Rumblings, Ruminations, and Retrospectives

Musings from the mind of the Beast.

By

Walking A Mile…

First of all, apologies for not blogging so much lately. There’s been a ton of stuff going on, both personally and professionally, and I’ve found myself busy/exhausted/stressed/not caring/excited and running the gamut of emotions that goes along with all of that.

But, I think we’re back on solid ground here so I’m going to attempt to get this thing back on track. I suppose I’m well overdue with this particular entry.

On January 16th a good friend and co-worker, Ron Peterson, tragically passed away after suffering a brain anuerysm while exercising. At the time, I was on the Web team where I’d been for nearly 7 years. Ron was Team Lead of the Intel team, but prior to that he was actually my leader as he used to lead the Web team as well.

He and I got along really well; we both thought the same way about the workings of things, had a lot of the same ideas, we vented to each other, and Ron was a very big supporter of mine with management. He was always pulling me aside and asking/giving advice, talking about future plans, and ensuring I was doing what I needed to be doing to be in the good books with management and in line for promotions, etc. He was like my big brother around the office, always looking out for me.

Ron made me the Technical Lead for the Web team. That meant I got to do a lot more work for no more pay, but it introduced me to leadership where he taught me everything I know now about being a leader. He gave me the freedom to get things done on that team as I saw fit. Ron gave me the confidence to become a leader, backed me up when I was right and corrected me when I was wrong – yet supported me at the same time.

Ron’s passing left a huge hole on the Intel team without his leadership – shoes that no one could ever expect to fill, because Ron was, well… Ron. You can’t replace him. Ever. Besides his leadership and technical knowledge, Ron was a funny guy, fiercely loyal, and ever-omnipresent. Even though he sat almost all the way across the room, he’d call you on the phone and you could hear him both through the headset and in real-time over the air – Ron was always in stereo. He loved hanging out with his team, telling stories, and having a good time – even though he was a leader, he never felt above anyone else. He was a great family man and worked tirelessly for charitable organzizations.

I could go on and on about him, but suffice to say Ron was an excellent leader and an amazing human being. We all miss him very much.

I’ve been fortunate enough to be selected as Ron’s successor (again, never a replacement) to lead the Intel team. I write this blog post because I find it to be an incredible and amazing circle of fate that after all Ron did for me, I now sit at his desk, in his role, doing his work, and leading his team. It’s exactly what he would have wanted.

I just wish he was here to see it.

By

It’s The Zombie Apocalypse!

aka: ZOMBIES~! aka: I need to see a therapist.

Over the past six to eight months, I’ve been having a series of dreams. No, I don’t mean recurring dreams, I mean a series. It’s like an entire DVD set of a television show is being played out in my mind as I sleep. It’s a damned serial!

After discussing these events with my co-workers, they’ve convinced me to blog about it to not only have a record of it so I can keep track, but apparently it’s entertaining enough that they want to keep up on it as well. So, here we go.

I’ll start with a six or seven month summary, all of which was fairly bland and boring and repetitive.

For the first large portion of this on-going serial drama playing out in the deepest, darkest recesses of the bizarre universe know as my brain, the dreams actually did have a recurring theme, but yet it was serialized. I know. Strange.

The dreams are in a summer setting, in a barren future version of Winnipeg, and began with me walking down an empty street, minding my own business. Suddenly, a veritable legion of ZOMBIES comes pouring out from the buildings on the sides of the street, falling in to one gigantic pack, limping, lumbering, dragging legs and swinging arms as only the best of zombies can with their heads lopped to one side. They have begun their sole quest, their quest for brains.

MY BRAINS.

So I do what any normal, unarmed, scared shitless, non-undead human would do. I RUN FOR IT.

But here’s the kicker and the serial part of my dreams – no matter how far I run, no matter how fast I go, no matter where I hide… they always find me. This continues on for nights on end. The zombies chase me. I run away. They continue to chase me. I outrun them – which is a massive miracle in itself cause I’m a pretty big guy and the only running I normally do is to get to the door before the pizza guy leaves. But it’s an unending chain of events – they chase me, I run, run and hide, and run some more, and no matter what I do or how far I run, moments after I stop to rest the zombies are there to try and take my brains. I take off again, and invariably that’s where I would wake up.

This would go on and on for six or seven months. It’s unreal. And every night, it’s a different street, a different house, a different business or office building.

But here’s the twist. Over the last few weeks, the dreams have started evolving.

On one night, I ran into an abandoned house in search of refuge, and there it was; my first semblance of assistance throughout this whole ordeal. Leaning up against a wall, its blade gleaming, its hilt immaculately designed – a razor sharp katana sword. All the better to separate zombie heads from bodies with!

So, I proceed back out into the street, armed with my katana blade and a new found confidence, I’m prepared to fight these bastards. If I can’t outrun them, I’m going to fight them. I continue my walk through the street, blade at the ready, prepared for a zombie onslaught. Minutes, hours go by before I run into any of them, but suddenly, there it is. A lone zombie clumsily climbs through a broken window and comes lumbering towards me across the street. I arm myself with my blade, and as the zombie approaches I perform my best Sho Kosugi impersonation (look him up, folks) and liberate the zombie’s head from his shoulders.

But does the Zombie drop dead? No! He SHRUGS like it was no big deal, reaches down and picks up his head, and REATTACHES it to his neck! The chase begins anew, and once again I take off, and at this point I wake up.

What the…?

At this point, I’m sharing these stories with my co-workers. Where we work, we use an AWFUL piece of software for our trouble ticketing system called Remedy. It’s usless, it crashes, it’s slow, it fails randomly, and everyone in the office absolutely hates it. So one of my co-workers christens my sword the Blade of Futility and compares it to using this software – it just doesn’t work!

The next recollection I have is running away from the aforementioned reattached-head zombie and running into another building, where I’m summarily surrounded by the undead beasts. I start hacking and slashing and fighting away with the Blade of Futility, and this time I’m actually DROPPING zombies where they stand, but the numbers are too great. The Blade of Futility is knocked from my hands, so I start punching, kicking, using every Muay Thai combo I’ve ever been shown, even ripping heads from bodies with my bare hands to fight my way through the horde and escape, thankfully with my brains intact – and I wake up.

In our next episode, I somehow reclaim the Blade of Futility on my travels, and once again face a horde of zombies – albeit a much smaller horde – and this time I manage to chop them up and lay them all to waste. SUCCESS! Or is it?

As I stand looking over the slain zombies to ensure none of them will get up and plunge a straw into my cranium and start feasting on my brains, the ground starts to quake, the concrete begins to crack, the buildings rumble and start to break apart and the very ground in front of me opens up… and this MASSIVE 20-foot tall zombie with a physique that makes Arnold Schwarzenegger on steroids look like PeeWee Herman rises up out of the rubble and stares at me like I’m going to become his next meal. Not just my brains – ALL of me.

So of course I wake up.

Are you entertained yet?

I honestly have no idea where this comes from. I really don’t have any kind of a fear of zombies. I watched Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” as a young kid and loved it. I have no idea where it’s going next. But now that we’re all up to speed and this is semi-documented for posterity, I’ll keep y’all updated as new developments happen.

Maybe I should make a movie out of this.

By

Yup, There’s An App For That! (Or This!)

Translation: This blog now has a Windows 8 app! #SHOCKING

If you’re running Windows 8, I’ve released an app in the Windows Store so you can read my blog from either this web site (where you are now), or, well, the app. Which is the reason for this post. Umm, duh.

Go ahead! What are you waiting for? Download the app using the Windows Store badge below (if for no other reason that I can see the download numbers go up LOL)!

By

Scratching The Surface

Not literally. ;)

2012 has been a pretty big year for Microsoft.

Hotmail got upgraded to Outlook.com. The company shifted focus from a software company to a devices and services organization. Multiple services (Live Mesh/Skydrive, Zune/XBox Music, etc) were streamlined down into single, more potent offerings. Skype was purchased. The next edition of their flagship operating system, Windows 8, was released. The upgrade to their phone operating system, Windows Phone 8, was released alongside a bevy of awesome handsets from Nokia, HTC, and Samsung. And in what might some consider the biggest surprise of the year, the technology giant released their own tablet – Microsoft Surface.

It was a move that got a lot of folks talking. Does this signify a shift away from partner hardware makers like Dell and Lenovo? How do those partners feel about Microsoft putting out their own product and taking away potential sales? Does this mean a Microsoft-produced phone is on the way?

Of course I have opinions on those topics and much more about Microsoft, but those will have to wait for another time and another blog entry.

But, being the unabashed Microsoft fan-boy that I am (I will certainly criticize when necessary, but come on, the company is doing some AMAZING things), I, too, turned 2012 into my own personal Year-Of-Microsoft.

I made the switch to Outlook.com. I’ve started doing much more in the cloud with Skydrive and Office web documents. I subscribed to a XBox Music Pass. I upgraded both my desktop and laptop to Windows 8 Pro on the day the OS was released. I purchased a Nokia Lumia 920 with Windows Phone 8, and – the whole purpose of this post – I bought a Microsoft Surface tablet.

So let me tell you all about it.

I wasn’t initially sure I would ever use a tablet. But then I realized there are times where I don’t want to go sit at my desk or keep my eyes on my laptop to watch Twitter or Facebook. I can sit in my big chair and have a tablet on the table next to me when I need it. I can take it into bed and watch Netflix without hauling a laptop in there and finding somewhere to plug it in and keep it afterwards. Basically, I could have something just to watch – to consume content on, whether it’s a movie or a Twitter stream – and not worry about *doing*.

When I ordered my Surface, I chose to get just the 32 GB tablet only version, with no keyboard. I decided that, like I said above, this would be a consumption device and if I wanted to do anything more than compose a quick Tweet or Facebook update or fire off a quick email, then I could go grab my laptop for those tasks that required a focus on typing or creating a graphic in Photoshop, or whatever the more complicated task would be.

Right now, I’m writing this on my laptop with my Surface right beside me so I can glance at it and keep an eye on my Twitter stream.

Here’s a quick rundown of the specs of the device.

Operating System/Included Software: Windows RT; Microsoft Office Home and Student 2013 RT Preview (Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and OneNote). Works exclusively with apps available in the Windows Store.

There are also included, dedicated apps for Mail, People, Calendar, Photos, Games, Maps, IE 10, and much more.

My thoughts: There has been mass confusion all over the industry about the purpose of Windows RT and that it’s not clear that it only runs apps from the Windows Store (and select Microsoft-provided applications on the desktop) but does not run regular desktop applications. I don’t know where this “confusion” comes from. It’s Windows 8 minus the desktop compatibility. I know Microsoft doesn’t want me drawing this conclusion, but when you see RT, think of this as the Microsoft version of the iPad – you access apps from the Store and install them onto the device.

The included Office preview has shown to be excellent so far, and it will be automatically upgraded to the full version when it is released. Some of the default applications (Mail, People, Calendar, etc) in some ways feel like they are feature incomplete, but this is entirely a Windows 8 issue than it is a Surface problem. These applications are a 1.0 version product and are immature at this point. They will be updated and improved on over time. That being said, it must be noted for users where their only exposure to Windows 8 is through a Surface tablet.

One thing that I thought was going to be a sticking point is the on-screen keyboard. The default size was too big for me to properly type while holding the device in my hands and using my thumbs as I would with a phone; however, you should know that the keyboard is resizable, and once I made it smaller my hands now fit the device perfectly and my typing speed is improving every time I use the device.

While just as excellent on a desktop or laptop, where Windows 8 really shines is on a tablet/touch device. When you  hold the Surface in your hands, all the touch gestures are right at your thumb tips and are fairly intuitive; switching between applications, bringing up search options or settings, as well as the menu bar for applications is quick and simple. The touch gestures are well integrated and designed; they work perfectly on a touch device.

OS/Software Score: 8.5/10

Windows 8 is excellent, but there are still some improvements to be made.

Device Exterior:

Size: 10.81 x 6.77 x 0.37in
Weight: 1.5lbs
VaporMg casing
Dark Titanium color
Volume and Power buttons
Dedicated Windows/Start button
Integrated Kickstand

My thoughts: The Surface feels vey good in my hands. It feels solid without being too heavy. The buttons are easily accessible without too much effort. The VaporMg casing and dark color look and feel FANTASTIC. The integrated kickstand is awesome, allowing you to look at the device while watching a movie or monitoring your Twitter feed without having to hold it all the time.

Device Score: 10/10

The device feels and looks great, and you can tell it has been excellently constructed. This is a home run.

Storage:

The Surface comes in 32 GB and 64 GB configurations. You can also add up to 64 GB more through the included microSD card slot.   There has been a bit of an uproar about the Surface’s storage – if you buy a 32 GB version as I have, Windows 8 and the included applications and Office 2013 RT take up half the available storage space (I’ve even read more on some sites).

Ok, first off… people, this isn’t rocket surgery. If you have a fixed chunk of storage, and you put “stuff” on it right off the bat, you’re going to be left with less storage than you started with. Put it this way, you have an empty garage and tons of room, but when you put your car in it, you have significantly less room.

I don’t know why there’s such an outrage about this; I think one thing that might be making it tough, is that the space taken up by Windows and a core subset of applications just isn’t noticed when you have a 500 or 750 GB or 1 TB (or larger) hard drive in your laptop or desktop computer. But, when you start with a significantly smaller piece of storage, that initial bite actually looks really big. Microsoft is very clear about this, so if this is an issue for you, purchase the 64 GB version – or buy a microSD card to expand. The included microSD slot is a great option to deal with this.

For the record, my 32 GB Surface showed 16.9 GB free storage after initial setup, which is more than has been reported.

Storage score: 9/10

Microsoft provides similar storage options to the iPad, and the microSD slot is a great touch.

Display:

10.6″ ClearType HD Display
Resolution: 1366×768 pixels
Aspect Ratio: 16:9 (widescreen)
5-point multi-touch

The Surface offers a bigger display than iPad (9.7″), and it flat out looks amazing. Text is crisp and very readable and colors are sharp. The display also is very responsive and fluid.

Display Score: 10/10

CPU:

Quad-core NVIDIA Tegra 3 with 2GB RAM

CPU Score: 9/10

The Surface blisters through Windows Store applications; switching between them is fast and responsive. Games also appear not to tax the system, but the only negative I’ve found is that desktop applications (Office, Windows system utilities) seem to lag just a little bit. It’s not enough to be annoying or to be a deal breaker, but it is noticeable.

Wireless/Connectivity:

Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n)
Bluetooth 4.0 technology

Score: 9/10

Not much to say here; both the WiFi and Bluetooth work as expected. The WiFi is abundantly fast. The only thing I would have liked to see here to really get under Apple’s skin is a version with 3G/4G cellular connectivity as well for on-the-go use. There’s enough WiFi out there to get the job done, but it’s just one of those features that could have really put the Surface over the top.

Battery:

31.5 W-h

I’ve read and heard others talk about 8-9 hours of battery life, but I have not been able to put this to the test yet. I was out over the weekend and had my Surface on, and was using Twitter and email on and off, as well as playing some games, and total usage was about 6 hours and my last check before I turned off the device was 57% battery remaining. This was by no means *heavy* usage, but the end game here is that the device more than adequately lasted a significant period off of power and did everything I needed it to do and there was a whole ton more in the tank.

Battery score: 10/10

Even if the reported 8-9 hours is correct, that’s one heck of a job and more than enough for my usage habits and is competitive with the iPad.

Cameras/Audio/Video:

Two 720p HD LifeCams, front- and rear-facing
Two microphones
Stereo speakers

Cameras/Audio/Video Score: 8/10

All the audio/video hardware appears to be adequate for every day use. Skype calls have been clean and sound good. The two negatives I’ve found is that the cameras do not do seem to do well in low-light situations, and the volume of the speakers could be a little bit louder. I’m especially critical of the cameras (maybe a little too critical) as I’ve seen what Nokia can do with their cameras in low-light so maybe my Lumia 920 has spoiled me. There is also a headphone jack to help compensate with the sound. That being said, the hardware will get you through most daily use.

Ports:

Full-size USB 2.0
microSDXC card slot
Headset jack
HD video out port
Cover port

Ports Score: 9/10

There is not much to say here; you can connect virtually any device through USB, and the included headphone jack and microSD slot are added bonuses. I would have liked to see full-blown USB 3.0 but I also understand there has to be feature separation between the RT and Pro versions of the tablet. If you’re a power user though, this may be a sticking point for you.

Power Supply:

24W power supply

Power Supply Score: 9/10

There’s a great bonus with the Surface’s power supply, and that is that it’s magnetic and doesn’t have to be physically inserted into the device. This saves you tripping over it and dragging your device all over the place, or if you drop it you don’t have to worry about dropping it and ruining the port, device, or power supply. The one negative to it is that the magnetic piece that connects to the Surface is a slightly awkward configuration and you have to pay attention to make sure it’s connected properly.

Surface Overall Score: 91.5/100

Final thoughts:

Microsoft’s Surface is an excellent device; the look, feel, and performance of the device are all good to excellent. It’s a beautiful device, and you can tell that its construction is top-notch; both of these are great for a first-generation model. While there are a few items as I’ve pointed out throughout this article that can be done to make it reach that elite level, I think the Surface is a home run. I showed it to a friend, who, after using it for an hour, proclaimed: “Trying a Win8 Surface… sold. iPad can suck it.”

I don’t think I can put it any better than that. If you’re looking for a tablet, the Surface is an excellent contender.

By

2012 C4Con

This past weekend I made it to the Central Canada Comic Con (C4Con). Good times, good times. I did a full review over at A1-Wrestling.com. Go here to read!

By

Smartphone Smackdown Part 2!

Back, by popular demand – and by popular, I mean by request of one reader…

Hey, I have a reader!

I recently did the Smartphone Smackdown, where I compared the upcoming Nokia Lumia 920 (to be released in just a few weeks!) against the new iPhone 5. I was asked to compare the Lumia 920 and the Samsung Galaxy S3, so, being one not to disappoint my reader, here it is – in the same format as the last post for easy comparison.

Once again, I’ll compare the two phones in several categories, including design, included hardware/specs, and software features.

ON TO THE SMACKDOWN!

DESIGN

Nokia Lumia 920

The Skinny: The Samsung S3 is a sleek looking device, available in three colors – white, dark red, and blue. The phone is very similar to most other Samsung designs – rectangular with rounded corners – though the rounded edges of the S3 are more pronounced than the iPhone which separates the two. The S3 has a nice silver ring around the bezel that seems to give the phone a higher end look. Nokia breaks the mold of the rounded corners and has gone with a unibody rectangular design and curved back that looks great. The Lumia 920 is available in black, white, gray, red, and yellow – and more colors will be released in the future.

My Take: Once again, everyone’s taste in design is different, and this is wholly subjective. I really like the look of the S3. The colors are nice, and the look of the phone instantly makes me think quality. The Nokia Lumia 920 has a fresh new look, that matches the operating system underneath and it’s available in multiple colors which allows for a more personalized experience, especially to match the theme of the Windows Phone OS. The S3 loses a couple points due to it looking like most every other Samsung phone, and I just really like the look of the 920.

Design Winner: Nokia Lumia 920


Size and Weight

The Skinny: Here’s a rundown of the dimensions of each phone:

Lumia 920 Galaxy S3
Height: 130.3 mm 136.6 mm
Width: 70.8 mm 70.6 mm
Depth: 10.7 mm 8.6 mm
Weight: 185 g 133 g

My take: Just looking at the specs, both phones are almost identical in size; the Galaxy S3 is just a couple millimeters thinner, but it is significantly lighter. Again, I would have to hold each phone and see how they felt in my hand – size is not a major decision factor to me personally, especially in this case where both phones are so close in size, it’s a wash.

Size and Weight Winner: Draw

DISPLAY

The Skinny: Here’s a breakdown on the displays of both devices.

Lumia 920 Galaxy S3
Screen Size: 4.5″ 4.8″
Resolution: 1280 x 768 1280 x 720
Pixel Density: 332 ppi 306 ppi

My take: Finally. Two phones with awesome huge screens. None of this 3.5″ or 4″ stuff. Both the Lumia and the Galaxy go for it with top end size, and that means more stuff on your screen. I love it.

Here’s the deal with me for these two phones. The S3 has a slightly larger screen – but at less resolution than the Lumia. What this means comparitively, is that graphics and video will look better on the 920 – if you zoom to look at pictures or read web pages, those elements will look better. That, combined with the increased pixel density means your Lumia display will ultimately be sharper than the S3.

Oh yeah. You can still USE GLOVES – OR A FORK (why, I don’t know) on the Lumia display.

Display Winner: Nokia Lumia 920

PROCESSOR

The Skinny: Both phones use the Snapdragon S4 dual-core 1.5 Ghz processor.

My take: Not much to say here.

Processor Winner: Draw

INTERNAL MEMORY

The Skinny: The Lumia 920 comes with 1 GB of internal memory, while the S3 features 2 GB.

My take: More RAM is better.

Internal Memory Winner: Samsung Galaxy S3

STORAGE

The Skinny: The S3 comes in two different models with different amounts of storage: 16 GB and 32 GB. The S3 also features a microSD slot that allows up to an additional 32 GB of storage. The Nokia Lumia 920 comes with 32 GB of storage.

My take: The S3 has more storage options, and their top end is higher than the Lumia 920.

Storage Winner: Samsung Galaxy S3

CELLUAR AND WIRELESS

The Skinny: Again, I won’t bore you with a whole ton of technical specifications here, but both devices support GSM, CDMA, and LTE. Both devices have wireless networking built-in, supporting 802.11a/b/g/n. Both phones have Bluetooth support, and both phones also support Near Field Communications (NFC).

My take: Both phone support a lot of different communication protocols and will accomplish pretty much everything the average user needs to do.

Celluar and Wireless Winner: Draw

BATTERY LIFE

The skinny: Here’s a chart on what you can expect for battery performance with the two devices:

Lumia 920 Galaxy S3
Capacity: 2000 mAh 2100 mAh
3G Talk Time: 10 h 8 h
3G Standby: 400 h 250 h
Music Playback: 67 h N/A

My take: Like the iPhone 5 before it, the Lumia crushes the S3 in battery life with more talk time and nearly double the standby time. The Lumia 920 has almost DOUBLE the standby time as the S3. Both phones support wireless charging, although it is standard/built in to the Lumia 920, and the S3 requires an add-on back cover for this support.

Battery Life Winner: Nokia Lumia 920

 

CONNECTORS/ACCESSORIES

The Skinny: Both the S3 and the Lumia use industry-standard (oh hai, Apple!) micro-USB connectors for charging and data transfer.

My take: Not much to talk about here.

Connectors/Accessories Winner: Draw

 

CAMERA

The Skinny: Both cameras feature main cameras on the back of the phones and a secondary, front-facing camera at 1.9 MP for video calls. Both devices have a front-facing camera at 720p. The S3 rear cameras is 8 MP, the Lumia 920 8.7 MP, featuring image stabiliaztion and sport full HD for video. Both feature 4x zoom, while the S3 has an aperture of f/2.6 and the Lumia sports a more capable f/2.0 that lets in more light for better images.

My take: Like in the previous smackdown, the specs are again fairly close, but the Lumia 920 does feature higher camera resolution and a better aperture allows in more light for superior low-light performance. The other major kicker is image stabilization, which in demos I have seen online, the Lumia 920 has the S3 outclassed.

Camera Winner: Nokia Lumia 920

 

AUDIO/VIDEO

The Skinny: Both phones support video and audio playback in a multitude of formats, and can access millions of songs and videos from their respective online stores. Both the S3 and the Lumia 920 support audio playback to a number of devices and accessories, and include headphones for private playback. Both devices will also wirelessly send audio to NFC supported devices (tap to share), and both uses the DLNA standard (oh hai, Apple!) to stream video directly to your TV.

My take: I don’t think there’s much more I can say about these phones. They’re basically the same. If you’re heavily invested in one app/music store, that may help you make your decision.

Audio/Video Winner: Draw

 

OPERATING SYSTEM

The Skinny: The Galaxy S3 runs Android 4.0.4 (Ice Cream Sandwich), and the Nokia Lumia 920 will run on the Windows Phone 8 operating system. I am not going to go into the fine details of every feature of each operating system, as I’ve not had a lot of hands-on with the Android OS but I’m familiar enough with it.

Overall Operating System thoughts: Those familiar with the Android OS may be big fans. I happen to see the Android OS in two different ways, both a negative and a positive. The negative is that the OS looks almost like a copy of the iOS on the iPhone – it’s very much a screen of a grid of icons with a home row on the bottom that does virtually the same thing the iPhone does. The plus(es) are that Android allows you to add widgets to your home screen, like a live calendar, post-it notes, clocks, the weather, etc. For power users and geeks, the OS is infinitely more customizeable than other phone OSes, with support for widgets, themes, and more.

The Windows Phone operating system is simply more beautiful, elegant, and different with it’s Live Tile system (which are essentially widgets but in a standard tile fashion). Live Tiles will show you how many unread emails, phone calls, and text messages you have, the weather, calendar, weather, and apps like Twitter will let you pin Live Tiles to your home screen to show you how many mentions you have, DM’s waiting. Facebook will show you how many messages you have – all on your home screen. Native XBox gaming, Office support, and the deep integration and functionality of the Hub concept is something no other mobile OS can yet touch – and it’s only getting better with Nokia and Windows Phone 8.

When I went looking for my first smart phone, I evaluated them all, and I have totally bought in to the Windows Phone Live Tile and Hub system, and the design elegance with its simplicity and excellent typography. Even though the Android OS is ultimately more customizable, there is so much to the Windows Phone OS that is just part of the standard OS that you don’t have to add widgets or apps for, it’s all baked in – and to me that makes for the better experience.

Operating System winner: Windows Phone (Nokia)

Overall thoughts: This contest is ultimately more close than the 920 vs iPhone 5 smackdown, but the Lumia still wins in more categories this time around. The OS category is obviously something that’s a personal experience and subjective, but even if you take away that category and the other subjective one – Design – the Lumia still wins more categories, 3-2. The S3 has excellent specs and is a very good phone, but the Nokia Lumia 920 outperforms the S3 in more categories.

Smartphone Smackdown Winner: NOKIA LUMIA 920

I think I’ll do a Nokia Lumia 920 vs. HTC 8X soon, to find out which phone is the ULTIMATE Windows Phone.

By

Smartphone Smackdown!

Yes, Smackdown – for us wrestling fans – is one word. ;)

The smart phone industry has been abuzz recently as several companies have been announcing new devices for the upcoming fall and holiday seasons. A few weeks Samsung has announced the ATIV S. Two weeks ago, Nokia unveiled their new flagship phone, the Lumia 920 running Windows Phone 8, and last week Apple released the iPhone 5 on iOS 6.

This post will be about how the Nokia Lumia 920 (my phone of choice of the new devices) and the iPhone 5 (phone of the iFlock) stack up head-to-head.

I’ll compare the two phones in several categories, including design, included hardware/specs, and software features.

ON TO THE SMACKDOWN!

DESIGN

Nokia Lumia 920 iPhone 5

 

The Skinny: The iPhone design hasn’t changed since the phone was originally released in 2007, and while some manufacturers have adopted the iPhone look in some way with a rectangular design and rounded corners, Nokia breaks the mold and has gone with a unibody rectangular design that looks great. You can get an iPhone in any color you want as long as it’s black or white. The Lumia 920 is available in black, white, gray, red, and yellow – and more colors will be released in the future.

My Take: Of course, everyone’s taste in design is different, and this is wholly subjective. I like the look of the iPhone. I always have, but we’ve gone on 5 years and 6 versions of the iPhone with literally no change in the look of the device (although they did enlarge the screen). The Nokia Lumia 920 has a fresh new look, and it’s available in multiple colors which allows for a more personalized experience.

Design Winner: Nokia Lumia 920


SIZE AND WEIGHT

The Skinny: The one major change Apple made this year with the iPhone was the size of the screen – it’s now a 4 inch display. Here’s a rundown of the dimensions of each phone:

Lumia 920 iPhone 5
Height: 130.3 mm 123.8 mm
Width: 70.8 mm 58.6 mm
Depth: 10.7 mm 7.6 mm
Weight: 185 g 112 g

My take: The iPhone 5 is smaller and lighter than the Nokia Lumia 920 – because the Lumia has a larger screen and bigger battery. To some people, being smaller and lighter is a major factor in a phone purchase; I would have to hold each phone and see how they felt in my hand – size is not a major decision factor to me personally. It’s a wash.

Size and Weight Winner: Draw

DISPLAY

The Skinny: Here’s a breakdown on the displays of both devices.

Lumia 920 iPhone 5
Screen Size: 4.5″ 4″
Resolution: 1280 x 768 1136 x 640
Pixel Density: 332 ppi 326 ppi

My take: With the iPhone 5, Apple *finally* comes up with a respectable screen size – the 3.5″ screen size of previous iPhones was just not big enough. The Lumia has a bigger screen at 4.5″, but like size and weight, display size directly affects the size of the device, so it’s a personal decision on what works for you and feels good in your hand.

The big deal out of this is that Apple has been raving about that super high quality of their “Retina” display. The fact is the Lumia 920 has a higher resolution (true HD) while the iPhone 5 has a really odd resolution because Apple made the display longer, but not wider. The Lumia 920 also has a higher pixel per inch density, which means the there’s more dots per inch – the display is sharper, and combined with a higher resolution, the Lumia 920 has a superior display.

Oh yeah. You can USE GLOVES on the Lumia display.

Display Winner: Nokia Lumia 920

 

PROCESSOR

The Skinny: Both phones use dual-core processors. Apple uses a new A6 processor running at 1.066 Ghz. The Lumia 920 uses a Snapdragon S4 dual-core 1.5 Ghz processor.

My take: I think it will be safe to say that both manufacturers have tuned their processors and their OSes to run as best they can. Apple *says* the iPhone 5 is 2x faster than iPhone 4S, but that’s a relative term. However, going by specs alone, the Lumia 920 has a faster clock speed.

Processor Winner: Nokia Lumia 920

 

INTERNAL MEMORY

The Skinny: Both devices feature 1 GB of internal memory.

My take: Next.

Internal Memory Winner: Draw

 

STORAGE

The Skinny: The iPhone 5 comes in three different models with different amounts of storage: 16 GB, 32 GB, and 64 GB. The Nokia Lumia 920 comes with 32 GB of storage.

My take: This one’s simple. The iPhone 5 has more storage options, and their top end is higher than the Lumia 920.

Storage Winner: iPhone 5

 

CELLUAR AND WIRELESS

The Skinny: I won’t bore you with a whole ton of technical specifications here, but both devices support GSM, CDMA, and LTE – the iPhone 5 supports LTE for the first time. Both devices have wireless networking built-in, supporting 802.11a/b/g/n. Both phones have Bluetooth support. The Nokia Lumia 920 also supports Near Field Communications (NFC).

My take: Both phone support a lot of different communication protocols and will accomplish pretty much everything the average user needs to do. The breaking point here is the Lumia 920 supports NFC and the iPhone 5 does not. NFC will allow for secure payments by tapping the phone to a payment terminal, playing games, streaming music, and a host of other functions that the iPhone will simply not be capable of.

Celluar and Wireless Winner: Nokia Lumia 920

 

BATTERY LIFE

The skinny: Here’s a chart on what you can expect for battery performance with the two devices:

Lumia 920 iPhone 5
Capacity: 2000 mAh 1440 mAh
3G Talk Time: 10 h 8 h
3G Standby: 400 h 225 h
Music Playback: 67 h 40 h

*Note: The mAh of the iPhone 5 is not verified by Apple, but the rest of the numbers are. I found the mAh number for the iPhone on a manufacturer site.

My take: This one isn’t even close. The Nokia Lumia 920 crushes the iPhone 5 in battery performance. The Lumia 920 has almost DOUBLE the standby time as the iPhone 5. The Lumia 920 also supports wireless charging through a number of official accessories, something the iPhone 5 cannot do.

Battery Life Winner: Nokia Lumia 920

 

CONNECTORS/ACCESSORIES

The Skinny: The iPhone used to have a proprietary 30 pin connector used for data synching and charging, used for both the iPhone and iPod. With the iPhone 5 Apple has changed this to another smaller, proprietary connector. The Nokia Lumia 920 uses a standard micro-USB connector for data and charging.

My take: Switchting to yet another proprietary connector is a giant mistake from Apple, and is a let down. Tech pundits had assume the change was going to be towards micro-USB like other manufacturers, but they switched to yet another proprietary format – breaking support for all your docks, radios, speakers, etc. But don’t worry – Apple will gladly sell you yet ANOTHER accessory to make them work together. I much rather prefer a standard – if I’m in a bind and need to charge my phone, I can grab a standard connector from a friend or any electronics store without paying the ridiculous price Apple charges for their accessories.

Connectors/Accessories Winner: Nokia Lumia 920

 

CAMERA

The Skinny: Both cameras feature main cameras on the back of the phones and a secondary, front-facing camera for video calls. Both devices have a front-facing camera at 720p, and main cameras sporting full HD for video. The main difference is the iPhone 5 camera is 8 MP, and the Nokia Lumia 920 is 8.7 MP.

My take: The specs seem to be fairly close, but they don’t tell the whole story. Most people think that more megapixels (MP) is better, but this is only the case if you have the sensor in the camera to make use of all that extra data, and this is where the Lumia 920 excels. The main camera sensor has no competitor in the way it handles low-light situations, and it’s image stabilization is off the charts. During the 920 demonstration, the presenter grabbed the camera, started recording video, and then shook the camera up and down really hard, jolting it all over, and there was NOT.ONE.PIXEL.OF.BOUNCE. It’s ridiculous. Nokia’s Pureview HD technology simply wipes the floor with the competitors. Apple made a big deal about adding panoramic support, but the Lumia already had that in it’s previous models. The Lumia also features a dedicated camera button the device, the iPhone does not.

Camera Winner: Nokia Lumia 920

 

AUDIO/VIDEO

The Skinny: Both phones support video and audio playback in a multitude of formats, and can access millions of songs and videos from their respective online stores. Both the iPhone 5 and the Lumia 920 support audio playback to a number of devices and accessories, and include headphones for private playback. The Lumia 920 will also wirelessly send audio to NFC supported devices such as a wireless speaker. The iPhone will stream video out to an Apple TV device. The Lumia 920 uses the DLNA standard to stream video directly to your TV.

My take: Both phones offer great audio and video playback in HD both on the phone and to a number of supported devices. The iPhone lags behind in video playback because you MUST buy further into the Apple ecosystem and purchase additional devices to access the video streaming feature while the Lumia 920 again supports a standard (DLNA) to send video directly to your TV without the need for an additional device. You can also stream audio wirelessly via NFC to a host of supported devices without the need of tying your phone down to a dock or cable.

Audio/Video Winner: Nokia Lumia 920

 

OPERATING SYSTEM

The Skinny: iPhone 5 will run on iOS 6, and the Nokia Lumia 920 will run on the Windows Phone 8 operating system. I am not going to go into the fine details of every feature of each operating system, but let’s at least look at the major feature changes that iOS boasts:

Maps: With iPhone 5, Apple has dropped Google Maps as the default mapping solution and adopted their own. Apple says the maps are more detailed, and features flyover, turn by turn navigation, and traffic information. Nokia includes their own mapping solution (Nokia Maps), turn by turn navigation and route info (Nokia Drive) – it even has speed camera warnings and speed limit information. Nokia Transport features live public transit information. Nokia City Lens also lets you point your camera down a street and the names of businesses, locations, and landmarks will appear on the screen.

My take: While iPhone Maps is good, Nokia Maps with Drive, Lens, and Transport is Maps on Steroids. Nokia is the clear winner here.

Voice Commands: Apple has Siri – which can finally handle application launching in iOS6. Windows Phone 7 has had voice activiated app launching since the OS launched.

My take: I suppose the mere presence of Siri should give Apple the nod here, but it’s STILL in Beta since the iPhone 4S, and even Apple users say it sucks, despite what the cute commercials say. Apple is still adding features that WP users have enjoyed since the OS launched. Siri is just an app, and there are two great ones (Assistant and Ask Ziggy) for Windows Phone what will give you (working!) Siri functionality. I’ll make this one a wash.

Facebook: Both OSes feature Facebook functions integrated directly into the operating system. You set up your Facebook account on the phone, and it integrates your Facebook contacts into your own, allows you to send messages, write on users’ walls, and share information with your Facebook friends.

My take: Again, Windows Phone has had this integration since the very first release of the operating system. Another wash.

Shared Photo Streams: iOS 6 allows you to share photos with your friends by selecting a picture in the Photos app and selecting Share. Friends using iCloud get the photos right away. If your friends don’t have iCloud, then can access a site on the web to see the pictures.

My take: This is a huge fail for Apple. Again, it’s a closed ecosystem. In Windows Phone OS, you can share to Facebook, email, post to Twitter, SMS, upload to SkyDrive, and send to a host of different applications. Windows Phone takes this one.

Passbook: Like a virtual wallet, Passbook allows you to store information on all your various loyalty cards: your Starbucks card, hotel cards, airlines, coupons, concert tickets, etc and call those up when required.

My take: This is a cool feature and this is where we’re headed with technology – everything stored virtually. Windows Phone 8 will feature something called Microsoft Wallet which allows you to store payment information and make purchases, but I’m unsure how it willl compare to the loyalty card, coupons, and other features. For now I’ll give this one to iOS until I hear more.

Facetime: Use your front-facing camera to make a video call to other iOS users.

My take: FaceTime sucks, it doesn’t work, and no one I know uses it. Again, it’s a closed standard only for the Apple environment. There’s a host of free apps (hello, Skype, anyone? Tango, etc) that can do video calling and no one I know would never buy an iPhone just for FaceTime. Nor would I. It’s just an add on that no one care about. Next.

Safari: Apple’s browser for the Internet.

My take: LOL. Anything it can do, IE 10 can do better. WP takes this one.

Find My Phone: If you’ve lost or misplaced your phone you can remotely lock it and display a message to anyone that finds it. It will also report it’s location to help you try and find it.

My take: Again, this is something that Windows Phone has offered since the beginning. WP also takes this a step further that if you’re absolutely sure your device is actually gone (ie: has been stolen, or say you left it in another city on travel) and there’s no chance of recovery, Windows Phone allows you to remotely wipe the phone so no one has access to your personal data. Again, Windows Phone is the winner.

Overall Operating System thoughts: iOS has some excellent new features, but for the most part they are simply catching up with every other mobile OS out there already has, and still features a grid of icons that do nothing but sit there. The Windows Phone operating system is simply more beautiful, elegant, and different with it’s Live Tile system. Native XBox gaming, Office support, and the deep integration and functionality of the Hub concept is something no other mobile OS can yet touch – and it’s only getting better with Nokia and Windows Phone 8.

Operating System winner: Windows Phone (Nokia)
Overall thoughts: It’s absolutely plain to see. The Nokia Lumia 920 is the Windows Phone 8 flagship phone and for good reason. It’s a gorgeous looking phone, and the specifications don’t lie – the Nokia Lumia 920 outperforms the iPhone 5 in almost every single key indicator. The superior hardware and its features, battery life, display, camera, operating system, and exclusive software make the Nokia Lumia 920 THE hottest smartphone in the industry.


Smartphone Smackdown Winner: NOKIA LUMIA 920

The only drawback is that I can order an iPhone 5 right now (if I so choose). I have to wait until November for the Lumia 920. But you can guarantee that the second this phone becomes available, there is going to be one with my name on it.

By

A Different Kind Of Concert

Van Halen Concert Review

Well, cross a really big one off the ol’ bucket list.

Anyone that knows me even remotely well knows that I’m a massive Van Halen fan.

As an 11 year old in 1986, my first exposure to the band was the Sammy Hagar-led era with the 5150 album. I remember being over at my friend Jamie’s place as I often was back at that time, and he brought out this cassette (OMG I’m old!) and told me I had to listen to this album. He was pretty revved up about it, and given that we have almost identical musical tastes, I was instantly hooked. Edward Van Halen’s guitar playing and Hagar as a pretty talented singer made VH my insta-favorite.

Not too long after that, I was back over at Jamie’s one day, and he says, “Remember Van Halen and 5150? Well, you have to hear this!”, and he played Hot For Teacher (from the album 1984) for me.

“It’s the same band! It’s the same guitar player!” he says.

Holy shit!

We listened to the entire 1984 album, and then Jamie has one more surprise for me. He puts VH’s first album in, and from the moment Alex Van Halen’s drum fill burst through the speakers, only to be eclipsed by the string bending screams and whammy bar dive bombs of Edward’s now signature solo “Eruption”, my jaw not only dropped but went through the floor and the foundation. Like so many other people that were first exposed to EVH’s innovative playing in that solo that put him and the rest of Van Halen on the map, I’d never heard guitar played like that before – and I wanted more.

The two of us quickly tracked down every Van Halen album made, and from that solo on, Van Halen has basically been the soundtrack for my life. Everyone has a favorite band, and VH is the one I connected most strongly with. At 15 and 16, Jamie and I started a band – you guessed – playing mostly Van Halen cover tunes. A VH song comes on the radio or shuffles on my phone, and within the first couple notes I’ll tell you what the song is. I know them all frontwards and backwards.

They don’t come to Winnipeg very often, but I was fortunate enough to see Van Halen in concert twice – both times with Sammy Hagar as the vocalist. Once in 1991 in support of the F.U.C.K. album, and again in 2004 as they toured for the Best Of Both Worlds compilation album. 1991’s concert was outstanding. 2004’s… not so much as Eddie was battling the bottle and the band was not getting along well, but it provided one of my greatest musically-related moments ever, as we were sitting on the side of the arena on Eddie’s side of the stage, close to the front, and as Eddie stepped out to talk to a guitar tech, a bunch of us saw him and I called at him and waved, and he looked at me, smiled, and nodded and waved back. Pretty cool.

But that VH Holy Grail was still out there. I’ve always wanted to see Van Halen with David Lee Roth as the frontman. With Sammy Hagar, other than “Jump” and “Panama” the early VH catalog was basically ignored. Sammy didn’t want to play Roth’s songs, so I never got to here those older songs in a live setting. As the band was having issues (both with finding and keeping a new singer, as well as with Eddie’s health and rehab stints), I didn’t think it was ever going to happen.

But it did. Last night, May 13th, 2012. The Mighty Van Halen descended down upon Winnipeg, their heavy swagger tearing the doors off their hinges, their power kicking over every seat in the arena, their aural assault blasting our faces off, and their sexy dragon magic (learn the lyrics, folks!) consuming the MTS Centre.

It’s odd, but I really don’t have words to describe just how freaking awesome this experience was. I went with my lovely wife Stephanie and long-time best buddy Geoff (who also played in the aforementioned band), and while the two of them – in addition to Geoff’s tremendous air drumming – cheered and screamed their way through the show, I was oddly silent for the most part, just sitting there focusing on the music, just wanting to let every drop of Van Halen – both new and old – sink in and just take in the experience. It might not ever happen again, and I wanted to feel every moment of it. I cheered after the songs were over, and laughed at some of Roth’s antics, but for the most part, I just sat there and let the music just beat the crap out of me. And it was amazing.

Kool And The Gang opened up for Van Halen, and while we all thought that was an odd combination (but there’s some kind of relationship with Roth there) they were actually pretty impressive. They are one of those bands where they play a song and you go “Oh, I didn’t know they did this one!”, but they were musically very tight, good performers, and the music was actually very good. They actually made me want to buy one of their CD’s.

Their gear was torn down, and as we were waiting, a MTS Centre staff member was close to our seats, and he mentioned when the band was scheduled to go on, so we knew when to get ready. We were commenting it was really warm in the arena, and we watched as the crew quickly installed a wooden dance floor on the stage and carefully wiped down and mopped/dried the stage steps. This was apparently all requested by Roth, who needed the floor to do some of his schtick, and asked the venue personnel to ensure “there was no moving air” in the arena. We all had no idea why.

So, we waited, and between bands the venue was playing some generic music to get us all entertained. Usually what the venue will then do right before the headliners come on is stop the music and cut the lights – that’s the unwritten code and the signal that the main event is going to start.

But, as with everything else Van Halen, they march to their own drummer, and the lights stayed down while the house music continued to play, and a short time later, the music just abruptly stopped, the lights hit the drum riser and Alex Van Halen opened up with an absolute sonic salvo of crushing drums, leading into EVH crushing the opening riff of their classic hit and fan favorite “Unchained”, and Geoff and I got blown right out of our chairs. This was one of the songs we were dying to hear, and for this to be the opening tune just knocked our socks off. The crowd (which I’ll put around 8-9,000) went NUTS and the band took that energy and threw it all right back at us and then some.

Here’s the full set list, with some random comments thrown in.

Unchained
Runnin With The Devil
– An awesome opening shot. Two classic powerhouse tunes that primed the crowd for the rest of the night.

She’s The Woman
– A classic-era song reworked for the new album “A Different Kind Of Truth”. Sounded great!

Full Bug
– This was awesome in the sense that while the band stayed with the Roth version of the VH catalog, this is a song that was rarely played live, so to get this was an awesome surprise.

Tattoo
– The first single off the new album. A lot of people hated on this song, but the more I listen to it, the better it gets. The whole song is one giant hook that reels you right in. Like the rest of the “new” material, this song sounds awesome live. It’s a classic-style stong with a more modern sound, and that combination is simply stunning.

Everybody Wants Some
Somebody Get Me A Doctor
– Another classic duo that are crowd favorites, and the band demolished these two songs. Just powerful and amazing.

China Town
-Another one of the new album’s tracks that should show everyone that Edward Van Halen is, using wrestling terms, the best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be. He just amazed during this song.

Hear About It Later
– Yet another classic from the same album as “Unchained”, and another massive crowd favorite. I’m so happy I got to hear this one live. Wolfgang was amazing with the background vocals.

Pretty Woman
– A classic cover (of their cover?) of Roy Orbison’s timeless piece. Roth was a little too camp and didn’t sing much here, which took away from Edward and Wolfgang’s backup vocals, but the band sounded amazing.

Drum solo
– A signature of the Van Halen live experience, both Eddie and Alex play solos to give the rest of the band a break. Historically, Alex just played the drums on his own, pounding out various cool beats mixed with amazing fills, rolls, and rumbles. For this show though, Alex played along to a musical accompaniment, which was more like a jazz track, with trumpets and such, but he still found a way to throw his amazing technical ability behind some great sounding drum work. Very enjoyable!

You Really Got Me
– Again, another redo of a cover song from their first album. As with some of the older, really popular songs, Dave turned into a showman and the singing came second, which took away from the whole, but the rest of the band was busy kicking our asses!

Trouble With Never
– Another track from the new album that sounded great live!

Dance The Night Away
– An absolute classic and one of my favorites. Dave really sang this one and the harmonies from everyone was just tremendous. really well done!

I’ll Wait
– A keyboard-intense song from the 1984 album, I was hoping they would play this one and they did! The band played to a keyboard track, and I can’t stress the following enough; the way the band sounded on this song – the mix, the updated sound compared with almost 30 years ago, the power, the tone, the perfect vocals… this was the sleeper song of the night and was probably my favorite of all the songs played. I can’t put it into words, but this song with updated sound and the way the band played it literally gave me goosebumps and I was simply entranced. I could listen to that sound for the rest of my life and I would die an extremely happy man. It was musical Nirvana, Zen, alignment with the stars, whatever you want to call it, but it was absolutely beautiful and I never wanted it to end.

Hot For Teacher
– The band absolutelty nailed this timeless hit. It sounded great! The drums were off the hook and crowd just lost their minds for this song. Geoff nailed the air drums, and even Stephanie was head banging. Great times!

Women In Love
Outta Love Again
Beautiful Girls
– Another trio of classics that sounded amazing with the updated sound. I’m so glad I got to hear these songs played live.

Ice Cream Man
– This was Dave’s turn to shine. The rest of the band left the stage and Dave came out with his Gibson Hummingbird electric/acoustic, and noodled around, teasing us with some bars from the new track “Stay Frosty” before heading back into some strumming and telling us stories about him and his dogs while a giant video played in the background of his dogs sheep and cattle herding. This was the musical version of a wrestling “rest hold”, another break to let the band prep for the last run of the night. Dave segued from his strumming into “Ice Cream Man”, playing a bit before the rest of the band kicked in (and kicked our faces in). What a great, fun song.

Panama
– The band went right into Panama, and everyone was on point for this one. This classic just sounded amazing and the crowd was right fired up.

Guitar Solo
– The energy kept on going, even though the band toned it down. The rest of the band left the stage as King Edward The First played a good solid 6-7 minutes, fingers smoking all over the fret board, more dizzying whammy dives, squealing harmonics, incredible runs, and of course, his signature spots Cathedral and Eruption. All through the show, the band had a MASSIVE video screen showing the band playing all night long, and for 95% of the solo the camera was zoomed in on Eddie’s guitar and we could see every pick, bend, and tap and every moment of the solo. It was absolutely glorious, and anyone that has ever questioned Eddie’s ability as a result of his issues should be taken out back and be shot. Edward is back and better than ever, and last night he reminded us once again exactly why he is the undisputed king of rock guitar.

Ain’t Talkin Bout Love
– Another all time favorite. With renewed energy following the response to Ed’s solo, the band blistered on this one and not only blasted our faces off but grabbed us by the hair and slammed us into the floor. Then they kicked us all in the back of the head while we were down. ATBL sounded amazing.

And, without fanfare, without the lights going down and the band walking off-stage and all of us screaming our heads off for an encore, the band simply rode the wave of energy and Dave yelled “Winnipeg, do you guys want an encore?”

No, Dave, we don’t. We’re just screaming because someone kicked us in the shins (or we’re happy about the beating we took during ATBL) and the cheering went to 11, and the band launched into their all-time classic hit “Jump”. The arena was rocking, the band was amazing, and although there was a distinct lack of pyro all night long, this one ended with a giant explosion of confetti and everyone went apeshit.

Some Thoughts On The Band

Van Halen is back, baby! They’re back, and they haven’t lost a damned step. This was an expensive show to go to ($165.00 per ticket) but with the chance to see DLR, there was no way I was going to turn this down.

Wolfgang Van Halen: Don’t let anyone hate on WVH. This kid is the real f’n deal. He is an absolute BEAST on the bass, and while he doesn’t sound like Michael Anthony, he sounds like WVH and he hits all the notes. He appears to be flawless, and he injects a new life into this band. I’m glad I got to see him play. Truly great.

Alex Van Halen: What can you say about AVH? He’s quiet in front of the camera, but on stage the man is a freaking machine. His timing still is and always has been impeccable. I think he’s always been underrated as a drummer, and he sounded just incredible at this show. I can listen to him play all day long.

David Lee Roth: The only weak link in the band. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not because DLR “can’t” sing. He never has been the greatest singer, even back in the early days, but has always been a tremendous showman, and that’s his calling. It’s more because he “didn’t” sing. I want to make this very clear: when he *chose* to sing, he was incredible. He can still do it. he can still sing all the old songs, and he sounds amazing on the new songs. It’s just that he’s a showman first and foremost, and sometimes during the giant hit songs he would play around a bit and massage the lyrics and timing, and it was hard to sing along because he was doing his own thing. That took away from the show a little, especially because Wolfgang and Edward were sticking to the script and singing the regular backups, so it sounded out of place at times. He had a couple great one-liners too: at one point someone threw something up on the stage, and DLR – without breaking stride in the song – told the fan “Don’t throw your garbage on the stage, throw your girlfriend up here instead!” Another time between songs, he was talking and a female fan got his attention. I have no idea what she said, but DLR comes back with: “I’m old enough to be your father! By the way, you look a little familiar!”  But make no bones about it: DLR still has the chops and I’m so happy to see I got to see him live.

Edward Van Halen: I can’t say anything else that I haven’t already said about EVH. He looked strong and healthy, he looked happy, and he absolutely KILLED each and every song he played. His solo was outstanding, and you can tell that he absolutely loves playing music with his son. I’m so very glad to have seen him live one more time. Just truly amazing, and there will never be another better or more innovative guitar player than EVH.

Overall

This is a band that is happy to be back on the scene, and it shows in the way they play and the way they conduct themselves. There are always rumors about EVH and DLR being able to get along, but these guys are happy and it shows. There were a couple times where they just took a break in the middle of a song and just riffed both vocally and on the guitar while WVH and AVH just held down the bottom end of the song. It was really a sight to see. The classic VH songs from Roth’s first run with the band sound truly amazing and timeless with the band’s modern sounds, and “I’ll Wait” was one of those time-stopping moments that I never want to stop living. The songs from the new album fit in perfectly with the classic songs and sound even better live than they do on the album.

Even being older (with the exception of Wolfgang), all of these guys were born to do what they do, and this was an awesome, awesome night for me. I’ll remember this show for years and years to come. I’ll give this one a 9.5 out of 10. Truly spectacular, and if you get a chance to see them, please do. You won’t regret it.

By

VH ADKOT Day 4: “China Town”

Alright, getting back into this after some really busy times!

An interesting bit of what sounds like tapping from Edward leads into some crashing drums and power chords that instantly takes us into an absolute earthquake of drums and bass underneath some crunchy guitar and I’ve grabbed onto my desk to brace for the upcoming destruction of the world…

… and then I’m a bit underwhelmed. The earth stops shaking, and the walls stop crumbling around me. The song progresses into a good driving riff by Edward and matched by Wolfgang on bass, but there’s something about the vocals that subdues it all. Not to say that it’s “bad” – DLR rather sounds excellent, his voice strong in the upper range, but it’s like it doesn’t match the song underneath. I can’t exactly put my finger on it, but it’s like it’s two very different parts – the music and the vocals – but they don’t gel well together.

This is indicative of the rest of the song as well. Musically, I think this song is excellent. It drives and pounds in all the right spots, and Edward fuses lead and rythym together as only he can. Wolfgang is a monster on bass as he keeps up with his dad note for note. The backup vocals are impeccable, and Alex is spot on with the drums, but I just keep coming back to the lead vocal just being… off.

The guitar solo is an exhibition of Edward’s work with the whammy bar. He has harmonics and notes dipping and diving all over the place, and shows that he’s still got the speed in his chops as he shreds through some scale work, capping it off with some tapping that matches the start of the song.

Overall: As I said before, musically, this song is top notch. Love it. And it’s not that Dave does a poor job, I just don’t think the combination of the melody and his voice is a true fit for the music, and that kinda bums me out on the song on the whole. I would give this one much lower marks, but the music is just SO good that it saved the song for me.

Score: 7 out of 10

By

VH ADKOT Day 3: “You And Your Blues”

I’m not entirely sure if this song is one of the redone demos or if it’s a new song, but this one opens up with a guitar riff that sounds like it might have been written in the 5150 days – a nice muted-picking number that’s a good melody in it’s own right.

Dave sings a few lines by himself over the guitar, then the bass accents a few spots here and there while Alex keeps time on just the high-hat. All this is adding layer over layer, building wonderfully to a drum fill and the entire band kicking in to the start of the song, and I really like the musicality in this.

But as the song actually gets going, I’m not sure what kind of song this one is trying to be. The guitar riff and the instrument layering at the start is very rock, but when we finally get going, it’s decidedly different pop sound that we’re greeted with for the bridge, but that leads right back into a really rocking verse. I’m a little confused by that, but even when you add it all together, it all still sounds just awesome.

But then, as we get into the middle of the song, it’s like it’s a Festivus miracle. The lead in to the guitar solo is a different kind of low-end riff with some more Dave over top, and then Eddie proceeds to blast our faces off with another excellent solo, leaning on a wah-pedal for most of it, adding yet another tasty layer to this wonderful cake that VH is serving up.

Coming out of the guitar solo, Dave absolutely TEARS. IT. UP. Forget what I said in the previous post about him not having the high registers – maybe he sounded that way on purpose, but DAMN he tore it up in this song. I’m not talking the squeals and yells of yesteryear, but Dave was blasting out high end vocals with the power of a freight train rolling down the tracks. Absolutely tremendous. Add Wolfgang puts a giant exclamation point on the end of the song with some wicked high-speed runs, and we get another perfect performance on drums by Alex.

Overall:  This song has Edward’s signature all over it. I love the riff at the start. The solo is damned sweet. Wolfgang’s part is minimal in this one, but he still finds a way to leave his own statement at the end of the song, and once again, Alex lays out another solid performance. However, the star of this one is David Lee Roth who blasts out a top-notch Dave-esque show on vocals, and shows us at nearly 60 that he’s still got the goods.

Score: 9 out of 10