Review: Worlds Collide by Apocalyptica

I just recently noticed that Apocalyptica’s entire catalog has been loaded up on Rhapsody.  Presumably it’s part of a larger plan to advertise their new album, Worlds Collide, which seems to be the trend for a lot of artists that have been holding out on “monthly fee” services. Since I’ve been only listening to their second album, Inquisition Symphony, up until this point (because it was the only one on Rhapsody), this gave me a chance to see what else a metal band founded by four cellists can do.

The Bad: I’m fully convinced that the addition of a drummer to the original quartet stripped away some piece of the band’s uniqueness.  On the initial few albums, the percussion section was either dropped entirely or picked up by one of the cellos. Either choice results in a unique sound in a genre where the drummer is heavily emphasized and that’s now missing. The only other problem with this album is that the collaborations tracks with vocals are clear attempts at sacrificing their sound to garner some play on rock radio (success…I actually heard I’m Not Jesus on WMMR recently). The results are some tracks that tend towards generic hard rock.

The Good: The instrumental tracks are fantastic. The band does an excellent job of letting the beautiful sound of the main cello come through while still maintaining an overall metal sound that proves they really understand the genre despite being trained in classical music. After the novelty of “cello metal” fades for the listener, the band can easily stand on the quality of their music. As an added bonus for Rammstein fans, there is clearly a lot of overlap between the two bands since they toured together in 2005. Till Lindemann makes a guest appearance with a German-language cover of David Bowie’s Heroes. A longtime Rammstein producer is also at the helm of Worlds Collide. Combining that with Rammstein’s frequent use of strings results in a couple moments that could have come from either band.

The Verdict: A strong B+. Find a way to listen to this album. Just maybe skip some of the generic vocal tracks.

UPDATED: The Darker Side of Hobbits

The Hobbit movies now officially have a director and the choice couldn’t have been more perfect: Guillermo del Toro. I can’t wait to see what he does with the series. His previous movies have shown a perfect combination of whimsy and psychosis and modeling The Hobbit in his trademark style could make it something truly disturbing (and awesome). I look forward to a very disturbing portrayal of Gollum.

Update from Mike:

I’m pretty excited.  I love the practical effects from Hellboy from the Hand of Doom design, the Samaritans and especially the work done on Kroenen.  I don’t know how much input del Toro had with the prop design but the thought of Jackson, del Toro, and Weta putting their heads together is a pleasing image.  The Balrog was amazing, I will have dreams of Smaug until the movie(s) are released (and will do my best to ignore any pre-release leaks/design shots).

Thoughts on who might play a young Bilbo?  I love Ian Holm’s performance from LotR; hopefully they’ll get someone of his caliber.

Some del Toro links:

Aintitcool post on the announcment.

Variety’s announcement.

del Toro’s IMDB page.

Solid del Toro fansite with pre-official annoucement coverage.

In vitro chicken-meat…?

Science allows us to do plenty of cool and creepy things.  But whether you’re into weird science for resurrecting extinct species or just to grow ears on the backs of mice, PETA wants you to know that they’ve one-upped you.

PETA is offering a $1 million prize to the contest participant able to make the first in vitro chicken meat and sell it to the public by June 30, 2012. The contestant must do both of the following:

• Produce an in vitro chicken-meat product that has a taste and texture indistinguishable from real chicken flesh to non-meat-eaters and meat-eaters alike.
• Manufacture the approved product in large enough quantities to be sold commercially, and successfully sell it at a competitive price in at least 10 states.

First off, I would like to salute PETA on this. Usually they strike me as militant dolts, but the phrase “in vitro meat” is a stroke of brilliance. The idea itself is doomed to failure at the moment though. Many vegetarians won’t eat the meat because “animal cruelty” is not their primary reason for being vegetarian in the first place. And the number that do switch over to eating in vitro meat will probably be offset by people who are scared or weirded out by the concept itself and refuse to eat it. Plus, even if they can get people to eat it, there’s still the problem of cost. The amount of R&D needed to grow edible tissues in culture will be astronomical (and the $1 million prize is likely a laughable drop in the bucket). All of that money will be reflected in the price of the meat and realistically, crazy organic-loving hippies aside, there’s probably not a huge market for bizarre pseudo-chicken that costs more than regular chicken.

UPDATE:

Upon seeing this I immediately thought of an episode of Sci-fi Channel’s blissfully goofy Eureka.  It took me a while to find the info but a blog over at tvguide by pgoody had a succinct summary of what I remember:

With that crisis averted, Jack turns his attention to the “dumb virus” and soon deduces that all the dummies all ate chicken at Café Diem. After investigating the chicken farm, Jack finds out that the chicken farmer doesn’t want to kill birds so she uses stem-cell technology to grow independent chicken parts (yummy?). The cloned chicken parts, while organic, causes some chemical reaction that makes people who eat them stupid. A vegetarian doctor, who kept her smarts, develops the antidote, and all goes back to “normal” at GD.

Episode was from Season 2 called “E=MC…?” Not that I expect anything of the sort to happen in real life but it reminded me of that whole fiction to reality surealness I posted about earlier.

-Mike

It’s evolution, baby

It’s been a big week on the evolution front. Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed is looming on the horizon, threatening to again paint our country as a bunch of backwards yokels who don’t understand a) the distinction between faith and science (and why one can’t substitute for the other), b) what a scientific theory is and why it’s different than a theory in everyday language, and c) that not all scientists are atheists but rather all scientists have to ignore faith in their experiments because it’s not a valid part of the scientific method. For those that don’t know what the movie is about, let me give you the tl;dr summary: “The Man” (referring to scientists here) is keeping creationists down and blackballing them. Plus evolution brought us Social Darwinism and the Holocaust, therefore it’s bad.

You might be tempted to think I was using hyperbole here to mock the film. Nope. They actually went so far as to edit Darwin’s writings to make it look like he approved of eugenics, despite the unedited paragraphs saying exactly the opposite. Expelled is just now filtering out to audiences that can actually analyze the movie’s content instead of just test audiences from the uber-right and the reviews have been predictably bad. Watch the movie (preferably by finding yourself a copy on BitTorrent) and understand that we live in a country where the teaching of evolution is threatened in numerous states, including right here in PA.

But it hasn’t been all bad for Darwin and his theory. He got his complete works put up online for all to see at no cost. There’s some great stuff on there, including original sketches from his time on the H.M.S. Beagle. Plus Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania just announced 2009 to be the Year of Evolution. Philadelphia is frequently mocked (sadly with good cause) for being low brow and a second-tier city, so it’s good to see the city take an active role on the front lines of an intellectual battle.

Lousy natural selection

Great article from Cracked.com about some cool post-dinosaur creatures that went the way of the dodo…leaving us with their lesser relatives. (And no, the dodo is not included. It was anything but cool by any definition of the word.) If the name Megatherium doesn’t ring a bell, you should definitely be reading this article. There are few things as badass as a sloth the size of an elephant with eight inch claws.

Well maybe Doedicurus (shown at the bottom because text refuses to wrap around pictures for me), who happens to be a glaring omission from the article. Apparently being a 12-foot long armadillo weighing multiple tons and sporting an enormous spiked tail doesn’t qualify you. Even when your closest surviving relative’s claims to fame are always giving birth to identical quadruplets and being considered a delicacy in Mexico.  We’re talking about something that combined the best parts of Stegosaurus (spiked tail), Ankylosaurus (body armor) and mammals (warm blooded, doesn’t become extinct every time there’s a minor ice age).  That lead to this, which lead to this. That’s the definition of being screwed.

Bender’s Big Score

Fox has a lengthy record of ditching quality entertainment in favor of, as Fry put it, “programs of the genre World’s Blankiest Blank”. Family Guy, Firefly, Arrested Development, Dark Angel for those of us more interested in Jessica Alba’s rear than her acting ability…the list goes on. The saddest part is that frequently these shows are never given a chance to succeed. Fox’s own poor decisions on scheduling and advertising doom them from the start and the shows are sent to Friday nights (aka Fox’s equivalent of Florida) to await their inevitable demise. Fox’s worse transgression by far, however, is the cancellation of Futurama and not just because it’s one of the funniest shows the network has ever produced. The real reason is Fox’s horrible decision to shuffle Futurama to Sunday’s at 7pm EST, a time slot that frequently gets preempted by NFL games. Bad time slot + expensive production = infrequent new episodes = minimal audience = bye.

In what would be a blow to Fox’s pride if they were smart enough to realize it, Futurama returns this year with new episodes on Comedy Central. The first four are parts of a made-for-DVD movie called Bender’s Big Score and while I really want Futurama to succeed this time around, it’s not going to do it if the movie is indicative of the quality to come. There are a few laugh out loud moments (courtesy of the underused Zoidberg mostly) but overall it seems more like a fan-fic trying to cram in as many returning characters and inside jokes as possible.  The way Bender’s Big Score echoes the first new Family Guy episodes after that show’s return doesn’t inspire confidence in me. Too many attempts to get in past characters instead of  breaking new ground. Too many jokes that fall flat. Too big a push to make things “edgier” (which is a euphemism for  “cruder” here). And given that Family Guy has been spiraling into irrelevance since it’s return to Fox, I can’t help but worry about Futurama’s upcoming season. Just have to wait for June and hope the second movie, The Beast with a Billion Backs, is less fan service and more of the witty humor the show that defined the show before.

Mmmm…vigilante justice

This story is too ridiculous not to pass along. A guy in Philly gets his TV, Xbox 360 and laptop stolen. He goes to the cops but doesn’t get much help (probably because they are so busy not solving the crapload of murders in the city that they don’t have time to not solve a burglary case). So he puts his story up on Digg.com and, after some ill-advised taunting from one of the burglars over Xbox Live, the gaming community manages to track down the thieves and harass them into returning the stolen goods.

I’m not even sure how to read this. It will definitely be sold in online forums as a tale of the collective might of the gaming community. And certainly if you ever get gamers to stop splitting down platform lines and all move in one direction they can do great things. But the incident is certainly problematic, although not for the online vigilant angle. The methods involved underline the problems of the internet. A group of geeks were able to start with a person’s GamerTag and end up with everything about him: name, address, photos, videos. I’d be way more worried about people using that expertise maliciously than about a group of gamers harassing a petty thief.

Lab Cleanup Day

If you are a devotee of CSI or its less attractive siblings, you probably have a skewed view of laboratories. The CSI laboratory is a wonderous place. A mixture of beautiful whites and blues paint scenes of an organized and sterile environment. Sexy people roam this shangri-la using their Bruckheimer-granted skills to do in 15 seconds what takes mere mortals hours or days (no, you can’t get a DNA match from a piece of evidence in under a minute). At the risk of ruining any mystique the show may have given me and my brethren, the show is a lie…albeit an entertaining one. The real-life lab is a dirty and cluttered place, more of a graveyard for old data and outdated technology than anything else. But sometimes a group of scientists with the right mix of daring and foolishness will attempt to impose order on the chaos.

The last attempt at a Lab Cleanup Day in our lab was likely prior to 1997. Either that or in the past decade nobody saw the need to remove a list of lab rules dating to that year and referencing individuals nobody currently in the lab has ever heard of. Either way it was clear going in that it wasn’t going to be a particularly easy or enjoyable afternoon. I signed up to help with the “Corner of Mystery”, which was an area near the chemical hood that people had been using for storing anything and everything they couldn’t be bothered to find a real place for. During the excavation, I pulled out a confusing array of junk:

1) A PC tower with an Intel Pentium II processor and a Power Macintosh G3, both of which Wikipedia assures me were discontinued early in 1999.

2) Carbon dioxide tanks that were still partially full and just left in an alcove. Yes, those are the same kind of pressurized tanks that can fall, crack open, and then be propelled violently around by the gas escaping the cylinder.

3) A huge blue, hexagonal contraption that was outfitted with multiple hoses coming out the sides. Underneath a pile of stuff stacked on top of it was a faded note saying not to store things on top of it. Not being exactly sure what it was but knowing it hadn’t been used in quite some time, we just hid it in the radiation area.

4) Mouse skin samples…maybe. The absence of any definitive labels left the true identity of the samples a mystery but it looked like there might have been fur on some of them. We threw them on top of the blue thing in the radiation area along with some other samples we thought were too toxic to deal with.

So for anyone who’s looking for an old PC or Mac from the late 90’s…I’d love to help you but you’ll have to look elsewhere. My boss had us keep them. You know, just in case.

Thou shall not make a machine in the likeness of a human mind

About 36 seconds into this video, I became very concerned for future of the human race.

Rest assured that when the robots come to enslave us, they will appear in forms approximating metallic goats. And they will not be easily knocked over. Although I’m assuming by the time they’re actually aware enough to start their conquest that there will be a wide variety of robotic quadripeds leading the charge. Goats are just the beginning and, while ill-tempered, presumably the people beyond this traveshamockery will push production into more exotic and deadly species of animals. Just imagine an army of robot tigers, robot crocodiles, robot platypi (they’re poisonous)…all impervious to fear and pain…all difficult to knock over.

We might want to nip this thing in the bud.

Mike Says:  Courtesy of JoCo via BoingBoing via the Onion:  a vision of the future:

Apparently literary skills aren’t genetic

Frank Herbert is essentially a god in the realm of science fiction (he wrote the original two Dune trilogies, for those not in the know). Basically if you were to rate him on a science fiction scale from 1 to “Frank Herbert”, he would get a “Frank Herbert”. Or possibly just a little less than “Frank Herbert” if you’re one of those tools who thinks nothing should ever get a perfect score because “no book/movie/game/CD is perfect”. Regardless, he would be really close to the top of whatever arbitrary scale you can make up to rate writers in the genre. Frank Herbert’s son, Brian, on the other hand…not so much. Brian is, however, a very wealthy man because Brian and his buddy Kevin Anderson managed to pump out multiple books sporting DUNE in big letters on their covers. These books are mediocre in good light but are national bestsellers because Dune has a ridiculous amount of selling power even 40+ years after the first book’s release.

This situation basically means one of two things about Brian Herbert:

1) Brian honestly believes his penmanship is equal to that of Frank Herbert and that his books live up to the legacy of the original series. He has some sort of Oedipus complex that causes him to devalue his father’s work. Brian isn’t the brightest bulb in the drawer and is possibly illiterate.

2) Brian knows his writing style is sub par. He continues to pump out the Dune books because they mean he gets to sleep on a bed made entirely of Euros and eat condor egg omelets three times a day. Brian may be the brightest bulb in the drawer but he is a bulb of pure evil.

I suspect the latter. I know Frank Herbert wouldn’t care for the shallow characters and nonsensical motives that populate his son’s novels. And I’m sure Brian Herbert does too.