Thursday, May 29, 2008

A Different Way to Listen

I play a lot of Guitar Hero. I also secretly aspire to play a lot of Rock Band, but we haven't shelled out the money for it.

I am always interested in how new media changes people, and this is no exception. I listen to music a little differently. Now, when I hear a song I immediately think, "Would this be a good Guitar Hero/Rock Band song or not?" Some songs, like Alone Again Or, are really good but not something I would want to either karaoke or try to emulate on a plastic guitar.

Listen for yourself:

While other songs I normally would think were just ok, like When You Were Young by the Killers, totally rock my world because, dude, I can sort of play that.

No longer do I listen for the subtlety of a string section or the sweet lilt of masterful keyboard work. No, I just listen for guitar, drums, vocals, and sometimes bass lines.

And I've started making lists.

I do not know if Guitar Hero or Rock Band people troll blogs looking for suggestions - I imagine them too cool to do that sort of thing - but I've decided to provide a few suggestions for them.

1. Major Tom by I Hate Kate - I know this is a cover, but this reinterpretation just seems ready-made for plastic guitar wonders.

2. Palmcorder Yajna by the Mountain Goats - I love this song. In fact, I love this whole album. Most of the songs on the album are a little slower, but not this one. For a song about weakness, resentment, and loathing, it has a pretty upbeat catchy rhythm to it.

3. Walkabout by the Sugarcubes - Part of the fun of performing this song is havine the singer realize what the lyrics are exactly. It is not like you can really understand it when Bjork wails "Delicious boy /animal eyes /beautiful buttocks / haunting movements / but the thing that makes me love you is the unforgettable smell of your skin"

4. Billy Radcliffe by Frank Black and the Catholics - It always baffles me as to what is popular and what is not. This album, Pistolero, should have been a top ten something something. And now, I can't even find an mp3 clip of it on Amazon.

5. Coconut by Fred Schneider - As soon as the party starts to slow down, pop this song in and suddenly everyone will be happy and lively again.

6. Time to Pretend by MGMT - One thing about Guitar Hero is that they don't really mind mapping the guitar parts to the keyboard parts of the song. This is the one I think would be the most fun for the drummer (even though it is pretty obvious it is not real drums but rather drum loops).

7. A Small Victory by Faith No More - I know Faith No More have "We Care A Lot" on Rock Band, but this is a far superior song.

8. Whatsername by Green Day - All I need is about $25,000 and I can make a killer KILLER music video for this song. Since I don't think that will happen soon, let me play it on my Playstation.

9. Blister in the Sun by the Violent Femmes - Why this isn't on Rock Band already is beyond me. It just seems ready-made for the four person breakdown of the instruments.

10. No Depression / Grindstone by Uncle Tupelo - I'm trying to only have one song per band or per album, but this is one where I can't make a decision.

11. Velvety Instrumental Version by the Pixies - My favorite songs on the Guitar Hero games are the instrumentals - Cliffs of Dover in Guitar Hero III and Jessica in Guitar Hero II. The Pixies did a lot of instrumentals, and this one is one of the best.

12. Dead Sound by the Ravonettes - This was the first song when I heard it, I went, "That could totally be a Rock Band song."

13. Ana Ng by They Might Be Giants - Here's a dark secret - I hated TMBG's first album. Really hated it. But this song was so good that I instantly loved not only the band, but retroactively liked the first album.

14. She Divines Water by Camper van Beethoven - This one is a little bit of a stretch because not only does it prominently feature the violin instead of the guitar, it culminates in an incoherent noisefest that would be hard to imitate on the little plastic instruments. From the album Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart.

15. Green Onions by Booker T and the MGs - There needs to be more soul in all of these guitar/rock games.

16. Skinless Boneless by Big Lazy - I love Big Lazy and think all of their songs should be available in every medium possible.

17. Low by Cracker - To make up for my Camper van Beethoven entry, here is a more traditional song from David Lowry's other band.

18. Mr. Blue Sky by ELO - This is a good one for the fun rhythms. I'm not sure how the vocals would pan out, but it would be fun to try singing it.

19. Dancing in the Streets by Martha and the Vandellas - If they came out with Guitar Hero: Motown, or Rock Band: Motown complete with a plastic horns section, I would buy that in a heartbeat.

20. (Nothing But) Flowers by Talking Heads - My favorite Talking Heads song would bring some great Latin beats to the game.

21. The Hardest Button to Button by The White Stripes - Seriously, I do not understand why the Rock Band and Guitar Hero people don't just drive a truckful of money to Jack White's house and dump it on his lawn. The White Stripes were made for games like Guitar Hero. From the album Elephant.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Never Assume Ill Intent

I really like my CEO on a professional level as well as a personal level.

I have been a part of, and been witness to conversations with my CEO that went something like this:

"What is going on with [insert client name here]?"

"They are pure evil and they want us to die painfully and slowly."

"No, seriously. What is the real problem? You should never assume ill intent."

And he is totally right. Out of all this mess with Dell Customer and Technical Support, I have never once thought anyone I dealt with actually wished me harm.

In fact, most of the conflicts I have had in my life came from the fact that the other person thought they were doing the right thing. Even people who drive slow in the far left lane probably have a legitimate-to-them reason to justify their behavior, even though we all know that driving slow in the far left lane is instant damnation in at least 99.5% of the world's religions. (Why are you holding out on us, Church of Satan?)

Don't get me wrong - there is evil in the world and people can be malicious. What my CEO says, and what I repeat, is that your default setting should be "never assume ill intent." If you discover that someone is, in fact, malicious, act accordingly. But don't just assume someone is being terrible off the bat. (What's that saying? We tend to judge others by their actions and ourselves by our intentions.)

I write this because one of the most interesting things that has happened to me after this whole Dell debacle* is the way that some - well, one - person on a bulletin board decided my whole story was BS. I got the sense this person was a Dell employee because of things said about the Dell Tech Support screens and internal call processes, so it was easy to tell this person's motivation - this person saw me as attacking the home turf and rushed to defend it.

Which is totally fair. The internet is for people to exchange ideas, not a place for everyone to agree on everything all the time. And if I put out something as inflammatory as my previous post (which, I admit was exaggerated for entertainment purposes but essentially true), I should be prepared for someone to point out that I am just throwing the internet equivalent of a tantrum and that I should calm down and think long and hard about how difficult it is for those poor Dell Technical and Customer Service people to take a lunch break while I am on hold for extended periods of time. (Which, to be fair, only happened once. "Our supervisor is at lunch right now, so I can't transfer you. Would you mind holding? Or would you just like to call back later?")

What baffles me about this one person who kept questioning my integrity and honesty is the speculative lengths this person would go to as far as deciding what my real motive was. It could not be because I actually have a broken Dell and actually had a poor, extended round-and-round with Dell Customer Service and Dell Technical Support. It had to be some other reason.

Eventually, it was decided that this whole thing was a sham to artificially increase my blog traffic. I am sure stunts like this have been done in the past, but I could care less about blog traffic; all I want is a working computer and my data restored. Of course, for me to say to this person, "I don't care about blog traffic," is tantamount to a confession because obviously I am a lying liar who lies about the lies I have lied about.

Anyway, I understand the intent of this person - he or she is obviously proud of Dell Tech Support and doesn't like it when people like me take their frustrations to the internet at large. Which is a fine position to take, but speculating about my reasons for writing what I did seems pointless, especially since I can provide confirmation numbers and some chat transcripts to back up my story. The reaction just baffled me a little.

Just had to get that off my chest. So far, my two positive takeaways from this whole mess are twofold:

1) This "Never Assume Ill Intent" credo works for me and I am sticking to it.
2) If I ever become a method actor, I finally have an angry feeling to draw upon to get myself into the moment.

*For those of you still interested in "the Dell Situation," the issues with my PC are still unresolved as of this writing, but partly because I haven't had the time to get on the phone with Brad at Dell (see comments of the previous entry) - our office hours overlap and it is difficult for me to make personal calls on the job. The best time for me to talk on the phone is in the evening, and Brad leaves the office at 4pm. I've ordered some data recovery software for the external hard drive. Only one of the two internal drives show up when I boot the computer, but at least it boots which is a step up from before. And, yes, I appreciate all of the emails and Twitters suggesting I make the switch to Mac. I also appreciate the testimonials about the wonders of the Mac Store Genius Bar. Mostly, I am grateful for the emotional support in what amounts to a trying time for me. I have a really great group of friends and family and I wouldn't trade them for anything, including a new computer.

Friday, May 16, 2008

And this is why they call it Dell Hell


April 7th - Top-of-the-line XPS Computer dies. Last words - "Hard drive failure." Fortunately for me, I have the Dell Super Duper You-Should-Never-Have-to-Worry-or-Suffer-Needlessly extended warranty plan. I feel confident in the personal guaranty I get from Dell.

April 8th - Called Dell support and say that the computer fails to boot. "I think it is hard drive failure, because the computer gasped with its dying breath, 'Hard drive failure.'"

Dell's response: "We think it is a Windows issue. Reinstall Windows and it will work fine."

It does not.

April 9th - Marathon SIX HOUR call with Dell support during which time we uninstall and reinstall Windows, erase and replace the BIOS, unpartition and repartition the hard drives (several times), and perform all manner of terrible remedies to the computer in hopes of reviving it.

None work.

Before we begin applying the electronic version of leeches to the XPS, the Dell support person asks, "We will have to erase the hard drive, is that ok?"

"No problem," say I. "I have all my information backed up on this external hard drive. As long as no one touches the external hard drive*, everything will be fine."

"I think it is the motherboard," says Dell support eventually. "We will send a technician out. You should receive a call from the technician within 48 hours."

The technician never calls.

*ominous foreshadowing

April 10th through April 17th - Wait for technician to call. Emailed Dell Support several times with issue number and nice little note asking about the technician call.

None of the emails responded to.

Used Dell Support Chat a couple of times from work and get runaround about how much they want to help, but unless I am sitting by the broken computer, pulling my hair our in frustration when they ask me to reinstall Windows one more time, there really isn't anything they can do.

April 18th - Talk to Dell support chat on my laptop while sitting in front of my broken computer. Dell says, "Oh, you are using the wrong Windows installation disc, the wrong Dell support disc, and the wrong Dell diagnostic disc. We will send you the right ones."

They send me the wrong ones.

Specifically, they send me the Dell diagnostic discs for their bottom-tier laptops instead of their top-tier XPS desktops so none of the drivers on the disc work. AND Dell sends a French-language Windows installer disc, apparently because they want to reward me by giving me the opportunity to learn a new language.

May 9th - Long, involved, multi-hour chat session with Dell support. Dell support person says that yes indeed , they sent the wrong discs and they can try to send the right discs again to me.

Logic dictates that if they just try enough times, eventually they might correctly address my problem once, right? Sadly, I am past the point of logic.

I express a level of frustration and contempt that gets me transferred to a supervisor. Dell supervisor tells me that I might have been right after all and that it probably isn't a software issue. They agree to send out a technician.

May 13th - Dell technician comes out to the house. Doesn't replace hard dives properly. Somehow, my 300GB hard drives gets magically replaced with a 150GB hard drive.

Also, the technician decides to plug in the external hard drive, the one I use as a backup into the computer and format it.

Apparently Dell technicians are NOT trained on the fact that FORMATTING A BACKUP DRIVE DESTROYS ALL OF THE BACKUP DATA ON IT.

May 16th - Dell support tells me that, yes, a Dell technician came into my house and effectively deleted about three years' worth of data. All the personal data. All the professional data. All of those iTunes files I paid for and backed up so that money wouldn't be wasted.

Everything. Now gone.

But somehow, thanks to the power of corporate magic Dell is not really responsible for this. They owe me nothing for my time and my grief and while they are very sorry for the fact I am effectively up the creek without a paddle, AND while they pretty much admit that they pointed me to this particular creek and then stole my paddle, I'm really on my own here.

So... um... that's my customer experience with Dell. I drop a large chunk of change and buy their top-tier computer and then pay extra for their top-tier customer and technical support and am rewarded by having my external back up hard drive erased.

Thank you Dell for taking all my money and then repeatedly kicking me in the virtual nutsack because it amuses you so. Thank you Dell for making me angry enough to blog about
what a craptacular waste of time and money your entire support network is.

But mostly Dell, thank you for giving me a story to share with each and every person I know who comes to me and asks what kind of computer they should buy. Because I plan on sharing this story with as many people as possible for years to come.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Almost Two Weeks!

I have gone almost two weeks since posting. What this usually means is that I do not have too much time on my hands. What with the video games and the web surfing and the loafing at the office and all, it is hard to piece together a few sentences and bad puns.

To make up for this, I am going to devote this entire blog post to explaining why I'm not posting as often. This can be interpreted as an extended whine, so if you aren't interested in nerdy white guys complaining, what are you doing on the internet?

(Also, for those of you who expect something on a regular basis from me, I would like to point you to my five-times-a-week blog WTFDVDs. It is not as awesome as this blog, but it is more consistent. Actually, that is a lie; it is just as awesome as this blog.)

At work, we are really putting in extra hours. There might be some interesting things happening, career-wise, but I am not counting chickens until they hatch. Anyway, I'm frightfully busy, and when I'm not busy, I am tired.

I want to write a full report about what a great time I had two weekends ago watching Iron Man and going to CAPE. However, the further in the past those events get, the less interested I am in writing about them.

Plus, sometime after CAPE, I read a book that takes place in Dallas, got angry because the author totally didn't "get" Dallas, and decided writing a book in response to that one just to set the record straight. It has got everything in it - a high murder rate, racial tensions, a large gay population, stadium construction, backroom politics, religion, traffic, and absurdly big hair - everything that Dallas is to me. I work on it during the painful parts of status meetings (which is why you should bring a notebook to those meetings!).

I also want to write a little about this past Mother's Day, which was awesome in every possible way. But, seriously, what is the interest in a "my-family-is-not-all-that-dysfunctional" story? I might as well rename this blog "The Happy Happy Fun Time Blog Where Nothing Goes Wrong Ever" and every person on the internet will hack and vandalize it just on general principle because I seem so darn smug.

I also want to write about the screenwriting contest I am entering. The Duke City Shootout short film contest ends on May 15th. The Final Draft Big Break contest ends on June 1st, and the AAA Screenwriting contest ends on June 28th. I am working my buttocks off getting material ready for those.

Plus, against all reason and common sense, I've decided to run for the board of the Dallas Screenwriter's Association. We shall see how that turns out.

Aaaaaand, that's about it for now. You may return to your regularly schedule web-surfing.