Weekly Recap: July 31st, 2015

Music this week

Not a lot of super-new albums this week, but two 2015 favorites along with one soundtrack:

  • Jamie XX – In Colour. Been listening to this album for most of this month and really enjoying it. More so than The XX, which I already enjoyed before this. Favorite songs: Sleep Sound, Loud Places and Girl.
  • Mass Effect Official Soundtrack – Jack Wall. Excellent ambient music to listen to while working. Fits nicely into the background.
  • Lapalux – Lustmore. An album released on Brainfeeder, Flying Lotus’ record label. Sounds a lot like Flying Lotus, which is a good thing.

Movies this week

I saw three movies this week:

  1. Ex Machina – young programmer conducts a Turing test on an android with artificial intelligence created by a rogue scientist. Very thought provoking but one glaring thing bugged me the whole time: one rogue scientist in a bunker is not capable of building both the hardware and software of a life-like android!
  2. Margin Call – a dramatized story about the 24-hour period which preceded the 2008 financial crash, starring Kevin Spacey. Tense, realistic, and insightful.
  3. Infernal Affairs – the 2004 Hong Kong cop drama which inspired Martin Scorcese’s The Departed. This had been on my to-see list for a long time and it did not disappoint. Very, very good film.

Books this week

  • The Checklist Manifesto – Finished this week. About the importance of maintaining lists for managing complex problems. Written by a surgeon who effectively brought about significant change in hospital infection rates by enacting checklists for doctors and nurses to reference as they treated patients. Link to The Checklist Manifesto on Amazon.
  • Ready Player One – Started this week. About an 18 year old who masterminds a near-future virtual world called OASIS which is basically exactly like the Oculus Rift. Link to Ready Player One on Amazon.

Articles this week

  • Ray Kurzweil’s The Law of Accelerating Returns – very lengthy report on the accelerating rate of change that we are seeing in our lifetime. Written by one of the world’s foremost authorities on futurism and AI
  • The AI Revolution: The Road to Superintelligence – a good layman’s description of the road from present-day to ASI (Artificial Super Intelligence). Exciting and a bit frightening.
  • The Strange Phenomenon of Music ‘Skin Orgasms’ – BBC article about the science about “frissons”, or the physical reaction we feel to musical crescendos that stimulate a natural thrill response.

Daily Habits

I’ve been doing well keeping up with my daily habits. Here are some of them:

  • 3x weight-lifting gym sessions
  • Daily supplements: fish oil and 5k IU of vitamin D
  • 10k steps per day
  • Daily meditation (using Headspace for this)
  • Daily Chinese practice (vocab list review)
  • Wake up by 8:30am
  • 33 daily push ups, one for each year of age
  • Record my weight (currently 88kg, or 195 pounds)
  • Floss daily

One Video

I came across this video of Rhonda Rousey this week, describing the distinction between her and “Do Nothing Bitches”. She is worthy of all adoring devotion that she gets. She has an upcoming UFC title fight this Saturday, too.

Published on July 31, 2015
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Song of the Day #177: Moaning Lisa Smile

Wolf Alice – Moaning Lisa Smile

My Love is CoolI discovered this song recently on Conan, it is the first single off of the debut album of London-based rock band Wolf Alice. This song sounds like it could have come out in the early 1990’s, championing roughly the same sonic palette as Pearl Jam’s Ten and Nirvana’s Nevermind: distorted grunge rock.

A little known fact about this song in particular is that it’s actually about Lisa Simpson, and not the Mona Lisa. Lead singer Ellie Rowsell said “We wanted to write about what Lisa Simpson might be feeling when she was 18.” The sixth episode of The Simpsons, which aired in February 1990 (which is approximately when this song sounds like it’s from) is also titled Moaning Lisa. The episode is about Lisa contending with depression and find an outlet in music, specifically the saxophone, and features a guest appearance from Ron Taylor (Twin Peaks) who plays recurring character Bleeding Gums Murphy.

Published on July 14, 2015
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Song of the Day #176: Under Neon Lights

The Chemical Brothers – Under Neon Lights

The Chemical Brothers released this single from their upcoming album entitled Born in the Echoes just two days ago. I haven’t listened to The Chemical Brothers in a very long time, in fact their last album (Further) was released five years ago, which is the longest hiatus that they’ve taken since their first album release in 1995.

In 1999 The Chemical Brothers released an album titled Surrender, which included a song on it called Hey Boy, Hey Girl which had a profound affect on me. I saw them perform at the HFStival in 1999 at RFK Stadium in Anacostia among a mind-blowing lineup which included:

  • 311
  • Blink 182
  • Dieselboy
  • Everclear
  • Limp Bizkit
  • Live
  • Moby
  • The Offspring
  • Powerman 5000
  • The Red Hot Chili Peppers
  • Run D.M.C.
  • Silverchair
  • Sugar Ray
  • Thievery Corporation
  • Josh Wink

HFStival was the best. Chemical Brothers are great, too.

Published on June 24, 2015
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Song of the Day #175: Like a River

My Morning Jacket – Like a River

The WaterfallMy Morning Jacket is a Louisville-based psychedelic rock band which recently released their seventh studio album, The Waterfall.

Recently I’ve come upon a great new way to discover music: watch the musical guests on Conan every night. This has recently become a thing for me because each new episode of Conan is automatically downloaded to a server in my house, making it easy to watch new episodes daily. Recently I’ve been skipping through much of the actual show just to see the musical guests at the end of each day’s episode. Here’s what I’ve found with checking out musical artists on Conan:

Guest performers are top-notch. Each band or singer brings their A-game and plays their best song. In this kind of one-off performance, the stakes are enormously high. This makes it easy to check out the best of a wide range of artists in just a single song, without listening to entire albums, which can be time consuming.

Everything is new. Artists only perform on Conan when they have new releases to promote. It’s a good way to stay current on what’s trending in music and to discover new artist that you might not otherwise check out. My Morning Jacket is certainly one of those, for me.

The production values are remarkably high. Episodes are filmed the historic Warner Brothers Lot 15 in Burbank, California. In a lot of cases, performances filmed on Conan are better than artists’ actual music videos.

Published on June 15, 2015

Game Review #10: Towerfall

Towerfall logoOriginally an exclusive game for the ill-fated Ouya console, Towerfall is a multiplayer archery game available for PC and Playstation 4. It looks like a Super Nintendo game and plays like a much simpler version of Super Smash Brothers: navigate a 2D arena and shoot arrows at enemies to eliminate them.

The mechanics are as simple and straight-forward as the game’s presentation: you run around, jump, dash, and shoot arrows. It’s this simplicity which lends this game such a shallow learning curve, meaning it’s an ideal game to pick up and play with new people. Since a single hit kills, rounds are fast and furious, and although I’ve recently discovered Towerfall, it is already an instant classic with our Gaming Federation.

Insanely Engaging Multiplayer

Towerfall is all about one thing: playing with other people. It’s not a game that will satisfy a single player, and I’m not only fine with that, I’m relatively disinterested in games that do not revolve around some kind of multiplayer dynamic. This game will have you and a group of friends yelling, and will turn people who don’t even play games into rabid Towerfall fanatics (I’ve seen it happen with more than a few casual visitors who gave it a shot).

A major part of the appeal is the satisfying simplicity of the game, but it is also highly customizable. There are dozens of options to control which weapons appear, how players target others, and more granular control than you will likely want or need. Experimenting with these gives the feeling that when you find friends who enjoy Towerfall, you could spend hundreds of hours playing the game and tinkering with the rules.

Towerfall

One unique aspect of Towerfall is that while there are different characters to select, they don’t have different weapons or abilities. The combination of accessibility, satisfying gameplay, and charming retro presentation that this game offers is remarkable. The closest game that I know of which has these qualities is Nidhogg, another independent game that’s easy to recommend, although it is limited to two players.

Independent Excellence

Amazingly, Towerfall was developed by a single person: Matt Thornson. While still exclusive to Ouya in 2013, it was selected by Polygon as one of its multiplayer games of the year, when the reviewer said this:

I’ve dropped around 400 hours on Call of Duty and Battlefield multiplayer matches. And yet, those series, with their monumental budgets and development teams, were trumped in 2013 by a dude named Matt, who made a game called TowerFall.

It’s marginally changed since then – the new version available on Windows and Playstation 4 is called Towerfall: Ascension and there is a recently released expansion pack called Dark World, but the original point remains: this is an example of truly exceptional multiplayer game design.

I love what Towerfall has to say about the larger gaming industry: that the best games anywhere can came from anywhere. It is a huge credit to the vibrant spirit of independent game development.

Towerfall Trailer

Conclusion

Towerfall characterI first purchased Towerfall on Steam and ran it on my 2013 Retina Macbook Pro. I experienced intermittent slowdown issues (described here on Reddit) and eventually jumped to the Playstation 4 version. For what it’s worth, Towerfall has not performed great for me on Mac but works flawlessly on Playstation 4, so that’s the platform that I would recommend. I also purchased the Dark Worlds expansion pack for $9.99, which along with the original $14.99 game price, puts the total at $24.99. It has been worth twice that as I’ve played multiple unintentionally-long Towerfall sessions with friends.

For me, Towerfall goes into the all-time local multiplayer best-of category, along with Mario Kart.

Rating:

5 Stars

Towerfall available on Windows and Playstation 4

Published on June 12, 2015
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Song of the Day #174: Pop Music

E.A.S.Y. – Pop Music

E.A.S.Y. is the musical group of two American music producers and turntablists: DJ Enferno and DJ Shiftee. What’s interesting about their production style is the live performance aspect of their music. They produce songs in the studio and then perform them live on turntables, midi controllers, and keyboards. It’s a very impressive song, both musically and in terms of the obvious difficulty of performing this live. The sequence starting at 2:12 is my favorite part.

Check out E.A.S.Y. on Youtube

Published on June 9, 2015

May 2015 Snapshots in Chengdu

I am really enjoying the summertime over here. Here are a few snapshots from the last month. Highlights include:

  • DJ’ing at the wave pool within an amusement park last weekend
  • The Arena dance battle, hosted by my good friends who run Sinostage, which was amazing
  • The Arena dance battle block party which was in Chengdu’s Chunxi Road shopping district, that I played music at
  • UK music producer Troiboi, who performed at NASA in Chengdu
  • A painting by Yue Minjun, one of my favorite Chinese artists

Chengdu May-4

Chengdu May-10

Chengdu May-20

Happy Valley-1

Happy Valley-2

Chengdu May-23

Chengdu May-3

Published on June 3, 2015
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Song of the Day #173: Sleep Sound

Jamie xx – Sleep Sound

This song was released over a year ago, but is also included on the new Jamie xx album titled In Colour. I’ve been listening to this album at least a few times a day since it was released earlier this week, but this song in particular is one that I’ve heard hundreds of times by now. This is one of those songs that I can listen to over and over. Don’t miss this album.

Check out Jamie xx – In Colour on Spotify.

Published on June 3, 2015