The Bad Ends

Last week while I was out walking the dog in the evening, a neighbor stopped me, took of his headphones, and showed me his phone.

He’d been listening to a new track, All Your Friends Are Dying, by a “new” band out of Athens, The Dead Ends, that just happens to be fronted by the lead singer of Five Eight and features Bill Berry in his first post-R.E.M. ensemble.

My neighbor was grinning ear-to-ear so I typed “The Dead Ends” into my phone, confirmed I had the right album art, and walked home with a promise to listen to the single that precedes their forthcoming full album. You can too, below:

Now I’ve probably listened to this song about 20 times since then and it’s still excellent. I thought it sounded like a unreleased Big Star or Cracker song, which is fitting since it’s about a Big Star show:

The song and the video are a celebration of Athens. The song is also a tribute to Big Star and The Glands. I’m really singing it to a friend who missed this special performance of the Big Star Third album and I’m warning my friend not to miss stuff because life doesn’t last very long. We thought there was only cell phone footage of the show, but our friend Dan Jordan ended up having three cameras rolling that night. We were able to grab shots of Jody singing ‘Thirteen’ and Frank playing his guitar (which was a telecaster that night, which is why he plays an SG in the van, as namechecked in the song).

If that doesn’t get you excited about live music, the impermanence of everything, and Athens, GA then you may not be wired right.

I also recommended the song to a buddy who is going through a rough patch and I hope it brought him some joy. I know the message will resonate with him and I hope he received it in the manner it was intended.

It’s also gratifying when one of the best UGA bloggers on the internet mentions a track you’ve been binging. His post today spurred me to share the love here as well.

Anyhow, if you like power pop, jangly 80’s indie, “college rock”, or “alternative” and want something contemporary that plays in that space, give this one a listen.

Happy Monday!

Magic Mountain

At the end of September I had the opportunity to take a work trip for the first time in over 3 years and I took advantage since the destination was the Los Angeles metro area. I had meetings in El Segundo over the course of two days and my entire family joined me on the West Coast as the following week was “Fall Break” for the younger kids. Rae even took a few days off of classes to spend some time with us, soaking up the sun and exploring LA.

We stayed in Burbank (in the Flats near the 134) where Jenn, Rae, and Evie had spent the better part of 3 weeks earlier in the Summer. Evie had taken classes at several prominent dance studios – both in and around Hollywood and the Valley – and they fell in love with that area. Our Airbnb was the guest house (what Angelenos call an ADU – Accessory Dwelling Unit) on a palm tree-lined residential street just down the street from the Studios and a short drive from the 134, the 5, and beautiful downtown Burbank. If you just heard Gary Owens intone that last phrase, congratulations, you’re middle aged.

We went on the Warner Brothers Studio Tour on the first Saturday and got all the Gilmore Girls intel the tour guide would give us. I believe she called us “the most easily impressed group” she’d ever led. We oooh’d and ahhh’d every building from the Stars Hollow gazebo, to Luke’s Diner (Williams Hardware), to the house which on one side belongs to Lorelei but from the opposite side is Sookie St. James house.

We joked about Kirk waking up on a roof naked, though I’m fairly certain that was at the Dragonfly Inn, not Lorelai’s house.

Sure we enjoyed the Friends fountain and famous couch as well as the exterior to Abbott Elementary, but Gilmore Girls views really were the highlights of he tour for us.

That very same day – on the first night of Fright Night – we drove about 25 miles north of Burbank to Six Flags Magic Mountain. It was our first visit to a Six Flags park that wasn’t Six Flags Over Georgia and we were able to take advantage of our Season Pass status to get free parking and admission to the park! It wasn’t easy navigating a strange theme park entirely in the dark, with ghouls, ghosts, and guests roaming everywhere (it was busy!) but we managed.

What makes Magic Mountain such an amazing theme park is the fact that it has twenty, yes TWENTY, roller coasters. A few of those are kiddie and family coasters but the park has an amazing collection of classic thrill rides like Revolution (featured in National Lampoon’s Vacation), modern conversions like Twisted Colossus (again, the original ride is in National Lampoon’s Vacation), to the newest coaster in the Six Flags chain, Wonder Woman Flight of Courage.

Here’s a breakdown of the coasters we rode, in the order in which we initially rode them, and my mini-review of each one. Keep in mind that we made 3 trips across two consecutive Saturdays, with a weekday trip in the middle, so I was able to ride a few of these multiple times.

  • Twisted Colossus – A modern RMC conversion of a classic wooden coaster (Colossus) that is a Möbius strip coaster. You can end up dueling with another train which goes up a lift hill directly beside you. First side is the blue track, second side is green, and both rides are outstanding with plenty of airtime and fun moments including a Top Gun roll where you can wave or give the bird to folks on the other train. It even has the signature RMC pre-lift hill bunny hills that get you excited for the ride to come. No matter which day/time we went this ride was well-staffed and running quickly. I got 5 rides, the most of any coaster in the park, and it’s easy to see why this is a top 3 ride at this park.
  • Wonder Woman Flight of Courage – an RMC single rail “raptor” coaster, this ride is the tallest, fastest, and longest single rail coaster in the world. It features a cool moving train in the station model that lets riders get on and off quickly, which is key since your ride in a single file on each train. I’m not the biggest fan of the restraints on this ride since the comfort collar straps keep you from fulling feeling some of the airtime and ejector moments, but this is a helluva ride. We rode the first time in near total darkness the first night and the combination of the wind, super fast lift hill, and our inexperience with the layout meant I screamed with delight from the first drop until the break run. I got 3 rides of this one and I think it’s my favorite ride in the park. This style of coaster is silky smooth, fast, and has a great mix of forces both positive and negative that make it a real standout.
  • Goliath – Super huge but nothing to write home about. The lift hill takes you over 200 feet in the air but the forces just aren’t that exciting. Only the helix at the end feels extreme, but it’s almost too little, too late. Offers a great view of the park, even in darkness, and if you’re someone who gets triggered by heights this one might definitely give you a thrill.
  • Full Throttle – A great launch coaster with a moment of sheer delight as you hang upside down (and think you’ll roll back to the station) during the second half of the initial loop. The second launch sends you backward, then forward, for a third launch to a top hat over the top of the initial loop. You get another pop of airtime that is ultimately ruined by a break run, but this is still a good ride and it has the best operator banter (“You can scream, you can shout, but it’s too late to get out!”) of any ride in the park. Our operators were even discussing which line to use as the trains loaded. Rode this one twice and would’ve ridden it more but it was always busy. It’s in the front of the park and people flock to it when the park opens.
  • Tatsu – the most amazing flying coaster due to its combination of setting and elements. Better, bar far, than Six Flags Over Georgia’s “Superman: Ultimate Flight” due to Tatsu’s position on the top of “Samurai Summit” in the park. This was tallest/fastest/longest flying coaster when it opened. It gives you some fantastic aerial views of the park and landscape and truly feels like you’re flying. The pretzel loop near the end is crazy. I only got one ride since the coaster was either closed or swamped with guests every subsequent time we walked by. That lift hill is something else too, with your body literally hanging out in space as your crest over the mountain itself.
  • Apocalypse – a crazy fast wooden coaster that nearly deafened me with its rattle. The train passes through the station above the entrance gate mid-ride and that’s a highlight. We only rode it once but I’d gladly do it again.
  • West Coast Racers – Another launch coaster (like Full Throttle) that is also another dueling, Möbius strip coaster (Twisted Colossus). I loved this ride but both Owen and Imogen had painful rides due to the restraints. The second/fourth launches are very forceful and the interplay of the tracks define this ride. Every single ride duels which is a big step up over Twisted Colossus which never dueled on any of my rides.
  • Viper – An Arrow Megalooper coaster that is much-maligned but I thought it was a fun ride. Folks don’t like the older shoulder restraints and some complain about head-banging, but I loved it. Super forceful with three consecutive loops, a batwing, and then two corkscrews, this isn’t a subtle experience and is the kind of thrill ride indicative of the race for taller, faster, more extreme rides of the late 80’s into the early 90’s
  • Riddler’s Revenge – at one time this was the tallest, fastest, and longest standing coaster. I think it still holds two of these titles and I LOVED it. Some folks are put off by the standing part – the bicycle seat can be painful – but if you stand at full height it’s not an issue. Another coaster with a ton of inversions, this ride was amazing from start to finish and even has a little air time. This ride spoiled me for the standing coaster at my home park, Georgia Scorcher, which is short, not very forceful, and not really interesting. This is what a standing coaster could and should be.
  • Goldrusher – the original coaster in the park, dating all the way back to 1971. Not much in terms of force on this old mine train, but the final helix is nice and you can’t beat all the interplay with the hillside track. Good views of of Full Throttle throughout. Rode it once.
  • X2 – the iconic, groundbreaking, 4-D coaster. I don’t think any explanation of what this coaster does or how those forces affect your body would do it justice. I’m including a photo of myself riding below for your amusement. Every person who saw it broke out in laughter, especially my kids and a group of tourists behind us. My favorite parts, in order 1) the lift hill laying on your back which gives a great view of Magic Mountain, 2) the initial drop where your spun face down at over 80 degrees before flipping head over heels through the first loop, and 3) the final break run. Everything between 2 & 3 for me was a blur.
  • Superman: Escape From Krypton – Only the forward-facing side was open and it’s pretty much a one-trick-pony ride. Launching up to 100+ mph out of the station then ascending almost 400 feet in the air, returning in reverse to the station. Folks in line said starting backwards was better, but the rush was fun and you got some hang time at the top. Not worth the hour-plus wait though. Would only ride again if it was going backwards.
  • Ninja – one of the original style suspended coasters, with bucket trains that sway from side to side. This one also traverses down Samurai Summit like Tatsu and, again, the terrain makes the ride. The lift hill back to the station is a bit funky, but this ride is still fun. All coasters should utilize their surroundings in a similar manner, especially on hillsides like this one. I got a ride in the dark and would love to ride it again in the daytime. I hear the line is usually pretty short too.

That’s 13 coasters out of a possible 20, which isn’t bad. That’s more coasters than are even in my home park by 2! Combine the coasters with plenty of fog machines, scare zones with folks leaping out, and multiple haunted houses & mazes, you’ve got some pretty amazing experiences.

I won’t recount all the rides we didn’t ride, but here’s the picture of me riding X2 as promised.

The look of sheer, unadulterated terror on my face doesn’t do the experience of riding this coaster justice. I had a literal nightmare after riding it and I still think I’d do it again just to get a better understanding of what actually happens.

Now in between all these trips to ride rollercoasters at Magic Mountain, Jenn & I still worked our day jobs (on East Coast time), we explored Santa Monica beach, Venice, the Hollywood hills, all throughout the Valley (including the Circus Liquor where Cher in Clueless gets mugged), UCLA’s campus, and ate most dinners out in downtown Burbank.

I’m glossing over a ton of life and lived experiences, but it’s those roller coasters I really wanted to catalog. Maybe I’ll write another post about all the times I mentioned The Big Lebowski as we passed a Ralph’s or all the great West Coast beer I drink over the course of 12 days – and I think I must’ve had 10 new beers to me!

Over the Summer months, especially when Jenn, Rae, and Evie made their first trek to LA, I went to Six Flags Over Georgia with the Owen and Imogen at least twice a week and once on the weekends. I suppose I should recount those rides as well – and their pictures – but I think I’ll leave that post for another time.

For now I’ll just say that Fright Fest is a great time to go to a theme park, get a little bit scared by a ride or a costumed creature, and act like a kid again, if only for the evening.

Until next time, Magic Mountain, I’ll be dreaming (hopefully without nightmares of X2) of you.

Muppets Minifigs!

From Kottke I learned that Lego is launching Muppets minifigs in May!

Muppets Lego Minifigs

I haven’t built anything with Lego in a very long time but I’d buy some minifigs* for a little home office desk display.

Also, here’s my list of Muppets characters for the second release (should there be one):

  • Beauregard
  • Dr. Teeth
  • Floyd Pepper
  • Lew Zealand
  • Pepe the King Prawn
  • Rizzo the Rat
  • Sam the Eagle
  • Scooter
  • Swedish Chef
  • Sweetums
  • Uncle Deadly
  • Zoot

Granted the size of some of the above are a little off, so here are a few alternates:

  • Captain Link Hogthrob
  • Crazy Harry
  • Dr. Julius Strangepork
  • Mahna Mahna
  • Snowths
  • The Newsman (Muppet News Flash)
  • Wayne
  • Wanda

Happy Monday!

* If Lego is the plural of Lego, I think minifigg could be the plural of minifig.

Yogi (And Not The Bear)

I would never be mistaken for a flexible person. Being tall (6’ 3”) I’m more often referred to as lanky or rangy, never flexible.

But age takes a toll on all of us so during the pandemic, but especially the last few months as my 45th birthday approached, I’ve incorporated more yoga into my weekly exercise routine.

I’ve pretty much stopped running. I have a bad bunion on my left big toe that requires surgery. I’m dealing with a good bit of neuropathy so I’ve switched to a long weekly bike ride for some of my cardio. I rode 60 km last weekend. I’m also doing a daily walk with the dog around the neighborhood (roughly 2 km) and sometimes I do it twice.

As anyone who’s been living/working from home the past 18 months can tell you – it gets monotonous. I traded Orange Theory YouTube workouts for random weightlifting and HIIT training but now I mix in yoga, usually every other day. I really like SarahBethYoga. Her focus on breathing, transitions between poses, and her tone really speak to me. Maybe it’s the fact that I meditate almost daily but her Yoga videos feel like a natural accompaniment to my other daily practice.

I’m not going to say I’ve become a Cirque du Soleil contortionist but I have gotten more flexible. My forward and seated folds have progressed to the point where I can easily touch my toes and grip the soles of my feet. For anyone that knew me in high school this sounds impossible but I swear it’s the truth.

I’m sleeping better and feeling fewer daily aches and pains as well. I tend to do yoga every other day and I try to find videos tailored to my specific time constraints (mostly 20 minutes) and what’s hurting me (shoulders after an upper body lift or lower body after a bike ride). I always get a good focus on glutes & core since yoga doesn’t let you forget about balance.

And my balance has gotten better too. Again I’m not the most graceful person (see all my caveats above) but I feel much more stable and grounded than I can remember feeling.

As long as I can find 20 minutes regularly I’m going to keep practicing yoga. I never regret the time or energy expended and I’m ok with knowing that I’ve made slow, steady progress.

Onward! (And namaste)

New Home Screen, New Me?

One of the largest changes I’ve made during quarantine relates to my phone. I’ve always been an iPhone guy, and that hasn’t changed, but I’m trying to take advantage of widgets in iOS to help me become a better version of myself. This could mean being more mindful (and/or meditating more), tracking my mood, keeping a journal, and reading more often.

I do all of my fitness tracking via Apple Watch and I have no complaints there. I’ve closed all 3 rings for over 400 consecutive days (this is a straight-up brag, not a humblebrag) so I decided to change my relationship with my phone so that it mirrored how I use my watch.

I don’t waste time on my watch.

I glance at the time.
I record workouts.
I reply to texts or Microsoft Teams messages.

It’s essentially a very utilitarian device, albeit one that looks great and reminds me to breathe every so often. 😉 I was hoping I could transfer this type of experience to my phone.

Prior to the pandemic I might’ve flicked open my phone to check Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram only to realize later that 10 minutes had evaporated and I was angry at some idiot on the internet, or comparing myself to a neighbor, or jealous that a professional influencer was skinnier, more attractive, and more successful than me. It was your textbook hedonic treadmill and I was gladly climbing onto it myself and tiring myself out many times a day. I knew I wanted to change and I thought some technological changes could affect personal change.

I’m using a few new apps to help me along the way and, as I mentioned in the beginning, relying on widgets as my window in to these ecosystems and experiences.

First I setup the widget for an app I’ve been using for some time now, Moodnotes. Moodnotes is great for reminding you to track how you feel, categorize your emotions, and think deeper about how your mood may have been influenced by this state. I’d been relying on alerts to get me in to the app but I turned those off in favor of the cartoon smiley seen on the screenshot of my current Home Screen. Nothing like a little positive reinforcement!

Second I resurrected an app I used several years ago, Day One, to help kickstart my daily journaling habit. The widget for Day One includes a “Streak” view which motivates me to write a journal entry each day. The new Day One app makes it much easier to add a photo (with time stamp) which ends up being a great trigger for me to record the good, new, and interesting thing that happen each day. If I took a picture it must have a story, right? Day One also has a premium subscription option but I’m still using the free version for now and it’s working great!

Third I polled Twitter for app options to help track habits. Folks I trust recommended Streaks which I bought in a bundle with two other apps by the same developer for $7.99. The widget I use to access the app is infinitely customizable (and you can change the app icon color if you’re into that sort of thing) and includes timers for certain tasks I want to do – 10 minutes each of reading and meditation. For the meditation tracking Streaks actually relies on Apple Health data so regardless of whether I use Headspace or Tap In (my two main meditation apps) the streak gets extended and recorded.

I’ve also got two additional habits I’m trying to make stick – not drinking on weekdays, and not eating dessert. I figure curbing alcohol and sugar are noble tasks made harder during a pandemic so I’ll take whatever help Streaks can provide. Thus far it’s been a mixed bag with my not-drinking much easier to do than not eating desserts. Midnight snacking, late grazing, and plain old mindless munching are all too easy to do.

So now I’m reading, writing, meditating, and tracking my mood more often – though not quite daily – but what about the rest of my Home Screen? I added a very simple app/widget called Moon that displays the current phase of the moon in the widget. I find the photorealistic moon very beautiful and calming, and most quality watches & clocks show moon phase, and what is my phone if not a secondary clock when I’m not twisting my wrist? The Moon just adds an air of sophistication, class, and adulthood to what had been, and still is sometimes, a big toy.

And just today I finally went all-widget on my Home Screen and added a new weather app, Hello Weather, that is free and taps through to radar or forecast, all powered by Dark Sky. It’s pretty great so far and means I get glanceable info that I can park at the top of my phone screen where it’s hard to reach to tap anyhow. It’s a win-win.

Mainly the widget layout means I have to be much more mindful – or just more willing to swipe down or right – to get to brain-and-time-sink social apps. If I don’t see it on that first screen I’ve got to go searching for it. The things I can see are all things I’ve decided I want to do more/better. They ultimately serve as a measure of whether that day has been productive in the sense of accomplishing life-affirming, spiritual tasks. That might sound cheesy but it’s the choice I’m trying to manifest in my life by virtue of the way I use my phone.

I’ll let you know how the actual habit cultivation turns out long-term but in the past few months, since around mid-February when I got Streaks and did my first Home Screen widgets, I’ve garnered a few streaks in the teens. That may not sound like a lot but I’m very pleased with things. I also find that when I mindlessly swipe to open my phone I’m confronted with all of the good things I could be doing – reading, writing, meditating – which has led me down the path towards actually completing a book or writing a journal numerous times.

I also just love seeing the smiling face of Moodnotes and the moon phase. They make me smile.

If I’m being philosophical about the devices it’s because I’ve had time to consider why and how I use them. I decided I want to use them for self-improvement and now I’m learning to live with the consequences of that decision. So far that’s been calmer, more meaningful, and mindful experiences.

Here’s to hoping those things continue.