Dear Reader: The Unauthorized Autobiography of Kim Jong Il by Michael Malice (9/10)

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I have read quite a few books that give an account of what it is like to live under the control of a totalitarian regime, from 1984 to Pictures of the Socialistic FutureDear Reader is the first I have read that is told from the perspective of the tyrant, in this case North Korea’s Kim Jong Il. The events portrayed were written based on actual North Korean propaganda literature. Diving into this book, I assumed it would be a comedic romp from one crazy adventure to the next, and, while there is still a bit of that, it really is more of a rare glimpse into the story of Kim Jong Il as the North Koreans know it. The propaganda injects The Dear Leader into every event within North Korea’s history and sets him and his father up as untouchable god figures. It’s both funny and depressing. At times I felt that this is how people who aren’t sympathetic to Ayn Rand’s views must feel when they read Atlas Shrugged—with its tales of super-human achievement and hero worship. While the book keeps its darkly comic tone throughout most of its 400 pages, the last passages are a gut-punch reminding us, the dear readers, just how serious and awful the situation in North Korea is.

Ghosts by Techno-Animal - CD (6/10)

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I thought that Techno-Animal, being the electronic side project of the guitarist from Godflesh, would sound more like the industrial dance-floor tracks from Slavestate. Instead Ghosts is mostly ambient soundscapes with bursts of grating noise and pounding drum patterns. I guess you would call this experimental, but I dislike that term when applied to music (and art). An experiment implies that you are testing something to prove or disprove a hypothesis. It doesn’t mean you are just making non-musical, unstructured sounds and calling them songs. Anyway, the end result (I guess since this is an “experiment” you would call that the conclusion) varies. On the tracks where there is some rhythmic backing it approaches the sound of early Cabaret Voltaire. But unlike Techno-Animal, Cabaret Voltaire always felt more like improvisational music with uncommon instruments rather than the pure noise and dissidence that this band aspires to create. If you are having a party, this is definitely room clearing music.

Tim’s Vermeer (9/10)

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This a nice little documentary produced and directed by Penn & Teller, respectively. This is a documentary for people interested in the intersection of art and technology. It starts out feeling like one of the duo’s Showtime episodes where they would debunk ideas—in this case, did Vermeer use some sort of trick or tool to make his paintings—but eventually turns into a story about Tim and the process of making art. I was able to lure my daughter into seeing the film by telling her that it was probably loaded with bad words, hence the PG-13 rating. Instead there are literally about 3-5 bleepable moments. I tweeted Penn & Teller and got this response:

Tweet with Penn Tim's Vermeer

Over and Out by Tar - CD (9/10)

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More Tar being Tar. This one has crystal clear production and, wouldn’t you know it, a little bit of variety in the song writing. I think they recorded this record knowing they were about to call it a day as a band. Well, at least they went out on a high note. More bands need to realize it’s time to move on (Jesus Lizard.. ahem). But wait, they returned some 15 years later and “opened” for my band, Nonagon, at the summer PRFBBQ! The circle is complete.

Drupal: My List of Essential Modules

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Taking a break from my usual and completely unnecessary review posts, I thought I’d take a moment get a little technical. This site and many others I have developed use the Drupal open-sourced content management system. Drupal is great. It’s incredibly flexible, powerful and yet moderately easy to use if you have a little Web design experience.

Other systems I have used in the past, including Microsoft Sharepoint and WordPress, don’t hold a candle to Drupal. Sharepoint is an abomination and the only reason you should ever use it for a public facing Web site is if you work at Megacorp, Inc. and some idiot I.T. guy bought it as part of a multi-million dollar corporate enterprise package. Customizing Sharepoint is an exercise in futility and self-immolation. Just assume that your clean standards-compliant code with get destroyed and converted into a stew of redundant tags and impossible-to-style markup. WordPress is much better than that but it still falls short of Drupal when it comes to customizing your content types and controlling look and feel. You can hardly do anything custom in WordPress without having to hand code PHP. Simple tasks like adding an extra field to a post-type are just a pain and require some sort of third-party plugin (of which there are many and all of them do it differently). The only area where WordPress is better than Drupal is in installing and updating plugins and core systems. Drupal is getting better at this, but it still has a way to go to match the ease of use that WordPress offers.

For all my Drupal love, it still isn’t perfect right out of the box. Any Drupal install is going to require also installing a number of add-on modules to get your site fully reach its potential. So here is a list of the modules that I will include in every Drupal site that I create.


Views is the reason you are using Drupal. It allows you to build custom pages, feeds, blocks, etc. based on specific database queries. There is nothing like this for WordPress. You want a page of only posts created in June with the word summer in the body? A list of recent comments? A slideshow of art from posts tagged NSFW? Boom, Views can do that and sort it, make it filterable, restrict access… almost anything you can think of. Views puts you in control of your database. Installing views in Drupal 7 also requires the Chaos Tools Suite, so consider that an essential module too.

Administration Menu

This module puts a thin flyout-menu at the top of all pages that will quickly allow editors and admins to perform tasks without having to click down through multiple pages of admin content. The default Drupal 7 toolbar plus shortcuts is pretty close to providing this functionality but Admin Menu just does it so much better.

Module Filter

Module Filter is like Admin Menu in that it takes a core system interface and makes it just a bit more user friendly. In this case it tames the often over-long list of add on modules. During the development stage of any Drupal site, this saves you a ton of time scrolling and searching that page.

Backup and Migrate

This module has saved me many-a-time. It provides a way to backup your site’s data via a simple Web interface. You can also set schedules for daily backups and you automatically backup to the cloud if you so desire. It is also the easy way to get a site from a test environment to the live server.


The main thing that turned me off about Drupal when I first started using it was the lack of any sort of visual text editor when creating content. You still needed to know HTML to style anything. This problem is easily solved with the Wysiwyg module and another third-party visual editing library (in my case I use TinyMCE). The need for a library kinda makes this module a pain to install, but, once you get it up and running, composing posts becomes much easier especially for non-technical users.


IMCE also fulfills a very basic editing need that the Drupal core lacks. It allows users to upload and embed images into the body area of their posts via a pop-up file browser. It integrates smoothly into your visual Wysiwyg editor by also installing the IMCE Wysiwyg bridge module.

Read More Control

A final basic Web design flaw with the Drupal core is that it places a truncated post’s Read More link way below where a user might actually notice it. Read More Control brings it back where it should be, within the text of the post’s teaser content.

Menu Block

The default main menu of Drupal is okay, but it is limited in that doesn’t easily let you create CSS flyouts or create sub menus in the sidebar as you dig deeper into the site. Menu block provides you with a highly customizable way to display menus whereever you want.


Pathauto is one of those modules (like views) that really just needs to be part of the core. It gives developers a way to create custom URL aliases based on all sorts of variables (using Tokens… see below). I typically use it to fake an organized directory structure to my sites. And, unlike WordPress’s path customization, it can be as general or specific as you like and doesn’t need to be based on dates or content IDs. 

Menu Position

This module is the second half of my strategy to get my sites to follow a psuedo-directory structure. It allows you to create rules that will make a particular set of content nodes appear as though they exist within a menu structure without having to individually assign each item to the menu tree.


Token is a behind the scenes module that provides a way for Drupal and other modules to use simple placeholders to output small bits of text like post titles, fields, tags, dates, etc.

Honorable Mentions

There are a few more modules which I install most of the time but are not really essential in the way I believe the proceeding are. These include: DateField GroupCaptchaWebformColorboxEntity and Libraries. Follow the links for more information.

Toast by Tar - CD (8/10)

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While this disc starts out with a couple of great Tar tunes it doesn’t quite keep the energy up like Jackson does. As I will say every time I write about Tar, they aren’t know for wild experimentation. They established a sound early on and just decided not to mess with the formula. If anything, this recording sounds better than its predecessors perhaps at the expense of some of that aforementioned energy.

Borderlands on PC (7/10)

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Billed as a first person shooter RPG, Borderlands focuses on collecting loot over story. There a lot of superficial similarity with the recent Fallout games: large open world to explore, quest-based goals and a little bit of humor thrown in. But the world of Borderlands is barren and devoid of interesting people and stories. You just get your quest marker and then go and shoot everything in your path. All the while you are hoping the next gun that is dropped will be slightly better than the one you are holding.

The game’s saving grace is its emphasis on co-operative online multi-player game-play. I played through the whole game with a partner’s help. It may have felt more like an enjoyable pastime rather than a challenging game, but as long as chat was on it was pretty fun just grinding through the cell-shaded levels with a friend. We have already moved on the Borderlands 2 (which is a much better game).

Jackson by Tar - CD (10/10)

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This probably is Tar’s best record. It’s a wall of loud, lumbering guitars and driving bass lines. This is pretty much what every Illinois-based hard rock indie band aspired to sound like back in 1992. This contains some of their most memorable tracks: “Short Trades,” “Walking the King” and especially “Viaduct Removal.”