – TSOL. It’s increasingly less rare to find self-aware, socially-conscious, intelligent rap artists, but Shad still stands out in a growing trend. He is literate, compassionate, encouraging, and informed, all of which help him to provide one of the best rap albums of the year.

Sufjan Stevens – Age of Adz. He finally released a new album! Okay, so he released a lot of material in the past few years, but it was nice to hear a new full album from the folk troubadour. Adz might be his most eclectic effort yet – and that’s saying something – but it also seems to be his most confessional. It’s weird, but it’s beautiful.

And my album of the year, which should be no surprise: Mumford & Sons – Sigh No More. From the opening lines, the British quintet captivated me, and took me (and many others) on an incredible journey. It’s one of those albums that gives something new every time you hear it. Whether it’s the constantly shifting time signatures, the intelligently integrated literary quotations, or one of the several instrumental interludes, Sigh No More is an exhilarating listen. And as they have already announced that they are anticipating releasing a record later in 2011, a repeat performance is entirely possible.


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