I haven’t lost my tech-savvy

Seems like a better place for something like this than Facebook. I’m rusty, but here goes.

I upgraded my computer recently, in anticipation of the upcoming release of Diablo 3. This proved most timely in that I finally got an invite to the public beta. That’s another story though. Upgrade; new CPU, video card, and a power supply to handle the extra load.

I had been running a high efficiency Phenom 9150e, a 65w quad-core chip clocked at 1.8GHz. This chip I got on a holiday sale in winter 2009, and I was mostly happy with it, but it was a pure sidegrade from the 4850e that it replaced; 4 cores instead of two, but clocked 700MHz slower, and in many games, it showed. It was probably a bad choice. What I wanted originally, and this has been the case since I built this beast in 2007, was a Phenom II 905e – same 65w efficiency, but a quad core with 2.5GHz clock – enough to handle gaming without making a lot of noise or heat. Problem was, they were always super expensive for what you get. It amounts to spending dollars to save dimes.

So, one of these finally went on clearance sale from tigerdirect.ca, at 119. This was an OEM unit – no box, no heatsink/fan, nothing, but it was 100$ less than I’d ever seen them. It got me thinking that it was time to upgrade. TL;DR version – I did, but not with that chip. My more preferred online computer retailer, NCIX, also had a sale.

NCIX’s offering was a Phenom II also, but the 960T model; one of the 6-core Thuban (hence the T) chips with two cores disabled (my board doesn’t have the core-unlock feature). This one clocks at 3GHz with 3.4GHz Turbo Core (power-on-demand, basically). Sounded ideal, other than that it was a 95W chip, but, I figured, I could always underclock for the same efficiency as my old one, especially since this one was the multiplier-unlocked “Black Edition.” Also an OEM unit with no extras, it was the same price as the 905e from TD, but NCIX threw in an aftermarket Coolermaster Hyper 101A to sweeten the deal. At 117mm tall, it’s the largest heatpipe cooler that will fit in my case.

That was the deciding factor. I pulled the trigger and bought. Probably the biggest difference is in the video card – I went from a Radeon HD 3450 – a 5-generations-old low-end card, Hybrid Crossfired with my motherboard’s Radeon HD3200 IGP – to a Radeon HD 6850. This new card is only recently one generation obsolete (the 7000-series just launched) and is a mid-to-high-end card, so the difference in gaming performance is stunning. I bought a Gigabyte Windforce model with 1GB GDDR5 and a factory overclock from 775MHz to 820MHz. And it was cheap. To power this new beast, along with my new CPU, I grabbed an Antec Earthwatts 500, which was also on sale and the same series I’ve been using since I first built this machine. My case is kind of wonky and requires a PSU with the rear-exhausting 80mm fan, which is kind of a rarity these days, except in server and high-power applications.

Everything arrived within the week, no problems there. Unboxing day came, and I was excited to dig in.

The CPU swap, while it sounds relatively simple, was the most intense part, by far. Unlike with the 905e, I had to flash my mobo’s BIOS to the latest version to run this one, so once that always-harrowing process was complete, I swapped in my new chip, GPU, and power supply. I had to fiddle with the heatsink mounting a little, rotating it 90 degrees from standard to take advantage of the airflow in my case (I initially tried running fanless, but that didn’t pan out – more on that later). I also had to re-route most of the cables inside the case in order to make room for the new video card. It just barely fits inside. My case, an Antec NSK2400, is a desktop-style case designed for HTPCs, good airflow, and low noise, but interior space is at a premium.

Everything was fine on first boot. Whew, I didn’t bork it! Time to configure BIOS for my new beast.

I left all settings stock, except the clock speed, which I set down to 2.5GHz, as I was trying to run fanless, and wanted similar power efficiency to the e-series chips. Turns out there’s a lot more to it than that. I kind of knew that, but these new chips are supposed to handle most of that on their own. Even downclocked to 2500MHz, I noticed the thermal diode of the CPU was reporting temps in the 50s, and that was just sitting in BIOS, so scratch that fanless thing for now. Then I tried to set the option for C1e (a power-saving technology). It was disabled by default, and even trying to access the option was hanging the system. Hm.

I ended up just leaving it off, there being nothing else I could do. I’d just submit a ticket to Gigabyte tech support, perhaps there was something I was “missing.” Turns out there was something missing – C1e support on this processor. Bummer. Cool’n'Quiet would have to suffice on its own, in conjunction with Turbo Core.

I left it like this for a few days, and everything seemed stable. My games never looked better. It was awesome. Then I noticed something odd. I have a sidebar gadget that reports my CPU speed and core load, RAM use, and a bunch of other nerdy things, and this gadget was telling me that this chip was almost always running in its highest two p-states: p0 – the high performance state (2500MHz, due to my BIOS underclock), and p1 (2300MHz), the next step down. Odd. I grabbed CPU-Z and checked. Sure enough, it was only rarely dipping into its lower (p2 @1600MHz and p3 @800MHz) p-states, and not staying there long. This, I knew from experience, should not be the case.

Even my gutless old 9150e spent most of its time in it’s 900MHz low state most of the time. Initially, I blamed lack of C1e support, but there was more – it was supposed to dynamically adjust the voltage as well, between .9v and 1.425 along with the clocks, but it wasn’t doing that either – it was constantly applying full voltage to the chip, even in the brief moments of using lower p-states. That would explain why it was running so hot in BIOS, even underclocked. Gigabyte said it wasn’t a motherboard issue, nor a BIOS one. I don’t buy that. I think that this newer chip is just not fully compatible with this board, despite their claims to the contrary. This BIOS version is a beta, and feels like they just made some hacks so it would run new CPUs. That, however, is neither here nor there. Without their help, I’d just have to figure out how to get it working as intended on my own. Enter K10STAT (<– I’ll finish the post there; click to keep reading).

Keep-alive

Nearly a year has passed between posts. Wow, time flies.

My computer has been mostly restored. I have at least as much music on here as before, though some of it is different stuff (not so much Zappa, but more other things). I still have not updated my backup from the October 2008 version. I am an idiot. I keep telling myself that I should but nothing happens. Laziness wins, until something happens, then I cry.

I’ve spent most of this year unemployed. I’m not going to be returning to my former employer. It was a mutual decision and we parted our association amicably.

That said, I have no idea what to do. I’ve been applying for things, but so far nothing. I have an interview coming up for Canada Post, but it’s very temporary, very part time, and very on call, so we’ll see.

Let me see, what else…. my house needs  a new roof, I switched ISPs (saving 800$ in the process over the next year), had an opportunity to move and opted out, camped at Pancake Bay, swam for the first time in probably 10 years, broke and replaced another keyboard (I still hate wireless devices!), and I’ve been trying to get caught up on the backlog of movies and TV shows on the shelf (Farscape was amazing).

Got a copy of the Protoculture edition of Robotech for my birthday. So much nostalgic goodness. Minmay needs to go into the wood-chipper, but even 24 years later, I still enjoy the show. I missed somehow finding out that the man responsible for bringing Robotech to English-speaking audiences, Carl Macek, died earlier this year. Thanks for the memories, Mr. Macek!

Oh, and of course, I’ve been maintaining my obsession with D&D. Our group switched to 4th edition shortly after its release, and found it to our liking, despite some initial resistance from me. I mostly didn’t want to give WotC any more of my money, but after deciding that I get enough out of it that it deserves my support, I’ve now bought in. I’ve only had a chance to be a player in my wife’s campaigns, and those of two of the other group members, so I am really looking forward to getting a chance to sit behind the DM screen. I haven’t DMed D&D since I ran my last long-term campaign in 2004, and in between only ran a short-lived Call of Cthulhu scenario and a moderately long Shadowrun story arc.

I liked CoC, but things weren’t flowing nicely. I really like Shadowrun as a setting, but I was getting burned out on the rules. They were getting in the way more than facilitating a story. People were getting “shot in the Combat Pool” and that sort of ruined it for me. I took the game online and used CoC’s rules, and started using Lovecraftian storylines, but some key players dropped out and I basically let it die. I might go back to it someday. Shadowrun is into a 4th edition now; maybe it’s better.

What else? Been playing more video games this year, to kill the time between job searching if I needed another reason.

Received a copy of Metroid: Other M for my birthday. Devoured it in about 3 days. Awesome game. I found some of the boss fights to be a little annoyingly difficult and/or tedious, but the gameplay was excellent over all. It was a decent compromise between 2D gameplay and 3D visuals. It didn’t quite feel like a Metroid game in terms of mood, but it played like one. I look forward to more like this.

In a similar theme, I also really enjoyed Bionic Commando: Rearmed. It is basically a remake of the original Bionic Commando from 1988 on the NES. They did a bang-up job. Truly a masterpiece. It was a perfect blend of campy nostalgia, smoothing out the bumps from the original, adding new content, while remaining faithful to the old game. This was another one where they used 3D effects and level design, but utilized classic 2D play control. I believe this is referred to as 2.5D.

Some folks may think of this as a step backward, but this 2.5D revolution has revitalized my interest in video games. I’m serious. I just never really got into 3D gameplay. Sure, games look fabulous in full 3D, but I largely disliked playing them that way. Maybe it’s because I’m old now, but I find the controls to be invariably awkward and the camera angles often confusing. Some are better than others, and some games just need to be in 3D, but some of the games I enjoyed most SUCK in 3D (I’m looking at YOU Castlevania LoI / CoD and Metroid Prime trilogy!!)

I was ecstatic to learn that Capcom is working on BC: Rearmed 2 and a retro 2.5D Megaman title. My only hope is that they release these on Steam, as so far only PSN and XBOX Live versions have been announced. I’m not buying an XBox, or a PS3, nor am I likely to invest in future consoles.

Other games I liked from this year have included Defense Grid, Torchlight, and Plants vs. Zombies. All of which I bought and played on Steam. I don’t remember if I’ve ranted about how amazingly awesome Steam is in the past, but it really is the best thing to happen to PC gaming and game distribution in general since, well, forever. No bulky packaging, no discs to fiddle with, seamless updating, easy purchasing, lower overall cost, great sale prices, and so on. I truly believe that Steam adds so much value to my gaming experience that I have no desire to pirate anything. That is, except when it is a title not available through Steam. Someone needs to come up with a similar model for distributing movies and music.

That’s all I can think of for the moment…

Computer Borked. Again.

I’m such a moron sometimes. I got a new CPU this holiday, and I installed it yesterday. It was one of the last-gen AMD Phenom high-efficiency models. 4 cores and only 65 Watts TDP, and it was massively on sale. Those chips never go on sale. So I grabbed it while in the midst of my holiday shopping.

Once installed though, Windows basically ignored two of the cores. Drivers were put in for all four, but two of them remained 0% used. Things were technically working – it would boot, no problems running anything, but with two dead cores, it hardly seemed a productive upgrade. So I started poking about for answers. After much fidgeting about, I got the bright idea to clear my BIOS settings. It seemed a better choice than reinstalling my OS, which was where all the posts I’d read on the net seemed to be pointing me. Just one more thing to try before that though.

Boy was that a mistake. Doing that reset the BIOS settings on the built-in RAID controller, which caused the system to update the DMI data to one of my two disks, but it recognised it as a conventional IDE drive, independently. *FACEPALM*

As soon as it happened I’d realised my mistake, but it was too late. I hadn’t made a meaningful backup in over two years (this is the part about me being a moron). And now it’s all gone.

I had no choice. I had to rebuild a new stripeset and reinstall windows from scratch anyway, except this way was not by choice and with no backup. Two years of downloads and files and such all wiped. Fortunately, I learned a little bit from the last time this happened, back in 2003. I’ve been keeping most of my written stuff online, or copying it to other computers, but I’ve downloaded gigabytes upon gigabytes of PDF books and mp3 files since then, most of which were not backed up onto other systems.

It’s all due to my own damned laziness too. I have a perfectly good 500gb external backup device sitting right next to my system. It’s even plugged in. I just never turn it on. I also need to clean it up first because there wasn’t enough free space for me to make a backup. I just kept telling myself I wanted a home media server in my LAN closet with a nice safe RAID-1 array instead. I still do want that, and I think most of my issues would be solved if I moved to that kind of a setup, but I kept procrastinating. How many more crashes and accidental deletions must occur before I smarten up, pony up, and set one up?

This may be the worst ID10T error I’ve ever made.

Temporal Distortion

I hate time. It’s been 9 months since I’ve posted here. That’s a shame really, but then, not much has happened. Not on any kind of macro scale, anyway.

Part of the reason is that I’m lazy about most things, and that includes this blog. Sure I have a half-dozen drafts saved, but I don’t remember where I was going with most of them. So they continue to sit in the drafts box, unloved, unfinished.

I haven’t been anywhere exciting, made any lifestyle changes or anything wacky like that. Nothing to report here but that I’m still alive and confused as ever.

So much for ‘plan B’…

So much for my relaxing little vacation.

London was fine and dandy, the trip down was seamless and fun, the visit to the car lot in Stratford was mostly fruitless, but not unenjoyable, and the trip back was even alright, until we hit Sudbury. Then it got interesting.

The charging system warning light came on as we were approaching the bypass. The light is the one that looks like a battery. Now when this light comes on, it means that there is something wrong with your car’s electrical system; either the battery is dying, the alternator’s output is below or above the normal range, or there is a fault somewhere in the system, like a bad ground connection. In any case, if you continue driving like that, all sorts of bad things could happen, from the car just quitting, to frying all the electronics on board, so you really can’t afford to take any chances.

It was only 7 o’clock, so we pulled in to the local Canadian Tire, hoping that they could get a look at it right away. This was, apparently, a foolish notion. Best they could do was the next day, and at first, this seemed unacceptable. We had places to go and it wasn’t dark yet. I concluded that if it was either the battery or the alternator, and if they had one in stock, I could just change them out myself in the parking lot, so we went in again to see about getting a volt-meter to diagnose the problem.

After poking around a little, it turned out that the battery was just fine, which is good, because Miatas have a very special, unique, and expensive battery not used in any other car, and so likely not in stock anywhere. It has a different chemical inside because of its location (the trunk) and is extra small and light, like everything else on the car. Though it would have been the easiest to change, I could have substituted a different one temporarily, and even if dead, the car would continue to run from the power provided by the alternator; we could just drive it home and deal with it later.

Checking the alternator revealed the problem; it was only putting out 12.1 volts. That would explain the funny smell on the way into town. Here I just thought it was the smell of Sudbury. A car’s electrical system runs from both the battery, nominally 12.6 volts, and the alternator, usually putting out about 14. Most cars, especially older ones, will continue to run until they’re at about 8 or 9 volts, but lights will be dim, accessories will be sluggish or non-functional, and the vehicle may run poorly, especially if newer. In my case, the altenator didn’t even have enough juice to keep the battery charged (anything under 12.5 volts is unlikely to start the car), and would probably not be enough to keep all the lights on, or operate wiper or blower motors. It was getting dark, and we were back in the North, so it was cooler and would be a little unpleasant without heat. Really, not having enough juice to power the lights was the big issue. I’d also noticed that the car was beginning to idle strangely, so continuing didn’t seem like a good idea.

Looking under the hood, the alternator is actually fairly easy to access and change, and I was prepared to just change it in the parking lot. I was at a Canadian Tire after all, I could just pop in and buy whatever tools I needed to do the job. Being a summer car, there were no rusty bolts to worry about, and I didn’t particularly care about getting dirty. However, it was irrelevant since they didn’t have one in stock, nor did anyone else in town that was still open, nor, as it turns out, did anyone else that wasn’t open. I found that odd, since Mazda uses similar versions of that 1.8 litre mill in other cars, and due to the economy of scale, would likely share as many parts with other cars as possible. As it turns out, after having asked around at my friendly, local junkyard when I got back, that alternator is only used in the Miata, and only in 1999-2000 model years. Similar is not identical, I guess.

So I called home. I was beginning to despair and feel panicky. I didn’t want to pause my trip here. I wanted to spend all of Tuesday relaxing at home, not continuing to drive. I told my parents of our situation and tried to figure out what to do. I determined that we should just get a motel and make an attempt to locate the part tomorrow, or failnig that, rent a tow dolly the next day and have them tow us back. There was a nice eatery close by and I could see several motels from where we stood in the parking lot. I also knew of a nice place near where I used to live in Lively. There was even a liquor store in this plaza. I’d planned to make the best of things; I could get some booze, have a bite to eat, get a room, get wasted and fornicate with my lovely wife in a place that was vaguely familiar at least. But this is Sudbury, quite possibly one of the most hostile places I’ve ever been.

To recap, since I left in 1986 or 87, I’ve never really had a good experience being back, or doing anything there. Meghan had a job interview with Rainbow District School Board one time, and we briefly considered moving there. We found only one place remotely suitable, and we got turned down from renting it. We had a flawless record with landlords and good job prospects, and we were turned down. By someone from Blind River no less, who knew me at least by reputation. Maybe that was why. Fucking cunt. While we were there, we had huge issues with Bell gouging us for using credit cards to make phone calls from pay phones rather than burning a zillion minutes on the cell phone. We were camping while househunting to keep costs down because the cheapest motels were 75$ a night, and they were all full. While camping, we had our tent stolen. Yes, fucking stolen. So we had to sleep in the car on the last night (which, with the back seat folded down and our feet in the trunk, was surprisingly comfy). The brakes on the car also decided to fail that trip, and it was by sheer luck that a Midas was able to fix it same-day. Any of the times we’ve stopped there to eat while passing though have been half-assed at best. We once went there to test drive a car (a Subaru WRX), and while on the test drive, the salesman called the police because we’d been gone too long in his estimation. Asshat.

Suffice to say, my plan epic failed. There were literally no vacancies in the entire city. None. I called every place in the book, and none of them had a room for the night, or just weren’t answering (probably for that reason). As it turns out, Sudbury is always full to the brim with out-of-town contractors. They’re a very progressive city, always building, building, building. They’re also working on extending Highway 400 all the way to Sudbury, which is a huge project. It’s really no surprise that every motel and hotel is booked solid. So, we needed a new plan, since sleeping in the car in the parking lot was not an option. We called my parents back, and asked if they would come get us. Sudbury is probably at the edge of the range where that is at all practical. They agreed to get us, and left immediately. We went to Buzzy Brown’s and had a bite to eat while we waited. I had a tasty, if oddball burger and possibly some of the worst coffee in history. We then waited the rest out at the Tim Hortons. That was a creepy enough experience; the parking lot was full of hooligans and loitering locals, pretty clearly up to no good. It made me start to fear for the safety of leaving the car here overnight, not to mention us sitting there for four hours.

Long story short we made it home, but I was pretty tired by the time that happened. It was after 4am by the time I was in bed. Good thing I took that extra day off to recover. I planned to spend it hunting down a part, driving to Sudbury, putting it in and driving back. That wasn’t in the stars either. Nobody had one, and we were not going to leave the car overnight again. We tried a convoluted plan of having the Mazda dealer in Sudbury cut a key from the VIN and bring it to their shop so they could just fix it, but by the time I found out this plan didn’t work, it was getting late in the day again. Meghan located a cheap tow dolly rental, and Dad and I hit the road at about 3 or 4. It was going to be another late night.

We made it there at around sundown, only to discover that the dolly’s straps were too big to fit the Miata’s tiny wheels. We clamped them down as best we could, and augmented that with some locking tiedown straps bought from the conveniently located Canadian Tire. ‘Good enough’ would have to do. We got in at about 2am, and again, I wasn’t in bed until about 4, so this morning I called in to work to say I wasn’t going to be there. I am still really burnt out from the road; it’s a safety issue. I could easily kill/injure myself or others at work if my mind isn’t on track. That’s not a chance I want to take.

My boss was pretty pissed off. I won’t be fired over this, I don’t think, but there’ll be hell to pay. My best bet is to go in tomorrow, nice and early, and give it my best. When he talks to me about it, I just have to try my best to explain, to make him see things from my perspective. Would he have left his 1970 Chevelle SS (the car of his dreams, the one he’s owned since he was 17) there overnight again, at the mercy of the hooligans of an unfriendly city? I hope he sees reason. To him it’s just a Miata, but to my dad, and to myself, the car represents a family project, a focus for bonding. It’s just a used Miata, far from perfect, but to us it’s special, and if he doesn’t understand that, then too damned bad.

On a positive note, Opeth rocked hard, and I snapped some lovely pics of the Grey county wind farm on the way by. Maybe I’ll even get the ambition to post some. Hahaha.

Many moons

It’s been many moons since I’ve posted here, after what could be generously described as a brief spurt. Being called back to work tends to have that effect, such that with so much less free time, I only post if I’m bored.

Clearly, now is one of those times.

I don’t even have a lot to say that is of any real interest, so as usual, I will fill this space with inane details from my mundane existence.

I’m steadily losing interest in yet another career path. I still like cars, and my co-workers (mostly), but I’m starting to think I don’t have what it takes. Maybe someday I’ll find a career that agrees with me.

I’m going to see Opeth, one of my favourite bands, in about a week. The show is in London, ON, at Centennial Hall on the 21st. I’m pretty pumped about that. It will be my first time back in London since I moved away in December 2006.

Speaking of which, I’m in the process of looking at moving again. Locally this time. We’re considering going in with my Mother-in-law and getting a really giant old house. You know, the kind with all the old trim left. They just don’t make them like they used to. There are a few possibilities, but nothing sure just yet.

I’d like to find a winter beater so I can retire my SVX to summer-only duty. I also want to replace Meghan’s car with something newer and more reliable than a 17-year-old semi-exotic that was temperamental even when new. She’s a little bitter about it. Go figure.

I’m looking at used Mazda Protege5 or Chrysler PT Turbo as options, mostly because I can’t afford another Subaru that isn’t a base model, and Subarus don’t hold my interest unless there’s a turbo involved. Though I also found a used Mazda RX-8 for cheap… but then I’d need TWO winter beaters.

One of my housemates blew up his computer, so after frying my old system with his faulty power supply, we’re replacing it all with the guts from my current system, and I get an upgrade. I’m going from an Athlon X2 BE-2350 (2.1GHz, high efficiency) on a flaky ASUS AMD 690G-based board to an Athlon X2 4850e (2.5GHz, high efficiency) on what is supposed to be a very reliable and versatile Gigabyte AMD 780G-based board. I wanted one of the 790G-based boards, as they have better graphics, but the only micro-ATX board that I could find (DFI Lanparty) costs way too much.

Anyway, what makes even this new Gigabyte board so much better than my old one is that the onboard video is actually good enough to game with, thanks in part to 128MB dedicated GDDR3 onboard memory and a modern, if low-end GPU (ATi HD3200-based). As long as your taste in games is sedate or old (which is the case), the board packs enough punch that you don’t need a power-hungry add-in card. That helps keep temps down, which is key in a low-noise HTPC like mine. An additional upshot is that it will do what they call “Hybrid Crossfire” wherein you can link the onboard GPU to an add-in card and boost performance further. It still won’t be amazing, but then, I don’t play games like Crysis, so I don’t care at all. Basically, it will run everything I play now, or have played, and will continue to play for the forseeable future. As long as I can run Diablo 3 when it comes out, I’ll be happy with it.

I got some higher-end DDR2-1066 memory for this board, which with the CPU I have is overkill (it only supports up to DDR2-800), but if I decide to upgrade in the future to a Phenom-based chip, this setup can handle it. If I had the budget, I would have bought a Phenom 9350e (quad core, 2.0GHz, high efficiency), but by the time I upgrade, perhaps there will be more AM2+ compatible, high efficieny Phenoms to choose from. As of right now, the 9350e is the ONLY one, and at 65W TDP, it’s still more thirsty than either of the chips I have now, and costs twice as much.

I’ve been filling the rest of my time with RPGs, as usual. I’ve been running a Shadowrun campaign for about 9 months now, and I think that’s about to draw to a close before the year is up. I’m getting tired of running it and need a break.

So, after that, one of our group is going to run a 4th Edition game for us. I don’t have high hopes for it. The game might play just fine, and in fact, I’m sure it will, but I will never switch over to it. The terms of the new “GSL” or Game System License are ridiculously draconian, especially compared to the “OGL” or Open Gaming License that 3rd edition was published under. The OGL is like the RPG equivalent of the Open Source software movement, and like any other fiscally responsible, socially retarded company, Wizards of the Coast, under the iron fist of its master, Hasborg, is doing everything they can to close that little Pandora’s Box.

There are no solid plans beyond that. Meghan might run one of her games again. Or I might start a new D&D game. I’m leaning toward using a D&D 3.5-based system called Pathfinder, published under the OGL by Paizo (former publishers of Dungeon, and Dragon magazines). Basically it fixes a bunch of stuff that was wrong with 3.5, and despite the terrible artwork, it has great promise.

Bad art in the books has been an ongoing complaint of mine ever since WotC bought the rights to D&D and re-published the 2nd edition back in 1996. Not that all the chainmail bikini babes and Conan-ish warriors made better subject material than anthropomorphic creatures (whose females all have big tits and silly armour anyway), but the quality of how they were rendered has suffered. It used to be gritty, or glossy, but recognisably fantasy. Now everything looks like either anime or a comic book, and I hate it. Whatever it takes to sell books, I guess.

The only other thing I’ve been up to is expanding my music folder on my computer. I’ve been hunting down material from bands that I meant to catch up on 10 years ago. Some have been like revelations, while others have been an utter waste of bandwidth. That might make an interesting post all on its own…

Twin Peaks

Twin Peaks is a series I’ve been meaning to watch for a long time now. I’ve had the score from it for a long time, and I still listen to it to this day. I bought the Prequel/Epilogue Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me and watched it several years ago, but not knowing much about the series, it made almost no sense to me, though it was still a very interesting; a typically “David Lynchian” movie experience.

Meghan bought me the then just-released Gold Box complete series for my birthday this past year, and we just recently got around to watching it. That series is, in short, completely amazing; we were both completely hooked right from the start, and now that we’re done, I find myself wishing there was more. It’s just too bad that ABC killed it before they could do a third season, because so much was left unresolved. That, in and of itself is fairly typical David Lynch, but still. It’s disappointing. And there’s virtually no chance in hell that it will ever be resolved. Some of the actors are now dead, others are not interested in returning, and they’re all too old now anyway. It was 17 years ago, after all.

The only hope that the world will ever see any “new” material resides with Mr. Lynch himself; there remains a lot of unused Fire Walk With Me footage (whole story arcs were cut out) that he has supposedly been re-editing to put in a special edition release of FWWM on DVD. The last word (in 2006) was that is was supposed to release sometime in 2007. We’re well into Q2 2008 and there’s been no word, so I’m not holding my breath. On the plus side, FWWM is becoming hard to find on DVD, which may mean that existing stock is being sold out or recalled in anticipation of a new version about to release.

So I’m stuck turning it over in my mind, how things turn out. Left with the surreal and haunting imagery of the series every time I close my eyes. In particular, the sequences in the Red Room with the Man From Another Place, are etched into my mind. At this point, my only hope for any kind of closure, is that Lynch and his co-conspirator Mark Frost will put their heads together and write a novelization of what the third season should have been. That also seems unlikely.

It’s amazing to see though, just how profoundly the show impacted and influenced pretty much everything that came after it. The X-files and the Silent Hill games are the most obvious examples, but I see many many elements of the show in other things, too. I had no idea just how influential it was. Ironic that they were shunned by their peers in the industry at the awards shows, despite 14 nominations. Unsurprising that the industry doesn’t bother to reward innovation and creativity. I guess that’s why I don’t have cable, and why I think 90% of the stuff on TV is garbage.

Failure

I heard about Failure quite a while ago, I even had one of their songs (a cover) on my computer long, long before I realised just how incredible they are as a band. They contributed a cover of “Enjoy the Silence” to a Depeche Mode tribute album, which my sister bought and ripped, which I then copied. It was a good cover; so good that even Depeche Mode like it better than their own version. I tried searching for some of their other stuff, but could find nothing, and gave up on it.

Fast forward several years, sometime after I discovered the Minibosses. At one point, they had a live cover of a song called “Golden” available for download from their website. I grabbed it because I was grabbing everything  they had up on the site, and there were few details available on the individual tracks. It was a neat song, but I had no idea who was responsible for the original. I tried searching for individual lyrics (I’ve had good success with that in the past), but came up empty. For all I knew, it was a Minibosses original in a more conventional alt-rock style. It’s live, and the ‘bosses were drunk, so the vocals are bad, the guitars are sloppy, and it’s a piss-poor recording. For some reason though, my wife really liked it. It’s unusual enough that she likes anything in that style, let alone a grainy live recording, so I tried to discover exactly what it was for her benefit. Whenever she does like something like that, I try to be as diligent as possible in accommodating her.

To that end, I emailed the Minibosses, asking them about it. To my pleasant surprise, they got back to me, letting me know that it was a cover of a Failure song. Now that I knew the band I thought I’d have better luck finding it. That was not at all the case; searching for Failure was pretty futile. It was almost as though they didn’t exist. In fact, what I did discover was that they did exist, but were now defunct, with almost no trace of them on the internet (at the time). I did find a few sites that mentioned them, and some bad samples of Golden that sounded just as bad as the Minibosses cover version (possibly thanks to the inferior WMA CODEC). So again, I’d given up.

Then one day, I got a mailer from Grant Henry, a.k.a. Stemage, the fellow responsible for the MetroidMetal project (of which I am a fan and sponsor). This mailer had information pertaining to a tribute project that he was working on to none other than Failure. Looking it up this time revealed a lot more information. It seems that the internet caught wind of them, and word-of-mouth had increased their fanbase a lot. They now had a detailed Wiki page, and a huge underground following. I found that a collection of their b-sides, demos, and rarities was even available for free download. Paydirt!

I got a chance to listen to this collection (a while ago) and I can confirm many of the things I’d read about them. I didn’t think that anyone made music like that anymore; they continued the evolution of great underground acts from the late 80′s and early 90′s (minus the mainstreaming). The best way I can think of to describe it, is that they sound like a “retro” indie-garage-rock act, the likes of which could have come from the Pacific Northwest scene circa 199x, and yet, at the same time, sounding like they come from 1,000 years in the future. The sound is very atmospheric, concentrating on creating texture and mood rather than on technical displays (though it’s evident in some tracks that they’re still capable of excellent musicianship). Long story short, they blew me away.

The List

When I was young, and first exposed to the marvel of Much Music, I began keeping a list. This list contained the band and sometimes album or song name of things I’d heard that I wanted to check out in greater detail. It grew and grew over the several years I’d kept it, and while I’d never made an exact count, I estimated that it may have contained as many as 2,000 entries.

Sadly, at some point, the battered blue spiral-bound over-sized notepad which contained this list became lost in time and space, possibly as the result of cleaning my room, or perhaps when I moved back upstairs from my windowless room in the basement. I don’t know exactly when it was lost, just that the next time I went to look for it, I couldn’t find it anywhere. I was pretty distraught over it, as it took me a long time to compile and at the time, could not easily be re-researched and compiled. I wrote the stuff down precisely for that reason.

It was probably just as well. I vividly recall crying myself to sleep one night after having made the realisation that I would probably never have the resources in time and money to follow through with my research. After all, at $20 per CD, just to sample the most acclaimed album from each band would have cost in excess of $40,000. Even if I were hunting through pawn shops, that still represented more money than I could ever commit to such a project. That list didn’t include movies either, and when you factor in that many of the groups on the list probably had more than one release worth buying, the cost grows rather quickly. The list was still growing at that time as well. The conclusion I was left with was that I would be constantly playing catch-up.

Then the internet happened. Napster. It was a dream come true. I downloaded a lot of stuff. I started keeping track again (though mostly just on scraps of paper). It was like a second shot at the dream, until the service was shut down by the lawsuits of a few wealthy artists whining about how they were missing out on revenue desperately needed to fund drug habits, psychiatrists, and whores.

Still, the genie was released from the bottle, and has to date proven impossible to put back. Things aren’t as easy as they were then, but looking this stuff up is still fairly trivial, as is keeping a list on my computer. It doesn’t have 2,000 entries or whatever, but factoring in all the bookmarks and everything, might be getting there. Wikipedia helps a lot too.

And that’s one of the many things I’ve been using to occupy my time whilst I’ve been  away from work. I’ve also taken the time to rip many of my old CDs to MP3. I hadn’t realised how many of them were not on my computer until recently. I think that was a result of being storage-limited before. Now I have more space than I know what to do with.