This Day In History: 05/20

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Desparate Housewives: This darkly humorous show looks at the secretive lives of four women living in a cul-de-sac. Eva Longoria will play one of the women, an unhappily married former runway model. Said unhappiness drives her to become involved with their 16-year-old gardener.

This is the show that ABC is hoping will do better in the Alias timeslot next fall. Luckily they're not completely retarded, as Alias will return in January 2005 with twenty back-to-back new episodes.

Infertile couple tries a new approach
Star in your own magazine
Man's attempt to ship himself goes awry
Satan visits Cyberchurch

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Friday, May 20, 2005

For this rainy Friday, here's a collection of news stories about stupid people recently in the news. Enjoy!

Who not to solicit for drugs
Saving the sharks, sort of
Man calls police from camper he broke in to
Friends' Boat Trip Fiasco Ends With Lesson Learned (Maybe)
Drug dogs useless after learning what talc smells like
Because "I am poisonous" is a catchy slogan

permalink | 2 comments

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Newsday Tuesday

Robot digger set to land Sunday at Martian pole

Like a miner prospecting for gold, NASA hopes its latest robot to Mars hits pay dirt when it lands Sunday near the red planet's north pole to conduct a 90-day digging mission. The three-legged Phoenix Mars lander . . . is zeroing in on the unexplored arctic region where a reservoir of ice is believed to lie beneath the Martian surface.

To be clear, the article is not saying Phoenix is a gold digger, but it's not messing around in a region where it won't find anything. This type of colourful simile is common in stories that NASA wants to excite the public mind.

Phoenix lacks the tools to detect signs of alien life -- either now or in the past.

When asked, project manager, Barry Goldstein, confided that a fully-functional flux capacitor (and the accompanying plutonium fuel) was too heavy and too expensive. He said the extra savings were spent making the robot look extra fly for the day it would touch the Martian sky. Good photography is the keystone to any popular space mission.

On Sunday, Phoenix will punch through the Martian atmosphere at more than 12,000 mph. Over the next seven minutes, it will use the atmosphere's friction and a parachute to slow to 5 mph. Seconds before touchdown, Phoenix will fire its thrusters for what scientists hope will be a soft landing. The last time NASA tried a soft landing on Mars, it ended in disaster.

NASA blamed previous crashes on an engineer who had trained extensively with the 1980s game "Lunar Lander", written in BASIC. Apparently an extra GOTO statement in the game's code made this engineer believe that it was safe to land at 456 miles per hour. Perhaps it is only fitting that the new robot is named after a mythological bird that ends its life in a fiery explosion.

The spacecraft's main tool is an 8-foot aluminum-and-titanium robotic arm capable of digging trenches 2 feet deep. Once ice is exposed -- believed to be anywhere from a few inches to a foot deep -- the lander will use a powered drill bit at the end of the arm to break it up.

When asked what would happen if there were no payload in the first 2 feet of ground, Mr. Goldstein exhaled deeply, scratched the back of his head and admitted, "We'll probably be shit out of luck." His rare candor is unsurprising, considering that the Phoenix robot does not come with wheels, and cannot reposition itself after the initial landing.

"It'll be a construction zone," said mission co-leader Ray Arvidson of Washington University in St. Louis. He predicts the ice will be "as hard as a sidewalk."

Because this is highly technical jargon, please refer to the following graph for a comparison of the hardness of Martian ice against various everyday objects.

The excavated soil and ice bits will then be brought aboard Phoenix's science lab. It will be baked in miniature ovens and the vapors analyzed for organic compounds.

A quick glance at eBay reveals that EZ Bake Ovens can be purchased for as little as $10 these days (less for the government-recalled model that partially amputates fingers), so at first, it's puzzling why the Phoenix robot costs so much money. NASA has spent $420 million on this mission, not including the $100 million wasted on a cancelled prototype from NASA's "faster, better, cheaper" era, when designers in the good life felt that the best things in life were free.

It is hoped that the "harder, better, stronger, faster" era will result in fewer crashes, even if the resulting robot costs enough to feed the obese of America for at least seven weeks. The price tag certainly isn't buying longetivity:

While scientists say there's a chance Phoenix could live a month or so beyond its 90-day mission to see late summer or fall, it won't survive as long as the rovers. That's because its solar panels won't produce enough power to keep it alive during the Martian winter.

Said [mission co-leader] Arvidson: "Its feet will be embedded with dry ice and the sun will be below the horizon."

Mr. Arvidson is currently engaged in a plagiarism lawsuit for his alleged theft of a Japanese Yakuza hitman's trademarked slogan.

As prices rise, crime tipsters work overtime
Man chips tooth on restaurant bolt
Photographer Kabobs

tagged as newsday, mock mock, favourites | permalink | 2 comments

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Maryland Day


We arrived at the Back Creek Inn B&B around 10:30 on a stormy Sunday morning. The little detached building on the right was our private cottage.

Evidently, sharing the road means running over pedestrians.

Our cottage had a king-sized bed, gas fireplace, massaging tub, shower, fridge, and microwave. I had to bring my own woman though.

From our screened porch, we could look out across the gardens to the Chesapeake Bay. There was a dock available, in case we wanted to arrive by boat.

Pooping is FORBIDDEN.

All of the fire hydrants in Solomons had wildlife painted on. In the event of a fire, your home could be saved by the maximum pressure ejected from this stork's butt.

The pastor at this church was rather worried about his personal parking space.


Soft serve with sprinkles only ran us $2 each!
Attempted Murder Fail
Online car hysterics drive Shanghainese round the bend
Camera snake used to find wallcat

tagged as media, day-to-day | permalink | 2 comments

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Review Day

There are no spoilers in these reviews.

JUnit Recipes: Practical Methods for Programmer Testing by J. B. Rainsberger:
The BURI is still out on the penchant for publishing companies to put unrelated animals and lithographs on the covers of their technical books, but I'm leaning towards the side of "utterly retarded design decision". Thankfully, I did not need any warrior skills to benefit from this book, which is a tip-oriented cookbook of common approaches and patterns for unit testing. It's not as cover-to-cover readable as, for example, a book in the Pragmatic Programmer series, but the information is concise and jokes are thankfully relegated to footnotes.

Final Grade: B-

The Cathedral & the Bazaar: Musings on Linux and Open Source by an Accidental Revolutionary by Eric S. Raymond:
This tiny tome contains various essays on Open Source Software (which DDMSence is an example of), with musings on the psychology behind open source developers and several open-ended questions on the economic viability of open source. Some essays are more readable than others, but even the dry ones are interesting, as long as you are interested in the field.

Final Grade: B

A New Tide by Gomez:
I picked up this CD because I liked the song, and wanted to see what they'd done more recently. This CD is very mellow and easy to listen to, with a good mix of hooks and interesting combinations of instrumentation. Samples can be heard -- I really like the timbre of the vocalist on Track 2 and 6, but dislike the whiny Rufus-Wainwright-sounding guy on Track 1 and 5.

Final Grade: B+

LifeLock CEO's Identity Stolen 13 Times
Conservationists protest as Robert Mugabe sends 'ark' of animals to North Korea
Teacher uses presidential assassination to teach geometry

tagged as reviews | permalink | 0 comments

Friday, May 20, 2011

Kitchen Remodeling Day, Part III

(599KB GIF)

The good stuff starts on Day Four.

tagged as day-to-day | permalink | 1 comment

Monday, May 20, 2013

Weekend Wrap-up

The first half of the weekend was quiet and nondescript. We sat on the back porch with a pinot grigot on Friday night, diligently waiting for the cicadas to arrive, but all we saw was a fearless skunk boldly rooting around in the backyard like a truffle pig.

On Saturday, I went to Costco for the essentials, such as five pounds of steak and a new badminton net (after nine years, the original net looks like public school gym equipment). I then worked on Bugler in the afternoon while Rebecca did female stuff like yoga and haircuts. We had a late dinner at Taste of Burma and then watched 30 Rock until we fell asleep.

Sunday afternoon was the huge NOVA graduation, for which we spent a half hour sitting on Braddock Road waiting to turn left into the Patriot Center with PTSD flashbacks to the Nissan Pavilion. We were also in front of an old white guy in an Audi who became cartoonishly upset when it took five cycles to get through an intersection and smashed down on his car horn when I refused to "block the box". I gave him a Miss America hand wave out the window, and his Vesuvian blood pressure probably formed several more arteries in his chest cavity by the time we had gone through.

There were roughly 1200 students graduating on Sunday, which is apparently the largest community college graduating class in the country. I think we cheated a little though, since they bind all of the neighbouring college campuses into a loosely allied cluster of feudal city states under the Northern Virginia banner. I had a $6 box of nachos and a $4 coke to go with my $0 seat close to the action, and listened as the two of the four chosen name-callers horribly mangled any names that weren't in English or Spanish.

Getting out of the Patriot Center was much easier than getting in, and we closed out the evening with an early diner dinner at Denny's around the corner in Fairfax.

How was your weekend?

tagged as day-to-day | permalink | 0 comments

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Random Chart Day: My Car

I've owned my car for two years now. Here's how my mileage has looked over the life of the car:

Here's the raw data, which can be paged and sorted as tabular data is wont to be.

Date Gas (gal) Cost ($/gal) Total Miles (mi) MPG
5/16/2012 16.9 3.87 419 24.5
6/7/2012 15.4 3.6 744 21.1
6/18/2012 16.6 3.54 1119 22.59
7/1/2012 13.2 3.47 1424 23.11
8/9/2012 16.7 3.7 1787 21.74
8/29/2012 17 3.77 2153 21.53
9/16/2012 11.2 3.85 2385 20.71
10/3/2012 13.8 3.85 2698 22.68
10/24/2012 16.6 3.8 3040 20.6
11/9/2012 12.4 3.51 3272 18.71
11/24/2012 14.5 3.43 3602 22.76
12/20/2012 16.3 3.29 3910 18.9
1/9/2013 16.8 3.46 4259 20.77
1/23/2013 9.9 3.49 4461 20.4
2/4/2013 14.2 3.56 4745 20
2/24/2013 14.1 3.86 5014 19.08
3/7/2013 5.8 3.87 5119 18.1
3/10/2013 8.3 3.59 5341 26.75
3/27/2013 15.6 3.79 5690 22.37
4/17/2013 15.6 3.6 6019 21.09
5/14/2013 16.6 3.7 6349 19.88
5/25/2013 12.6 3.4 6621 21.59
6/13/2013 15.8 3.68 6956 21.2
6/28/2013 13.4 3.71 7271 23.51
7/13/2013 12.6 3.71 7555 22.54
7/20/2013 10.8 3.77 7838 26.2
8/11/2013 12.4 3.77 8074 19.03
8/27/2013 16.6 3.55 8452 22.77
9/15/2013 14.7 3.47 8766 21.36
10/6/2013 12.4 3.6 9028 21.13
10/21/2013 15.3 3.37 9349 20.98
11/8/2013 11.9 3.35 9577 19.16
11/14/2013 7.1 3.18 9731 21.69
11/20/2013 13.3 3.29 10078 26.09
12/6/2013 14.2 3.39 10407 23.17
12/18/2013 12.2 3.37 10649 19.84
12/30/2013 11.6 3.44 10918 23.19
1/20/2014 12.7 3.44 11143 17.72
2/11/2014 14 3.36 11393 17.86
3/11/2014 13 3.46 11618 17.31
3/21/2014 11.3 3.6 11864 21.77
4/1/2014 7 3.64 11998 19.14
4/6/2014 14.2 3.31 12407 28.8
4/24/2014 15.7 3.7 12756 22.23
5/11/2014 16.2 3.72 13119 22.41

Lessons Learned:

  • I drive less than 7000 miles per year.
  • The average price of gas has decreased to $3.58 per gallon.
  • On average, I go about 291 miles before filling up.
  • My MPG has improved to an average of 21.5 miles per gallon. The previous record MPG (on our Waynesboro trip) has been broken by our Greenbrier trip (28.8 MPG).
  • It has cost me $2.28 per mile to drive this car, including gas and the initial purchase cost.

tagged as data | permalink | 0 comments

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Memory Day: Fifteen Years Ago

On Saturday, May 20, 2000, Paige was in town, visiting me at my parents' house in Alexandria. I had just finished the first week of my first internship at FGM, and on the Friday before, I picked her up at a random dead end in Leesburg (her car could not travel more than 10 miles without exploding, so her parents pushed her out of their moving car on their way to locales further north).

As a native of the DC area, I had already become jaded with the tourist grandeur of the area. So, the sightseeing agenda for this day consisted of easy-to-reach landmarks along the Blue Line which, even then, was the blue-haired stepchild of the Metro system. We hit Old Town Alexandria in the morning, where I showed off the million dollar boathouse funded by the Alexandria Crew Boosters and nestled in the armpit of eight blocks of ghettos, and followed it up with a trip past Arlington Cemetery (because no one actually gets off there).

In DC proper, we went to the Smithsonian for the only exhibit worth visiting: the Insect Zoo at the Natural History Museum (sponsored at the time by Orkin). We also went to an exhibit about pianos at the American History Museum, which probably would have been more exciting had it been about brass instruments. After a classy late lunch at the Food Court in Pentagon City, we returned home to watch Usual Suspects and eat cereal.

I also may have tried to get her to read Janny Wurts, but I think she hated it like everyone else who is not specifically me.

tagged as memories | permalink | 2 comments

Friday, May 20, 2016

Overwatch for Beginners, Part I: Introduction

Part I | Part II | Part III

Blizzard's latest game, Overwatch, has its global release on Monday night, May 23 on PC, PS4, and XBone. I normally don't jump on the hype bandwagon for new games (the last game I preordered may have been the highly disappointing Ultima IX in 1999), but the hundred hours I spent playing the beta has convinced me that this is going to be a huge hit. Besides the obvious care, charm, and polish baked into the package, the game features the same addictiveness and accessibility that made World of Warcraft intriguing to gamers who wouldn't normally be interested in the genre.

Overwatch aims to do the same for first-person team shooters, where you compete in teams of 6 to accomplish different objectives. While kills and reflexes are important, coordinated teamwork is a must, and there are roles that even people with the aiming skills of North Korea can perform to help their team succeed. The heroes fall into the traditional MMO categories (tanks, damage dealers, and healers) and all 21 are varied enough to lead to unexpectedly satisfying team compositions.

You might enjoy the animated shorts that Blizzard has released to develop the lore behind the game (although the story is more for flavor than an essential part of the game). Even if you're not a gamer, you'll appreciate their high quality production:

Matches take place on well-designed maps in scenic global locales and consist of three game modes: Defenders try to prevent Attackers from capturing a control zone, both teams try to claim the same control zone (King of the Hill), or Defenders try prevent Attackers from escorting a payload to a final destination. Some maps feature a mix of these objectives. Objectives take precedence over deathmatch kills, and it doesn't matter if you've killed 20 enemies if you end up losing control of a capture zone.

Besides running, jumping, and crouching in a 3D world, each hero has a very constrained skillset, generally consisting of a primary shooting ability, a secondary shooting mode, two support skills, and an "ultimate" ability that can only be used after you've charged it up over time (not unlike heroes in Warcraft 3). This makes it easier to try out and enjoy different heroes without having to master tons of key bindings. The tutorial hero, Soldier: 76, is the most traditional hero, and a good starting point if you ever played DOOM or Team Fortress as a wee youth with a 9600 baud modem.

The game comes with a basic tutorial and then drops you straight into the action. You can opt to play against the computer to get comfortable, but this gets boring pretty quickly. I was surprised by how much more interesting the game got simply by adding unpredictable real players to the mix. Games against real people are overwhelmingly chaotic when you first start -- you will die a million times and have no idea what all of the heroes are doing to you, but you'll enjoy every second of it. The art style, sound design, and animations all blend into a giant interactive Looney Tunes cartoon.

If you're interested in playing Overwatch, you should take a look at Overwatch: A Complete Beginner's Guide. Here are a few quick tips for your first games:

  • After you die, you come back to life in a "spawn room" and have to run back to the battlefront. Try to travel by different routes to get back to the action and you'll learn the maps that much more quickly. You may even discover useful shortcuts -- with the exception of a few chokepoints, there are always multiple ways to get around. You can also load up a map in a Custom Game and explore it at your leisure.
  • You can change your hero on the fly after dying, but this erases any ultimate charge you've built up. Try to use your ultimate ability before switching so it doesn't go to waste.
  • Tapping TAB during the game will give you a quick idea of who's alive on your team. If the whole team just died, you may want to regroup instead of wandering back to the battle one at a time. You can also enable a Kill Feed in the Options menu.
  • Proximity is a very important (and under-explained) concept in all game modes. You need to be within the colorful boundary of a control zone for a certain amount of time to capture it. As a Defender, you can contest the capture by standing in the zone yourself. Likewise, Attackers can make the payload travel faster when more people are nearby (and being close to the payload will heal you). Defenders can contest the forward motion of the payload by standing close by.

Next Tuesday in Part II, I'll give a brief overview of the 21 heroes and provide some suggestions on the easiest heroes to get started with!

tagged as games | permalink | 3 comments

Monday, May 20, 2019

Weekend Wrap-up

On Friday afternoon, we had the entire Ahlbin family over (Ben, Anna, Ella, Rosie, Kathryn, Isaac, Felicity, and now, Gideon) for a pizza lunch and toddler dance party. They can no longer fit into normal cars and now drive a vehicle that holds 11 and looks like a cross between a SWAT team truck and a hearse.

On Friday evening, we had a family dinner at The V and then started a new puzzle (canals in Amsterdam).

On Saturday, Rebecca had to work, so Maia and I went to a nearby playground in the near-90 degree weather. I tried to teach her to express her displeasure with climate change by saying, "Boy, it's hot!" but she could only say, "Oh boy! It's hot!" We're still working on it. In the evening, we had our first barbeque of the season, featuring old work friends, our neighbours across the street, and their dog. As you can see from the photo below, our grilling experience is much brighter now that the neighbour's long-dead trees have been chopped down. Looks like it's time for a screen porch!

On Sunday, Rebecca finally got a chance to transfer her life into my old Samsung S5 phone (after having lost her iPhone in the pool last week). In the evening, Maia cooled off by playing in buckets of water and we had a dinner of pork tenderloin, weird mushrooms from the farmer's market, and kale.

How was your weekend?

tagged as day-to-day | permalink | 1 comment

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Memory Day: Snapshots

This picture was taken two years ago today, on May 20, 2018.

The AT from Route 7 to Bear's Den is normally an easy, no-drama affair. We made the mistake of trying it after a solid week's worth of rain which raised humidity levels up to 120% and converted most of the trail into interminable mudslides. Hiking in damp shoes is my least favourite activity.

Maia was 10 months old and enjoyed her first trip in the kid backpack, as well as the view (and milk break) at the top.

tagged as memories | permalink | 2 comments

Friday, May 20, 2022

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

The Outlaws, Season One:
This was an unexpectedly pleasant ensemble comedy about a rag-tag group of petty criminals doing community service together, with great performances from Stephen Merchant and Christopher Walken. The characters are likeable and the plot never gets too menacing or overwhelming. Its only flaw is that many of the subplot threads are dropped without resolution by the end, in favor of wrapping up the "main" storyline, so a few characters seem to have sudden character changes to align them better with that plot. On Amazon Prime.

Final Grade: B+

Modern Family, Season Eleven:
This show should have ended years ago, but it was just pleasant enough to watch when nothing else was available. In the later seasons, we found ourselves tolerating most of the B stories until the characters we actually cared about were back onscreen. That said, this is a decent final season with a finale that's the right balance of funny and sentimental.

Final Grade: B-

404 by Barns Courtney:
A nice, if a little short, follow-up to Barns Courtney's great debut album, Attractions of Youth. 99 is a good, representative track.

Final Grade: B

Reacher, Season One:
The first episode of this mystery / thriller is captivating, with a ridiculous Marty Stu trope lead character and some interesting mystery elements. It starts better than it ends, though, as the plot progression is very by-the-numbers (coincidental deaths, key intelligence popping up at just the right time). By the end, I was mainly watching for the evolving bromance between the two lead guys, and didn't care as much about the plot resolution or ultraviolent action sequences.

Final Grade: B-

tagged as reviews | permalink | 0 comments

 

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