Morning Musume / 10 MY ME : 5 of 5

The only thing more exciting than a new Morning Musume single release is a full-length CD release, and their 10th album 10 MY ME (the title is a Japanese pun meaning "tenth") is no exception! Since I've really enjoyed all of their recent singles lately, I've been looking forward to listening to them all together along with several completely new tunes, which really seem to blend well with the previous material. I may still be caught up in the newness of this CD, but I think this album has more fantastic songs that I really want to hear again and again than any previous release since I've been a fan! There are tracks featuring the girls of each generation of joining Morning Musume, so Ai-chan and Risa (5th generation) get a lovely duet together, although something even more emotional would have highlighted their voices better. Sayumi, Reina and Eri (6th generation) sing Ookii Hitomi, and I absolutely love the drive of this song (it even makes me imagine the choreography) and the lyrics are great. Poor Sayumi has to suffer with being auto-tuned for most of her solo lines, but she still sounds cute underneath all those effects! Unfortunately, Aika, Jun Jun and Lin Lin (8th generation) get the worst song on the album - Osaka Umainen is ridiculous and hard to listen to, which is a shame since I think Lin Lin has a star voice just waiting to be showcased. My favorite song for the whole group is Namidacchi, which I have to admit really sounds like an AKB48 tune, but I think the combination of semi-ballad and rock guitar (not to mention the unexpected rap) is fantastic! Speaking of ballads, Loving You Forever is another wonderful song with a great melody line and heartwarming lyrics that I could listen to over and over. Even Genki Pikappika, which has the kind of title that makes you think it will be one of those annoyingly over the top songs, has a musically mature melody that makes it fun to sing. Although I loved Platinum 9 Disc, which really seemed to be the beginning of a new sound for the group, I think 10 MY ME definitely establishes a new feel for Morning Musume that I really enjoy, and I can't wait to see where they take it from here!


Penn & Teller : 4 of 5

Penn & Teller have been performing at the Rio in Las Vegas for years now, but it wasn't until Dad saw their unique (and bloody) sawing a woman in half illusion that we decided to finally see their show! It was especially interesting to watch their intriguing "intelligent" magic the day after seeing Criss Angel's flashy production (in fact, they even ridiculed his style during the show). Penn & Teller are the masters of understatement, often making a trick happen with no announcement whatsoever, giving you a "What just happened?" feeling (and definitely requiring undivided attention!). I was really impressed with Penn's articulate speaking style, though I'm sure he is audibly misdirecting the audience while making it seem like he's explaining all the nuances of a trick. Some of their routines are almost avant garde, such as the cool demonstration of seven essential slight of hand techniques involving a lit cigarette, which Teller does with incredible skill while Penn narrates and plays stand-up jazz bass at the same time! Some of their illusions are couched in a somewhat political message (mostly involving the Bill of Rights), but none of it seemed too preachy to me, and it added a sense of importance and morality to their act. As expected, probably half of the routines involved audience interaction, including everything from an amazing display of mind-reading from random joke books (which Penn proudly claims to be simply a trick that anyone can do) to a hilarious vanishing iPhone illusion which ended up reappearing inside a frozen fish's belly! They ended the show with their classic Magic Bullets illusion, where Penn & Teller simultaneously fire guns into each other's mouths, and prove the bullets to be genuine due to audience inspection and preparation. It's an incredible display of magic skill that takes quite a while to perform due to all the explanation and setup, but the final result definitely leaves the audience totally dumbfounded. In fact, most of Penn & Teller's show is so good that you just want to stop trying to figure out their secrets (since you just can't do it anyway!) and simply enjoy their well-oiled talent. It's certainly a smart and undeniably unique experience!


Criss Angel: Believe / Cirque du Soleil : 3 of 5

Although I've never really watched a complete episode of Mindfreak, I've seen many of magician Criss Angel's illusions on YouTube, and while his unorthodox style isn't my favorite type of magic, I wanted to see his Las Vegas show at the Luxor since it's a collaboration with Cirque du Soleil. Believe is definitely an entertaining and spectacular show, but ultimately Criss' streetwise, brusque manner doesn't really mix well with Cirque's artsy, sophisticated visuals, so overall the show didn't really "work" for me. However, there are some fantastic illusions, many of which involve instantaneous vanishing and reappearing at some impossible location in the theater, always leaving my parents and I completely awestruck. One of the more beautiful moments was during a long sequence of making doves appear from thin air, when a huge video screen showing a flock of birds flying in the distance suddenly flew off of the screen and became hundreds of real doves right over the audience! Because Believe is a Cirque du Soleil production, the theater is huge and filled with all kinds of bizarre ornaments and props, and of course the cast includes clowns that mess with the audience and continue as characters and assistants in the show. Unfortunately, they become a little annoying as the night goes on, especially when you just want to see what the next illusion will be! The huge stage allows Criss to do some tricks with large apparatus (although they seemed like overkill every now and then), as well as a version of his famous vertical surface walk, this time down a billowing curtain. There was quite a bit more audience interaction than I was expecting, and I was pretty surprised when Criss started casually talking to the crowd, which was another element that just seemed a little strange when combined with the Cirque trappings. Overall we definitely enjoyed the show, but I would recommend it mainly for fans of Criss Angel, especially since there are so many other Cirque du Soleil productions (as well as other magic shows) in Las Vegas!


Phantom / The Las Vegas Spectacular : 5 of 5

The first show my parents and I saw during our recent Las Vegas trip was the special permanent production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera, simply known as Phantom at the Venetian. Mom & Dad love the music for this show, and I've always enjoyed the story and dramatic elements, so we splurged with front row seats, and it was wonderful being able to see the actors' expressions so clearly! Similar to how a movie musical can do so much more than a standard stage production, the fact that Phantom is performed in a completely custom built theater designed specifically for this show allows for some truly incredible effects that could only be seen in this type of venue. The opening sequence where the theater goes back in time to transform from dilapidation to its former Parisian glory is mind-blowing, as the walls themselves suddenly become rows of opera boxes filled with hundreds of patrons (actually elaborate wax figures), and the famous chandelier swirls above the audience in pieces that eventually reassemble in a visual ballet! All of the sets are huge and change in the blink of an eye - one brief set showing the outside of the opera house is only used for a few seconds, but even includes onstage fireworks to set the mood! For a show that has been playing nearly every night in Vegas for years, I didn't expect the performances to be top-notch Broadway quality, but I'm happy to say I was completely wrong. Everyone was a gifted singer and believable actor, especially the Phantom himself who was tortured, romantic, and creepy all at the same time (his emotional twitching when Christine kisses him was especially convincing). I was also impressed that they used a live orchestra rather than a recorded soundtrack, making all of the songs really soar and touch the audience (especially Mom!), although a few of the numbers have been shortened a bit for this slightly abridged version of the production (which flows wonderfully with no awkward cuts). The Venetian's version of Phantom is perfect for someone who has never seen the show (although you will be spoiled for any other production), and is filled with enough surprises and effects to keep die-hard fans constantly impressed. It was definitely my favorite show of this trip, and one of my favorite Vegas shows ever!


Late Autumn : 3 of 5

Since I really enjoyed seeing Good Morning, Matt & Kumiko invited me to watch another film by the same director, Yasujiro Ozu, and it was fascinating to watch another of his works after studying his technique. His style of zero camera movement is unique and interesting, and he never breaks his own rule (at times when a slow zoom would be effective, he cuts away for a few seconds, then returns to a close-up to accomplish it). I'm also intrigued by his "middle of the conversation" composition (breaking the traditional 180 rule), which had to require an enormous amount of extra work on the camera crew as well as the actors! Unfortunately, while Good Morning left me feeling positive about humanity, Late Autumn had a much different effect on me. I'm certain that I read far too much into the storyline, but it truly did leave me thinking about questions raised by the story for days. While the plot didn't turn out the way I wanted it to, I can't deny that this is a fantastic film simply because it left such an impression on me. The basic story is about a widow and her daughter who prefers to live with her mother rather than get married, who's life eventually changes due to the meddling of three old gentlemen. The tone of the movie is definitely comedic, but there are extended scenes where people are obviously emotionally distraught, yet continue to suffer simply because they will not say what they feel, and these moments can get excruciating at times! The girl's outlook is clear when she says, "Love and marriage go together, but even if they don't, life is worth living", yet in the end one of the old men sums up what seems to be the true message by saying, "People complicate life, life itself is simple" (which is especially poignant since his character has been the ringleader for all the complication!). I definitely want to experience more of Ozu's work, both for the cinematic style as well as his storytelling technique, since sometimes movies that leave the viewer filled with questions are ultimately the most rewarding.


Las Vegas 2010

This past weekend my parents and I made our annual pilgrimage to Las Vegas, our favorite place to get rid of some money, eat lots of applewood smoked bacon (which seems to be an ingredient at every restaurant), and see some fantastic entertainment! The weather for this trip was absolutely beautiful, and the city was relatively free of convention goers, but packed with college basketball fans! That didn't stop us from spending every moment we could at the slot machines, where we had some serious ups and downs in the luck department. But we still had a wonderful time in the casinos, and I managed to keep to my strict four Manhattans per day diet! Some new experiences for us were visiting the City Center and its hotel/casino called Aria (I really enjoyed the modern, classy architecture), and finally trying out the Rio and seeing the cool Masquerade Show in the Sky (which was technically amazing and definitely R-rated!). Our three big shows this time were Phantom at the Venetian, Criss Angel: Believe at the Luxor, and Penn & Teller at the Rio, and all of them were incredible in their own unique way (I'll review each of them over the next few days, but I can say right now that Phantom was our favorite!). We stayed at the Venetian yet again, and it made a convenient "home base" (great casino and nice restaurants) in spite of the lousy Wi-Fi and mysteriously missing turn-down service (they owe us three nights of pillow chocolates!). The best part of any family vacation is just being together with Mom & Dad, the most youthful and fun-loving parents I could ever dream of, and I'm sure we'll be hitting the strip again next year!

View photos: Las Vegas 2010


Aeon Flux / The Complete Animated Collection : 4 of 5

After watching the Aeon Flux live action film a couple years ago, I really wanted to re-watch the original animated shorts from MTV's Liquid Television that I enjoyed way back in 1991.I put this DVD collection on my Amazon Wish List right away and my pals Chris & Eliza ordered it for me for Christmas, so I'm glad to finally have it in my collection! This set includes three DVDs to present every scrap of the animated Aeon Flux, including many episodes I had never seen or knew existed, and over half of the set features commentary by creator Peter Chung with other writers and directors, making the whole experience quite in-depth and thought-provoking. The series (which was both a set of short episodes with no dialogue as well as a ten episode full-length series with voice work) is incredibly bold and fascinating, especially considering when it was produced (and it's amazing that MTV actually footed the bill, considering the often sexual and violent subject matter). I love the themes of dystopia, layers of deceit and psychological confusion, all set against a futuristic city with architecture and vehicles so detailed they remind me of Masamune's manga. Many of the stories are so bizarre and creative that I watched most of the show with my jaw wide open, and some of the plots are so intentionally off-the-wall that even the creators don't fully understand their meaning! To further confuse matters, Peter Chung makes an effort to refuse interpretation of his work (in order to allow the viewer to draw their own conclusions), although he often has to fight off the urge during the commentary. The animation style is quite angular and unique (and sometimes deformed by extreme camera angles and foreshortening), but always action-packed and smooth, and the brilliant musical score sounds like a cross between Middle Eastern culture and an 80s video game. I definitely have a new appreciation for this groundbreaking show, and it was great to relive my favorite episodes of the past as well as discover additional (and even more amazing) Aeon Flux material!


Good Morning : 4 of 5

I had never heard of this 1959 Japanese film (my knowledge of Japanese cinema is mostly limited to monster movies!), but since my pals Matt & Kumiko know my taste pretty well, they loaned me this DVD, sure that I would enjoy it, and of course I did! Good Morning (or Ohayou) is a wonderful film on many levels, simple enough to be funny and entertaining on the surface, and yet it contains some interesting commentary on society, Japanese culture, and humanity in general. The action (if you can call it that) takes place in a small neighborhood where the houses are so close together that neighbors can simply talk to either other through open windows and doorways. The movie begins by establishing quite a few characters (mostly Japanese stereotypes like the gossiping wives and drunk businessmen, but these characters are loved and never ridiculed), but eventually focuses mostly on two brothers who cutely dress alike and begin a rebellious phase (mostly brought about by their demand for a TV). The boys are fed up with small talk (traditional greetings, talking about the weather) and decide to stop talking for a few days! The fact that they refuse to say "good morning" to the neighbors starts a round of gossiping, and it's fascinating to watch relationships start to break down all because of misunderstandings caused by the simple lack of politeness. One of the characters is a translator who is kind of in love with the boys' sister, and he becomes the voice of wisdom and morality with lines like "meaningless things are easy to say" and that small talk "acts as a lubricant in this world". Although I enjoy finding deep meaning in this kind of movie, Good Morning is definitely not "highbrow" cinema - actually, there are more fart jokes in this movie than any other film I can remember (even the classic husband farting followed by the wife entering the room and asking "Did you call me?")! Along with the characters and plot, I also loved the soundtrack and wonderful camera angles that enhanced the narrow feel of the tiny streets, yet gave them a sense of unique beauty as well. I had a wonderful time watching this movie, and I'd love to enjoy more Japanese films in this style!


Luxury remote

The latest gadget in my life is a Harmony One universal remote, and although I have to retrain the muscle memory in my fingers that instantly knew where all the buttons were on my old remotes, it's much more convenient (and even declutter-ish) to have one remote rather than five! My Dad and my pal Matt both have other Harmony models, and I'm sure they would have done all I needed, but I wanted the Harmony One just for the color touchscreen coolness factor, so I took the plunge thanks to a nice Amazon price (plus some Amazon affiliate money I had saved) along with a Logitech rebate. The setup was super-easy using the Mac software (although the user interface isn't incredibly efficient), and I was pretty impressed that the remote instantly knew every function of all my AV devices, which includes my TV, TiVo HD, Blu-ray, standard DVD player (which I have to keep to watch Japanese DVDs), Apple TV, Wii and PS2! I was able to change and reorder the various "activities" on the remote, and even add some awesome custom button icons for my favorite channels from this incredible site. It was easy to tweak the default settings as well, so I could map a button to my Blu-ray's Search feature (which is the best way to show the time remaining on a movie, something I look at often). I'm getting used to the way the remote feels, and I'm definitely enjoying the backlighting (which none of my old remotes had), which is actually motion-activated (it lights when you pick up the remote). I won't even need to worry about batteries since it has a cool recharging cradle, too! The frugal side of me thinks the Harmony One is a bit pricey, but sometimes you just have to buy exactly what you want to be satisfied with a purchase!


Walk It Out / Nintendo Wii : 5 of 5

A couple weeks ago I had never heard of this game, until Dad pointed it out to me for a special Amazon price, so I thought I would order it and give it a try, Little did I know that I would soon spend literally hours walking in place in front of my TV, absolutely captivated by one of the most addictive games ever! My favorite game genres are rhythm (like Dance Dance Revolution), fitness, and puzzle, so it's absolutely amazing that Walk It Out incorporates all three. The game play is very simple, since your goal is just to walk around Rhythm Island and help it come to life. As you walk (which can be detected by the Wii using the nunchuk, the DDR dance pad, or even the Wii Balance Board) you collect chips by stepping in time with whatever song is playing (and there are over 100 songs with varying tempos to keep things interesting!). All around the island are floating capsules that each have a price, and when you have enough chips you can click on them to unlock something as simple as a palm tree, streetlight, or fire hydrant, or as complex as a cafe, apartment building, or a lighthouse! When you begin the game, the island is almost completely bare, except for thousands of these capsules (and there are literally over 3,000 of them to unlock!), but as you keep playing, the landscape really starts to change, and you begin to realize "Hey, all of these trees are here because I walked 80 steps for each one!" It's a total thrill to see the island grow up around you, and thinking about what I can unlock next really makes me want to come back and play again and again (sometimes multiple times a day, for over an hour at a time)! I could go on and on about the cool surprises in the game, since there are sections of the island you can only reach after unlocking bridges, and it's so nice to see the different environments like the beach, shopping area, and even the ranch with grazing cows. The game also happens in real time, so when you play in the morning you can watch the sunrise, and at night the sky is full of stars! The walking itself is low-impact and doesn't really make me sweat, but I guarantee that marching in place for over 10,000 steps burns more calories than sitting on my butt watching cartoons. I'm committed to continue Walk It Out until I unlock every single thing, but now I have to find time to keep up with my other fitness games!


Such a rebel

As much as I love being disciplined, sticking to a routine, and always working toward my goals, sometimes I just unexpectedly shut down. After months and months of always waking up on time, this week I woke up and decided to be rebellious, so I slept in. The next morning I felt the same way, and I slept in again! While this is perfectly normal (and I'm sure my body needed the sleep), it feels weird for me to start neglecting things like blogging and studying and reading, so life starts to seem strange. Along with this rebellious streak is my addiction to Walk It Out (a Wii game that I'll be reviewing soon), which makes me want to block out huge hunks of time (like an hour and a half or more) to play it! I don't really know why my routine hit a speed bump, but it might have to do with having a busy week (by my standards). I love looking at my calendar and seeing a few nights that are totally free, and this week is completely full, which probably freaked me out a bit. But anyway, I know I'll be back on track soon - I can kind of feel the way I want my life to be pulling me back like a magnet. I just have to forgive myself for goofing off, enjoy the rest (since I've made the decision to waste time, I might as well enjoy it rather than feeling bad about it), and look ahead to tomorrow! Speaking of tomorrow, I'm going to clear my calendar so I can have a super-productive Friday night!


Alice in Wonderland : 3 of 5

Since I generally like Tim Burton's movies and practically anything Disney (especially animated features like the original Alice in Wonderland), I thought this film would be an interesting yet bizarre combination of the two, so I was happy to see it on opening day with my pal Melinda. There are plenty of good things about this movie, but overall I have to say it's just not what I wanted to see. This film is really Tim Burton using the Lewis Carroll characters to tell his own story, which happens to be a fantasy action adventure that feels much more like The Chronicles of Narnia combined with The Wizard of Oz rather than the fairy tale that this movie should have been. This may be justified somewhat since this is actually more of a sequel, in which Alice returns to Wonderland (or Underland, as we discover) as a young adult who only remembers her first visit in dreams. I enjoyed the look of the movie, and I thought all the bizarre digital distortions turned the characters into living versions of the illustrations found in the original book (I especially loved the Cheshire Cat and the Caterpillar). Johnny Depp did what he could with the role of the Mad Hatter (who is obviously trying to be the Scarecrow), but even though the script attempts to broaden his character with sudden bursts of self-awareness, it's definitely not a surprise that Alice would want to go home rather than stay with him. Speaking of Alice, she's cast well, but no matter how good the actress is, I just can't get into an Alice who puts on armor and kicks butt (in the obligatory huge CG battle at the end of every movie released in the past few years). Actually, I thought the inclusion of the creatures from the poem Jabberwocky was a cool idea, but making them a central part of the plot seemed like a Tim Burton stretch to get some scary images on the screen. Alice in Wonderland will certainly make a lot of money, and people who are out for an exciting adventure will definitely enjoy the movie, but I would much rather watch the classic animated feature which is wonderful enough for me!


Another thrilling decluttering update

All of my decluttering, reducing and reorganizing projects for 2010 are going strong! It may be a little wacky, but I absolutely love working a little on these every day and watching things improve. Here's another semi-boring update that's probably only interesting to me!

I've finished this year's garage reduction, which I think is about the third time I've gone through it completely! I reduced everything by about 50% yet again, which means I have plenty of surplus storage containers. Last time my strategy was to save "one of each thing" (like one old S-video cable, for example), and this year I realized I'm never going to use even that one thing, so it's gone! There were also a few souvenirs that were just taking up space, so I photographed or scanned them and got rid of them, and I'm finally comic book free as well! (Of course, I love comic books, but I'm not into hoarding them anymore.)

My digital projects are going well, too. I've scanned three photo albums worth of prints (and now I can get rid of the albums to make more closet space), and I'm about half finished with my cassette importing (and I'm tossing each old cassette as soon as I have it in iTunes and backed up on my iDisk). I'm almost totally finished with the big iPhoto organization (with face and place tagging), since I only have a few events in 2009 to complete! I've been working on this every day for so long, so it's awesome to see it coming to an end (and soon I'm going to do a giant off-site backup!).

My next project (since I know you are wondering) is to reduce and move around all of my wall hangings. I want to take a minimalist stance and focus on only one hanging per wall (right now I have several "groupings" that I think are cluttered, and they easily get out of alignment with each other, which bugs me), so I've been planning where I want to move things. Some of the surplus will go to my new office (and a few things are already hanging there now), and I've already taken a few framed things that weren't really meaningful to Goodwill. Decluttering is so much fun!


Morning Musume Concert Tour 2009 Aki / Nine Smile : 4 of 5

This latest Morning Musume concert DVD has been long anticipated since it features the graduation ceremony of Koharu, ending the nine-person line-up that has been together for the past few years (the longest in Morning Musume history). This is actually a two DVD set so every moment could be included, and it's definitely an epic and emotional concert! Truthfully, I would have loved to see a Nine Smile performance on a non-graduation night, since it's obvious that the girls are all a little sad right from the beginning, so I think some of the songs lost a little energy. But it's still a wonderful show! Starting out in those "cow" outfits seems a little weird, but I guess there's no way to top the incredible opening of the Platinum 9 concert! Thankfully, the next outfit change is great, and later on the silver costume (with little bow-ties!) is really cool. The stage design seemed simple at first, but when the platforms and stairs started rotating I was really impressed! Sound-wise I think the vocals were actually too high in the mix, which is nice when you're listening to Ai-chan, but reveals too many mistakes for the rest of the girls. There are some great duets (especially Reina and Ai-chan) and solos (Sayumi's opening to Aruiteru is really cute!), and even a quick "reunion" of Sakura Gumi and Otome Gumi, which is really wonderful since Sakura Mankai is just about the best song ever! There's a long medley of B-sides that is creatively put together and performed with great enthusiasm, and of course, Koharu and Sayumi perform their Rainbow Pink duet for the last time (and the crowd seriously goes wild with the chanting!). Finally, the graduation moment arrives, and although I was never really a Koharu fan, the ceremony is full of tender moments and plenty of tears. Sayumi and Koharu forgive each other for all of their rivalry and hug so long that Ai-chan has to break it up! I thought Lin Lin's words were really heartfelt too, and it was funny that Jun Jun was sad she wouldn't have anyone to fight with now. Since Koharu is so weird and silly, the mood keeps changing from somber to bizarre and back again, but I guess she went out with the same goofiness that she's famous for! For any Morning Musume fan, this is definitely a must-see, must-own concert DVD, and while I know the girls can put on a better show, this performance is still fantastic!


Weekend of culture and not-so-cultured

My weekends are either relaxing or completely packed, and this last one was definitely busy! On Friday, I played a fun show with The Greatest American Heroes at the Carousel Lounge, and we had a great crowd and made it through some of our newer material (such as the infamous Good Times/Bob Newhart/Alice medley) with fewer mistakes than usual! On Saturday night, I went to see the Austin Symphony with Matt, and then Sunday was the busiest of all. After church, I had my annual tax appointment with my accountant, then grabbed some quick lunch just in time to make it to a Japanese dance recital with Matt & Kumiko. The performances were really interesting and the little girl dances were super cute, but the best part was seeing Kumiko's friend Midori fully transformed as she did her dance. It was truly beautiful and amazing! Finally, Sunday evening ended with a combo birthday party for my pals Chris and Jonathan, and we all had dinner at the Clay Pit (Indian food is one of the few cuisines that I don't touch, but I was full from lunch so my martini was enough for me!). It was lots of fun talking with everyone and playing with my fake-nephew Emiliano (who says "Mikey" really well now!), but the highlight of the party was my crazy birthday present for Chris! His favorite comedy sitcom is It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (I like it, too), and he loves the episode where they design a product called a Dick Towel. Of course, someone really makes it now, so I had to buy one for Chris, and it was hilarious watching everyone try it on!

View photos: Japanese Dance Recital
View photos: Combo Birthday Party 2010 (semi-adult content)


EA Sports Active / Nintendo Wii : 5 of 5

Several years ago when all my fitness games where PS2-based, I used to really enjoy Yourself!Fitness, since it led me through a series of exercises that worked out entire different muscles than my DDR marathons did. Although that was a great game, it essentially was just a workout video generator, since the PS2 has no way of knowing if you were actually doing the exercises. Now with EA Sports Active and clever use of the Wiimote and nunchuk, I can get a great workout with feedback that helps me do the exercises correctly! I've had this great game since Christmas, but I waited a while to start playing since I was re-addicted to DDR, but now I'm well on my way through the 30-Day Challenge, which is a series of workouts that are designed to work your whole body over a month period. The game comes with two pieces of equipment: a resistance band for arm exercises, and a well-made leg strap that holds the nunchuk (so the game can measure accurate leg movement). Both of these items take some getting used to, but eventually it becomes easier to keep the strap in the right place and hold the resistance band correctly. The exercises do a great job of combining stuff I would never otherwise do (like squats, lunges and various lifts) with fun sports activities like running, inline skating (with cool jumps that totally kill my legs), boxing, tennis, basketball (I love making jump shots), and many more I haven't even experienced yet! Every single activity has a nice live-action instructional video that shows someone doing the exercise with the Wii equipment, which is great since details like Wiimote orientation are often important. While you workout, there are helpful displays of time, calories burned, reps to go, and progress through the routine, and the graphics are pretty cool (with nice details like seeing other areas of the game world pass while you run around the track). The best thing about EA Sports Active is it forces me to work parts of my body that I often ignore by only walking and playing DDR, and my muscles (especially my quads) can really feel it when I finish a routine! I'm looking forward to finishing the 30-Day Challenge (which is going to get more intense, I think), and then continuing my workouts to unlock some more trophies!


Austin Symphony / Barbara Nissman : 4 of 5

Although I wasn't familiar with Barbara Nissman, who was the featured pianist for the Austin Symphony's latest concert, the program selections featuring Rachmanioff and Shostakovich looked too interesting to pass up, and my friend Matt and I thoroughly enjoyed the performance! The concert opened with Rachmaninoff's Vocalise, a short work that was instantly recognizable to me (and still singing through my mind for the rest of the evening), and then continued with Rachmaninoff's third piano concerto, considered one of the most difficult pieces for the instrument. After seeing so many "young and upcoming" featured performers with the Austin Symphony, it was interesting to watch Barbara Nissman, who has certainly spent a lifetime perfecting this incredible piece of music, which kept her fingers flying! I really enjoyed the work, which has lyrical moments combined with incredible flourishes that must make the score look like an explosion of notes. The audience's applause was so long that Nissman decided to play an additional solo piece that was beautiful (I love it when soloists are kind enough to do that!). The second half of the program featured Shostakovich's 5th symphony, which is quite an epic work that requires a huge orchestra including two harps and additional percussion. I have listened to very little Shostakovich, since he's a bit modern for my usual taste, but I was really impressed by this interesting work (and Matt considers it the best piece he's heard the Austin Symphony perform so far), so I'd like to study it further! As always, listening to the Austin Symphony was an inspiring experience, and I appreciate the opportunity to be introduced to more flavors of classical music.