This Day In History: 05/24

Monday, May 24, 2004

The cicadas came out in full force yesterday, swarming trees and plants and sounding like police sirens when echoing from the nearby creek. There'd been a few before this weekend but they didn't really get their groove on until now.

Here's a picture of some plants I have growing in the backyard. See how many cicadas you can count in this square footage of greenery. The answer is shown in the next picture.

Here's the difference in volume through my fancy double-paned windows, taken with artistically horizontal cinematography.

Loud Cicadas (2MB WMV)

Fight Goths Fund returned
9 Year Old Talks His Way Out of Carjacking
eBay axes 'Schwarzenegger's DNA' listing
Suspects Fail Parallel Parking Exam

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Tuesday, May 24, 2005

There is a subset of our society known as the "Easily Offended". People in this elite clique are characterized by one or more of the following traits:

    1) They're ready to crusade at the drop of a hat, taking examples of poor taste as indicators of the moral decline of society (see Michael Powell).
    2) They're quite willing to let their outrage stem from secondhand sources, without getting all the facts themselves (see anyone who pickets movies without seeing them, or the local Fairfax representative who sent his aide to spy on a sex-awareness fair at George Mason so he could lambast it from a high tower of purity)
    3) If any of their talking points are shown to be false, they use "the greater good" as a set of blinders and shrug off the criticism (see these people who incidentally have all three traits).

Safety Tip of the Week: Blow the drink out first (1 MB GIF)
Family protects themselves from radiation with tin foil

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Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Post had an article on Sunday about the giant hoops that today's high school seniors have to jump through to ask the girl of their choice to prom . From the guy who added a slide to the senior slideshow to the guy who wrote PROM? in chocolate chips on some pancakes, kids today supposedly have to make their request like a marriage proposal lest the girl deem their question too unromantic and turn them down. Says one girl, "The romance is gone from everything else. All we do is go to parties and hook up. Prom is like a real date."

In MY day, we did not spend our entire high school careers going to parties and hooking up (or maybe I just went to the wrong high school, or the wrong parties). If you wanted to take someone to prom, you either called them up, or spread word through the neighbourhood gossip. The person replied with either yes or no, and that was that. If you had a steady boyfriend/girlfriend that was obviously the love of your life and destined to be a husband/wife, then going to prom was an implicit part of the package. In fact, that was one major reason people dated at all -- so they wouldn't have to stress over who they'd take to the prom! When you blow a few hundred bucks on a new VCR, they make sure to include batteries to run the remote. Prom is supposed to be the cheap double-A battery of high school relationships.

The bonus of this approach was that getting shut down remained a kind of private embarassment, like groggy mornings when you brush your teeth with hair gel, or the time you fell asleep on the toilet and fell in. If guys have to ask in front of the entire school and then the girl says no, they will most likely implode on the spot, or transfer to a private school.

Just wait for the day that all people who were asked to prom on the deck of the Love Boat and then spent thousands of dollars on one night of entertainment are ready for marriage. Because marriage obviously has to outdo prom, the proposal will have to include at least two of the following elements, or the girl won't take it seriously: space travel, sky writing, erupting volcanos, or herds of wild horses.


The two-hour LOST season finale is tonight! I'm guessing that Desmond will make an appearance for some reason, but I have no idea what they've been building up to these past eight weeks. That's the problem with trying to stretch a 22 show series over 40 weeks -- you lose the story's momentum and forget all of the clues amidst the absurd number of reruns. I also ordered the second season of The 4400 which came out yesterday.

I am going to get your balls.
Baboon didn't flinch after being hit with my secret catapult
Laxative searches are kosher

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

List Day: Top Five Pet Peeves of the Moment

  1. Lane Floaters: There's nothing wrong with rapidly changing lanes to get around the slow driver in the left lane (slow, both in the mental and automotive senses). I do it all the time. However, some people take this to the extreme -- bouncing back and forth between lanes without pause, and spending more time between lanes than within them. You see these clowns most often on two lane roads where both lanes are travelling at roughly the same speed. Generally, neither lane change will help the clown go any faster, but he persists in changing lanes to let everyone know that he needs to go faster than you. Floaters are never cool, even in the toilet.

  2. Speakerphone: I've heard of this tech company, which is definitely not the one I work for, where you can gauge the relative importance of an employee by how often he or she uses speakerphone for all calls. This habit is used to impress upon the underlings that managers are either far too busy to actually pick up the phone and hold it near their diamond faces, or are talking with very important people. Some common habits include: leaving the office door open, checking voicemail on speakerphone, having a conference call, letting it ring on speakerphone, and letting it ring then continuing to talk on speakerphone after the other person has picked up.

  3. Diddle-oo: This is the default sound that AOL Instant Messenger makes when you send or receive messages , and could be more irritating than a Nickelback / Mannheim Steamroller compilation CD. In college, one of my next-door dorm neighbours would chat with his secret online girlfriend all night long with the volume turned up. He died two months later in an apparent suicide, having inexplicably swallowed six gallons of trumpet valve oil and slide grease.

  4. Loud Commercials: I only watch one hour of television per week, but in that one hour, the volume of the show rapidly approaches zero as the entertainment value goes to infinity. As soon as the show pauses for a commercial break, the ads are suddenly inescapable, several thousand decibels louder than a lawn mower driving a jet airplane. You either have to listen to these annoying ear-shattering commercials, or turn the volume up and down between each segment.

  5. Brangelina: Whenever two celebrities momentarily hook up (humorously called "finding true love" in celebrity circles), the press will take a few letters from each name and merge them into a new Decepticon name so they can save all that ink from not printing the word, "and". Should I ever become a celebrity Br-, I resolve only to date girls whose names end in "east", "assiere", or "achiosaurus".

You can also see what my pet peeves were two years ago here.

An FBI target puts his whole life online
Dave McKee Bobble Head Doll
Train kills man trying to kill woman

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Monday, May 24, 2010

Weekend Wrap-up

In culinary terms, my weekend was a lazy cake topped with busy. Friday night was a relaxing night at home with sushi on the back porch. We tried the really cheap sushi from Safeway, which satisfied without being particularly delicious. Good if you crave sushi on the way home (and cheaper than Trader Joe's), but not as good as going to a restaurant.

Saturday opened with a trip to Costco for steaks and shells. In the afternoon we went to the Wine Tasting Bar in Reston Town Center with Page, who would be "Evil Paige" by virtue of being the second Paige we know except that she spells her name differently. The tasting bar was an interesting amalgamation of wine and capitalism -- you load up Winery Debit Cards with cash and then insert them into a machine that squirts a sample of the wine into your glass. Afterwards, we went to Uno's for pizza, served under the overly watchful eye of the overly friendly waitress.

On Sunday, our plans to hike up Old Rag were cancelled because of tropical rainstorm conditions, so I purchased the new Super Mario Galaxy 2 game for the Wii, which is very similar to the first apart from the fact that Mario has a huge ego and flies around in a him-shaped spaceship.

In the evening, we ate at American Flatbread in Ashburn with Brian and Emily, which is even farther away than us Sterling-ites would usually travel for food. We followed this up with three and a half hours of LOST, arriving home halfway through the clip show.

Man sucked into sausage seasoning machine
Suspect's sneakers foils stuffed animal hideout
Royal Navy 'does not keep sea monster sighting archive'

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Kitchen Remodeling Day, Part V

(539KB GIF)

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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Review Day: Diablo 3

There are no major spoilers in this review.

Overview

At its heart, Diablo 3 is a manifestation of the slot machine principle: you run around killing monsters by clicking on them, and get showered in gold, gems, and magical loot. Occasionally, an amazing piece of armor or a weapon will drop, powering you up for harder fights and ensuring that you want to keep playing in search of better loot. Diablo 2, the ultimate time-wasting game released 12 years ago, was a huge success and attaches high expectations and baggage on its sequel, but this new game stands strong on its own. There are parts which could have been done much better, but nothing that takes away from the sheer fun and addictiveness of the core gameplay mechanics.

At the time of writing, my primary character is a Level 45 Demon Hunter in Act II at the Nightmare difficulty level, although I have played the other four classes (Barbarian, Monk, Witch Doctor, Sorcerer) at least to Level 11.

Gameplay

This is definitely an evolution of the Diablo series, which is a good thing. The game design plays it safe, refining many of the annoyances of the older games without introducing anything that completely changes the genre. (When Half-Life came out, I was bored to tears because I really just wanted to play a new version of DOOM). All of the character classes feel fun, viable, and have a nice sense of progression towards unstoppable power. The handling of potions and life / mana regeneration makes battles slightly more strategic, and the character stat pages have all the numbers and clear descriptions you could possibly want (although you can have just as much fun ignoring the numbers under the hood).

The biggest change in gameplay is the elimination of skill trees and point allocation. In games like Diablo 2 and World of Warcraft, you earn points at each level which you can then spend to get better at specific skills. This system required much planning and research to ensure that you didn't make an irrevocable stupid mistake, and I was weary of starting every Diablo 2 game by looking up builds on the Internet. In Diablo 3, there is just a big bag of skills with various modifiers. You eventually learn every skill, and you customize your character by picking out your 6 favorite skills. You can swap out your skills with minimal penalty, which really encourages experimentation and natural growth. I'm onboard with the change, and would become a Fan of it on Facebook if it were a celebrity and if becoming a Fan actually meant anything.

The game has four levels of difficulty, and the challenge feels about right so far. Normal mode is sometimes tricky, but never so demanding that you're afraid to experiment with your build. Nightmare ramps up nicely so far, and feels difficult without feeling frustrating. Every map is randomized each time you play, and I continue to stumble across little random events that I hadn't seen before.

Graphics and Sound

The style and tone of the game are very well done, and the graphical look is perfect. I have a 2010 vintage graphics card (aged in oak) and the framerate is rock solid in all but one dungeon (which has lots of water effects). Skills look and feel progressively more powerful, and the music easily walks the fine line between ambient garbage and being too melodically recognizable. The voice acting is solid, though the little quips that are humorous at first can get noticeably repetitive. I don't care much about speech anyhow, since I read fast and click impatiently through walls of text.

The game's main plot is the MOST INCREDIBLE STORY EVER to win third prize in an elementary school Reflections Contest. It's eminently forgettable, and the dialogue is often laughably bad, as if it were all written by an English major (that failed out and switched to business) who was told to write a haiku using only eight syllable words. This doesn't matter though, because the lackluster story doesn't make the game any less fun -- it just means you can safely ignore almost all of the plot and go about your business of killing monsters.

User Interface

A noticeable flaw in Diablo 3 is the user interface, which was obviously designed by the same guy who thought it was a good idea to make the text next to ATM and gas pump buttons not actually line up with the button being described. The UI is overly busy, insisting on holding your hand through each quest and informing you of the most mundane details that don't really matter. Every alert is flashy and animated, and popups litter the screen like a Punch the Monkey website from the late 90s. It can be very distracting to play with all of these notifications firing, similar to reading online articles on websites that insist on putting automatically updated Twitter feeds next to the prose. You cannot turn any of these annoyances off, and it is very easy to miss the information that matters, like which new skills were just unlocked when you gained a new level.

The skill UI is intentionally obtuse, to make it so you cannot easily switch your 6 skills in the heat of combat (and making a UI worse to prevent an action perceived as harmful has never been a successful design principle). Turning on "Elective Mode" is a must, so you can select your 6 most useful skills, but even then it can be hard to see the big picture of your full skill set, since the skills are spread across six separate pages in the UI. A list approach to this aspect, with all of the skills on a single drag-and-drop page, would have been much more intuitive.

Always Online

Diablo 3 is designed as a client/server game, where the guts of the game are actually running on Blizzard servers, and the part installed on your local computer is just used to render the graphics and let you click on stuff. There are definitely solid technical reasons for this approach (preventing cheating, ease of hotfixes, etc.) but undeniably and without caveat, it's a stupid idea to require an Internet connection to play a single-player game. I'm lucky enough to have a fast, consistent connection, and have had minimal problems with the servers after the Launch Day debacle, but I would still prefer to just be able to fire up the game locally without having to deal with lag and logins. So far, this is not enough to dampen my enthusiasm for the game, but it's something to take note of.

Blizzard's online environment, battle.net, has not improved in the least bit since my Starcraft II review in 2010. Blizzard's attempt to transform gaming into a social venture is awkward, like Google thinking that Plus will catch on if they just integrate it everywhere. For me, gaming is primarily a solo endeavor, and sometimes I just want to play a game without talking to other gamers or inadvertently revealing that I played Skyrim for 160 hours in the last two months of 2011. I would mind battle.net much less if I could go "invisible" or have some privacy control over what details are available to friends.

The final piece of the online puzzle is the Diablo Auction House, where you can buy weapons and armor for in-game gold or real currency. I would strongly recommend not buying from it, because it defeats one of the primary joys of playing the game: what sense of elation can you possibly get from an amazing prize that randomly drops in the game, when you know you can just obtain better gear more easily and with less of a time commitment in the auction house? The gear for sale from other players will always be better than the gear you get in the game (sometimes 2 and 3 times as good) because of the way minimum level requirements work. For example, the best sword you can use while at Level 9 would not actually drop in the game until you are Level 15, but you can immediately buy it at Level 9 from other players who are further along. Just use the auction house for selling your old gear and your playtime will be a little more fun.

Bottom Line

Diablo 3 is well-polished with a ton of replayability, and can be enjoyed with or without prior knowledge of the series. If you don't mind a kludgy skill interface and the always online requirement, this is a solid purchase.

Final Grade: B+

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Friday, May 24, 2013

Friday Wrap-ups

Congratulations to Kathy, who was one of 9 readers that answered this year's census and won a $10 gift certificate to Amazon.com! Lurkers were unusually uninterested in free money this year, as those 9 responses were only about half of my usual regular anonymous traffic.

In other news, I have released and taken today off to start on v0.3.0. I'm meticulously tracking the schedule for this work so I can get better at software estimation, and my spreadsheet reports that I've spent 138.5 hours so far, at an average rate of 2.5 hours per day.

Enjoy the long weekend!

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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Overwatch for Beginners, Part II: Easy Heroes

Part I | Part II | Part III

There are many resources available for mastering individual heroes (like the Cynical Nerds Youtube series or Furious Paul's Overwatch Strategy Guide). Instead of retreading the same ground, I'm going to approach Overwatch's 21 heroes from the perspective of how easy each one is to master. Every hero is fairly easy to pick up and use, but some heroes are more tricky to play in a way that will help your team win a match.

Starter Heroes: These heroes have straightforward, understandable skillsets and roles, and it is very easy to make a difference in a game with them.

  • Bastion: Bastion's ability to become an immobile chaingun of doom makes him the first hero to impress new players, but he is very counterable by more skilled players. Try to move around to a new position after scoring a particular string of kills in one place, and be aware that you have a "headshot" critical vulnerability on the back of your body in turret mode.

  • Lucio: Lucio has a passive aura that either heals nearby players or speeds them up. Try to use speed as your default setting, only toggling to heals between battles or when many team members can benefit. You probably won't get many solo kills as Lucio, but you are very good at "boop"ing people off the edge of cliffs:
  • McCree / Reaper / Soldier 76: These are the traditional damage dealers. They have shooty skills to shoot things, mobility and heal skills for survivability, and ultimates that make them even more shooty. Use them to keep pressure on objectives, support tanks, and protect your healers.

  • Winston: Winston has good mobility and a weak gun that hits whoever happens to be nearby, making him a good choice for people with poor aim. Use him to provide localized defense in a battle, or to quickly get to a back lines sniper or support for harassment -- he's less useful as a pure frontal assault kind of tank.

Intermediate Heroes: These heroes are simple to play, but require a little extra spatial awareness and focus to support game objectives. Try them out once you're comfortable with the general flow of the game.

  • Junkrat: Play Junkrat if you like chaos and don't mind being off doing your own thing. Junkrat can shut down a narrow chokepoint singlehandedly with his randomly bouncing grenades, and his kit of traps are fun to play with and useful for staying alive.

  • Mercy: Mercy is a single-hero healer (where Lucio is a group healer) and can also boost the damage output of a single target. The healing part is easy -- the difficult part is using her "fly to team member" skill to constantly stay ahead of enemies and out of harm's way. Try to constantly be flying between team members rather than picking your favourite to play assistant with. As you improve, healing will become second nature and establishing a good flight pattern will take up most of your time. Mercy is a very fun and rewarding healer to play (She was my second most-played hero in the beta).

  • Pharah: Pharah has straightforward skills -- fly around and launch rockets! The tricky part here is to manipulate her flying skills in unpredictable patterns. A Pharah flying straight up or down at constant velocity is going to be easy pickings for any sniper. You'll also need to get into the habit of leading your shots to anticipate where your target will be by the time the rocket reaches them.

  • Reinhardt: Reinhardt is the tankiest of tanks, with a massive shield that's perfect for getting your team through a chokepoint. Don't be afraid to drop the shield and start rage-swinging his giant axe when all of your teammates have seen squirrels and run off somewhere else -- he does a surprising amount of damage and his melee range is big enough to get some satisfying kills on squishy enemies.

  • Symmetra: Symmetra's gameplay can feel unfulfilling -- give shields to your teammates and plant mini turrets around the map to catch enemies unaware (represented by an icon that looks like a retarded penguin on your screen), in order to use your Teleporter ultimate which gets your respawned team members back to the battle faster. Sometimes it will feel like you're playing your own little minigame within the game. You'll need some map knowledge to identify places where your teleporter won't be found and destroyed by enemies.

  • Torbjorn: Torbjorn builds a really irritating turret that he can repair over time. Try not to play him in a "protect the turret" mode, as this is very limiting. Instead, let the turret support you as you shoot with your surprisingly painful gun and rebuild the turret for free when the old one falls. Torbjorn is a pretty weak choice when you're on the Attacking team, but I've seen a few that have proved this general rule of thumb to be wrong.

On Friday, I'll cover the other 9 heroes, which are a little trickier to play than these.

tagged as games | permalink | 1 comment

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Overwatch Day

Overwatch turned one year old yesterday. I started playing this game during the closed beta in February 2016, and it is the only game in recent memory that has retained my contiguous interest for more than a year. Even in the face of crazy VR games for the Oculus Rift, I still find myself coming back to Overwatch to unwind after a long day of work.

I haven't increased my stable of heroes that I'm good at playing, but there's still enough variety to make each game fresh and satisfying. Plus, the online community is "not awful", which is pretty high praise for any online community.

What games are you playing these days, and what upcoming games are you looking forward to?

tagged as games | permalink | 4 comments

Friday, May 24, 2019

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

Benfei USB-C to HDMI Adapter (Male-to-Female):
Streaming from a laptop is a regular part of our TV watching experience, but the ultrabook laptops I prefer have stopped having HDMI ports. This little adapter works fine for 6 months to a year before you have to unplug/replug it constantly to patch sound through it. 3 months later, it stops working all together. We went through 3 of them over 2 years before I finally gave up and bought a dedicated USB-C to HDMI cable (Male-to-Male). There's a sexuality joke buried in here somewhere.

Final Grade: C-

Colony, Season Three:
At the end of Season Two, I was worried that Colony (by LOST's Carlton Cuse) would devolve into a slow-paced slog without any answers. So, it was not reassuring to see that the first several episodes of this season take place in the wilderness and involve a brand new set of characters (one who looks like John Locke) with origin flashbacks. Luckily, the LOST clone part gets over quickly and the action returns to the parts that made the first season somewhat watchable.

There's a great story in here somewhere, but it's stretched to infinity and poorly executed onscreen. There are weird leaps in time and extended scenes with odd reaction shots that feel like huge chunks of the story were edited out. The show was cancelled after this season, and I'm perfectly fine with that. There are minor cliffhangers in the finale, but honestly, the show didn't make me care enough to be disappointed.

Final Grade: C

Samsung HW-MS550 Sound+ Soundbar:
This soundbar replaces my 15-year-old 5.1 surround sound system which we never fully exploited and just caused wiring headaches any time we rearranged the living room. I'm pretty sure I was never the person that was going to perfectly align all of the speakers and mathematically calculate the perfect cone of aural bliss, and that level of effort is even less likely now that we watch TV with subtitles after toddler lights out. The soundbar is easy to install, has sound quality good enough for the trashy TV and movies that we watch, and instantly reduces clutter in my entertainment nook by 500%.

Final Grade: B

Earth's Best Fish Nuggets for Kids:
I bought these fish sticks for Maia to mitigate any disappointment she might have from watching us eat our raw sushi. She popped one in her mouth and then immediately opened it to allow the nugget to fall back onto the plate. In my post-dinner dinner of fish nuggets that Maia had not finished (all of them), I found that they were 85% breading, 10% fish glue, and 5% actual fish. I chewed a nugget in search of real fish and experienced a powdery, formless texture that evoked a sense of "someone was talking about fish in the next room when they baked this bread nugget".

Final Grade: F

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Monday, May 24, 2021

Ian Week #4 Battle Report

Someone sent us this nice puzzle of Ian's name, but it came without a card so we have no idea who to thank.

This boy is now 9.8 pounds of Uri (roughly 3.3% of the net family weight). He is the loudest sleeper of all time, continuously grunting or vocalizing about some unseen TV show in his dreams.

Unlike Maia, Ian did not know how to smile at birth, but he has just recently started doing the "side smile" where only half of his mouth curves up.

Rebecca and I are still alive but would prefer a world where we can put the kids into cryostasis for 9 hours at a time to get an uninterrupted sleep cycle.

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