This Day In History: 04/24
I graded all the final exams for my sight singing classes this afternoon. Although the final few late assignments are trickling in as I type, it looks like I'll have 15 As, 9 Bs, 2 Cs, 3 Ds, and 1 F. There's a couple students whose progress I'm skeptical about who squeaked through by a hair, but of course I can't just veto the stated grading policy and fail people on whim. When the grades aren't failing, the best you can do is send them through and wish 'em the best of luck. I don't know how many of the border line students will be able to survive the abbreviated summer section of Sight Singing II though. In terms of final exam grades, I had 4 As, 5 Bs, 7 Cs, 7 Ds, and 6 Fs after an extremely generous curve.
There was a cashier in McDonald's the other night who compensated for slow service times with bigger cups. Waited ten minutes for that cheeseburger? Have a bigger cup! Did the new trainee give you only two chicken nuggets? Take the super size cup! It's amazing that they have any soda left.
Happy birthday Andrea and Philip! Graduate from Tech already, Philip -- six years is way too long.
Booty fights back
All the smart people are from Virginia
The pool tables I looked at were ridiculously expensive, and the snooty salesmen knew I wasn't going to pay three to twenty-four thousand dollars for a table. I've since found a reasonable deal including delivery and installation through Cornerstone Billiards. Anyone ever ordered a table through them? Only three complaints through the BBB, and all were satisfactorily resolved. I'm waiting until tonight to make the order so I can get someone like Anna to double check my colour choices.
Happy Birthday Philip!
Yesterday's notable search terms:
lake barcroft alexandria water company, we're going to stamp out detroit, redskins pep band, earn eighty thousand dollars, at a glance brian uri is a robot
I came home from work on Thursday morning and left the carefully manicured suburbia of Sterling in my sensible Honda Accord for the idyllic splendour of Blacksburg. My street is like Wisteria Lane, except that everyone else speaks Spanish and there are no attractive neighbours.
This is Exit 222 in Staunton on I-81, the second most boring interstate on the East Coast, trailing only I-95 in sourthern North Carolina. The only reason Staunton exists at all is so you know you're halfway to Blacksburg (and so Kelley can have his wedding in September). The smoke signals rising in the middle of the picture are not Virginian Indians -- it was just a giant flying beetle that splattered across my windshield. On your right is the scenic view that you get when you drive down this interstate.
My sister lives behind a trailer park in Christiansburg near the drive-in movie theatre. They just evicted someone with a meth lab in one of the trailers. Welcome to southwest Virginia.
This is far too many animals for a house that you could fit in the back of a Chevy Suburban. You can see close ups of these animals and new pictures of Booty and Amber here.
I think the completed stadium looks like an ugly leftover prop from Battlefield: Earth. The campus is much more gentrified than I remember -- there are traffic lights at all the intersections where you used to be able to laugh at all the sorority girls in their PT Cruisers getting in fender benders. The pool hall in Squires has been remodeled to look like a sports bar, with carpet and hanging TVs and bar lighting, and the food court now has an Au Bon Pain that you can actually walk into. There should never be a reason in this life to walk around an Au Bon Pain.
Fifty-five former students of Dr. Bachelder made the trip back to town for his retirement concert, some from as early as 1972. We all had a surprisingly coherent sound given that many people had not played in decades. When the actual concert came around, Dr. Bachelder played a few songs with the symphonic band and then the current students moved around the sides of Haymarket Theatre for an antiphonal piece in his honour. Halfway through that piece, the doors opened up and all the alumni filed in to finish the piece. If you are unfamiliar with Haymarket, picture an auditorium designed for one-act plays and chamber groups. Then put an eighty piece band up on the stage and ring sixty to seventy trumpet players around the outside edge. Finally, put a crowd of unsuspecting parents in the center, hemmed in on all sides with no escape and tell the trumpet players to play as loud as possible (honestly though, when does a trumpet player ever need to be told that?). Parents who had just come to town to hear their kid play the oboe were suddenly bombarded by a wall of trumpet sounds that did not relent for another thirty minutes. By then, everyone in the middle was deaf, and the U.S. Department of Defense had entered talks to use trumpets in their latest "Non-Lethal Aural Weapons" program.
The post-concert reception was at Gillies, across the street from Squires. I marveled, for a moment, at the fact that I'd never been in Gillies before, but then realized that it was a vegetarian cuisine, and I would have had absolutely no reason to step inside in the five years I went to school there. The food was rather sparse, since the music department budget is now comparable to the salary of a single professional musician who can't get a symphony gig and ends up teaching private guitar lessons at Music and Arts.
This is Doobie, on the right. He wanted to be in my update today, even though he's a tuba player.
I left Gillies around 1 AM because I am old and had been up since 5 the previous morning. The next day, the few remaining trumpet players who were still in town staggered into the music department around noon to take Dr. Bachelder out to eat at Mike's, where they made fun of Scott for still being drunk thirty-six hours later, Chris for being a big Chinese guy, and Kelley for being a poor trumpeter about to marry a high-powered lawyer. So in essence, nothing at all had changed.
Bonus Picture: I am incubating a dinosaur in my hair gel.
For more pictures from this weekend, visit the Photos section.
Happy Birthday Philip Barbie and Andrea Frazao!Images of women such as Kelly Brook can be distracting to men
Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door was almost flawless, and when I reviewed it in 2004 it was one of my "must-have" game for anyone owning a GameCube. About two weeks ago, the latest game in the Paper Mario series was released on the Wii, and I've now played it enough to talk about my first impressions. Was it worth the wait? Read on to find the heart-stopping answer to this mind-bendingly suspenseful question (and also tips on how to run your car on consommé in the face of rising oil prices).
The conceit of this series is that all the main characters are flat two-dimensional sprites made of paper, living in a three-dimensional world. In previous games, this made for some neat artistic choices and novel uses of perspective. SPM takes this one step further by giving Mario the ability to temporarily rotate the camera ninety degrees, giving the game world a field of depth and revealing hidden secrets. A wall that looks impassable in 2D might turn out to be less than an inch thick in 3D, which means that Mario can just duck behind it and be on his way. If you're having trouble visualizing this, watch this gameplay movie (11MB WMV).
Title: The title reeks of laziness like a freshman business major and its Japanese translation is probably "dumbass-san will buy any game with Mario-san in the title". I could feed alphabet soup to a baby and have it burp out a better title than this, even without the vowels. Super Paper Mario would definitely win the crappy title contest, if its competition weren't New Super Mario Brothers.
Cutscenes / Translation: It takes the game a good fifteen minutes of introduction to say that something bad has happened and Mario must save the day. The slick, self-referential, tongue-in-cheek humour of the series is now trying way too hard and gets a little annoying. It doesn't help that as dialogue appears on the screen, a sounds like a million gerbils playing the xylophone accompanies the letters and you can't turn it off. My advice: Skip all the cutscenes -- you won't miss anything.
Graphics: I thought the artistic style of the old game was unique and a pleasure to watch. When SPM begins, it opens on a town where minimalism is festering disease, not an artistic choice. It looks like the art designers were behind on their bills and the collection agency garnished every other line and texture. My five-year-old kindergartener could sketch a better town in Flesh crayon and, as far as I know, he's still swimming around my left testicle. On the plus side, the graphics DO get better as the game progresses -- if only they had had the common sense to put the better graphics at the beginning before the point where people stop playing the game.
Sprites: Ever since Zelda on the N64, Nintendo has loved to zitify the screen with glowing dots and fireflies and twinkling stars, as if to show off their mad graphic-processing skills. In SPM, you get annoying little Pixls, which float around you at all times and give you special powers. One of the special powers lets you pick things up and throw them. I have that special power IN REAL LIFE.
Gameplay: So far, SPM is first and foremost an action game. The turn-based combat of the old game has disappeared completely, and some of the other role-playing aspects feel very short-changed. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but if you are expecting a similar game to its prequel, you'll be disappointed. The 2D-to-3D gimmick is pretty fun for exploration, but would be better without the silly time limit (if you stay 3D for too long, Mario loses a point of health because Mario is a pansy). Every so often, the shifts in perspective will surprise you in a fun and interesting way.
Sound: The score is passable and unmemorable, and nowhere near as musically adventurous as the GameCube game. It sounds like every other video game out there.
Bosses: There have been two boss fights so far, and both were more Zelda-style (figure out how to beat a boss and repeat the gimmick three times) than Mario-style (jump on Birdo until s/he dies). One involved shifting perspectives to jump on a flying robotic dragon and throwing things at his antenna, and both fights were enjoyable.
Bottom Line: It's not as good as its predecessor and it will never be a classic. The beginning sequence so turned me off that I barely played the game for a week or so. However, once I got over my disappointment that the game was different than what I was expecting, I started to enjoy it more. Having beaten the first chapter, I'm planning on playing it out, but its not a game that I would run home from school to eagerly play until bedtime. You might as well buy it if you have a Wii, because there really aren't any other good games at the moment, and this is still better than many games on the market (see also, Red Steel, and the New Adventures of Mary-Kate and Ashley). 3 of 5 stars
Happy Birthday Philip Barbie and Andrea Frazao!Prisoner wrongly freed after fake fax
Saturday, April 5, 2008
Although it couldn't be mistaken as the summertime, the first four days of our trip had been fairly nice for April in countries on the same latitude as Maine. This all ended on Day Five, when the damned Norwegians sent a subversive cold front across the area, mixed with clouds and light drizzle. Based on the weather and the amount of logistics it would take to schedule trains to the Palace of Versailles, we decided to skip it, and started today off by making train reservations for the end of our Paris trip. With that taken care of, we hit Ile de la Cit?, the island in the middle of the Seine containing Saint-Chapelle and Notre Dame.
Both were beautiful and very typical of the Parisian atmosphere -- where London was charming and slightly modern, everything about Paris exuded age and foreign history. More important than the churches, though, was the crepe maker in the Latin Quarter where we had a crepe with ham, egg, cheese, and mushrooms. Because prices are slightly higher if you sit down in a shop, we ate ours in front of the building, huddled over it for warmth. The crepe was so delicious that we also shared a second one, filled with nothing but steaming Nutella chocolate spread.
Our next stop was the Catacombs, and a forty minute Metro ride later found us in front of a big FERME POUR TRAVAIL sign -- evidently some of the bones needed repairs or something. By now, we were sick of riding the Metro for hours on end. I almost wanted to take the ORLY? bus for giggles , but instead we decided to wander the neighbourhood in search of something cool and undiscovered (maybe a French Surgery museum?).
Instead of a museum, we stumbled into the Montparnasse Cemetary , miles and miles of dead people in the shadow of the monolithic Montparnasse
Building Pimple. A small sign listed the famous people buried there, including Camille Saint-Saens (lot 13) and Cesar Franck (lot 26), so we decided to try finding their graves for kicks. Unfortunately, the signs neglected to mention that each lot contained hundreds of graves, and after limping around for a bit, I gave up. We took pictures of ourselves pointing at random graves anyhow, so twenty years from now (when everyone has forgotten about it), we can claim that we DID find these famous bodies.
By now we were freezing our derrieres off, so we slipped into the cheapest place possible to warm up: the local MacDo. For the cost of a coffee (and a frite petite) we got an hour of warmth and the secret code to punch into the keypad-protected bathrooms. MacDonald's has established a pretty big foothold in Europe -- we saw 3 in the small parts of Paris we visited, and 2 on the same road in Barcelona. There were also Burger Kings and KFC's but (sadly) no Popeyes.
From our cozy booth in the back, we worked out a new plan for the afternoon involving the Sacre-Coeur church on the north side of town. This beautiful church had one point against it -- it required me to hobble up one hundred yards of steps to reach. On the plus side, it was nestled right next to Paris' red-light district, so if we accidentally got lost, I might see some boobies. After admiring the church inside and out, we wandered through the neighbourhood and warmed up with another chocolate crepe.
The cold essentially wiped us out, so we went home to the Hotel Charma for another wine/bread/cheese dinner. This time we tried a local Brie which was excellent.
Sunday, April 6, 2008
It was another cold and windy day during which I mastered the art of being a cripple without looking like a giant sashaying retard. Despite the cold, we were excited because many museums and exhibits are free on the first Sunday of the month, and we are genetically cheap people.
Our first stop for the day was going to be the Tour of the Sewers, something which Paris has always been famous for. Enroute, we passed a Marathon being run through the city (and two marathon runners on the Metro who were blatantly cheating), the Palace of Tokyo (which looked very Japanese, especially with the giant Maglev car on top), and the Mus?e du quais Branly which I only remembered because it's pronounced like French dukee (poop).
The Sewer Tour took us on a winding course through actual sewers, crossing shaking metal platforms over goopy brown stormwater and past mock terrariums with fake sewer rats. The actual information was in both English and French and was quite interesting, though Rebecca had her shirt covering her nose by the halfway point. At the end, they had a short video about the Paris Night Shift, a group of people you can call 24 hours a day when you lose something in a sewer hole (one lady dropped her car keys in a storm drain, and another guy flushed a necklace down the toilet). In the gift shop, you could buy a giant stuffed sewer rat -- I almost bought it for Ella because it would be funny and subversive for her to love a sewer rat, but it was 14 euros ($21).
The next stop was the Rodin Museum, which was interesting enough, but I'm glad we went on the day it was free. The big Thinker sculpture was roped off with a fifty yard radius, so we couldn't take any silly Thinking pictures. Seeing so many sculptures did make us hungry though, but there are no quick eateries near the place. What should have been a quick search for a restaurant took us a mile away back into the Latin Quarter, past a shop that sells Assouline and a large police-escorted group of roller skaters skating for some disease.
We ended up eating "Cheesy English" sandwiches at a sandwich shop called Cosi (no relation to the American one), and then enjoyed the ambience of the Ile de Saint Louis, a quiet mostly-tourist-free island of shops and houses near the Notre Dame (it also featured an accordian player whose shtick was pretending to be headless).
Our last stop in Paris was going to be a walk up the Champs-Elysee to the Arc de Triomphe. We were going to time it so we could be on top as the sun set, but the frigid temperatures convinced us that it would be just as good at 5 PM as it might have been at 9. And, instead of walking the full length of the road from the Louvre, we decided to pop out of the Metro about four blocks away from it.
The Arc was definitely an impressive site, surrounded by a giant traffic circle and bisected by 12 separate avenues. Seven Corners in Falls Church, Virginia has nothing on this place -- we'll have to build a Thirteen Corners just to one-up it. Unfortunately, we discovered that Rick Steves lied when he said that going up the Arc was free on the first Sunday, so we just admired it from below instead of paying what seemed to be an exorbitant price.
After this, we felt we had seen and enoyed most of the parts of Paris that we would enjoy (we're not big art museum fans) and were getting tired of the constant crowds, the cold, and the way that taking the Metro always felt like an hour-long scavenger hunt. We returned to our lovely Hotel on the outskirts of town and made one last trip to our grocery store for tomorrow's breakfast, and then packed our bags and bundled up for the night. Tomorrow, we would flee the big cities and enjoy the (hopefully) moderate temperatures in the south of France!
To Be Continued tomorrow...
I have also posted all the pictures from London and Paris -- you can view them here . Some of them have already made an appearance on Facebook, but there are plenty of new ones!
Happy Birthday Andrea and Philip!Rumours of penis thefts spur lynchings
♠ Yesterday, while driving down to DISA for the eight hundredth time, I saw road crews busily erasing the dotted white lines from Sterling Boulevard and replacing them with pinked zigzags of merriment. I had half a mind to steer the car as the zigzags dictated, but then remembered my experiences from childhood, where zigzagging my bike always resulted in a crash of some sort.
♠ I presumed the lines were to warn motorists of the bike path and found out that I was right. That article's a little too short to mock in a Newsday, but I'd definitely like to mock the fellow from Connecticut who's complaining about having to walk his bike across a four-lane highway. The appropriate solution would be a bridge or a tunnel.
♠ The other day, while driving past my old middle school, I saw students in their ugly gym uniforms riding bikes in tight circles around the fenced-in tennis court. As each kid got their chance to bike for 100 yards, they dismounted and gave the bike to someone else. I don't know where the school got the funds to buy twenty communal bicycles, but I'm guessing that's why some of the students still have to learn in trailers next to the school.
♠ The students who didn't want to ride bikes were walking slow circles around the track, gossiping and getting their heart rates up over 50 to avoid obesity. Back in my day there were always 3 or 4 of them, but now it's almost half a class. We always hated the Perpetual Walkers in our class because never had to do a thing, and the gym teachers had long since given up on motivating them.
♠ I've been perpetually walking in my new brown shoes for over a month now, and still haven't encountered the curious knee wasting disease that afflicted me when I was walking all over Europe. For the better part of two weeks, I hobbled through subway stations like a gimp with an uneven pegleg.
♠ Plans for the weekend include lots of work, unless we finish successfully this evening. Maybe I'll even get a birthday dinner into the mix (though not my own). What are you doing this weekend?
♠ Happy Birthday to Pip and Andrea! Have a great weekend!He certainly has never stolen a pig
As part of this feature, which I started in 2007, I compose a very brief work (under 30 seconds) inspired by a randomly generated title from an online word generator or suggested by a reader. The composition can be for any instrumentation, and could even be a purely synthesized realization that might not be possible to perform in the real world.
I work on the excerpt continuously for an hour and then post whatever I've managed to complete, even if its a prime candidate for a William Hung Greatest Hits album.
Agleam: (adj.) Bright, radiant, or glowingMy Composition (0:30 MP3)
The first impression that came to mind with this word was a toothpaste commercial, with shiny teeth and plenty of primary background colors. It's written for harpsichord, glockenspiel, bassoon, flute, and assorted percussion.
April 24, 2004
SFW / Cash -$ 35.17
As a young, single professional, I was frugal enough to be able to buy a week's worth of groceries at Shopper's Food Warehouse and still get cash back.
April 24, 2005
Stanis Furniture -$1352.40
This was the day that I purchased a classy black bedroom set.
April 24, 2006
Bowling -$ 19.50 Capitol City Brew -$ 24.00
Monday night in Shirlington was pretty happening.
April 24, 2007
Dominion Power -$ 86.78
This power bill is comparable to any Spring month where the weather is not retarded.
April 24, 2008
Loudoun Water -$ 53.67 Comcast -$ 42.95 Loudoun Tax -$ 61.09 Transfer +$2000.00
Comcast finally realized a couple years ago that they were undercharging me for Internet service by $20 a month. The only thing keeping me from Fios is that my dislike of streaming movies over Comcast does not yet outweigh the hassle of changing.
April 24, 2009
Chickfila -$ 5.51
Number One with waffle fries and a lemonade.
April 24, 2010
Although my records don't show any expenses on this date, I remember eating Korean Barbeque with Rebecca and her Grinnell friends. I must have been freeloading.
April 24, 2011
Deposit +$ 479.50
Smells like the combination of a tax refund and the handful of dollars I get for running middle school band websites.
April 24, 2012
Dominion Power -$ 84.63 CC Payment -$ 160.49
The weather was not retarded. Also, a deep packet inspection of the credit card payment shows that it covered a tank of gas, my monthly webhost charge, a beta copy of Path of Exile to tide me over until Diablo 3, a pre-order of Diablo 3 and the Kindle book, Tasty Morsels of Sonic Goodness.
April 24, 2013
What should I buy today?
UPDATE: I ended up paying my $115 power bill. The weather is currently retarded.
I just finished a free 10-week online course in "Designing and Executing Information Security Strategies". It was something of a soft-skills course, with emphasis on analysis and argument over right answers. Here are my thoughts about Coursera, based on my first class.
What I Liked
What I Disliked
Overall, I found Coursera to be worthwhile for "personal growth" types of learning activities, but lacking in the rigor that would prove you had actually learned something. If I were to see a Coursera course on a resume, I would give the interviewee the benefit of the doubt that he or she had taken the course, but wouldn't assume that they knew the subject matter. I'm starting a course in Functional Programming with Scala this weekend, which I'm hoping will be a better fit, since there are right and wrong answers, and thus no peer review.
Final Grade: B-, good for personal growth but not certification
Shows I'm Anxiously Awaiting DVDs or Free Viewing Of
Shows I Will Watch Upon Release While Bored Just to See How Things Turn Out
Shows I'm Currently Watching
Shows I Was Watching But Gave Up On Because Yahoo Screen Is a Horrible Media Player
Shows I've Already Seen but Plan to Rewatch Someday Soon
Shows I've Already Seen Too Many Times and Probably Won't Ever Watch Again
It's been raining nonstop around here, assuaging any guilt for not going outside or doing lawn-related chores. We overloaded our weekend with 3 separate social gatherings, starting with a going away for Rebecca's yoga friend, Michelle, on Saturday night, for which I made my signature bean chili.
On Sunday, we had lunch with Rebecca's parents and the Wrights, and met Patrick & Erica's 5 1/2 month-old, Will. From there, we went straight to the Edwardses to catch up with their 1 year old and celebrate the newly engaged Mike and Annie. In the picture below, you can see everyone showing off their monochrome fashions of the early 2000s (I went a different direction with a daring shade of blue).
In the evening, we returned home to Sterling to eat leftover bean chili, make lunch sandwiches for the week, and do laundry. We also ordered a crib so we can get a head start on populating the Nursery Formerly Known as Office with real furniture.
How was your weekend?
As an update to my last attempt, here are the years of my life with summary labels.
The value of labels is twofold:
There are no major spoilers in these reviews.
Eyes Wide, Tongue-Tied by the Fratellis:
This is a great, less manic Fratellis album with a more mature sound. Each song brings something different to the table. I particularly like Imposters, a song with a catchy refrain -- for a few days after listening to it, I could hear Maia in her quiet/nap time singing "little by little by little" to herself in between bouts of "Let It Go".
Final Grade: A
Perks of Being a Wallflower (PG-13):
Another movie in the coming-of-age genre, this movie tells the story of a high school freshman who feels like no one notices him. While the character development and subsequent payoffs are well done, you definitely have to get past the distraction that this is a movie full of high school kids that really act like they're in college.
Final Grade: B-
Money Heist, Part 3 and Part 4:
Part 3 and 4 of "House of Paper" are the first parts made completely under the Netflix banner and they're actually much better than the originals. The show leans heavily into the relationships between the old and new characters and makes good use of flashbacks without falling into the LOST tattoo trap. The final four episodes of Part 4 are as intense as any action movie. The only downside to these new episodes is that the new heist is not yet finished. I was disappointed that Part 3 ended on a cliffhanger and even more so to find Part 4 ending with a "convenient dramatic pause" instead of a strong resolution.
Final Grade: B+ for Part 3, and A- for Part 4
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