Arts, Entertainment, Living

DJ Hero 2 - review

Tuesday, 26 October 2010 02:36 PM Written by

When FreeStyleGames dropped DJ Hero on the gaming world last year, it was considered a step in the right direction for the music genre, introducing an original and easy to use turntable controller and head-bobbing mash-ups from top DJs.  Even with the many elements that made DJ Hero great, there was still room to grow with a sequel. 

If you judge by my last couple reviews, you may assume that I’m a hater of music/rhythm games, and after playing Guitar Hero and Power Gig, even I thought that may be turning into the truth.  Then, when my hope for the genre had almost completely vanished, DJ Hero came along. 

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Grilled Pork Tenderloin

Tuesday, 26 October 2010 01:09 PM Written by

What a glorious day here in Pittsburgh!!! It is so warm and I know the cold is coming (and a few storms) but we are going to enjoy this as much as we can! This is a great day to fire up the grill! This is not only a family favorite recipe but it has also become a fan favorite as well! If the weather turns at the dinner hour just pop these under the broiler. You will want to broil them about 12-15 minutes per side. Be sure to let them rest! Keeps it nice and juicy!

Grilled Pork Tenderloin
 I hope you all enjoy the recipe!!! Don't forget we are reinventing our leftovers for "Take-Out" Night at home later in the week! Be sure to make extra rice! The fried rice on our take-out menu needs to be cold. ENJOY!!!

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John Steinbeck's Heart Was in SF

Tuesday, 26 October 2010 07:56 AM Written by

San Francisco put on a show for me. I saw her across the bay, from the great road that bypasses Sausalito and enters the Golden Gate Bridge. The afternoon sun painted her white and gold -- rising on her hills like a noble city in a happy dream. A city on hills has it over flat-land places. New York makes its own hills with craning buildings, but this golden white acropolis rising wave on wave against the blue of the Pacific sky was a stunning thing, a painted thing like a picture of a medieval Italian city which could never have existed. I stopped in a parking place to look at her and the necklace bridge over the entrance from the sea that led to her. Over the green higher hills to the south the evening fog rolled like herds of sheep coming to cote in the golden city. I've never seen her more lovely.

-- Travels with Charley

SAN FRANCISCO -- Marin Highlands

 San Francisco did nothing special to seduce the eyes and heart of John Steinbeck that October afternoon half a century ago.

Few humans could describe it so artfully in one paragraph.

But San Francisco has put on that same lovely show for millions of people who were not famous writers or were not already in love with her, as Steinbeck was.

 As I saw yesterday afternoon, thousands of tourists, day-trippers, photographers, hikers and bicyclists from around the world enjoy the beauty of San Francisco from the hills above the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge every day.DSC_2098_3

I spent half my time taking pictures of couples from Australia, Florida, France, Japan and Berkeley with their cameras so they could prove they were together in San Francisco.

The details of light and color can differ wildly from season to season, day to day, even hour to hour. It depends on the predictably unpredictable whims of the clouds, wind and rain.

But from the Marin Highlands the basic view of San Francisco and the bay and the islands and the mountains and the great bridges that tie them together has not changed since Steinbeck took his stunning verbal snapshot on his “Charley” trip in 1960.

 It’s an absurd panorama, a prime example of man and nature collaborating at their best – at least until the same slow-motion tectonic violence that took eons to create the spectacle gets around to destroying it.DSC_2134_2

 Where did John Steinbeck stop to gaze so lovingly upon the city he never fell out of love with? Was it Vista Point, the popular scenic lookout at the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge, or high atop the Marin Headlands?

It doesn’t matter. From either spot, where I have probably stood 20 times since 1974, San Francisco is a post card of beauty and goodness that can offend no one’s politics or morals.

 You can’t tell it’s the most liberal city in America or that it voted 84 to 14 percent for President Obama in  2008.

You can’t tell it has criminally high housing costs, a permanent parking shortage and an intractable homeless problem that costs its taxpayers $200 million a year.DSC_2035_copy

You can’t tell it's the second-most densely populated city in the USA -- with 815,000 people packed into an area smaller than the City of Pittsburgh, which has 308,000.

You can't tell 37 percent of its residents are immigrants or that it has the highest percentage of gay people of any city in the country.

 Did Steinbeck stop at Vista Point to gaze upon his beloved city and reflect upon his time there as a young struggling writer? Probably.

Essentially level with the north end of the Golden Gate, only 200 feet above the water, the Vista Point lookout was already open in 1960. 

It doesn’t sound like he, Elaine and Charley drove up Conzelman Road to the top of the Marin Headlands, where the concrete ruins of defanged artillery batteries and crumbling coastal defense forts peek over the cliffs, guarding the narrow entry to the bay from enemy fleets that never came.

Of course it didn’t really matter where Steinbeck stood.

He could have described the scene from memory. He had been in San Francisco many times and knew it well. As a kid growing up 100 miles to the south in the lettuce fields of the Salinas Valley, San Francisco was known to everyone simply as “the city.”DSC_2057

 As he wrote in “Charley,” it’s where he spent his “attic days” struggling to become a writer.

During the 1920s, while Hemingway and the other literary giants of his generation were losing themselves and becoming rich and famous in Paris, Steinbeck said he “fledged in San Francisco, climbed its hills, slept in its parks, worked on its docks, marched and shouted in its revolts.”

In both miles and time, Steinbeck was almost exactly halfway through his trip when the Traveling Steinbecks arrived in San Francisco on Oct. 26, 1960, via U.S. Route 101. Despite his fondness for San Francisco, Steinbeck had little to say about it in "Travels with Charley.”

After describing the city so perfectly from across the Bay, he wrote, “Then I crossed the great arch hung from filaments and I was in the city I knew so well. It remained the City I remembered, so confident of its greatness that it can afford to be kind. It had been kind to me in the days of my poverty and it did not resent my temporary solvency. I might have stayed indefinitely, but I had to go to Monterey to send off my absentee ballot.”

 That’s it for San Francisco in "Travels With Charley." Steinbeck’s next paragraph is about the politics of Monterey County, “where everyone was a Republican” including his family. 

But in the real world, Steinbeck spent four busy days in San Francisco, staying at the handsome and very celebrity-favored St. Francis Hotel in Union Square. He hung out with his friends at some of the city's top bars and restaurants -- and, as we shall see, his famous presence was quickly discovered by the local media.

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Go searching for 'Hollywood Treasure'

Tuesday, 26 October 2010 12:01 AM Written by

HollywoodTreasureSyfy's "Hollywood Treasures" (10 and 10:30 p.m. Wednesday) is "Pickers" meets "Antiques Roadshow" for movie and TV collectors.

Why is such a show on Syfy? Because many of the props are from sci-fi/fantasy shows.

Read more after the jump. ...

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Blues stuff - revisiting Cyndi Lauper and the blues

Tuesday, 26 October 2010 12:00 AM Written by

Somewhere back about midsummer I wrote that Cyndi Lauper was releasing a new album devoted to blues songs. I think I had a little fun with that concept, which sounded a little strange to me, even though I'd enjoyed some of her music here and there over the years.

Then I pretty much forgot about it, until last week, when I borrowed a copy to listen to, mainly out of curiousity.

And I have to report that the CD, "Memphis Blues" (Mercer Street Records), has been growing on me a little. Lauper has always had a powerful pop voice, but I kept thinking of her as the singer with the elegantly strange outfits and funny hair.

She picked 11 excellent blues songs to cover, and also surrounded herself with a studio full of excellent musicans for the project:  Johnny Lang, B.B. King, Allen Toussaint, Ann Peebles and Charlie Musselwhite all contribute great music. And Lauper surprised me with some sturdy vocals.

I'm not sure her voice is the best match for some of the songs, and she gets a little gimmicky here and there with some vocals, especially on some of the tougher, more traditional blues. Still, she produces a workmanlike (workwomanlike?) version of Little Walter's "Just Your Fool" with some serious help from Musselwhite, and works well with Lang on "How Blue Can You Get?"

She also does well with Toussaint's piano on "Shattered Dreams" and "Mother Earth." And I'm not sure what to make of her duet with Ann Peebles on the classic "Rollin' and Tumblin'." Let's just say it's unique.

She also sounds nice and earthy on some of the slower, torchier numbers, including "Romance in the Dark" and "How Blue Can You Get." And she does a simply gorgeous reading of Tracy Nelson's mournful "Down So Low."

There's a video on heer web site in which Lauper talks about the CD, her love of blues, and her debt to the music. "I really think I was born to singt this stuff," she says. Good for her. Maybe she'll create a few new fans for the music.

Here's a video of Lang and Lauper doing "How Blue Can You Get?" We report, you decide.

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The Traveling Steinbecks

Monday, 25 October 2010 02:13 PM Written by

MILL VALLEY, CA. -- Daughter Michelle's house

It feels strange sleeping in one place for so long -- three days. I got used to moving fast, which is what I had to do to keep pace with John Steinbeck on his seven-day dash from Chicago to Seattle (Oct. 10-17, 1960). 

I'm waiting for the Traveling Steinbecks to catch up to me, so you can't accuse me of dogging it.

John, Elaine and Charley didn't get to San Francisco until Wednesday, Oct. 26, 1960.  We know this because the San Francisco Chronicle's Herb Caen wrote in a columnon Oct. 28 that Steinbeck had arrived in town from New York. Also, writer Curt Gentry (future "Helter Skelter" author) interviewed Steinbeck in his suite at the St. Francis Hotel on Oct. 28 for a San Francisco Chronicle article.

In the published version of "Travels With Charley," most of Steinbeck's trip from Seattle to the Monterey Peninsula was left out entirely or edited to remove evidence of Elaine's presence.

Steinbeck's four or five day stay at the St. Francis Hotel in downtown San Francisco is never mentioned at all in the manuscript or the book. And as far as the reader knows, it was just Charley and his master who visited the great redwood groves on the drive from Seattle.

But the original handwritten manuscript, which is kept like a sacred scroll at the beautiful Morgan Library in New York City, tells a more complete story.

It contains a handful of scenes Steinbeck wrote about his three-day wait for Elaine in a motel near the Seattle airport and their slow trip down the Pacific Coast.DSC_1033

The manuscript, which has been at the Morgan (pictured at right) since Steinbeck gave it to them in 1962, is broken up into five or six chunks that Steinbeck wrote over a period of almost a year.

Always written in his barely decipherable scribble, always written from top-to-bottom and edge-to-edge of the page, it contains virtually no edits or changes (the editing changes were marked on a typewritten version of the original draft).

The manuscript is handwritten mostly on carefully page-numbered yellow or white legal pads. One part -- which Steinbeck wrote while vacationing in Barbados in February of 1961 -- is in a ledger-like book that also includes a daily journal he kept. One day he notes that he got a card from JFK, whose inauguration the Steinbecks attended with the Kenneth Galbraiths.

For someone trying to follow Steinbeck's trail, the "Charley" manuscript is not a big help. Steinbeck is no more or less specific about where he was or when he was there than in the published book.

The manuscript does prove two things, however -- that Elaine was with him the whole time he cruised down the Pacific Coast and that the Traveling Steinbecks knew how to enjoy themselves on the road.

They had every right to enjoy themselves, obviously. It's just that detailing their fine lodging accommodations and uptown-manhattan lifestyle didn't exactly support the book's roughing-it-on-the-road theme, which no doubt was one reason the scenes were cut.121003_copy_copy_copy_copy_copy_copy

(In a sloppy piece of editing, Steinbeck's line that "Quite naturally, as we moved down the beautiful coast my method of travel changed" was left in the book; reading that line in the manuscript, it's clear that the "we" who slept in a "pleasant auto court" each night was not referring to Steinbeck and poodle Charley but Mr. and Mrs. Steinbeck.)

One scene edited out of the final draft mentions "the several days" Mr. and Mrs. Steinbeck stayed "in a cottage at the base of a cluster of monster trees."

Steinbeck was sore and scraped up from having to fix Rocinante's flat tire in a rainstorm in southern Oregon (an adventure he apparently really had), and he said the cottage and its bathtub of near-boiling water seemed like "the perfect place to rest and refurbish our souls."

Another scene Steinbeck wrote in the manuscript does not reflect well on his love for the common man, which apparently cooled in late middle age. After he and Elaine heard about a good restaurant on the road up ahead, they decided to get dressed up and do the "town."

They were bummed out to find that the eatery in the middle of nowhere was not a Trader Vic's franchise but a neon hellhole.

Steinbeck wrote that it possessed "every damnable feature of our civilization -- cold glaring light, despondent roaring music from a cathedral juke box, batteries of coin machines, formica counters and tables. One wall was a cemetery of ugly … pies."

Great writing.

But the elitist/snobby tone -- and the fact that Steinbeck later makes fun of the waitress for saying "We ain't got no (liquor) license" -- is not flattering to Steinbeck, the appreciator of the common man. Some editor knew it obviously didn't belong in the final version of "Charley."

Another couple of wisely expurgated scenes involve the Steinbecks' attempts to get a hotel room in San Francisco. Elaine's calls ahead from roadside pay phones as they drove were for naught at first, but then they landed a room at the St. Francis Hotel in downtown.Westin-St-Francis-4_copy_copy

Steinbeck, as he described it, parked Rocinante at the luxury hotel's entrance -- and blocked traffic, as the doorman later complained to him.

Steinbeck went straight to his hotel room and jumped in the bathtub with a whisky and soda. He really enjoyed sitting in bathtubs.

Steinbeck purred that the suite was "pure grandeur." He was pleased to find no formica, no plastic, no cheap ashtrays in the already old and prestigious St. Francis.

As for Elaine, who preferred well-staffed English country inns to the "do-it-yourself" style of the modern American motel, Steinbeck said: "My lady wife was very pleased."

Later today I'll visit the handsome St. Francis Hotel that so pleased the Traveling Steinbecks -- if they let a Walmart frequent-sleeper like me in the lobby.

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'Big Brother' + zombies = 'Dead Set'

Monday, 25 October 2010 02:00 AM Written by

dead_set_tameFor viewers who hate reality shows and their stars and who love gory horror flicks, IFC’s “Dead Set” offers a magical combination.

The British series, airing at midnight tonight through Friday,  follows what happens zombies invade the British “Big Brother” house. It’s a rather ingenious concept to meld these two genres.

Tonight’s premiere is a little pokey – after the first two episodes I wondered if a one-shot movie would have been better than a five-hour series – but it  does a good job of creating a creepy atmosphere. The biggest creep in much of the first hour is a cowardly television producer (he eventually uses a guy in a wheelchair as a shield from a zombie), but by the end of the first hour he’s joined by flesh-eating zombies.

Read more after the jump. ...

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Tom Rush - '60s flashback with still-great music

Monday, 25 October 2010 12:00 AM Written by
Tom Rush (Jim White photo)

It wasn't exactly a blues night out, but there was plenty of good music, fine and funny story-telling and a fair amount of nostalgia for us old-timers in the audience for a Tom Rush concert Saturday night.

But he did play a few blues numbers.

Rush is one of the veterans of the folk music scene from the 1960s, having got his start in the Boston, Mass., area, and he's still going strong with guitar and voice. Rush was one of the originals of his day, and often gets credited for helping to create the contemporary era of the singer-songwriter.

The stories he tells between songs flash genuine wit and lean heavily on his troubedorian travels and easy sense of humor.

His music could almost be described the same way -- slices of life, some rich with poignant lyrics and elegant melodies, some fluffed with sharp, sly wit.

He played songs that were immediately recognizable -- his classic "Urge for Going," "No Regrets," "The Child Song" (which he called one of the finest songs ever written), and others not quite so classic, but immensely enjoyable -- Sleepy John Estes' "Drop Down Mama," the Austin L:ouge Lizards' "Old Blevins" (very funny), a Bukka White train song melange and his second ecore, Bo Diddley's "Who Do You Love" (the first encore was "The Child Song").

Carol Lee Espy (Jim White photo)
He played a number of songs from his latest album (his first studio album in 35 years), including "Hot Tonight," "River Song," "What I Know" and "Drift Away."

He paced the songs, their styles and his story-telling with impeccable timing. His unruly white hair and droopy moustache lent him airs of both wit and wisdom, and he played both roles effortlessly.

It was a great night of musical entertainment.

Pittsburgh singer-songwriter Carol Lee Espy played an opening set of sweet, melodious tunes with folk and country overtones. Accompanying her were Pete Freeman (The Mavens) on steel guitar and her husband, Jim DiSpirito (Rusted Root) on percussion.

The evening was the second in this season's series of Calliope shows at the Carnegie Lecture Hall (the first was a rousing John Hammond concert). They've got more good stuff on the way. Check out their schedule.

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