Wednesday, February 13, 2013

the internet teached me this

Look what happens when you cut off the bottom of bok choy (or celery, or green onions) and stick it in some water for a couple of weeks. Neat!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Ryan Reviews: Star Trek Reviews


Now that that's done...

Anna and I have been watching Star Trek over the last couple months--all of Star Trek. Yes, even Star Trek V (though Anna skipped that one).

When watching shows like Star Trek, where the episode-to-episode quality varies so much, it's worth keeping an eye on episode reviews so that you can avoid the big stinkers, even if sometimes your terrible wife makes you watch Threshold anyways.

I've been following some of these guys since High School (though by this point only Enterprise was left), and if you just want to avoid the bad episodes just about anything will do (though if you're a big fan then you instinctively know the bad episodes). It's not enough to just read the Netflix summaries, because sometimes the worst ideas can turn into pretty good episodes (Tuvix?).

Now, the candidates:

Tim Lynch Reviews

Tim Lynch reviewed episodes as they aired, starting with "The Icarus Factor" in season 2 of TNG, and continued through DS9 and season 2 of Voyager (he quit on it). He came back to review the first two seasons of Enterprise, but quit on that as well (due to lack of time, not because of the quality). In doing so, he gained a bit of a name in the Star Trek community--in First Contact, they named the Ensign that Picard mows down with a machine gun after him (perhaps a subtle hint as to their opinion of his reviews?).

Links: TNG ReviewsDS9 ReviewsVOY ReviewsThe Enterprise reviews are scattered through this archive

He reviews each episode as it airs, and at the end of the season re-watches (and re-rates) each episode and offers commentary on the entire season.

The reviews are scattered, and where aggregated are not well presented. This is a bummer if you want to glance at a season to see the episodes to watch/avoid.

Incomplete: He starts TNG late and ends VOY and ENT early; no late movies or TOS.

He gave "Manhunt" 9.5/10.

The reviews include a full synopsis, so if you've forgotten what happens you'll get a full review.

Done in real time, so you get a picture of what people thought at the time--the optimism that writers will follow up on character development, a fog over the future.

High Quality reviews, plus full season Synopses. Excellent commentary on the direction of the shows, especially in DS9.

Jammer's Reviews

I came upon this one in college, and I don't know very much about the author. Here's a link.

He's reviewed everything. TOS, TNG (except the last five episodes), VOY, DS9, ENT. Plus! BSG and Andromeda.

The website is very good. You can tell at a glance where the one, zero star episodes are.

While the reviews are solid, they never make me reconsider the episodes like Lynch's sometimes do, though he sometimes articulates my thoughts about episodes better than I would.

The TNG and early DS9 episodes were written way after the fact, by someone who had seen them all several times before. On the one hand, this gives him more time to think about each episode--but it's also a perspective that people watching now would have.

He hates The Royale, which I always thought was quite a fun episode.

This website has an episode guide for just about every TV show, and user reviews for each episode therein.


The format is very pretty.

Everything's available.

If you like to see dissenting opinions, this forum allows that.

Call me an elitist. Review sites that stand the test of time survive by offering quality opinions. Some people don't have opinions worth listening to. Compare the quality of a newspaper article to the quality of the comments on a large blog. Frankly, I find many of the episode ratings odd--though the best and worst episodes tend to stand out. Some good episodes get rated poorly and vice versa.

There is no consistent voice throughout the reviews, and rarely do they offer much insight.


If you enjoy reading another's informed opinion of what you just watch, go for the Tim Lynch reviews where available. If you're just trying to avoid landmines, Jammer's Reviews is the best because of its format and generally high quality evaluations.

Also: The Cynics Corner, limited reviews of VOY/DS9/ENT, written as they aired. These are fun, but there aren't enough of them to use unless you happen to be in the seasons he reviews. Good for the Voyager episodes that Tim Lynch doesn't get to. They're actually very hilarious.

EDIT: Reading through the Cynic's Corner, I have to add a PRO to each of the above. They are all Star Trek fans, and interpret the episodes in a fairly favorable light. The Cynic's Corner, on the other hand, finds a little too much fault.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Ryan Reviews: Introduction and Stranger in this Town

Greetings, readers! I know this blog has not been very active for a long time, but I hope that we can change that in the coming days.

I am introducing new segment called 'Ryan Reviews.' It will be a forum where I talk about whatever I feel like: I'll review music, movies, tv shows, books, beers, board games, and perhaps I will even review some reviews? Who knows, things might get freaky. It will be fun to see Anna's reviews of things as well!

As I am currently, professionally dedicated to other sorts of writing, when these appear you will know that I have reached some sort of block, and am hoping that this sort of writing clears that block.

Anyways: onward and upward!


A Theory of Music Reviews.

When we review music, what is the object of the review (and what should the object of our review be?) Indeed, I go back and forth on this. Should the unit 'song' be what the artist strives for? Or should it be 'album,' such that each song is a part of a whole, and the goal is to rise above the sum of the parts?

I don't know the answer to that question, and there really isn't one in the first place. There's no accounting for  taste, really.

But, to account for taste, my music reviews will take the following format:

Each song will get 1-3 points in each of the following categories:
Lyric Quality:
1 stands for "I would be embarrassed to sing this in public, for other than the usual reasons."
2 for "Not great, but not the source of too many eyerolls."
3 for "I actually would listen to this song for its lyrics."

Music Quality and Performance Quality go along the same lines. I don't entirely know what criteria I'll use to judge these other than my gut, but perhaps a pattern will emerge in the process of the reviews.

In addition, there are two bonus points:
One for rising above the sum of its parts as a song, either by having its parts be so bad it sounds good, or by the components reinforcing each of the other ones.
One for its context in the album: is this song enhanced by its surrounding songs? Pinball Wizard, for instance, is a different song depending on whether you listen to it on Tommy or if you listen to it on a greatest hits album/iTunes shuffle.

So, the rating system for songs goes to 11.

For albums, I will simply take the scores of the top nine songs on the album. The other songs will influence the score indirectly, by subtracting or adding to the songs that do count. The high score is 99, so no album can be a perfect 100.

As you can tell, I like albums that have good songs more than I care about an album being put together well. That's what happens when you are raised with iTunes.

Also, this rating system only works given the Rock Album format. Beethoven's 9th and Chocolate Starfish and the Hotdog Flavored Water need different rating scales.

DISCLAIMER: I have a terrible taste in music. My favorite band is Bon Jovi, and I have a very high tolerance for cheesiness (but I repeat myself). You have been warned.


Richie Sambora 1991: Stranger in this Town

A YouTube Playlist of the Album, in case you want to listen along.

For those not in the know, Richie Sambora is the guitarist for Bon Jovi. He's released three solo albums so far: Stranger in this Town, Undiscovered Soul (1998), and Aftermath of the Lowdown (2012), in descending order of quality, I think.

In Brief: This is the album that got me thinking about the album/song question. I love this album, but none of the songs make it into my 'most listened' list. The album starts with sixsongs that are meant to be listened to together: "Rest in Peace," of little value on its own, sets the mood for the subsequent songs to play off of. Sambora's guitar, and the music, sounds more Blues/Blues-Rock, in contrast to Bon Jovi's Pop-Rock-Metal sound, which fits, because he's complementing his own voice instead of Jon Bon Jovi's. "Mr. Bluesman" is the musical highlight of the album, featuring a solo by Eric Clapton, while "Stranger in this Town" is the best song overall, followed by "Father Time." After the sixth song, the album stops sounding like a unified whole, which is mostly because "Rosie" was originally written as a Bon Jovi song. and "River of Love" sounds like a silly Jovi B-Side. While enjoyable, it doesn't quite fit in with the rest. The album as a whole would have worked better if 7-9 were excised ("Father Time" perhaps remaining as a postscript). Richie's voice is pedestrian, but it pairs well with his guitar style here, when sticking to his own style.

1. "Rest in Peace"  3:47
Lyrics: 2       Music: 2      Performance: 2      Bonus: Album(1)  Total: 7

2. "Church of Desire"   6:08
L: 2   M: 2  P: 2  A:1         T: 7

3. "Stranger in This Town"   6:15
L: 3  M: 2  P: 2  A:1 Bonus: 1      T: 9
The best song on the album, I think.

4. "Ballad of Youth"     3:52
L: 2  M: 2  P: 2  A:1      T: 7

5. "One Light Burning" 5:48
L: 2  M: 2  P: 2  A:1      T: 7

6. "Mr. Bluesman" (Solo by Eric Clapton) 5:14
L: 2  M: 2  P: 3  A:1      T: 8

7. "Rosie"   Sambora, Jon Bon Jovi, Desmond Child, Diane Warren 4:49
L: 2  M: 2  P: 2      T:6

8. "River of Love"  4:06
L: 1  M: 2  P: 1     T:4
"Let me be your preacher
And you can be my whore"

9. "Father Time"  6:05
L: 3  M: 2  P: 3 Bonus: 1     T:9
Taken on it's own, my favorite song here. Doesn't contribute to the album as well as "Stranger," though.

10. "The Answer"   5:07

L: 2  M: 2  P: 1    T:5
A bit boring. It would have made a good closer to the album after "Mr. Bluesman," but it's kind of stranded out here.

Overall: 65

We'll see if my rating system gives enough of a standard deviation to be useful.
The song ratings seem to be:
5 or less - blah to bad.
6-7 - listenable
8-9 - enjoyable
10-11 - favorite.

We'll see on the album ratings.