This Day In History: 05/17

Monday, May 17, 2004

Based on the number of people who visit and my intrinsic laziness, I've decided that the URI! Zone will not be updated on the weekends for the duration of the summer months (until August or so). I may occasionally post an update on the weekend, but there is no need to do ADD-refreshing of the page in anticipation of weekend profundity.

This weekend was a fairly productive one. I've gotten everyone in my general vicinity hooked on Alias, and ended up watching about eight back-to-back episodes from Season One with the guy living in my basement who'd never seen them before. Yesterday, I washed the years of accumulated dirt and mold off the house's siding and removed the backing from a wall bookshelf to brighten up an internal room in the basement. I'll post pictures later on -- this is the first step in tearing the bookshelf out and replacing it with a bar to go next to the forthcoming pool table (which is supposed to arrive in a couple weeks).

Even voyeurs get hungry
Old story but still interesting

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Tuesday, May 17, 2005

It's time for two more capsule reviews of recently rentable movies. Darkness with Lena Olin and Anna Paquin is a horror movie that's got a passable amount of "creepy", but at the expense of "scary" or even "plot". It employs a lot of standard horror devices which seem relevant but aren't, and an ending which tries to be different and generally succeeds. You won't miss anything if you miss this movie.

I Heart Huckabees is a weird movie. It's interesting, has decent performances, and is easy enough to watch, but it's not really a movie I would recommend to a friend. At times, its "deep" themes seem to be satires of satires of itself, as if the writers felt they were being clever at turning serious philosophy into a lightweight movie, but then got carried away and ended up serious themselves. Watch this movie if nothing else is on the shelf, but skip it if you hate any movie which can effectively be described as "whimsical".

Because you can never have too many copies of "Freddy Got Fingered"
A little too far into the role

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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The latest buzz in entertainment non-news news is the observation that seven long-running shows are finally calling it quits this season. I think it's interesting that shows which would once have gotten lavish two hour finale specials with retrospectives and balloons now creep timidly into oblivion, their stars set to appear in 1-800-COLLECT commercials in which Alf gets top billing.

Alias: Of course, I'm sad to see this one go because its first two years were ridiculously good. This was one of the first shows I ever planned my week around seeing (which was probably aided by the fact that it came out when I was a reclusive grad student in Florida for the first time). Sydney Bristow's "bursting into tears" shtick got a little old after awhile and they really overexposed Marshall, but the solid acting of Bradley Cooper, Ron Rifkin, Victor Garber, and Carl Lumbly was Sopranos-caliber and kept me coming back. I haven't seen any episodes in the fifth season except for the first one, and I'm anxiously awaiting them on DVD while remaining spoiler-free. This is hard, because LOST comes on immediately after Alias, so I have to turn on the TV late enough to miss the twist ending but early enough to not miss a LOST twist beginning. That, my friend, is called skill with the remote.

7th Heaven: I never watched a single episode of this show, and I had to look it up online to see that it was on the WB. Was it any good? From promos, it looks like your typical WB family drama without teeth, fun for the whole family, and offensive to none. I could be wrong though.

That 70s Show: This started out as a dumb but funny show, but outlived its humour by about five years. I haven't seen a new episode since I was in college -- apparently some of the cast members aren't even on it anymore? This show also gets the official BU award for Absolute Worst Musical Episode in the history of primetime TV. It's a neat little novelty when you can make a musical version of your show -- but it would really help if one or more of your actors could sing. Even just a couple notes. Even just the same note over and over. I cringe when I think of Red "I was in Robocop working for Dick Jones" Foreman singing "So Happy Together".

West Wing: Another show I never saw a single episode of. Politics and legal dramas never were my thing, and I'm almost ashamed to say that I'm one of the few Americans that's NOT a Law & Order / CSI junkie. Then again, I never got into ER or police shows either, so there must be something un-American about me.

Charmed: Alyssa Milano is a hot witch with sisters who casts spells with really bad special effects -- what's not to like about this concept? They could just shorten the conceit to "Alyssa Milano is." and it would still be worth watching. I never saw a full episode of this, but I used to flip through it when it aired before Alias on Sundays. You know a show has outstayed its welcome when one season ends with "All three main characters die, but come back to life, played by three different actresses". This is forgivable though, know why? That's right, Alyssa Milano.

Will & Grace: I never really kept up with this show, but saw it a lot in syndication. In Virginia, they air hours and hours of Friends in the evenings. In Tallahassee, it's Will & Grace. The thing I liked about this show was the quick and witty banter -- I'm a big fan of verbal repartée, shows where the dialogue is two times more clever than anything you'd hear on the street.

Malcolm in the Middle: This show had a lot of promise, and I was even willing to overlook the fact that the boys hit puberty immediately after the first season, but it just kept going and going until I lost interest. I hope I'm not around whe we first hear that the actor playing Dewey was picked up for drug trafficking or something. I would get this show on DVD, but licensing issues with the music from each episode prevented them from releasing anything but Season One.

Joey got cancelled too, what a big surprise. Its a shock that it even managed to limp along for two whole seasons.

No really, I'm a close family friend
RIAA sues XM Radio
Pleasantries of Virginia Politics

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Review Day: Six Feet Under

there are no plot spoilers in this review, although the format of the final scene is discussed

Six Feet Under is a five-season, sixty-three episode HBO show and Mike "I hate movies and pop culture" Catania's favourite series of all time. With such effusive praise, I figured I would give it a watch to see what all the fuss was about. HBO shows (like The Sopranos) are generally so expensive that I would normally wait for my parents to get it and then steal it from them, but luckily Amazon had a package deal containing all the episodes and two soundtrack CDs for about six cents per minute. That (plus Mike's offer to buy it off of me if I hated it) convinced me to pick it up. Plus, I am all about the "boxed set".

This show is rather hard to "summarize for a friend", but on the surface it's about a family who operates (and lives in) a funeral home. Each episode begins with the death of a non-principal character, and this death is used as the backdrop to thematically tie an episode together. The story is not highly plot-driven -- instead, the characters are allowed to grow and relate in a believable manner, which also made me as the viewer care about their fates.

The believable, well-acted characters are the cornerstone of the series' success. Although they occasionally get into made-for-television situations, they react and cope with events realistically. There is no truly sympathetic hero amongst the characters -- everyone has shades of grey, and everyone struggles to be good while making mistakes. This allows the writers of the show to introduce many different thoughts about life and death, right or wrong, relationships, love, mental illness, and even the minutia of daily life in a completely nonconfrontational way.

To me, this was a key element, although I couldn't quite put my finger on it for the longest time. Where another show might approach these issues with a lack of subtlety or blatant preaching, Six Feet Under takes a very understated approach by taking characters similar to people we might know in real life and allowing them to work through the issues for us. I often found myself thinking about the questions raised long after the episode had ended, without ever having that indignant feeling that I was being manipulated or force-fed by a television show. It's like the exact opposite of any sitcom with a laugh track that goes "Awwww" when a baby is shown off.

The show isn't perfect. Like all good HBO shows, it has an overreliance on dream sequences. In the beginning, these sequences are very apropos -- for example, the main character might be alone with a body during the embalming, and an imaginary conversation with the deceased is used to vocalize the character's inner monologue to the audience. In later seasons, it tends to get pretty gratuitous (though not to the extent of Tony Soprano spending twenty minutes walking around a beach looking at talking fish heads).

Also, two of the main characters are an on-again-off-again gay couple. As their storylines mature, the gay factor is always handled tactfully, in a normal, believable fashion, but for the first couple of seasons, the writers tended to go overboard with gratuitous scenes of gay lifestyle which might make many people uncomfortable.

Six Feet Under is not my favourite show of all time -- there was never a moment where I was hooked and had to keep watching -- but it is very good. After watching the first season, I wasn't particularly excited, but was interested enough to keep going. By the time I'd finished the third season, I had become so invested in the characters that I couldn't imagine stopping in the middle. I was happy to find that, after such a slow-paced build up, the final season and the final episode were uniformly excellent -- Six Feet Under is the Mahler of HBO shows, if Mahler had written intimate chamber symphonies.

The final episode concludes with a montage of the lives and deaths of all the main characters, and is surprisingly poignant if you have taken to the characters. If I weren't such a manly man, I would have almost felt compelled to cry.

Final Opinion: B+ Worth a purchase, or even a rental, unless:

  • You are impatient.
  • Thinking about aging and death makes you uncomfortable.
  • Watching two guys make out makes you uncomfortable.
  • Character development bores you.
Amazon to release DRM-free music
No romance for lovesick albatross
Bible drawn into sex publication controversy

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Monday, May 17, 2010

Weekend Wrap-up

On Friday evening, after releasing DDMSence 1.3.2, I braved the unhealthily clogged artery that is southbound 7100 to play volleyball with some of Rebecca's friends from work, and we ended up playing for nearly three hours. I am now like an abused spheroid, as there are bruises on my radius and other bones. Post-volleyball dinner was a Chipotle burrito, which tastes delicious but can be rather nauseauting if you picture the entire blob of calories resting whole in your stomach.

Saturday was split into two doses of family time -- the first with Rebecca's family in Maryland, and the second at the Reston Festival (the Restival) of Fine Arts. The entire town center was blocked off and filled with tents of liberal arts majors from all over the country, hawking their $160 straw hats (wearable art) and weird Tim Burton-inspired sculptures made out of baby heads. While gazing upon a $500 watercolor with bits of old newspaper glued in random patterns, I realized that art doesn't impress me unless it looks like some minimum level of effort went into it.

Sunday was a mostly lazy day although I had to leave the confines of my chair to mow the lawn before the upcoming monsoon. In the afternoon, Rebecca and I played some badminton in the back yard, although we made a rule that we have to play at least three times this month before we're allowed to put up the net. In most years, we put it up for the first game and then never play again.

Homeless helped expose former TV chef Juan-Carlos Cruz murder-for-hire plot
Tourist hospitalised by venomous spider bite on penis
"cocking the memo book," a practical joke in which officers draw penises in each other's daily notebooks.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Answers Day, Part II

"If you undergo gene therapy how many genes do you have to change in order to get the end result? All of them? One of them? I honestly do not understand how this works." - Chompy (the dog)

The gene is the basic unit of heredity, and your genes contain specific sequences of instructions for creating the various proteins required to live. If a particular set of genes in your body is defective, either because you bought them at a yard sale or your mother was your sister, you end up with a genetic disorder. Gene therapy is the process of introducing fit genes that have been working out into your body, in the hopes that they replace defective genes, repair them, or counteract their effects.

The case below is taken directly from the mixed-up files of the National Institute of Health, and should provide an easy-to-follow example of how gene therapy works:

  • The test subject is a twenty-eight-year-old male living in West Chester, Pennsylvania. Because of HIPAA concerns, we will call him "Gene".

  • "Gene" is a second-generation immigrant. His mother was born in Beers and his father came from Gouda, and the pair left the Netherlands in 1976. "Gene" was born shortly after.

  • For all intents and purposes, "Gene" should be DUTCH. However, a rare genetic disorder has turned "Gene" into a DOUCHE, and as such, he is unable to function well in everyday society.

  • "Gene" participates in a clinical study, where scientists extract some of the DOUCHE and put it in a cup. They can study the DOUCHE to see what it has in common with the DUTCH, and create a special set of instructions that will specifically target the defective genes and try to correct the shortcomings. We call these repair instructions NIEUW DUTCH, or more colloquially, New York City.

  • Scientists then engineer a virus that cannot reproduce on its own, but is hardy enough to deliver New York City into the heart of DOUCHEland without triggering a response from the immune system. The virus here does not do any work other than delivery -- it is just a reliable, braindead carrier, comparable to UPS 2-Day Service.

  • "Gene" is injected with a dose of New York City. The hope is that the repair instructions will convert every DOUCHE into DUTCH. In other forms of gene therapy, New York City would simply reproduce faster than DOUCHE, until the DOUCHE is minimized, or New York City might just generate ANTI-DOUCHE in counterbalance. The end result in all successful cases is that the genetic disorder is corrected or minimized.

  • The open issue in all of these approaches is that it takes a lot of hard work and repeat applications to deDOUCHE something. A single injection, if it even works at all, cannot immediately fix every set of defective genes. "Gene" could wake up tomorrow and be just as DOUCHEy as ever, or his immune system could recognize that he has always inherently been a DOUCHE and completely reject the foreigners and their meddling ways. Even worse, the problem could be exacerbated, and "Gene" could end up a prime example of DOUCHÉ.

Any questions?

Keeping eyes on the fries
Funding arrives for floating path on River Thames
Twitter's new comedy genre

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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Review Day

There are no spoilers in these reviews.

The Laser Game: Khet 2.0:
This game has been on our shelf for a few months now, but we've only played it a few times. It's a very neat concept, similar to chess with lasers. There are a handful of different game pieces, each with very simple movement rules, and at the end of each turn, you push a button to fire a real laser across the board. Some pieces are defenders, and can survive a frontal laser, but not one from the sides or back, while other pieces have mirrors which reflect the laser at a 90 degree angle. The goal is to kill your opponent's king with the laser.

Playing the game requires a change of mindset from normal board games, since geometry is involved, which is probably why we turn to more traditional games when we're tired at night. However, I can see this being plenty of fun for people looking for a purely strategic two-player game without any luck involved.

Final Grade: B-

Jaipur:
Jaipur is a two-player card game of market trade. There are various types of goods that you can sell for tokens, and the goal is to have the most tokens at the end of each round. You can only have seven cards in your hand, so saving up for a big sale will prevent you from grabbing newly arrived expensive goods on the market. There are plenty of camels involved too, but they are a double-humped sword. Owning camels will get you bonuses, but taking them from the market instead of goods frees up a market slot for new goods that your opponent can then take. This game plays like Lost Cities with slightly more setup time.

Final Grade: B+

Game of Thrones, Season One:
I didn't expect to like this going in, because it looked like Lord of the Rings, and Lord of the Rings was stupidity stretched over a near infinite time period. However, the HBOification of the genre made it compelling and instilled an urgency to quickly watch it to the end. The first season had solid character actors, a good momentum (in spite of a final episode which just felt like setup for the next season), and a dense but followable tangle of intrigue. Since I was not familiar with the books, having the bundled pictorial family tree with the DVDs was very useful. I'm slowly reading the book now, and find that the progression of the story is nearly identical between the book and the show. HBO also takes its inventory of boobies to an epic level, which sometimes does nothing to further the story at all.

Final Grade: A

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Friday, May 17, 2013

PT Day

Rebecca is a PTA!

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Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Answers Day

The sequel to Questions Day

"Are you deliberately posting more cat photos to Facebook? If so, is it because you're sad about Sydney's departure? " - Mike, Mango, and Ghost Chompy

It's not intentional. I've just discovered this cutting edge app called Instagram that's going to be the next big thing and I want to make sure I'm there on the upsurge. I think you should post more pictures of Mango to counterbalance the excess of cats.

"who do you think you are?" - Doobie

Depending on which band you ask and during which era, I'm either some kind of superstar (Spice Girls, 1997), I am the one that you've been waiting for (Tower of Power, 1991), or I'm running around leaving scars (Christina Perri, 2011).

"What is the relationship among you, chickens, and politics? Or to express it more accurately, the relationship between you and chickens, you and politics, and chickens and politics?" - Mom

"What are the specs on your PC, and how well does Doom run? I'm hearing certain good things about it, but unfortunately I don't think my system could handle it." - Evil Mike

I'm running Win 10 on i7 870, 8 GB RAM with an NVIDIA GTX 960. DOOM is incredibly optimized and holds steady on Ultra quality at 60fps. I've never had the framerate drop at all, which is even more impressive since you never stop sprinting in this game.

Overwatch is less optimized but still reasonable. I get 70fps at High and 48fps at Ultra. I prefer playing at High anyways because it makes it easier to see important things and not be distracted by chrome and shadows.

tagged as you speak | permalink | 3 comments

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Memory Day: Snapshots

This picture was taken 24 years ago, in May 1993.

This is just after the Francis C. Hammond Junior High awards ceremony, at which I smugly earned 3 awards including the Director's Award for Band. To my right is my elementary school band director turned junior high band director, Barbara Moran.

I'm definitely wearing a clip-on tie.

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Friday, May 17, 2019

Review Day: Grim Dawn (PC)

Built by some of the team that made 2006's Titan Quest (and with the same engine), Grim Dawn is one of the best Diablo II spiritual successors you've never heard of. It's not perfect, but it effectively scratches the action-RPG itch and I've already sunk almost 100 hours into it.

Grim Dawn is closer in style and pacing to Diablo II rather than Diablo III or Path of Exile. There's much less emphasis on movement skills and enemies feel more dangerous and harder to kill. Gear upgrades are less frequent but, as a result, feel more satisfying and well-earned.

The key discriminator of the game is its dual mastery system. Instead of selecting a single class with a skill tree (like a sorcerer or barbarian) upfront, you combine 2 classes to build a hybrid character. With 8 possible classes, this results in 28 possible archetypes. There's also a bonus point system (Devotions) that takes the worst UI traits of Skyrim's constellations and Path of Exile's skill tree and offers an obtuse layer of additional customization that you probably won't fully understand until your third or fourth character. I'm currently playing a Level 70 Purifier that plays like a WoW Retribution Paladin with bombs and a rifle, and having a great time.

The area where small studio budget limitations are clearest is clicking and pathing. Picking up loot by clicking on its graphic versus its name sometimes feels off. Your character will not always pick the best path to reach where you click, or make the best decision on whether to attack or move when you click beyond a monster. Thankfully, the usual hotkeys for "Force Move" and "Force Stand Still and Attack" are bindable. There is also a hotkey for "Move", which is a revelation for someone like me who has destroyed their right index finger by left-clicking to move across hundreds of hours of similar games.

If you try this game out and choose to stick with it, the Grim Internals mod is a must-have. Among its quality-of-life enhancements are: auto-pickup of the game's billion different crafting components, a health bar that floats over your character, and floating names for major monsters so they're easier to see on the screen.

Graphically, the game has a pretty grim colour palette (think of it as the anti-Torchlight) and the sprites and animation are nowhere near as polished as a big studio might be able to produce. Most of the monsters look like cheaper knock-offs of monsters from other games. However, the graphics effectively get the point across and are good enough to support the addictive kill-loot-sell cycle. The perspective is freely rotatable at any time and has a wide zoom range. The game map has a nice feature that uses color to show where you've been in a particular session, which is very helpful to confirm that you've cleared an area after the map has been fully explored.

The music is fine. There's one awful track that grates on the ears like an undergraduate composer version of Matt Uelmen that only knows one chord. It's so long and irritating to listen to that I teleport back to town to reset the music every time it comes on. Otherwise, there's a good mix of melodic tunes and the ambient nonsense that Trent Reznor unfortunately popularized with the Quake soundtrack.

At $25 for the base game, Grim Dawn is definitely a cost-effective purchase. I've enjoyed it enough to purchase the first of two expansion packs and would recommend it for anyone that needs a new action-RPG fix.

Final Grade: B+

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Monday, May 17, 2021

Ian Week #3 Battle Report

It's nice that Ian's weekly milestone is on a Sunday because it makes it much easier to remember to take a picture of him hovering near these concussion-weighted photo blocks. At 3 weeks, Ian is a pound heavier than his birthweight and about the same length. The interpolated trend so far mirrors my own growth pattern from 11th grade through grad school.

Ian's biggest challenge is passing gas and solids (liquids are not a problem). If he's fussing, it's most likely because he's frustrated that his bodily wastes don't know where the exit is. When not gassy, he's probably sleeping.

Infant care this time around is pretty straightforward. When you have two kids, you must make sure the older one doesn't run into traffic, so you don't have hours of free time to theorycraft every single aspect of the infant's life. So, you worry less that Ian got 16.45 hours of sleep instead of 17, and focus on activities that Maia can do in a circle around you while you hold him.

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