Friday, March 12, 2010

Under (Re)Construction

Thanks to the recent unannounced sale of our old domain host (whose buyer then somehow lost all the hosted data in the transition), most of the older posts on The Cantalopue Machine are now outdated by dint of being completely bereft of imagery and/or working links to odd files (notice my absent avatar to the right of this post, for example).

I am therefore taking this opportunity to put The Cantaloupe Machine on a short hiatus pending some page design changes and a whole lot of culling/re-editing of old content. Schedule permitting, I'm hoping to be back in regular operation sometime in the spring. Enjoy the improving weather, everyone, and go Tribe!

Friday, January 22, 2010

America, Inc.

Ah, the George W. Bush presidency: like herpes, it's the gift that keeps on giving.

Forget "left" or "right": if there was any doubt left where the real power lies in this country, I think this news finally put it to rest once and for all.

Really, what more is there to say right now? "I, for one, welcome our new corporate overlords"? Perhaps "meet the new boss /same as the old boss"?

Between this deflating (and not very surprising) news and the staggering ability of the Left to completely and carelessly piss away the political mandate of a lifetime in less than twelve months, I don't think I have ever been this angry, upset, and pessimistic over the direction of this country.

What in the hell are we letting ourselves turn into? What happened to the idea of accountability, or even basic morality? It has been said before by incurable cynics that every man has his price, but never has it been so nakedly apparent that there is nothing left in humanity that isn't for sale to the highest bidder.

Maybe I just need to get really drunk this weekend. Yeah. That will solve everything.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Boom! There She Was

One of the nicer surprises I received this Christmas was a copy of A Quiet Revolution: 30 Years Of Windham Hill. I'd been on a bit of a rediscovery kick with the old Windham Hill catalog lately, and this box has certainly helped fire up some old memories of listening to WNWV ("The Wave") off and on from 1987-1990. Outside of George Winston's ubiquitous December, I'd never owned much in the way of new age music, then again I was also twenty years younger than I am now and far more likely to seek temporary escape from life by cranking OU812, ...And Justice For All, or Delicate Sound Of Thunder rather than, say, In A Silent Way, Rubycon, or Thursday Afternoon. A lot of new age is pretty lame crystals-and-incense wallpaper, but the better examples of the form provide a nice, reflective break from the relentless fast-forward clatter of life (perhaps even moreso now than in the comparatively carefree 1980s).

Ironically, just as I received this box set in the mail (thanks again, nightscapemedia!), the news came down that The Wave would soon be no more. At noon today, WNWV flipped formats (though apparently not call letters) to the so-called "Adult Album Alternative" category and is now known as "Boom!" I'm not really enamoured with this new nick, but at least it's not some guy's name.

Charting the first six hours of their existence (you can listen online here), Boom! so far sounds exactly like a "greatest hits of AAA radio" with a generous helping of songs seemingly grabbed from my "Juke" mp3 folder. A playlist of these first few hours follows:

SARAH McLACHLAN - Possession
TRAIN - Hey Soul Sister
U2 - Magnificent
OWL CITY - Fireflies
STEELY DAN - Dirty Work
DAVID GRAY - Fugitive
LOREENA McKENNITT - The Mummer's Dance
BONNIE RAITT - Blender Blues
CHRIS ISAAK - Wicked Game
CHUCK PROPHET - Let Freedom Ring
TEARS FOR FEARS - Everybody Wants To Rule The World
DEPECHE MODE - People Are People
COCO MONTOYA - Seven Desires
STING - If You Love Somebody, Set Them Free
JOHN MAYER - Heartbreak Warfare
BARENAKED LADIES - The Old Apartment
DAVID GRAY - Sail Away
KINGS OF LEON - Use Somebody
PAULO NUTINI - Jenny Don't Be Nasty
NORAH JONES - Come Away With Me
BELL X1 - The Great Defector
THE FRAY - How To Save A Life
THE POLICE - Can't Stand Losing You
COLDPLAY - The Speed Of Sound
10,000 MANIACS - Because The Night (Live)
DAVE MATTHEWS BAND - Tripping Billies
JAMES BROWN - It's A Man's Man's World (Live)
DURAN DURAN - Ordinary World
TALKING HEADS - Life During Wartime
AMY WINEHOUSE - You Know I'm No Good
JOE COCKER - You Can Leave Your Hat On
SHERYL CROW - Out Of Our Heads
R.E.M. - Orange Crush
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN - 4th Of July, Asbury Park (Live)
JOHN MAYER - Gravity
OWL CITY - Fireflies
FIONA APPLE - Criminal
TRAIN - Hey Soul Sister
ADELE - Who Wants To Be Right As Rain?
SPOON - The Underdog
DAVID BOWIE - Panic In Detroit
DAVID GRAY -Fugitive
PETER GABRIEL - Sledgehammer
MUDCRUTCH - Scare Easy
WILCO - You Never Know
GREEN DAY - Wake Me Up When September Ends
NORAH JONES - Chasing Pirates
SHERYL CROW - Motivation
TIL TUESDAY - Voices Carry

So far, this list offers up a promising start and is reminiscent of the brief period in 1990 when The Wave flirted with a more rock-leaning sound before returning to the safe harbor of lite jazz. The only real criticism I have so far is that I'd like to hear a lot more currents and indie-leaning offerings; right now, too much of this list sounds like a gray-haried version of "The End." The real trick that WNWV will have to pull off to become interesting is to find and maintain a good mix while losing that unmistakeable tang of safe, major label dominated, Starbucks-friendly pop/rock that can all too easily make stations like these a predictable bore.

Since this is only the introduction and/or basically a statement of intent, we'll have to see how WNWV plays out as 2010 gets going and new format-friendly releases begin to arrive in stores. Even if this new format switch ultimately fails (or becomes as soul-killingly boring as the rest of terrestrial radio), Boom! has me actually listening to FM radio for the first time since the middle of 2001, so that has to be good for something, right?

Monday, December 21, 2009


By nature of its themes, characters and construct, Avatar feels like the culmination of James Cameron's career as a director. The exacting attention to detail, the fascination with (and disdain for) the military and corporate tactics and schools of thought, the struggles of man against foreign environments, the strong, warrior-like tendencies of the female leads; it's all on prominent display here in what is, without a doubt, the most technically impressive movie I have ever seen.

In the past, movies based in "virtual reality" used hypothetical cyberspace as a playing field for the characters, pitting good guys against bad guys in an online digital realm. Avatar takes this concept to a fascinating next step by having the characters actually inhabiting the minds and bodies of living beings specially bred for the task. Exactly how this is done is never divulged (which is probably a good thing), though the "puppet masters" are put into a kind of suspended animation while they are "piloting" their avatars. Similarly, the avatars appear to just drop off to sleep whenever their human "pilots" are awakened, which can at times make for some awkward/difficult situations.

There is an awful lot of story happening as Avatar gets going, so I'll relate the basic points: in the middle of the 22nd century, mankind has reached an impasse in their relations with the Na'vi, the indigenous humanoid species that populates an Eden-like moon called Pandora. The humans are increasingly tired of dealing with the hostile locals always being in the way of their mining operations (I take it that the mineral being called "Unobtanium," and the moon "Pandora" are what Cameron considers subtle touches). Meanwhile, the 10-foot tall natives aren't exactly thrilled with the colonial interests of humanity running roughshod over their homeland. In an attempt to defuse the situation via diplomacy, Dr. Grace Augustine (an ageless Sigourney Weaver) has hit upon the idea of interacting with the creatures via the use of these living avatars in an attempt to engender trust and understanding between the species.

However, the RDA Corporation (which runs the entire operation) is growing increasingly exasperated with endless negotiations and scientific nonsense and is pushing for a quick military solution to the problem. What blocks their plans is the lack of good intelligence on the Na'vi, and that is where the improbably-named Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) comes into the picture. A paraplegic Marine recently faced with the pointless murder of his twin brother (who was a member of the avatar project team), Sully is offered a ticket to Pandora in the hopes that he can pilot his dead twin brother's avatar and act as a kind of sleeper agent for the military while going through the motions for Augustine and her team.

I'm not going to simply drool all over this movie: while the setup and the introduction to the avatars hold our attention thanks to the originality of the concept, once these impostors meet the real deal, the movie's plot begins to feel very familiar indeed. To be very blunt, it is here that Avatar becomes Dances With Wolves in space: originality is in short supply, the characters are basically cut-outs, everything is nicely black-and-white and environmental/political lessons abound. Even if you are sympathetic to all of Cameron's views, Avatar is a little too predictable to really get behind; there is little doubt of how things will work out in the end, or how little asides to the action will come back to "surprise" us later on.

Having said all of that, Avatar is the first film in years that has me seriously thinking about seeing it twice (or more) at the theater. If you have any interest in this film at all, I highly urge you to see it at the cinema, preferably in 3-D, and ideally in an IMAX-style presentation (though the nearest such venue is over 3 hours away from where I live, dang it all). It feels weird and fanboyish to tell you on one hand what a reheated platter of leftovers the plot is, yet then turn around to proclaim that I have never seen such an incredible spectacle as this ... but it's true.

Utilizing mutliple effects houses and a veritable army of animators, Cameron has basically taken on all of the CGI extravaganzas released over the last 15 years and bested them all. The blending of live and generated elements during the movie is completely seamless; even though you know you are looking at a place that does not exist, it's nearly impossible to tell exactly where "real" ends and "rendered" begins. Even when things aren't blowing up and characters aren't soulfully batting cliches back and forth at each other, it's hard not to feel a sense of real awe at the scale, richness and color of Pandora and its fauna, benign or otherwise.

While I can't imagine how any of this is going to translate when scaled down to a home presentation, Avatar is going to be one of those films that I will own simply to look at it. While I docked a star (and thought seriously about two) for playing it completely safe with the plot, it is the absolutely stunning achievement in visuals that is the main attraction for Avatar, a movie which definitely lives up its own hype (at least as far as "setting the bar for all future effects films" is concerned). If only they had diverted a couple million more to the script ...

Avatar rating- 4/5

Friday, December 18, 2009

We Let In Light And We Banish Shade

Yes, I still exist. It's been a busy month, with the biggest 2 weeks of the year kicking off later today. So, a quick and to-the-point update of what's been happening around here since you last listened to me whine, bitch and pontificate follows ...

* Sarah bought a Wii, which is kind of our early 2009 Christmas present to each other (though I threw in a DVD of Inglorious Basterds, her new favorite film of all time evar.

* Speaking of Christmas, it's gonna be a subtly blue-tinted Yule this year as Sarah will be in Missouri with her folks from December 23 to January 3. I think I'll pass the evenings finally catching up once and for all on Battlestar Galactica, getting lit on Jim Beam Black (note to self: need to refresh stash Monday afternoon), and maybe going to see Avatar or The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus while she's away.

* While we're on movies, The Road has yet to make it to a theater within 60 miles of here. Some kind of "not-so-limited" limited release. Grrr.

* Work is going okay, though sales are a bit off pace for the month so far. Our online sales, on the other hand, have gone through the freaking roof over the last three weeks and I'm reaching the limits of what I can cope with as a one-man operation.

* Speaking of work, Record Den now has a Facebook page. I did this mostly as an attempt to increase our visibility as I feel our total lack of advertising budget (no more label offices in the area to put up the dosh for a Scene or Plain Dealer ad, after all) needs to be offset with some kind of active "new media" presence. The fun part? In order to really do anything with the account, I'm going to have to stick my own antisocial countenance on there at some point. I am not exactly happy with this (my feelings on these sites were posted here this summer), but if doing this helps the store, then it will be worth the effort.

All right, off to finish up some more errands/running around. Incredibly, I have nearly all of my holiday shopping done with a week to go before Christmas. It's a nice feeling ... now I just have to wrap it all up. Wheeee!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Blue Cyber Monday

For about ten minutes, today was a really good day.

Things didn't start off very promising; I'd slept in past my intended target hour and was wondering as I checked e-mail if I was going to get any of the four things I needed to get accomplished that I'd listed out last night:

1. Mail dropoff at the Post Office
2. Fluid top-off/computer inquiry at Valvoline
3. Return/exchange at Borders
4. Cyber Monday orders (if applicable)

Cyber Monday was pretty good for the store this year, and by the time I'd generated the shipping labels for the stuff sold from the store account (and the couple that had sold from my own), it was already nearly 3:30 in the afternoon. Thus, I arrived at the Willowick Post Office at one of the worst times to visit any such place (the late afternoon), and true to form, I lost a half hour of my life waiting in a seven-person line that moved slower than a herd of turtles. Good lord, I hate these places. As I was mailing a couple of international packages for the store, I didn't have much of a choice in the matter and did my best to reach that inner state of Zen I seek whenever I find myself trapped in situations like these. I can't put into words how glad I am that I ponied up for that postal scale back in April and am able to do most of our shipping from work or home: it gets very easy to understand exactly how and why people "go postal" when you are the second person in line for fifteen of the thirty minutes you are in these horrible places.

Despite the clammy, frigid conditions and the barely detectable snow flurries that fell like tiny grains of sand from the slate gray sky, it felt positively wonderful to finally get the hell out of that post office and back on the road, even if it was Vine Street at 4 PM. I made Record Den my next stop, and spent an hour there packaging all of the Cyber Monday orders that had come in by then and ultimately managed to get them all of them ready for our typical 5 PM mail pickup. Two objectives down, two to go.

After spending an extra half hour attempting to wait out the worst of the evening rush hour, it was off to Borders to return a couple of bookends I'd purchased the night before. The traffic on Mentor Avenue was still pretty grating to deal with, but it was at my destination where the day suddenly took a surprising turn for the better.

A bit of background explanation: I am completely out of room for CDs in the office. All of the shelving units behind me are currently packed end to end with music, and there is no more room for any more shelving in here. While selling a few hundred pieces on Amazon had partially eased this problem for a while, but nearly all of my recent online listings had been coming from the boxes of CDs I have stashed in the closet (most of them banished here years before for the crime of only having one good song on them or whatever other reason I could come up with). As a temporary solution, I decided to take the box sets out of their alloted space and move them on top of these shelves for the time being, using bookends to keep them in place.

When we finally came across these bookends last night, I was a bit crestfallen to find out that that they were freaking expensive (at least the cool-looking ones, anyway). After some chin-stroking and frowning over the options, I selected a pair that were by some measure the cheapest models available. Problem was, they were also by some measure the smallest and lightest models available. Upon getting home, I quickly deduced that these little guys were not up to their intended task and opted to return them the next day and use the exchange credit towards a set of more expensive (and weighty) models.

After leaving my too-small set at the front counter with the same clerk who took care of the sale last night, I headed back to their "decor" section of the store to pick out the cheapest, heaviest set I could find. To my considerable surprise, the simple, elegant green marble "triangle" style that I had looked at the night before had magically been marked down thirty dollars over the last twenty four hours to $19.99 a pair. Fuckin' score! Elated, I grabbed two sets and wound up spending only ten bucks on top of my exchange credit.

A bit flush with success, I decided to stop over at Kohl's (as it was right down the plaza from where I was parked), hoping to find some slipper socks and lounge pants for my dad's Christmas gift. While hunting about for the above, I came across a winter hats sale (50% off, natch) and picked out a couple of new "beanie"-style caps for myself as well as a couple of convertible hat/mask thingies for my younger brothers.

From there, I had to make a bit of a mad dash clear across the county to fulfill my last objective: a monthly topping off of car fluids at Valvoline, hopefully along with a resetting of the Saturn's computer. A few days before, my SERVICE ENGINE SOON light had come on and had kindly provided some company for me to and from work over the holiday weekend. Touched by the gesture, I took the Saturn to Autozone on Sunday and had the problem diagnosed as the gas cap not sealing correctly. A problem very easily corrected! Hurray!! Since the Autozone tech could not reset the computer once I had replaced the cap, I took a chance that the Valvoline guys could do it and was pleased that they could and did. With all of my objectives completed, I grabbed some Chik Fil-A and headed home feeling a real sense of accomplishment and of things being in their right place. Hell, I even just beat the train signal on E 305 and didn't even get the red light at the South Marginal intersection. It was a truly wonderful ten minutes.

As I was coming home and maneuvering through the parking lot, I noticed the SERVICE ENGINE SOON light came on again. I was a bit surprised and irritated, but not really worried as the problem had been corrected. The tech at Valvoline had told me that if that light came on again, then I'd need to take the car to a shop to get it looked at, and it was that scenario that annoyed me more than anything else. After dinner, I drove the car to Autozone again just to be absolutely sure that the gas cap was (somehow) still the culprit here.

Great news! It wasn't!

Instead, I was presented with an all-new error message that read "GEAR 1 RATIO INCORRECT," which based on my research appears to be a kind of mechanical shorthand for "your transmission is having minor issues that are not going to go away and will likely become totally fucked at some point in the future."

So, yeah. Great. Wonderful. Coming right smack in the middle of my Christmas shopping (and just after a recent splurge purchase on my behalf on a couple of box sets), this may be my most impressively-timed bit of bad financial news since about August of 2006.

Bah. One of these years, I will enjoy an entire holiday season without once worrying at any point about future insolvency thanks to something inside of a car I own picking that particular point to cease working correctly. Believe me, when this happens, y'all will be the first to know.

NP: Devo Duty Now For The Future