Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Lord Bling's Top 10 Games of 2008

For well-documented reasons, I'm completely ready for 2008 to be OVER. However, that doesn't change the fact that there were some very good video games released this year. Let's look at my favorites (platform-exclusives are noted in the titles):


10: PRINCE OF PERSIA. When I heard they were going the 'cel-shaded' route with the first next-gen game in the franchise, I was skeptical. However, the art style in this game is probably the best I've seen this year, and the character animations are spectacular. It has some problems with the combat, and a lot of it feels unnecessary. However, the level design and platforming more than make up for it. The writers are obviously big fans of Team Ico, right down to the ending, but it's pretty hard to fault them for that. While the game is repetitive, it's a good kind of repetitive, and definitely worth a playthrough.

9: METAL GEAR SOLID IV: GUNS OF THE PATRIOTS (PS3). I'm gonna get flamed by some fanboys for not having this game higher on my list, but I'm not as big of a fan of the series as I used to be. The first game (on the PS1) was simply brilliant, and I think they've had some trouble living up to the gold standard of that one. Plus, I still have a bad taste in my mouth from the second half of Metal Gear Solid 2. Having said all that, you can't deny the craft at work here. Some of the best graphics on any console system, ever. A labyrinthine story. Fascinating boss battles. It might get docked some points for being little more than an interactive movie, but it still deserves a spot on this list. One of these days, I might even get around to finishing it. :)

8: DEAD SPACE. Let's get the nitpicks out of the way first. It has a lot of 'fetch and carry' missions. It's an obvious Aliens / Resident Evil rip-off. It doesn't break any new gaming ground. Okay, now let's get to the good stuff. It has fantastic graphics. It has intuitive controls. It has tons of great scary moments. It's gory as hell. It has the best surround sound of any game I've played this year. It has one of the best user interfaces I've seen (all of the HUDs are in-game, helping with the immersion). I'm about half-way through the story, and while I hear the ending is a little flat, it's still been a great showing for a new IP. And there's still plenty of time left in 2008, so I may finish it before the year is up.

7: GOD OF WAR: CHAINS OF OLYMPUS (PSP). Finally! A reason to play your PSP besides Puzzle Quest and Lumines! Seriously though, if you're a fan of the first two God of War games on PS2, you owe it to yourself to play this. It's nearly as good as either of those, and portable to boot. It has a new weapon (the Gauntlet) that is actually fun to use, unlike most other secondary weapons in the first two games, and I found myself debating at times which weapon I should be using, which is a first for the series. And the scale of the levels? On a PSP? The first time I played the demo, I thought, 'No WAY this is running on a PSP.' That's about the highest compliment I can give a handheld game.

6: ROCK BAND 2. I'm not sure what else needs to be said about this one. Last year, when Guitar Hero 3 decided to go the harder route (for the YouTube savants), along came Rock Band, stealing my attention away from the GH series. Guitar Hero: World Tour is a fine game, and their guitar and drum kit is better than Rock Band's, but it's still not as much fun as either Rock Band game. It's the best party game available right now, and non-gamers are finding themselves converted every day. It's also a good thing that the game doesn't track how many hours I've spent playing it, because it would be an embarrassing amount. But my girlfriend plays with me, so that's not so bad, right?

5: BURNOUT PARADISE. Finally, a 'next-gen' Burnout. Burnout Revenge was more of a port of Burnout 3 than anything else. Paradise was the first 'true' next-gen offering in the franchise, both graphically and in terms of gameplay. I spent almost 40 hours playing this, and it's an open-world arcade racer ... not exactly my favorite genre of game. My only complaint is that you can't automatically restart a failed mission. You have to drive back to the starting line to restart. However, it became less of an annoyance due to the level of exploration in the game (can you find all the smash gates?). They basically took the best parts of Test Drive Unlimited (huge open world, drop-in / drop-out online) and improved upon it. And Criterion Games continues to add downloadable content to this game, almost a year after release. They've added vehicles, motorcycles, and soon they'll release a whole new island. Not too shabby.

4: LITTLE BIG PLANET (PS3). I heard all the hype last year, and was skeptical. 'It looks like a co-op Super Mario Brothers! Some innovation,' I thought. Yeah, well, I hadn't seen the online aspect in play yet. The level creator is the deepest of any console game ever, and the ability to share and play them online, and rate and comment on them, is addictive. And on top of it all, the game has charm to spare. I'm a cynical, cold, heartless bastard, but after 15 minutes with Little Big Planet, I had a huge grin on my face. Watching people play it is one thing, but you need to get in and try it to see what I mean.

3: LEFT 4 DEAD (Xbox 360). Four-player co-op zombie survival shooter. Just those words alone got me salivating. Then I played it. Awww yeah. Blasting away at thousands of zombies with some close friends is exactly as good as you could've hoped. And there's even a competitive mode, where you can actually BE a zombie, and attack the humans on the other team. I just wish the game had more than four campaigns. The PC version has tons of regular people working on mods (the Dawn of the Dead shopping mall is already looking impressive), and knowing we probably won't see any of them on the Xbox 360 is a little depressing. However, if Valve supports this with downloadable content of any kind, it will still have a LONG shelf life.

2: GRAND THEFT AUTO IV. My love for this game has already been well-documented on this site, but it doesn't hurt to talk about it again. I spent 70 hours playing this game, which is WAY more than I'd ever spent with any previous game in the series. I even played it to 100% completion, which is insane, now that I think about it. The story was solid (although a little overrated ... the reviewer who compared it to the finest works of Scorsese and Coppola should be dragged into Times Square and flogged), the graphics were stunning, and the level of detail in every inch of the city was ground-breaking. Rockstar definitely showed the 'GTA Clones' how it SHOULD be done.

AND NUMBER 1: FALLOUT 3. If you'd have told me back in June that Grand Theft Auto IV would end up number 2 on my Top Ten list for the year, I would've asked, 'Is there going to be a Call of Duty 4 expansion pack shipping this year?' Well, we did get four new maps for CoD4, but that's not quite it. Fallout 3 showed up at the end of October and blew me away. Epic story. Complete immersion. Fantastic voice acting. Enormous world to explore. An overwhelming sense of freedom. It's simply one of the greatest games I've ever played.

I really liked the last game from Bethesda. I don't get into swords-and-sorcery games, so for me to spend as much time playing Oblivion as I did was a testament to their abilities as a developer. The 'Dark Brotherhood' questline was by far the best-written in that game, so they had that writer come up with most of the story for Fallout 3, and it was a brilliant move. This game was jam-packed with memorable moments. For example, do you save the city of Megaton by defusing the undetonated nuclear warhead in the middle of town? You would be a hero to most of the city, but doing so would upset the cult of bomb worshipers. Do you leave well enough alone? Sure, you can. Or do you collect a reward from an evil old man by detonating the warhead, blowing the entire town (and everyone in it) sky-high? Oh, I think you KNOW what I did:

That's just one decision you can make in a game FULL of them. And I haven't even mentioned things like weapons. There's the railway rifle, which fires railroad spikes which can decapitate people. There's the Fat Man, which fires mini-nukes. There's the Rock-It Launcher, which is like a rocket launcher, but uses any object from the environment as ammo. I loaded it with teddy bears, ashtrays, coffee mugs, packs of cigarettes, you name it. And there's companions who you can hire to follow you around. I hired a guy named Jericho, who only follows you if your karma is low enough (killing people tends to do that). Some of the things he says when he's shooting at people had me laughing out loud. And then there are all the random areas you can stumble across that are memorable in their own way. I once came across a crashed UFO, and found an alien with a ray gun (that ended up being the most powerful pistol in the game, but had limited ammo). I found a small town that was occupied with squeaky-clean 50's poster-type families, but harbored a dark and disturbing secret. I actually got a chill when I was going down into one of their basements. Or maybe you want to save children from slavers? Help yourself. Or maybe you want to SELL children to slavers? Be my guest.

I could go on and on about this fantastic game, but I don't want to spoil it for you. If you have a PS3, Xbox 360, or a decent PC, buy it. You don't have to be great at shooters or role-playing games to play it. You just have to be willing to put some time into it. I lost track of time many a night just roaming around the wasteland, exploring and looting. For me, there was no question. Fallout 3 was the best game of 2008, hands down.

Here are some games that were really good, but not quite 'Top Ten list' good. In no particular order:

BRAID (Xbox Live Arcade)
. At first glance, it's another Super Mario Brothers clone, but boy does it get complicated FAST. You have to solve puzzles by rewinding time, and that's just the beginning. I still haven't beaten it yet, because it hurts my brain. Most of the solutions are actually quite simple, but take a LOT of thinking to get through. Not much replay value, but for $15, you'll get your money's worth out of it.

CONDEMNED 2: BLOODSHOT. The first Condemned game was a surprise cult hit around the launch of the Xbox 360. It was a survival horror game mixed with a dash of CSI police work, and had some of the best use of sound in any game to date. Plus, it was essentially about (SPOILER ALERT!) a serial killer who kills other serial killers, which is about as badass as it gets (SPOILER OVER!). The second game improved upon the combat in the first, and added in multiplayer as well. 'Crime Scene' is a great hide-and-seek kind of game mode, and will have you straining to hear movement around every corner. Shame about that cover art though.

HOT SHOTS GOLF: OUT OF BOUNDS (PS3). If you're a fan of previous games in the franchise, there's no reason why you shouldn't pick this one up. They added a new 'analog' click swing which sounded gimmicky at first, but actually works really well. You can still use the traditional three-click swing meter, but you get more distance from the new way, so it's worth getting used to. The game itself doesn't do anything too flashy, but the online mode is pretty good, and some of the downloadable content they've added (extra course, characters) is worthwhile. Kratos saying, 'I AM THE GOD OF GOLF!' after a birdie is epic. :)

FAR CRY 2. Imagine having a small African country at your disposal. Then, imagine blowing a lot of shit up in that country. That's Far Cry 2, in a nutshell. I'm not sure why they called it Far Cry 2 though, as it has nothing to do with the first game. Perhaps a new IP wouldn't help sales? Either way though, they scrapped the sci-fi bent of the first game and went for a realistic open-world full of mercenaries, and I think it was a good thing. I haven't put nearly as much time into this game as I'd like to, but there have just been too many good games out right now, and this one is gonna take about 20-30 hours to finish the single-player. However, I am looking forward to playing around with the map editor, which is robust. I just wish they'd have kept 'Predator' mode from the first game in the multiplayer, even if it didn't fit in with the story from part 2. It was the best part about the first game.

UNREAL TOURNAMENT 3 (Xbox 360). It looks great, feels great, sounds great (I went out and got the soundtrack, which almost never happens with games), and it moves FAST. It may not have the mod abilities of the PS3 version from 2007, but it has all of the extra maps. It also has the Xbox 360 controller, which has triggers built into it. I'm not trying to fan the flamewars, but seriously: The PS3 controller was not made to play shooters. Convex triggers and thumbsticks on the same axis are not shooter-friendly. This version also has Xbox Live, which is a much better service than PSN. Unreal games are only as good as the online service on which you're playing. So, yeah. I just wish it had a longer life online, as there aren't many people playing it anymore (they've all moved on to newer stuff).

N+ (PSP, NDS). One of the purest (and hardest) platformers ever made came to the PSP and NDS this year. I'd already beaten the Xbox Live Arcade version (and all of the expansion packs), so buying (and beating) both of these was a no-brainer for me. These also added the ability to create your own levels and post them online, and new levels are made available every week for free. Can't beat free. The game is simple. Throw a switch to open a door, go through the door. But boy is it HARD. But that's just it. The challenge is too hard for me to ignore. It's an addiction that you either understand, or you don't. I won't fault you if you don't, but don't knock it 'til you try it. That's really all I can say. The original Flash game is free RIGHT HERE, so now you can try it. Don't ever say I never gave you anything!

Okay, time for one more category:


GEARS OF WAR 2 (Xbox 360). Wow. Talk about an overhyped letdown. The story mode is just as disjointed as it was in the first game (being swallowed by that beast only made me think 'extended gameplay'). The 2-player co-op online is still great, but exactly like the first. The boss at the end of the game was a complete JOKE. And don't get me started on the glitchy online. Epic didn't learn from the mistakes of the first game. There are still hosting problems. Matchmaking takes forever, even after the patch. People have found all sorts of glitches, and it's almost impossible to get into a competitive game where you don't see someone using a boomshield and a heavy weapon, or doing kung-fu flips off of the map, or running at full speed while shooting, or chainsawing with a shotgun, etc., etc., etc. I think you get the point, but if not, check THIS out:

All this, from the same company that made Unreal Tournament 3? If it weren't for Horde mode, I'd have sold Gears 2 long ago.


Alright, so this list got a little wordy. Basically, go buy Fallout 3. No, I don't work for Bethesda. :)

I also made up a top ten list for movies and hard rock / metal albums, but I'll save those for a separate post later. I do want to add one footnote though. 2008 was the year that the Angry Midget got an Xbox 360, and I got him hooked on Puzzle Quest and Call of Duty 4. Schoolwork be damned!

Happy New Year everybody.

Way to go Broncos

So here we are again, another year gone by without the Broncos in the playoffs and now Pat Bowlen has truly stepped in it. I apologize to Lord Bling, I know that everything you must be feeling right now is painful and I am in no way attempting to one up or overshadow your loss, but I can't not post something about this move. Having said all that, I think this was truly a terrible move on the part of the Broncos organization. Did we go .500 this year? Yes. Did we have a multitude of injuries that hampered success? Yes. Did our running game dry up leaving Cutler to shoulder all the offensive responsibility? Yes. However, I don't think that you can truly point the finger solely at Mike Shanahan. My only beef with everything that has happened is that I believe that Mike deserved to coach one or two more seasons with the Broncos and walk out the way that he wanted to. I think that's the least that he deserved given the Super Bowl victories that he brought his franchise. Yes, I understand that he has been a .500 coach over the past three seasons, and I've seen the stats on his W-L record sice Elway retired, but he finally got a quarterback that you can do something with. Peyton Hillis will be back, and I think that will surely begin to shore up the running game. The defense was abysmal, but look how injuries we had, and as a consequence, how many rookies we had to start.

Bottom line, I just don't see why now. I know that any Broncos fan worth their salt knows all this already, but I haven't posted anything in a while and this really pissed me off. Regardless, I hope everyone a happy, safe new year and I hope the greater Omaha area police departments are ready for a rampaging midget.

Benefit flyer for my brother's wife and children

Unfortunately, I won't be able to be there in person, but I'll be there in spirit. I have some people taking pictures and I'll post a few here sometime after I get them.

By the way, my sister-in-law had her baby yesterday. A girl, named Caylynn Ibanez Elhard. Ibanez was my brother's favorite brand of guitar. He had quite a few of them, but his favorite was the one in this picture:

I bought him that 'POLICE LINE: DO NOT CROSS' guitar strap a long time ago, and one day he called me to tell me that he'd found a guitar that matched it. Seems like just yesterday.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Denver / San Diego live blog!

Well, this live blog is off to a terrible start. I thought the game started at 7:30, and of course, it's already two minutes in ... right when I turn the TV on, Denver gets called for a pass interference. :(

Okay, so I'll make it quick: I'm gonna continually update this article with live thoughts on the game. I'm obviously a Denver Bronco fan, but I don't have much hope for them winning this game, and even if they do, they'll probably get destroyed in the first round of the playoffs. They're a second-rate team without all the injuries they've had this year. However, a month ago, they should've clinched the division, and now here they are, playing for their lives. Ugh. So, some of you Chief fans (CowboyLaw, The Miles) are gonna have lulz in this blog one way or another. Feel free to leave comments!

Two minutes in, and Denver is already down 3-0. Here we go:


11:38 remaining -- Champ Bailey is out with his left elbow, and his return is 'questionable'? Jesus Christ, when will the injury bug stop biting?

11:00 -- First down to Scheffler. Nice comeback after that horrible loss beforehand.

10:38 -- I'm gonna try not to comment on every play, just so you know. But feel free to use F5 to refresh the browser for updates. Oh, and I just want to say one thing: Sorry Cowboy fans. If it makes you feel better, my Donks may be joining you on the driving range soon enough. They way they've looked in the last few weeks, they're pulling a Buccaneers...

7:58 -- Al Michaels is talking about Tatum Bell's cell phone sales job earlier in the year. Reminds me of how John Starks used to bag groceries at a Safeway before he got picked up by the Knicks. Except more pathetic.

And what do you know? Bell breaks through and scores up the middle. Denver setting up for the PAT, but a false start forces another try. The kick is up and OFF THE LEFT UPRIGHT! Could be a harbinger of worse things. DENVER 6, SAN DIEGO 3.

7:01 -- And like clockwork, Bailey is back out there, just in time to watch the rest of the secondary start their usual breakdown. I swear, if they could play a prevent that didn't allow ten or 15 soft check down yards, they'd be 12-3 right now. And Bailey gets burned on the very next pass ... jesus.

4:05 -- Rivers with a QB sneak for an attempted first down, and here comes a flag. Personal foul against the QB? If the QB is 'running' the ball, you should be able to hit them just like you'd hit any running back. Fucking pussy rules in the NFL.

2:55 -- Tomlinson is in for a touchdown, even though it looked questionable live. The replay does show that he got the ball over the line though. And I'm guessing the Chargers can actually convert a PAT kick? Yup, although it was a little to the right. Once again, penalties hurt the Donks, and it's now SAN DIEGO 10, DENVER 6.

2:46 -- More talk about Hochuli. Yeah yeah yeah. And the CU Buffs got five downs in that one game in 1990.

1:36 -- Scheffler catches a check down throw from Cutler, and it's short of the first down. Kerr back to punt, and a short return. Let's see if the defense can hold without penalties for once. Also, why is Pearl Jam's 'Alive' playing during this Hoculi photo montage? Because San Diego is still 'alive' in the playoffs? HUR DUR DUR!

0:46 -- Bailey bites on ANOTHER play action, and gets fooled again. Huge gain. Fuck this is getting old. FIRST QUARTER OVER.


13:44 -- More Madden and Michaels flapping their gums about the Chargers' comeback this season. Everyone loves a comeback, and I'm sure most people would see it as 'justice' for Week 2. But I'm not most people. After Steve Bartman, my favorite teams are due.

13:33 -- Rivers missed a passing touchdown by about two feet. Next play is a check down throw, and again, Denver's soft fucking prevent gives up what looks like a first down. EDIT -- They're short by about three inches! They're going for it, and Rivers sneaks it again for the first. The camera keeps cutting back to Cutler on the sideline with his helmet off, looking mad, like they already lost. That grimace isn't exactly instilling confidence...

11:40 -- It's getting ugly. Two Charger receivers were open in the end zone, and were practically fighting to catch that touch down. PAT kick is good. SAN DIEGO 17, DENVER 6.

So I know a few of you are reading this live. Hop in the comment section and post your thoughts. Like, 'what's the over/under on when Lord Bling will quit watching the game and go play Call of Duty 4?' My own personal guess is with 6:00 left in the third.

11:21 -- I think I'm typing too much, because we're almost four minutes into the second, and I still have half of my first Fat Tire sitting here.

11:02 -- Madden is talking about 'what big strong hands' Eddie Royal has. Who is he, Little Red Riding Hood? Royal finally holds onto a pass, but Tatum Bell gets called for a cut block. I think the refs are doing their best to be pro-Chargers in this game, to 'make up for the last one.'

10:45 -- ANOTHER FLAG. Holding on Denver. We're getting penalized more than the Raiders. So now it's 3rd and 25. Lemme guess: Draw play? Nope, a screen pass to Bell, with two blockers in front of him (one of them fell down almost instantly). Time to punt. We're looking like shit. I just looked, and we have four penalties for 79 yards. The Chargers have two for 15 yards.

7:54 -- Wide open Hester. Has a secondary played as soft a zone or prevent as Denver? It's like they're in a 2-minute quarter prevent, standing in the end zone, on every pass protection play.

5:43 -- Another sideline post for about 8 yards. San Diego is taking everything the Denver pass defense is giving them, and that's a LOT.

4:20 -- Michaels is talking about how the winner of this game will play Indianapolis. If either of these teams is a favorite in that game next week, I'll eat my hat. Oh look ... LT runs in for a touchdown. San Diego is looking like they want it. Denver is looking like they have tee times tomorrow. PAT kick is good. SAN DIEGO 24, DENVER 6.

3:26 -- For synergy, they show a photo montage of the Broncos, to the song 'Bittersweet Symphony.' Awww NBC, you're so WITTY.

TWO MINUTE WARNING -- How in the fuck have I not finished my first beer and it's already halftime? Now granted, the pace of the game has been pretty fast, but that's pathetic. ... Okay, the game is back, and Cutler blasts one to Brandon Marshall for his first catch of the game. First down. And another right away to Stokley! Wow. Where the hell was all this in the past hour?

1:19 -- Scheffler looks like he catches a touch down, but the initial call is incomplete. No more 'force out' calls this year, but the replay looked like he got a foot and a knee down. We'll see what they say after the break (and after I get another beer, as I've started to drink a little faster).

1:09 -- I'm back from the fridge in time to see the review called Incomplete. Can one call go Denver's way tonight? I guess after Week 2, it's asking for a lot. And then Cutler responds by throwing an interception! Fucking fuck fuck fuckity fuck.

0:23 -- The Chargers' kicker is taking off his hot pink sweatpants, so I guess that means they're almost in field goal range. I've already stopped caring. Did I say 6:00 minutes left in the third before I quit watching (and blogging)? That might have been generous. UPDATE -- no field goal attempt. I guess the score is already bad enough.


Okay, I'm gonna play a quick game on Xbox Live with the Midget. If I get back a little late, don't fire me. Also, I wanted to mention that my inspiration for this live blog is the 'View From the Cubicle' live blog that the Chicago Tribune does for every Cubs game.

CORRECTION -- The halftime show is already over, and I was chatting online with an old friend (What up Nels!). So no Xbox Live. But I may be on it soon if things continue like they have. Bob Costas even made a joke at the end of the halftime show about how he hoped Denver would show up for the second half. How true.


14:54 -- Andrea Kramer is a vision in purple. HD isn't doing her any favors though.

13:39 -- Denver is advancing the ball, with two good runs by Bell and a couple of catches from Scheffler and Royal. Keeping my fingers crossed. Toss to Bell and he breaks through for a touchdown! Five plays, 73 yards for Denver. MUCH better. PAT kick is a knuckleball, but goes through. SAN DIEGO 24, DENVER 13.

12:05 -- 'The old LT' breaks off a 45 yard rush. Not much Denver can be blamed for there. Just some great cuts. When he's on, he's ON.

10:46 -- Sproles breaks off and scores. Five plays, 69 yards for San Diego. That would be what you call an 'answer.' PAT kick is good. SAN DIEGO 31, DENVER 13. I'm not giving up yet though. Gotta at least make it to 6:00 left. :)

Kickoff is fumbled by Denver, but they keep it. Then the first pass from Cutler is deflected right into the hands of a Charger. That's just FUCKING great.

First play from scrimmage? Touchdown, Tomlinson. Hope you took the under on how long I'd last, cuz fuck six minutes. I'm out. Time to shoot people online.

Video of the Week part 2 -- awesome UFC knockout


Friday, December 26, 2008

MySpace page set up for Andrew 'Slayer' Elhard

I set up a MySpace page for my brother's music. There are also some fun videos and pictures. If you'd like, take a look:

I'm not a big fan of MySpace. This was my first time setting up an account, and I gotta say, the interface sucks major donkey nuts. But it was worth fighting through to be able to share some of my brother's music with others.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Video of the Week -- Happy Holidays!

Now THIS is my kind of holiday video:

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Dreaming in Technicolor

Hey there. Bling again. Yeah, I know what you're thinking, 'Oh boy, here comes another story about his brother.' Actually, you'd be right, but this one's a little different. Something weird happened to me recently, and I haven't told anyone about it yet, but I wanted to get it written down. May as well be here, on the big unlocked diary known as the internets. And who knows? Maybe you'll have a similar story that you can share in the comment section (or on your own blog)?

When I was back home for my brother's funeral, my mother told me about 'dream visits' she'd had from both her mother and father soon after they died. In each instance, she saw them as younger people, and she was able to speak to them briefly. Granted, it may have just been a dream, but it felt very real, and meant a lot to her that she was able to spend another minute or two with her loved ones. I took her story at face value, and didn't think of it again.

Cut to last Sunday night. I haven't been having many dreams in the past couple of years, but after my brother died, I've had more of them. Sunday night was especially vivid, with three separate dreams all being memorable, and in full color (I typically dream in black and white). The third one was short, but I'll never forget it. I was in my bedroom here in Richardson, and members of my family were there too, just standing around, looking at photo albums of mine. My mom, my stepdad, one of my cousins, and an old friend all were flipping through them, and laughing here and there. I tried to talk to them about one of the pictures, but they didn't seem to hear me. Then, back by my bathroom sink, I heard one of the cupboards open and close. I looked, and it was my brother, digging in a specific drawer. He looked about the same age as when he died (26), and had his long hair, but he didn't have his beard. I said, 'Andy, what are you doing?' He said, 'I'm looking for some pictures.' I said, 'Here, let me help,' and I opened the drawer and started digging. Then, it hit me. I remembered that my brother was dead, but here he was, so I figured out that it was a dream. At that point, it became a lucid dream. Typically, when this happens to me, I awaken immediately, but it didn't happen here. So, I closed the drawer, and I turned to my brother and hugged him as tightly as I could. I started crying. I said, 'I miss you so much. I miss every stupid little thing about you.' He just chuckled. I started crying harder, and it woke me up.

I didn't think too much about the dream at first. I got up, fed the cats, and got into the shower. Then, I started thinking more about it, and what it meant. Right after he died, I took every picture I had saved of him and put them into one folder on my portable hard drive, so I could take them home and share them with everyone. We ended up using a lot of them to make a collage for his viewing and funeral:

But there was one picture that I wanted there so badly, and I couldn't find it, no matter where I looked. I didn't have it scanned, and the physical picture wasn't in any of my photo albums. It was of him and I on his high school graduation day. I had my arm around his neck and we were both sticking our tongues out and throwing the devil horns. It was one of my favorite pictures of us, and I couldn't find it. Well, after I got out of the shower, I looked in the exact drawer that my brother was digging through in my dream. There it was, in the back of the drawer in a random pile of paperwork. I don't know how long it had been there, but I never would've thought to look there without that dream.

I didn't mean for this to turn into a John Edward, 'Crossing Over' kind of blog post, but it was too weird for me not to share with you all. I don't know if I believe in ghosts, and I don't think this was a ghost or anything. But for my subconscious to tell me where that picture was, and to make my brother be the one to tell me? And for the dream to be THAT vivid, and in color? It's got to mean something, right?

RIP Andrew 'Slayer' Elhard. I hope we can meet again soon.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Ryan's List of Worst Christmas Gifts

The end of the year is usually when the contributors put together lists of best albums, best movies, favorite pornos, etc. of the past 12 months. Being that I am completely out of contact with anything new and cool (I still haven't seen The Dark Knight, Burn After Reading or Tropic Thunder), I didn't really feel all that qualified to put anything like that together. What I do know quite a bit about is what I don't want for Christmas.

Thomas Kincade "Painter of Light" Desk Calendar - I was in a store today and saw this item. Immediately, I felt like punching someone. Nevermind that the "Painter of Crap" has been repeatedly investigated for fraud, but every piece of his artwork is the same recycled dog shit as the last. If you like Thomas Kincade's "art", you should really try going to an art museum sometime, so that you can see what actual paintings look like. Here's a hint, they're not painted by machines in Taiwan.

More discussion about "The War on Christmas" - Do you know what Santa Claus and an oppressed Christian living in the United States have in common? Neither one really exists. (Sorry kids who are reading this for the first time. Your Christian folks lied to you. Ask them why they celebrate pagan holidays too.) People who honestly believe that there is a war on Christmas just don't feel happy at the end of the day unless they think the entire country is out to steal their beloved holiday. You know what the real War on Christmas is? Commercialization, not the random athiest who objects to a nativity scene. What are you doing about commercialization, the only real threat to Christmas? Joining right in.

A book by Ann Coulter or Sean Hannity - The only bad thing about an Obama Presidency that I've come up with so far is that these two nutjobs will have plenty to complain about, besides the War on Christmas, for at least the next 4 years. You don't have to agree with me politically at all, but at least stop buying books penned by some of the most politically simplistic minds of our time. There's plenty of conservative political non-fiction out there, why do people continue to buy this tripe?

Do yourself a favor and don't get any of these things for a loved-one this year.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Video of the Week -- Slap Chop

Hey everyone. Bling here. Sicker than a dog, and still not in the best head space right now, but I'm here. I wanted to swing by and post a video I found yesterday that would've made my brother laugh his ass off. I'm sure you all know THIS guy:

We joked quite a bit about the ShamWow douche nozzle, and I made ring tones for our cell phones from his commercial. Well, he's back, and he has some very important things to say about the Slap Chop:

'You're gonna love my nuts.'

'This tuna looks BORING. Stop having a boring tuna; stop having a boring life.'

'Life's hard enough as it is, you don't wanna cry anymore.'

'We're gonna make America skinny again!'

'Fettuchini, linguini, martini, bikini.'

I just want to know one thing: Does he sleep with that headset on?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Republicans and Pot

I am breaking my long silence (okay, you call it laziness, I call it a sabbatical) on this blog to make a point that I bet has never occurred to you: Republicans ought to be overwhelmingly in favor of legalizing marijuana. You disagree with me, dontcha? Fine. Watch how quickly I can change your mind.

The one common thread that runs through the GOP is a love of naked capitalism. Unfettered by pesky environmental regulations, labor laws, minimum wages, mandatory benefits, ad infinitum. Republicans' number one wish list item is for the cost of production of everything to be absolutely as low as possible. And they're pretty much okay with doing whatever it takes to shave a couple of cents off of the production price. Labor in Pakistan is cheaper? Relocate the factory. Treating the runoff is expensive? Dump it in the lake. No one wants your radioactive garbage? Bury it outside the plant.

Running a close second to Republicans' soul-consuming desire to inflate their bottom lines is a desire not to have to deal with non-white people. Most Republicans just find it....uncomfortable to have to deal closely with people who don't share their lily-white background. Not to say they're racist (well, many of them are, but that's not the point), they just....prefer the company of other very white people.

Go a little further down the Republican wish list, and you find their frustration with most customer service interactions they have with members of the general public. Frankly, that's why they spend so much time shopping at Sharper Image and Coach and that one store in the mall where you can't even afford a belt: it's not that rich people enjoy being overcharged for cashmere slippers, but every time they go to Target they end up having to talk loudly and slowly to the cashier, who just doesn't understand that they don't have anything smaller than a $100-bill, and it's not their fault that Target doesn't accept AmEx Black. Why, oh why (Republicans think) can't these stores just hire help that's literate, speaks English, and has some manners?

Thus, in the Republican version of heaven, wages for employees are ultra-low (to keep production costs down), and yet all employees are white and college-educated. And, my friends, there is only one way to achieve that: legalize marijuana. How many college-educated white guys and gals do you know who work in shitty retail-type jobs for damn near minimum wage? Okay, now how many of them don't regularly smoke a big fat bowl of weed? Exactly: none.

And there it is, boys and girls. Republicans need to legalize marijuana to ensure the ready availability of their perfect workforce: an army of white college grads willing to work for very little.

Told you I'd convince you.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Andrew Elhard's obituary

His funeral is Friday at 2:00 p.m. in Jamestown, ND, at St. Paul's Methodist church. If any of you are in the area and want to come, you're more than welcome to do so.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Life is a motherfucking BITCH.

I think karma is a great concept. If you're a fucked-up person who does fucked-up things, you deserve to have The Fates fuck you up in a similar fashion. However, I can't say that I believe in karma, since the phrases 'nice guys finish last' and 'bad things happen to good people' still hold true way too often for my taste.

I'll cut to the chase: My little brother died this afternoon of an apparent heart attack. He was 26 years old. He never did wrong by anybody. He got along with everyone. He had a great wife and two wonderful kids, with a third child on the way. You know what? FUCK karma. If there was such a thing, he'd be here right now. But he's gone.

I spoke to him almost every day, usually about stupid stuff like old NES games we used to play, or old-school wrestling, or quoting our favorite 80's action movies like Big Trouble in Little China, or occasionally even deeper stuff like politics (he wasn't very political but he was glad to vote for Obama). He talked about how proud he was of his children, and how fast they were growing up. We used to talk about anything and everything. Now there will be no more talking.

I don't know how to feel right now. I'm completely numb, and miles away from the rest of my family. I'll be back with them in 24 hours, but I'm not sure if the denial will stop before I actually see his body. He was alive less than 12 hours ago, but now he's gone. It doesn't seem real. My baby brother is gone and I don't know how to deal with it, except to come here and post a bunch of ramblings.

Well, I will do one other thing. Since I'm about to travel, and won't be online much, I'm posting the 'Video of the Week' a little early. It's of my brother from a year ago, playing part of Joe Satriani's 'The Forgotten Part 1' on an acoustic guitar:

He was really talented, and could play Satriani and Metallica without even blinking. He also could play a lot of old NES game music by ear (Castlevania, Super Mario Brothers, Blaster Master, etc.). However, the one NES song that was just out of his grasp was the in-game fight music from Pro Wrestling:

We spent years playing this stupid game back in the day, and it always made us chuckle. We even had that music as ringtones on our phones, for when either one of us would call the other. I always told him that he'll nail it on guitar one of these days, but it's fast and complex in some parts, and will be really tricky. A while back, he called me with a breakthrough: He could now play every note, but was having trouble nailing down the speedy parts. He played it over the phone, and we both laughed our asses off. With more practice, he'd get the speed down, and then he'd have it.

But now he'll never have it.

Ryan will never be a statistican

One of the main reasons that I hardly ever get to post anything on the website that bears my name is related to the fact that I'm working on my PhD right now. I know you're thinking "How can someone that writes so much STUPID shit be getting a PhD?", but just think back to when you were in college. You know those people that made your life a living hell and thought they were 10 times smarter than they really are? Those people had PhDs, and they are who I spend all of my fucking time with.

One of the main components of a PhD program is taking lots and lots of hours of coursework in research design and statistics (at least if you're doing your PhD in some scientific field, as I am). When I started taking statistics courses, I considered seeking professional help, because I actually sort of....enjoyed it. As I delve deeper and deeper into my coursework, I am beginning to identify with the main character (Max, for everyone besides Lord Bling) in Darren Aronofsky's movie Pi. Mainly, I just wanted to take my 14 volt electrical drill and put a hole in my head to relieve the pain that comes along with spending all my time thinking about variances and covariances.

Fortunately, the end of the semester is near. Soon, I will be back to blasting people's faces off on Xbox live and pretending I don't know anything about matrix algebra, which won't be difficult, because I barely understand it. Until then, I bid you a fond farewell, and that I will be a much happier man when I post next.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Wanna watch 'Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels' for free?

Good morning! It is I, Lord Bling, your internet sherpa!

How sweet is NBC Universal created it as a free TV website back in March 2007, and they also started posting free movies on it. Lots of content is up there now, and it's all free (some of it is even in HD). They occasionally run ads during the programming, but hey, like I said, it's free. And the movies are uncensored, which is nice. I can see myself using this the next time I'm stuck in a hotel room with nothing good on cable (no, my company won't let me expense porn).

You can watch it on their site (in 480p fullscreen) HERE.

OR, you can watch the entire movie right here!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Video of the Week -- Wall of Death!

Ahhh, you thought I'd forget? No way! It's time for the Video of the Week!

I went to a metal concert last Friday, and one of the opening bands did the famous 'Wall of Death.' No need to explain ... take a look for yourself:

You probably can't tell by the bad sound (it was shot with my cell phone), but the band is 36 Crazyfists. I also saw Gojira and In Flames. Great show, if that's the sort of thing you're into.