Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Five Best Short Songs

I’m a fan of long, epic songs a lot of the times. But sometimes you just need something quick and devoid of over-repetition. Something that’s been stripped down to only the essential parts. Therefore I present the Five Best Short Songs, which add together to just over 10 minutes. You couldn’t even listen to LCD Soundsystem’s “Yeah (Pretentious Version)” in that amount of time!

1) The White Stripes - “Fell in Love With a Girl”

2) Goo Goo Dolls - “Acoustic #3”

3) Spoon - “Anything You Want”

4) Blur - “Song #2”

5) The Beach Boys - “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Five Songs to Listen to With Your Eyes Closed

These are the songs for the reflective moments of your life. The songs you need to hear when the world is crumbling around you. The songs that will bring relief to your tired, tired mind. There are the Five Songs to Listen to With Your Eyes Closed.

1) Paul Cardall - “Come Thou Fount”

2) Band of Horses - “Detlef Schrempf”

3) Nickel Creek - “When You Come Back Down”

4) Great Lake Swimmers - “Everything is Moving So Fast”

5) James Newton Howard - “The Gravel Road”

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Subway Saga’s Final Chapter (Thanks Quiznos!)

Today I received this letter in the mail:

scan0004For those of you who didn’t get a chance to read what happened between me and Subway and the blog post that led to my interaction with Quiznos, you can read it here.

The real surprise to me was the size of the gift card. I had figured $5 was possible and $10 was likely. $25? That almost makes this all worth it, though I’m pretty that the version of myself who spent the night vomiting in South Dakota would disagree with that. Add together the Subway refund and the Quiznos gift card and I’ve essentially been able to turn one disease-filled Subway BBQ Pulled Pork footlong into approximately seven Honey Bacon Clubs. Solid!

Quiznos, you’ve managed to climb the ranks of my favorite companies. Netflix is still very, very high, but I can’t think of too many things I’d rather do than cozy up on my sofa with a Honey Bacon Club while watching some Netflix instant streamed movies. And to Kimberly Wanda specifically, I want to say thank you for the gift card. You’ve managed to turn a negative experience into a very positive memory and I’m happy to provide a little advertisement for you! Thanks!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Tidbits and Oddities and Randomness

Yesterday I drove through Bellevue, Ohio. This means that on 25 September, my brother David was in Bellevue, Washington, my brother Ryan was in Bellevue, Nebraska, and I was in Bellevue, Ohio. Tell me that’s not weird.

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There was something strange about being on I-90 between Sandusky and Cleveland. I-90 starts in Seattle. Last time I was on that road I was heading back home for Thanksgiving from Idaho. Still probably not as odd as going to college right by the beginning of I-84 and then moving to Mountain Home, Idaho, a small town right off of I-84 hundreds of miles away.

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I’ve heard from a variety of sources that Cleveland isn’t exactly the place to be. It’s kind of synonymous with Detroit or something (another place I pre-judge and have never seen). But I’ll tell you, I thought the downtown was very, very nice. Don’t hate on Cleveland till you go I tell you!

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The hardest part about growing up in Washington is that nowhere you that go (Alaska, I suppose is the exception) compares when it comes to nature. But until today I’d never seen Fall foliage before. Not like this anyways. And I’m quite certain that it’s going to get much better. Here’s a shot from Cuyahoga National Park earlier today.

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Why did it take me five years to hear this song? Think about how times I could have played it!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Buzzwords!: LOBBYISTS for CEOs are only interested in PROFIT and cause RECESSIONS

They are the words that get you going. They make you angry, uncomfortable, or timid when you hear them, even if you don’t know what they really mean. The people and politicians who use these words know this, which is why I’m hear to help!

Let’s give it a try. Let’s give it a try in all CAPS, large size, bold font.

LOBBYIST

Gasp. Lobbyists are evil. Evil evil evil. How many times do you hear politicians talk about “corporate lobbyists” like they are the very personification of evil, second only to Lucifer in the world of politics. Here’s a perfect example in this article. If you don’t feel like reading, here’s the gist: “The GOP's Pledge to America is yet another disguise for throwing out everything America is supposed to stand for and replacing it with an undisguised scheme to sellout the public to corporate lobbyists”. Sure sounds bad right? That’s because we’re conditioned to hate corporate lobbyists, mostly because “corporate” and “lobbyists” are both frequently used buzzwords designed to make you picture awful men in suits who attend seedy strip clubs and eat babies in their spare time. Naturally calling a lobbyist evil by definition is pretty dumb. According to the wonderful internet there are 22,000 federal lobbyists, many of which have husbands and wives that love them, kids, dogs, and like college football. A lobbyist is nothing more than a liaison between a company or interest and the federal government. The government spends a good amount developing laws that have everything to do with these interests and companies, yet we expect that these organization will not have someone to help navigate the complexities of Washington DC? This article makes a perfect point when it says:

No one seems to complain about people hiring lawyers to guide them through the complex legal process or an accountant to help one understand the tax code. To an outsider, the legislative process can be just as daunting - hence the need to hire a lobbyist. Unfettered access without the middleman is fine if you have any idea what to say when you get there -- and most people don't. Lobbyists are a guide through the morass of legislation.

The next buzzword on the agenda:

PROFIT

Profit??? Awful, awful stuff, right? I recently watched a commercial for a political race here in Ohio. The commercial was based around interviewing the wife of an employee in a company that the candidate used to run. This candidate, according the lady being interviewed, was only interested in his company making a profit. Wait, duh, right? What exactly is a CEO supposed to be concerned about? If the CEO isn’t concerned about profit then the company will cease to exist and then EVERYONE’S job would be lost. We spend so much time tearing down big business for their interest in profit and then complain about a dwindling economy. This brings me to my next word (or acronym):

CEO

Much like a lobbyist, it seems like people who hear the word “CEO” think of people who sit behind a desk, make millions, lay people off heartlessly, and perhaps also eat babies in their spare time. I had the odd opportunity to attend a course at the University of Tennessee in the “Executive Education Center” and I can assure you every person in that class was a standup guy who works their tail off. Surely there are instances where CEOs have acted like slimeballs, but don’t tell me that the group as a whole needs to pay the price for Enron. It truly is jealousy that makes people hate these guys and gals isn’t it? I know I’d like to make that much money, but surely I don’t need to hate them for it. I like plenty of athletes after all.

This is all taking up much more space than I thought it would, so just one more buzzword:

RECESSION

This word has a little bit different flavor. To me it’s just more of a misunderstood word. What exactly is a recession? It’s a period of two consecutive quarters with negative GDP growth. Not small growth, not less-than-expected growth. We’re talking actual negative growth. What does that mean for our current situation? We haven’t been in a recession since June 2009. Now I know I know, it doesn’t feel like it. Unemployment is high, the housing market is terrible, and consumer confidence is low. But don’t get confused. Bad economic conditions doesn’t have to lead to misusing the term. In reality the US GDP has now bounced back to post growth in four consecutive quarters. Yup, we haven’t been in a recession in over a year.

What does all this mean? Well, it’s really just an attempt to put a little voice in your ear the next time you get sucked into believing any speech that hinges its argument on inciting your negative emotional reaction to these words. Good night! I’ll send you off with a song.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

New Music Review: Anberlin - “Dark Is the Way, Light is a Place”

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Is the end of Anberlin? Hard to tell, as always. Some bands peak and then drop off or break up. Some bands get so into their sound “maturing” and “growing” that they actually start getting worse (see: The Killers). Anberlin hit the scene running with their energetic debut album “Never Take Friendship Personal”, led by standout track “Paperthin Hymn”. The band showed early promise of rising above the standard pop-punk fare, infusing just enough creativity and lyrical stature to break above their peers. When their sophomore album “Cities” hit the shelves, Anberlin seemingly cemented themselves as a buy-without-thinking kind of band. The album was top notch, bolstered by Anberlin’s best work yet: “Alexithymia” and “*fin”.

I had hoped that Anberlin’s decidedly subpar third album “New Surrender” was just an unfortunate blip on Anberlin’s radar. The songs there weren't terrible, but excellence was lacking. It was as if Anberlin had regressed to their pop-punk peers, rather than continuing to transcend them. Their fourth album, “Dark is the Way, Light is a Place” is, unfortunately, more of the same. Terrible it is not, but it is indeed lacking in anything decidedly memorable. We do get “Take Me (As You Found Me)”, which to me is the clear standout track of the album. I imagine two years from now my iTunes play count records will show this is the only song to get consistent play time in the long haul. “Pray Tell”, “Art of War”, and “We Owe this to Ourselves” are also solid tracks, but the remainder of the album is full of forgettable ventures into generic, predictable pop-punk. The reality is that, while most the songs are certainly not “bad”, they are never going to get you to play them for your friends, hope for their appearance at concerts, or get featured on your next mix tape.

That’s two straight forgettable albums for Anberlin after two very solid efforts to start their career. Unfortunately, it’s time to take Anberlin off the automatic buy list and put it back into the if-you-hear-it’s-good-then-maybe crowd.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Subway Sandwich Saga, In Pictures

This is the story of a trip to Subway. The day was August 7th on a hot summer day in Nowheresville, Wyoming on the long journey from Idaho to Ohio. We were bright eyed and excited about the long journey that laid in front of us. The day before this fateful day we had seen such beautiful sights as this:

IMG_3139 But Wyoming, as many of us have learned, has very little to offer once you leave the beauty that is the northwest corner. Wyoming sold their soul to the devil for Yellowstone National Park and the Tetons, agreeing to let the rest of the state be a hellhole of desert, nothingness, road construction, and, of course, Evil Subways.

It started innocently enough in the Sturgis-overrun community of Newcastle, Wyoming. According to Wikipedia the town has a little over 3,000 and is famous for being the home of The Lillingtons, who are famous enough to have a Wikipedia page of their own apparently. Newcastle also has a Subway franchise.

Lunchtime with a cat took us to Subway, where I made the critical mistake of trying their BBQ pulled pork sandwich. Here’s a picture of Holly consuming her normal and disease-free sub at the picnic area at Jewel Cave.

IMG_3180 On the other end of that camera is a man who doesn’t know what he’s getting himself into. With every bite he ingests a diseased BBQ pulled pork sandwich, bringing himself closer and closer to a month long saga that he won’t soon forget. Fast forward an hour and here he is fighting off a small stomach ache at Mt Rushmore:

IMG_3195 It was down the road that things really starting going badly. The small stomach ache grew and grew. When approaching Wall, SD it turned full force, leaving me so sick that I laid down in bed whimpering while Holly emptied the entire car. As the hours passed, I began to look like this and spend a lot of time here:

IMG_3220IMG_3219That night, around 2 AM on 8 August I found myself filling out a complaint form at Subway.com. I wasn’t expecting much, but I felt like doing SOMETHING, and when you can’t sleep and have a laptop with an internet connection, well, why not? Three days later, to my surprise, I receive a phone call from the owner of the Newcastle, Wyoming franchise while I was gassing up in Effingham, Illinois.

It was an interesting call. The owner introduced himself and seemed to be apologetic, telling me that it was the first time he’d had a complaint. But the call was filled with interesting comments. He told me three or four times that I could feel better knowing that no one else had complained, and that he had ensured that the pork was of the right temperature. He told me he “had to report something back to corporate” so he wanted to call me. Sincerity was not at a premium in this apology. I told him that I appreciated his call, but also would appreciate a refund on my $11 meal so that I didn’t have to pay money to have a wretched night in a South Dakota Motel 6. He agreed, and took down my parent’s address to send the refund. I was nice to him the whole time and he thanked me for not being “hostile”.

Fast forward about a week and a half. I get a voice mail from him asking me for my address since he lost it. By this time I have my new Ohio address, so I call back and provide his office with my address.

And I wait.

And I wait.

It’s now about a full month since I was promised my refund. I know it’s $11, but it’s the principle of it all now! :-D I got back on the Subway site and re-reported the Newcastle chain for deceiving me about a refund. The next morning I get another call from the owner, confusingly asking me what the problem is. This time I was a whole lot shorter with him, telling him the problem was that he told me I was getting a refund and that I never got the check. He said he asked for my address and I never called back, which was wrong. I told him as much. The sob stories came out now, with him going off about how bad the economy was in Newcastle and how he wished people would move out there. I don’t know what the point was of that. He reiterated that no one else had gotten sick. Now I’m really annoyed. He promised again to send the check. The good news? Finally, on 18 September, forty-one days later, I received the check:

IMG_3611 IMG_3612 IMG_3615I got to thinking, what is the best way of spending this $11?? I came to the conclusion that there was no more perfect way than this:

IMG_3622 For $11 Holly and I enjoyed two delicious honey bacon club sandwiches at our friendly neighborhood Quizno’s. These friendly workers assured me that my sandwich would be 100% disease free.

IMG_3623 Such great service! The food was delicious. My stomach feels satisfied. Such toasty goodness prepared by a friendly staff! I think Holly and I can be satisfied that this money went to the right place. Thanks Quizno’s!

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Saturday, September 18, 2010

My Five Favorite and Least Favorite Companies

We’ve all had terrible experiences with companies. I’ve had two recently that will serve as the inspiration to this column. One of them is going to get a blog post of their own since they’ve managed to drag their particular saga out for so long. But don’t we also have favorite companies? Ones we recommend to our friends, shop at repeatedly, and give our loyalty? Holly is downstairs watching Twilight: New Moon by herself, a movie that I couldn’t stand once, so I won’t touch twice. What a perfect opportunity for a Random Blog!

My Five Favorite Companies

5) Best Buy

I read once that Best Buy prices albums so cheap because they don’t intend on making profit off of them. They simply want to create foot traffic for their larger and more profitable items. For me—a man who shies away from large purchases—this is a fantastic thing. But Best Buy doesn’t stop there. Unlike their Walmart competition, Best Buy stocks a very wide range of music directed at all tastes. Whether you want Eminem, Mozart, or The Hold Steady (yes, you do), you’ll find it at Best Buy, and usually for cheap.

4) USAA

The online banker used by many of us military-folk has won numerous awards for customer service, and for good reason. No company does a better job treating you like a king (or queen). From the minute you call in you might as well be calling home. All through my banking, insurance claims, and anything else, they’ve been pro.

3) Dr. Pepper Snapple Group

Not only do they make the world’s greatest soda (Dr. Pepper), this company is responsible for all Snapple products, both IBC and A&W Root Beer, Canada Dry, Diet Rite, Squirt, and so many others. Delicious I say! PepsiCo could have given them a run for its money if they hadn’t parted ways with Taco Bell!

2) Disney

Save me your evil empire comments! Disney theme parks are the fun centers of the universe. No place makes me you feel quite the same as Disneyland. It gets better. Not only do they now own Marvel and all their fantastic movies, but they also own ESPN, the Greatest TV Station in the World. ESPN is the default channel of my life, broadcasting endless amounts of college football, Baseball Tonight, and Sportscenter. It also gave the world Erin Andrews, Rob Neyer, and Tim Kurkjian. It does not have Tim McCarver or Joe Buck, which is also good. So why is Disney a top company? Because ESPN + Marvel + Disneyland + Beauty and the Beast = Top Notch.

1) Netflix

Oh Netflix, I love you so much. You deliver to my house all the movies I want at a price so low that you could double it and I’d be just fine. Then you throw in instant streaming movies over my X-Box? Unheard of. You see, Netflix is a company that is so perfect that it has bankrupt Movie Gallery and driven Blockbuster’s stock price so low it’s been delisted and now trades for 7 cents a share versus the $28 you’d have to pay for it in 2002. What could make this company any better? Investing in it when it was worth $19 and watching it go up to $145. That’s 600%. I love Netflix. I would marry Netflix if it was a girl. Holly likes them too, so she’d agree.

Shout-outs: Amazon, Microsoft, SubPop, and Motley Fool.

My Five Least Favorite Companies

5) Pizza Hut

From Mountain Home, Idaho to Roswell, New Mexico I’m finding that Pizza Hut is good at two things: 1) taking a really long time and 2) not bringing the right thing. My trip to Roswell included me waiting one hour and 15 minutes for my food. Sure, that’s partially my fault for waiting that long at all, but I was tired and they kept telling me it was coming. Really what it has come down to over the years is that Domino’s and Papa John’s make perfectly great pizza, so who needs Pizza Hut?

4) Motel 6

These places are just way too hit and miss. Just on our trip out to Ohio we stayed in a Motel 6 in Douglas, Wyoming that left our socks nearly black on the bottom just from walking around. The next day we stayed in one in Wall, South Dakota in which a completely naked drunk man was sitting on the bench outside our room at 2 AM. For every perfectly serviceable Motel 6 that provides a cheap rate I can show you two Motel 6’s that are nightmares.

3) Qwest

They jacked with my friend Molly. They jacked with my sister. And now they’ve jacked with me. Apparently after a phone conversation in which they told me all was settled and AFTER they send ME a check for $69.99 overpayment, they inform me without ever seeing a bill that I’ve been sent to collections for not paying my final $100+ bill when my entire time with the company I was on autopay. This is what I’m dealing with right now.

2) Subway, specifically the one in Newcastle, Wyoming

This will get a post of its own, but suffice it to say that I’m debating whether or not to eat Subway again. The answer, I believe, will be yes, since “corporate” Subway came through for me where the Newcastle branch failed.

1) Satyam Computer Services

The “Enron of India” lost me 98% of the money I invested in it after it was revealed that they had falsified their books. The lesson? First, diversify your investments. Second, tread lightly with international investments. If you think regulation is bad here, just try it in India.

Monday, September 13, 2010

New Music Review: Metric - “Fantasies”

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★1/2

Anyone familiar with the pedigree of Metric’s lead singer Emily Haines or with Metric’s excellent contribution as the lead credit track for latest Twilight movie would no doubt assume, like I did, that “Fantasies” was worth the purchase. So, with a road trip in front of me, I felt no reason not to make the leap and buy the album without any kind of preview. And why not? Emily Haines is a 36 year old veteran of stellar music, primarily with Canadian super-indie group Broken Social Scene, but also contributing to acts like Stars, The Stills, and solo work for bandmate Kevin Drew. She has a track record for success.

Opening track “Help, I’m Alive” is a solid start, with good guitars and a swarming chorus highlighting Haines’ wonderful high register notes. But after that? Slim pickens. “Sick Muse” goes nowhere and “Satellite Mind” suffers from senseless lyrics ("When I’m bored/I send vibrations/in your direction/from the satellite mind”). “Twilight Galaxy” starts like it’s building to something, but never actually goes anywhere, sputtering around for a perfectly wasteful five minutes. And what in the world is going on in “Stadium Love” when she sings “Odds are neck to neck taking off the gloves/spider versus bat/tiger versus rat/owl versus dove”?

It’s not all terrible. “Gimme Sympathy” and “Collect Call” are perfectly decent tracks, while the toe-tapping electronic swarm of “Gold Guns Girls” almost redeems the whole middle of the album. The real verdict though? The album is not a coalescent product and doesn’t warrant any need to buy it as a whole. Save your money and think about dropping $2 on “Gold Guns Girls” and “Help I’m Alive” and ditching the rest.

The States in Pictures

**Edited Jun 16, 2011 to add Northeast pics. My addition to the below paragraph would be that the Northeast has the history, and in the upstate NY, Vermont, NH region, also has the prettiest landscape east of the Rockies.**

I’ve been very fortunate to have seen a lot of America in my life, and once I make it up to the Northeast I’ll have the ability to compare basically every state. I like to see the good in things and appreciate every state or area of the country for what it has to offer. The West may have the prettiest landscapes, but the Midwest has a fantastic way of life and the South knows how to cook, for example. So for a random blog idea, here is every state I’ve seen defined by best by a picture I’ve taken myself.

1) Washington

View of the Olympic National Park from the Deer Park Lookout

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2) Oregon

My home for four years, the University of Portland

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3) California

The Pacific Ocean from the San Clemente pier

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4) Idaho

Could’ve gone so many directions on this, but to me Idaho is defined by people. Here is Holly and I with Meleah and Bob at a prime rib restaurant.

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5) Utah

One of my best pics ever, this is Arches National Park on a sunny warm day with snow still on the ground.

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6) Arizona

At Horseshoe Bend near the Grand Canyon

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7) Nevada

The fountains at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, Nevada. Other than Vegas’ urban beauty, there’s a chance Nevada is the ugliest state.

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8) Montana

I’ve only ever clipped the corner of Montana, so this is the Gallatin National Forest

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9) Wyoming

Yellowstone National Park

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10) Colorado

The Denver USO, where the military lounge is just the other half of their super elite club lounge.

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11) New Mexico

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

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12) Texas

Generic Alamo picture? No. The best thing in Texas is BBQ and this, the San Antonio Riverwalk.

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13/14) Oklahoma and Kansas

I couldn’t believe I didn’t take any pictures when I drove through these states. I guess that’s because at the time I didn’t see the need to take a picture of nothingness. So here are Google images that represent what I saw in these states.

Oklahoma

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Kansas

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15) Nebraska

At Memorial Stadium in Lincoln

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16) South Dakota

What else other than Mt. Rushmore? Badlands maybe. Everything else is terrible. Even the Badlands is just terribleness that reaches a certain point of being so terrible it becomes cool again.

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17) Minnesota

It’s all I got! Airport in Minneapolis, MN. Hmm, maybe I wear that shirt too much…

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18) Iowa

Props to Iowa, which of all the states I’ve seen has the best rest areas.

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19) Missouri

The Gateway Arch at the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial

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20) Illinois

With a name like Effingham, Illinois, maybe it’s no wonder it’s home to the world’s largest cross.

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21) Indiana

The capitol building in Indianaoplis

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22) Ohio

Hocking Hills State Park

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23) Kentucky

The Twin Spires at Churchill Downs

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24) Tennessee

Great Smoky Mountain National Park, where I saw my first bear.

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25) Louisiana

A plate of Warm Mississippi Rabbit from Emeril’s restaurant in New Orleans

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26) Mississippi

The Mississippi River, which is so big it’s hard to call it a river.

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27) Alabama

Montgomery, Alabama, where they know how to put on a 4th of July celebration

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28) Florida

Hanging out by the Gulf of Mexico

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39) Georgia

Six Flags over Atlanta

100_1223 30) Maryland

I was too young to own a camera…

31) Virginia

Hanging out with Pocahontas in Jamestown

December 2009 065 32) Alaska

Wow. I wanna go back.

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33) South Carolina

Nothing says South Carolina like hanging out with Gramma at a Revolutionary War site!

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34) North Carolina

My right foot hangs out in North Carolina at the top of the Great Smoky Mountains.

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35/36) West Virginia/Pennsylvania

Been through twice, never took one picture…

37) New Jersey

Did you know that half of Ellis Island belongs to New Jersey?

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38) New York

Fulfilling a lifelong dream at the Baseball Hall of Fame.

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39) Vermont

I absolutely loved snow-covered Vermont and it’s covered bridges like this one.

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40) New Hampshire

Almost looks like Washington, don’t it?

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41) Maine

Finally got my chance to see the Portland Head Lighthouse

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42) Massachusetts

This seems like an appropriate Boston photo

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43) Rhode Island

A quick stopover in Rhode Island’s capital

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44) Connecticut

For years the only thing I’ve known about Connecticut is that it’s where Cheryl lives. So this us meeting her for lunch!

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So what’s left? Just need to add Michigan (in September), Wisconsin (In November), and North Dakota, Hawaii, Arkansas, and Delaware. Thanks mostly to the military, I think I’m doing pretty good for 25!