Tuesday, December 23, 2008

We Emerge Victorious! RIAA Admits Defeat!

I remember it like it was yesterday, that magical Fall of '00 and the ensuing semester in Spring of '01. It was a glorious time to be a young music fan, especially one in college. You see, universities had yet to wise up to the perils of giving students an absurd amount of bandwidth with no checks, and the RIAA had yet to fully realize the impact a little program called Napster would have on how people would access their music in the 21st century. The not so shocking result was of course tens of thousands of students downloading thousands of songs (and thats just at UNT) bringing the university's servers to the slowest of all crawls as people downloaded everything they could think of. It also answers the question how the hell did Wesley Willis ever get famous?

I don't think I can overstate how many millions of .mp3s were being made and shared, and how hammered the servers were. A simple internet search during the middle of the day would take 15s just to load a webpage. Around that same time a simple and yet revolutionary game called Counter-strike was released (Winter of 2000) to make sure that several dozen students would never make it to class again, the problem is the lag was so bad internet play was impossible and we were relegated to playing on internal servers-something which turned out to be fun as you'd run into other players in the dorm cafeterias and shoot them the death stare for pwning you previously that day-it fostered this weird community on campus. But I digress, I'm burying the lead.

By the Fall of '01 most universities in America had either put bandwidth caps on students, or outright blocked Napster from their network to preserve their network integrity and because the RIAA had caught wind and was threatening to sue nearly every American university for allowing access to pirated music. This was the genesis of the music pirate vs. the RIAA feud that has been brewing ever since. Napster was eventually shut down (to later re-open as a pay site), but the damage had been done and Gnutella clients such as Limewire and Bearshare quickly filled the void. In fact, every time the RIAA would try to shut a service down the programmers would get smarter and figure out new ways to hide the IPs of the users or would base the servers out of strange 3rd world countries. To counter their efforts, the RIAA spent millions of dollars on fighting these programs and their users (instead of, you know, improving their music or reducing the price of the records people didn't want to buy), eventually settling on a way to track the IP address of users whom they would then sue.

And sue they did, estimates are that the RIAA has sued 35,000 people since 2003, settling for an absolutely batshit insane $3,500 per a song downloaded/shared. They've sued grandmothers, single moms, children, deceased people, and people who don't even own computers. You see, the way the RIAA tracked you wasn't an exact science, but more of a scattershot strategy-the result being thousands of innocent people being sued and forced to either pay the RIAA to go away (settle out of court) or pay even more money for attorneys to fight the RIAA (of which they would re-coup none of it). The RIAA had managed to find a way to use the American Justice System to strong-arm innocent people, all in a vain effort to stop something that was unstoppable and with the rational that they're losing millions of dollars (most of which they'd have never seen, college students weren't going to buy that Journey record or Wesley Willis record, we'd download it for free but we sure as shit weren't going to buy it instead of 4 beers and a shot at the bar.

So in the midst of these insane lawsuits, have sprung up new and more secure sharing programs. Hosted off-shore, these international sites were invite-only and acted as the largest free record store in the world. Oink was one of the best known until British officials finally shut it down last year (and that didn't stop anyone, we all just moved to new sites). The beauty of Oink was you had to share as much as you took, and if that ratio became too weighted (you were taking more than you were giving), then you'd be tossed from the site-and to get tossed from that site would be punishment, as it boasted literally just about every song off every record in the world (and if it wasnt there, you could request it and you'd get it) in variable qualities and available for free at the touch of a button. It was a music lover's paradise. If you're so inclined, you can read a fantastic essay about Oink and the music industry in general here. It's a great read.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that also having arrived (several year too late I might add, again because of the RIAA blocking them) were pay music sites such as iTunes-where you could plop down $0.99 for a song, and these sites have flourished. But battle lines had been drawn years before, and there were hundreds of thousands of us that thumbed our nose at the RIAA, vowing not to buy music again (unless it's local or independent) as a means to stop feeding the bear that was the RIAA music cartel. And last week, we scored our first victory.

Fri Dec 19, 2008, LOS ANGELES - The group representing the U.S. recording industry said Friday it has abandoned its policy of suing people for sharing songs protected by copyright and will work with Internet service providers to cut abusers' access if they ignore repeated warnings.

The beauty of the internet, is that it bring the power back to the people, and the people have spoken. And we will continue to speak until the RIAA burns to the ground and is lying in the grave it dug for itself. So pat yourselves on the back music fans, we all deserve it. Now we just need to get these people off their iTunes crack......

Shiner Cheer

If you're a fan of good beer (and who isn't?), then Winter is the season for you. I mean sure there are some nice Spring and Fall seasonal brews, and even a few decent summer ones (St. Arnold's Lawnmower comes to mind), but Winter is when breweries usually pull all the stops and make some great dark beers that confuse the palate and stretch the lines of what beer can be.

With the Spoetzl Brewery being one of my favorites on account of their still-amazing Shiner Bock (and their new series of yearly brews, capping next year on their 100th anniversary with Shiner 100), I couldn't wait to get a chance to try their Winter seasonal, Shiner Cheer.

A bit of a disclaimer first though. I can't say I'm real high on fruit in beer. I mean I love Pyramid Apricot on a nice warm day, and I'll occasionally throw a lime in a Mexican beer or an Orange slive in a Hefeweizen, but as a general rule I'd like my beer to be beer and not a beer/fruit juice hybrid. So I was a little unsure going in when I learned that it was an Ale brewed with peaches and pecans (though those are Texas staples, so it's not terribly surprising). It's been strangely tough to come by for the past few weeks, but I finally got some.

It's got an unusual ruby/brown color to it, but it pours nicely. The head comes out like it should, and in the end it looks like a beer should. Upon tasting, the first thing you will taste is that classic Shiner bitterness (I recognized it immediately from the Bock) caused by burning the malt. It's not a bad thing, in fact it's what makes the Shiner Bock what it is, but it's definately noticeable here and it lingers. The pecans are very understated, but after a couple seconds the peaches become blatantly obvious. It's strange, it takes a few seconds before the flavor of peach kicks in, and even when it does it's fairly understated-theres just enough peach to let you know that it's there. In fact, the peaches were much more evident on the nose, which I found surprising.

In the end though, I'd rate it a good beer-but not a great one. It doesn't have that heaviness that is generally associated with a Winter beer (to warm you) and that you'd expect. The peach flavor is nice, but overall the beer is generally unremarkable. A little malt bitterness, a little peach, and that's it-its honestly just a little too simple for me. I'm not sure that there's enough peach to satisfy those who like a sweeter beer, and I don't think those that like a heavy beer will be terribly moved by the peaches. I'd suggest that it's a good beer to try, and I'm glad that I did, but I couldn't see myself having it more than a couple times before the end of winter.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


For atleast a year, probably longer, friend Adrienne has been trying to convince me that I needed to join Twitter, that somehow plugging myself into yet another on-line social network was going to improve my life. With Myspace and Facebook though, it seemed rather unnecessary and I resisted it. I would be lying if I didn't admit that the trendiness of it contributed as well (like with everything Apple), but primarily it just didn't seem like something I needed. I've got enough on-line timesinks as it is.

It's come up occasionally since then, and I've continued to resist, that was until it came up during a Google Groups conversation in which Adrienne wrote;

I find it bizarre that so many of you guys are obsessed with thelatest innovations in
hardware and software, video and computer games,and mp3 players/peripherals/whatever, but think that social networkingtools are worthless.

Luke, obviously you DO care about what Mac's doing, and vice versa, orelse you wouldn't be writing on 412 at all! Explain to me how,functionally, this group is any
different than Twitter or Facebook,despite it being closed to a small network
of people (which you can dowith Twitter, FB, and anything else, you know). You post links andvideos here, so does everyone on FB and Twitter. You have discussionshere, same there. You tell people what you're up to here, same there.You make plans with your friends here, same there.

The only thing I can think of is that you're turned off by the trendy-factor of these sites, or that they're too time-consuming. Yet forall that stuff I listed in the first sentence, you're all about thelatest trend. And think about how much time you
waste on the Internet anyway.

BTW, this isn't aimed at Luke, just a rant in general.

So I decided fine, I'll sign up for it and use it for one month, and at the end of said month ponder if it had in fact had any sort of positive effect on my life, or rather it just added to the internet clutter already sufficiently packed full of Message Boards, Blogs, Myspace, Facebook, News, Op-Eds, Warhammer, Team Fortress 2, and everything else I spend time on-line reading or playing.

So yesterday I signed up. Handle is superfuzzbigmuf, so if you "tweet" as they say, then add me. If you don't, well then I will tell you in a month if its anything more than another pointless internet timesink.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Balvenie Doublewood 12 Year

A month after trying the Macallan Fine Oak and loving what I tasted, I decided to give the Balvenie Doublewood a try. Unlike the Macallan which was aged 10 years, the Balvenie was aged 12 years however much like the Macallan it is aged in two different oak casks, in this case a traditional oak whisky cask and an oak sherry cask. It's 43% alcohol (86 proof) and runs approximately $42.

I got it home, poured it in a nice open whisky glass, poured a little chilled water on top of it, swirled it around and then took my first sniff and then sip. Not terribly impressed. So I gave myself a few minutes to let the palate cleanse and did it again, still not very impressed.

Before I delve into why, let me issue a disclaimer; I don't particularly care for Sherry. I've had "good" Sherries before, and to me there just isn't such a thing-the nose is the only thing worse than the taste, it's just not a flavor I care for. It is because of this, that I think I was unimpressed with the Balvenie Doublewood, because the taste of the Sherry casks definitely came through heavy on the whisky. It had a little honey and a tiny bit of vanilla, but to me the notes of sherry overpowered everything else. The body on it was good although it wasn't extremely silky, although to be fair the bite on it wasn't terrible.

It wasn't a bad whisky, I mean it certainly beats the stuff you'd find in a plastic jug at your local liquor store, but I didn't find myself enjoying it anymore than say a blended like Johnnie Walker black (which would be less expensive) nor did I find it to be any more complex. There are better single malts and even blended whiskies out there for this price.

Macallan Fine Oak (10 year)

So a couple months ago I decided to start a bit of a new tradition (yes, thats an oxymoron) for myself of buying something rather expensive but something I've never tried before on the mid-month payday. Sort of a gift to myself, and the first bottle I decided to roll with was the Macallan 10 which was on sale for $29.99. I was fairly familiar with the Macallen 12, but had never tried the 10 and wanted to see how they stacked up against each other.

I must say that I was extremely happy with my purchase. As the name suggests, this Scotch is aged 10 years in oak barrels, in thise case actually three different barrels-European Oak Sherry Cask, American Oak Sherry Cask, and an American Oak Bourbon Cask. The result is an extremely silky Scotch, with a texture bordering on pure bliss. Not surprisingly oak is a major player in both the nose and the bouquet of this Scotch, but what was fairly surprising was the notes of honey and vanilla on it. Between the honey on the palate entry with the silky texture it is an extremely pleassant drink. Furthermore, the aging in Sherry casks allows for a taste that lingers nicely and doesn't have any bite (from the alcohol) until towards the end. It's pale straw in color, which is to be expected for a 10 year Scotch.

I would strongly recommend Macallan 10 Fine Oak to anyone that's a fan of good Scotch Whisky.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Happy Repeal Day!

Hey Happy Repeal Day everyone. It was 75 years ago on Dec. 5, 1933 that Prohibition ended and booze was merrily re-introduced to the American public. Strangely enough, it took all of hours to get the booze in...funny that, huh?

Had I been more forward thinking I would have totally had a kick-ass party for the event. Sadly, I am not. That said, have a tall one...or a glass of whisky...and give props to the forefathers that realized alcohol was actually more American than applie pie, and ignoring the ones that disagreed.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Fall Television Redux

With sweeps behind us now and most fall television seasons having wrapped up and/or about to wrap up, I figured it was a good time to blog about the Fall '08 TV season. It didn't hurt either that I've been fighting my yearly sinus infection (later than usual this year) since Thanksgiving giving me plenty of time to lay in bed with my Tivo and catch up on House, Heroes, Law & Order, SVU, Family Guy, Fringe, and My Own Worst Enemy. I even tried to watch Chuck, but ya, it sucked. See? Being sick has atleast some upside.

The best new show of the season was most definately Sons of Anarchy on FX. It wrapped up last thursday with a 90 minute episode that was phenomenal. I realize I am hard-selling this show, but it's really that fucking good. Do yourself a favor and get the first season, as it's been picked up for two more seasons already and seems primed to be FX's replacement for the Shield. And I'm still kicking myself for not getting in on The Shield early. There's just something fascinating about the biker gang underworld, and this show totally delivers.

Speaking of biker gangs, I've been catching episodes here and there of Gangland on History. I'm not sure it's season pass worthy, but like Deadliest Catch is nice downtime filler. Being from Dallas I don't see gangs like the folks in NYC, LA, or Chicago do...so I find it to be pretty fascinating programming. Plus it ties in nicely with Sons of Anarchy and The Wire, which I started on Season 1 this week because Jenny won't stop hassling me about it being the greatest show ever made.

Fringe was also a nice breakout show for the Fall season. It's actually gotten progressively more interesting sicne the premier, like a show should but so many fail to do. I'm still not sure it's of the caliber of the X-Files, but it's pretty damn good. The plots can get a little far fetched, but the acting is superb. John Noble makes an excellent Walter, and Anne Tory (Agent Dunham) is strangely attractive and great for her role.

Heroes has come so close to jumping the shark (see photo at top) so many times this season, but keeps avoiding it. I'm not sure how much longer they can, as I'm really not sure how much of a future a show about people with superpowers can have, but they've managed to keep it atleast mildly entertaining as people are switching sides and doublecrossing each other every week. I watched the entire season in one night (that whole sick thing....) and I still couldn't figure out who was on who's side. I'm assuming that confusion is by design. I'm not going to try and sell you on it, were Heroes a stock I'd probably give it a sell rating, but we shall see.....I'm still watching.

Law & Order makes another attempt at replacing the great Detective Lenny Briscoe (Jerry Orbach) while also replacing Ed Green (Jesse L. Martin), this time going with Cyrus Lupo (Jeremy Sisto) and Kevin Bernard (Anthony Anderson). And like with most L&O pairings, it's improving with time. I'm not sure you can ever replace Briscoe and Green, but these two aren't bad. Having McCoy (Sam Waterston) as D.A. while new A.D.A Cutter (Linus Roache) goes rogue straight out of the old Jack McCoy playbook has been an interesting storyline. Meanwhile Law & Order: SVU is trudging along with more subplots involving Stabler's family. Not bad, but not great, it's still SVU.....a nice spin-off of the original classic but not on par with it. And certainly not as bad as Criminal Intent, where Vincent D'Onoffrio made me insane.

House is still awesome. I know some people don't like it, I even admit to it being extremely formulaeic, but Hugh Laurie is simply amazing as the character House, and I like the direction it's going with a potential House/Cuddy romance after the drama with Cut-throat Bitch and Wilson earlier in the season. I also think the writers are doing an excellent job of fleshing out the characters of 13, Taub, and Kumar, making them interesting in the dynamic between House, Cuddy, and Foreman. Thus far this has been the best season since the one with the cop harassing House, season 2 I think.

I watched the first could episodes of My Own Worst Enemy to see if Christian Slater had anything left in the bag. Upon episode three the show was not renewed so I didn't bother with the rest of them. Slater wasn't bad, but the premise was just too ridiculous and the scope too limited, also the cast around Slater was pretty mediocre. Likewise Worst Week was really funny, but completely unsustainable, even with Red from That '70s Show. It would be like making Meet The Parents into a TV series, it's just not feasible.

So there you go, my Fall TV Redux. Cheers!

On A Bit Of A Personal Note

While the exact date escapes me, somewhere around March or April of this past year (there's this weird couple month period that consisted of me drinking/working/pining over my now ex-girlfriend that makes it tough to pinpoint. Emphasis on the drinking.) I decided it was important for me to make some life changes. My lifestyle in college (or really, my entire time in Denton, TX.) had simply become too unhealthy and detrimental. So I went down the list of vices, and smoking and gambling simply weren't going to be subtracted. Nor was drinking, though moderation was a possibility. Ultimately, I decided that some level of moderation and diet change was what was necessary in my life to undo the oh, 100lbs I had put on since high school. I should own a stake in the Shiner brewery for the amount of Shiner Bock I consumed. Seriously....why isn't Shiner publicly traded? But I digress.

I say all that to say that since then my focus has been on losing weight and trying to improve my quality of life. I moved back to Dallas proper, changed to a package store route, started running/swimming, took up golf, etc.....a lot has changed in my life since I left Denton. But the proudest moment of my life since then occured this past Friday morning when I stepped on the scale and realize I had officially lost 50lbs since then. It's not an end, instead just a milestone. But that doesn't change the fact that 50lbs is a pretty big fucking number, and I'm pretty damn proud of myself. It's been a couple pants sizes (buying new clothes is a PITA), it's been re-wearing old t-shirts I'd long since out grown.

So ya, exploding high-five.