This Day In History: 08/29

Wednesday, August 29, 2001

The houses along my street seem to have a fetish for keeping their lawns green all the time. In particular, I've never walked past the Delta Delta Delta sorority house when a sprinkler wasn't on in the front yard. Even when the grass is a marshy mess and the hose is sinking into the quagmire, the sprinkler is diligently in use.

I had Pedagogy of Music Theory yesterday, which looks like it will be a really interesting class. Practicality interests me much more than theory and history. I consider myself a fairly good one-to-one tutor in general areas, so it will be nice to improve that focus with a class dedicated to teaching. I also took advantage of the surprisingly big music library for some reading assignments. Tech's four shelves of reprints and translations can't compare with two stories of musical goodness. Another surprise that greeted me yesterday was the fact that FSU honours federal holidays. Virginia Tech was always open five days a week, and made up the difference by giving a week's break for Thanksgiving. In fact, it's been so long since I've taken an incidental holiday that I won't know what to do with myself on Labour Day or Veterans' Day.

Irish Washerwoman is near completion -- all I have left is the introduction. I meant to compose more yesterday, but got sidetracked with the oddly compelling Underground Book by Suelette Dreyfus and Julian Assange, which I started over lunch. Though it tends to ramble, and names and dates ooze into a blur, it offers a fascinating look at the history and psychology behind hackers. I read over eight chapters before I realized how much time had passed, and finished the whole 400+ page book before going to bed. Another bonus: the entire book is available for free online .

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Thursday, August 29, 2002

There's no room in the trumpet studio again this semester, so I can't take trumpet lessons. I figured something like this would happen, judging from past experience. Since I really can't put them off any longer, I'm still signed up for the two credits. I worked out a deal where I keep on playing, and every month or so, I e-mail the trumpet professor to tell him what I've been working on. This would be a dream gig for an undergrad who hated playing his trumpet. I would have kept on practicing without lessons though, simply because its one more unique task to throw into the rotation when everything else is boring.

I also got offered a spot in FSU Winds as an appeasement, but it would have conflicted with my teaching, so I declined. Speaking of ensembles, I had planned to try out for Tallahassee Winds this semester, but when I finally got around to checking the audition times, I was a day too late. I'll probably try out in the Spring if there are any openings.

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Monday, August 29, 2005

To give you an idea of how strangely my brain is wired, here is a cautionary tale. I went to Ruby Tuesday for dinner on Friday night with Anna, and we noticed in the menus that they served bison burgers. Anna commented that it was a rather peculiar meat to make a burger out of. In the span of less than three seconds, without prompting and without conscious choice, my brain had begun searching for a punny comment to make about bison, narrowing down a wide field of mediocre contenders to a play on words of "bison-tennial". From that point, the rogue faction of my brain immediately began searching for casual words that sounded like "tennial". By then, the rest of my brain had figured out that some neurons were working off the clock and pulled the plug on the whole venture. I think the neural networks inside my brain have created a lookup table of every word I know for quick reference when it comes to making up puns. Luckily for me, people in my neck of the woods respond to puns with groans, rather than stabbing me with a red-hot poker.

Speaking of poker, I came in 5th out of 8 on Saturday, which is a more affable way to say that I was a loser (but just for that night, of course). I've posted a few pictures on the Photos page . Tom ended up walking away with the big bucks, and Kim and Rosie, the first-timers of the night, ended up in 3rd and 4th place, As is customary for Poker Night, there were tasty cookies for eating and the final hand was decided on the river. Anna, who took second place, always seems to go out on great hands that are killed by the river. In the interests of remaining alive, I did not tell her to "cry me a river". She probably would have shot me.

Speaking of shooting people, AudioBully's remix of Shot You Down is horrible (411KB MP3). I've never understood the whole concept of the remix -- why does every popular song need to be resampled with a thumping bass line for dancing? I don't think the world is necessarily a better place because you can go to a rave and gyrate to Theme from the Godfather. There are very few remixes that are actually worthwhile to listen to -- most of them tend to ignore the interesting parts of the original songs and overdo the whole rhythmic vamp idea. Among other bad remixes I've heard recently are the remix to Kylie Minogue's I Believe In You (which doesn't even use the chorus of the song), and pretty much any remix by the Chemical Brothers.

What's worse than a remix though is a remix by the original artist. There's a short, inane song by Spice Girl, Emma Bunton, called Crickets Sing for Anamaria which is notable only for its planing chords and Latin rhythms. The song is less than 3 minutes long, which is a smart move because there's only about three words in the lyrics and the last half of the song is dominated by people coming (to the scene) . Not content with having a catchy but ultimately useless song, it was remixed as an insipid five minute extravaganza which sounds like nothing more than the parts of Tequila which were scissored out of the sheet music, pooped on, and burned on the mixing room floor. Another useless remix is Eminem's remix of Sing for the Moment where he sings the exact same lyrics to a different beat (217KB MP3). Sure it's catchy, but what's the point? It was just fine the old way.

In my years as a composer, I only ever made two remixes. The first was of Florida-Alex singing solfége to Eminem's Lose Yourself. The second was a club dance remix to Jaood singing The ABC Song. It was a critical success, if not a commercial one, and you can hear it in its entirety here (194KB MP3).

Related to remixes but infinitely better are mash-ups. A mash-up is a mix where you combine elements of two disparate songs into one, resulting in some very cool musical effects. One of my favourite mash-ups is this theme (469KB MP3) from the third season of The Sopranos, where the Theme from Peter Gunn is mashed with Every Breath You Take (I first mentioned this song back in 2002 ). The juxtaposition of the two really makes sense in the context of the scene, where gung-ho FBI agents are overzealously tailing the Soprano family. Another good mash-up is this old one of Coldplay's Scientist with Sum 41's Pieces (596KB MP3), though it really sounds as if Sum 41 just ripped off Coldplay's chord changes. I've also heard some ridiculous mash-ups, like the one mixing Eminem with the theme from Bob the Builder. That one sucked.

Speaking of things that suck, some clown from Poker Night left several bottles of Mike's Hard Lemonade in my fridge. But wait, it's Cranberry and Lime flavoured! And it sucks! Remixes never work when they involve bottled alcohol.


There was some drama this weekend with site slowdowns and missing updates. My site has now been moved to a faster server, so all the problems people noticed on Friday and Saturday should be a thing of the past!

So, imagine you're the poor person who decides not to evacuate: Your house will disintegrate around you. The best you'll be able to do is hang on to a light pole, and while you're hanging on, the fire ants from all the mounds -- of which there is two per yard on average -- will clamber up that same pole. And, eventually, the fire ants will win.
Bad virgins. BAD!
The Scream of Liberty

Yesterday's search terms:
pictures of hamster sleeping, urizoo, why doesn't my grandfather chime or strike on the hour, schoolies caught nude on video, gwen stefani's religious beliefs

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Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Newsday Tuesday

Man Proud of Cheating at Video Games

Graves is a self-described "professional cheater." Today's games are anything but easy, the 24-year-old will tell you.

This fellow is a typical instant-gratification child of the multitasking era who dismisses today's games as difficult because he did not grow up trying to type TURN AROUND THEN SHOW MIRROR TO MEDUSA in King's Quest III in the five second window before constant and repeated deaths. Games today are not hard at all -- we just no longer have the time to master them like we did in our youth and tend to give up much more quickly than we would have in junior high school.

"This is what I tell people all the time, and I'm actually pretty adamant about it: I don't play games to necessarily play the game," Graves says.

And sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

"I play it for the story line"

You are the nameless space marine who has proven too tough for the forces of Hell to contain. After being teleported from Phobos, and subsequently fighting on Deimos which is hanging on top of Hell itself, you're back home on Earth, only to find that it too has fallen victim to the hellish invasion. -- official storyline, Doom II

"I play it for the mechanics."

Hit button to make Dirk do something. Move joystick to die. Insert fifty more cents.

"I play it for the graphics."

"I don't want to get stuck coming around the same corner 50 times. I'd rather get past it and see what the next story development is."

If the game is really that difficult, the next story development probably isn't even worth the effort it would take you to look up a cheat code. If it's actually quite simple but you're too impatient to work through it on your own, you're destroying the pace of the story by subjugating the artificial barriers the designers put in your way to intentionally slow you down. You can jump to the end of a book too and the story won't be as good.

Graves is a network engineer by day and a hard-core gamer by night, clocking an average of four hours in front of his PC or his Xbox in his Alexandria home.

Graves also stated that he is a hard-core salad bar connoisseur, having once made a second trip to get another salad at the Sizzler during the same meal! The added bacon bits made it Xtra Xtreme.

But what constitutes cheating?

Cheating is any action in a game that allows you to win or bypass otherwise challenging situations using meta-techniques not built into the game. Cheating is not sharing strategies with friends or buying a strategy guide. Using a Warp Zone in Super Mario isn't cheating -- typing IDKFA in Doom definitely is. And sure it might be fun initially, but afterwards, you'll probably find that being extremely overpowered robs the game of the challenge, the fun, and ultimately, any reason to play it.

Is cheating ever okay?

Cheating is fine when you've exhausted the possibilities of a single-player game already and want to find the Easter eggs and extras. It's fun to give yourself a billion dollars in Sim City and then try to build a thriving metropolis solely with railroads and hospitals. It's stupid shell out $45 for a new game and then make yourself invincible to beat it. It's less than socially acceptable to cheat at all in multiplayer games, yet that's where most of the cheating goes on. If you ever have to cheat at a game you play against other human beings, you've got deeper problems to worry about.

"I cheat on all the games I play," Graves says proudly.

In other news, interest in his weekly Texas Hold'em Tournaments has curiously dried up, and he is no longer allowed to be the banker when his friends play Monopoly.

Boat owner sues Katrina rescuer
Smuggled school weapon turns out to be an unusually long burrito
Woman crashes in dog driving lesson

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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Memory Day: Day Care

For three years in elementary school, my sister and I attended day care every morning from 7 to 8:30 and every evening from 3:00 to 5:00. This wasn't today's version of day care that costs more than a semester of college and lasts all day with "child care professionals" -- instead, it was merely a holding pen for kids whose parents' work schedule didn't sync up with the school schedule, run for minimum wage by the least-qualified workers in the day care industry. You could probably pool the child-care knowledge of all three ladies in charge (who probably wrote "able to procreate" under job experience) and responsibly care for 3/8ths of a child.

Day care took place in the cafeteria, a high-ceilinged rectangular room that was half round tables and half long tables. On the first morning that my sister and I were dropped off, we claimed a round table and talked about school. Soon after, a crybaby third grader (who was coming to day care for the first time as well) sat down at another table and bawled because his parents had left. The woman-in-charge decided to stop the crying by ordering me to switch tables and play with this clown. As a result, she went from having one cryer to three -- I was crying because I had been separated from the only person I knew there, my sister was crying because we had been split up, and the snotty-nosed one contined to cry because he didn't want to play with me. This essentially sums up the day care experience.

The next year, my sister made friends with Rikki Jarrett (the same Jarretts whose dogs I took care off -- first Rusty the chihuahua and then Bailey the poopy puppy) who lived six houses closer to the school than we did. Her mom decided that she would drive us up to day care everyday, so my sister and I would walk the fifty yards to their house and then get a ride for the last (most arduous) 0.2 miles. My sister and her friend would ultimately drift apart, probably for some ridiculous teenage drama reason in seventh grade.

There really wasn't much to do in day care. More students attended the afternoon session, but that just resulted in more arguments over who got to play the single raggedy-assed copy of Candyland. The only fun toy in the closet was a poor man's air hockey table, a wooden structure that you played with a checker and two pencils -- I liked this so much that I asked my dad to build one at home, and got many hours of entertainment out of it. One month, my friend, Judd Gatch, procured a roll of shelf paper, and we proceeded to draw the world's longest maze, measuring roughly eight inches by twenty five feet. He moved soon after, and took my brilliant maze work with him.

Besides these toys and the occasional trip to the playground, the women in charge were at a loss for ways of keeping us entertained, a situation exacerbated by the fact that you really didn't get homework in those years. During one of the last Christmases I was in day care, they decided to hold a Christmas variety show for all the parents, part of which involved a production of The Three Little Pigs, using cardboard houses spray-painted by James Houck's dad to look like bricks and straw. I was the third pig, because Asians would never build a straw house when there are predators with the lung capacity of Arnold Jacobs around.

If day care taught me anything, it was that school-sponsored activities were the way out. By my final years of elementary school, I was making icepacks for the nurse in the morning, and doing gymnastics in the afternoons. This went on until it was no longer cost-effective to remain in day care -- by the fifth grade, I was watched over by my seventh grade sister at home, where we smoked crack and watched Duck Tales every day at 4:00.

Miss Teen USA South Carolina answers a question
You see powder connected by arrows and chalk, you never know, [...] It could be a terrorist, it could be something more serious.
Government tells woman she's dead

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Friday, August 29, 2008

Friday Fragments

one part Friday, two parts rain, mix with fragments and serve

♠ The bottle caps in my Magic Hat beer sampler from Costco have slogans written inside them. The slogans run the gamut from weird ("Upon the Fruits of Our Yeast, You now Feast"), to racy. I'm guessing you're supposed to be drinking Magic Hat at a fr(h)at party and then giving the bottle caps to cute girls like heart-shaped candies. Wouldn't you want to go home with someone who could do magic and promised to give you his "wand"?

♠ Speaking of racy drinking, parents are up in arms over a ridiculously campy Orangina ad featuring anthropomorphized animals doing sexy dancing while splashing Orangina all over themselves. This is the perfect way to start your Friday.

♠ Watching videos on YouTube can be dangerously addicting, because the "Related Videos" that appear at the end generally have nothing to do with the original. From the above Orangina ad, I followed a link to a movie of Nicholas Cage punching a woman while wearing a bear suit, followed by clips from that movie, Wicker Man, a horror film remake which looks unintentionally amusing. This is the best kind of amusing.

♠ Also amusing is the Bluetooth-wearing CIA agent in the SUV who was stopped at the intersection by my office the other day, waiting for the light to turn green so he could enter the CIA complex. They probably teach a good number of skills at The Farm, but apparently they don't teach you about pressure-plate-triggered traffic signals. This fellow was one of those annoying drivers who waits for a left turn almost in the middle of the street, not realizing that he had gone at least five feet beyond the pressure plate. As a result, he was still waiting there two signals later, looking frustrated and gesturing at the light.

♠ I did my part by passive-aggressively driving around him on a Family Circus path that showed he was obviously too far into the road. This is the recommended approach for all rude-lefters -- if you get hit, it's their fault and you can sue for whiplash.

♠ This being a holiday weekend, it is jam-packed with plans (the jam protects my plans from getting damaged in transit and is also tasty). Tonight, we plan to go to Jazz in the Garden, although the inclement weather may force us to another venue boasting such features as a roof. Poker is planned for Saturday, where I'll teach everyone how I get so high in the rankings, and I'll teach my computer that my girlfriend's name is not a blatant misspelling. On Sunday I plan on finishing up BUVite and then searching for my chap stick -- I've lost three chap sticks this week alone, and I'm not sure how.

♠ Have a great weekend!

Sexual Orangina ad angers parents
Help wanted: My kids are a pain
Woman goes down the baggage chute at airport

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Monday, August 29, 2011

List Day: Hurricane Irene Inventory

  • Trees downed: 0
  • Lives lost: 0
  • Flood-moistened basements: 0
  • Crushed cars: 0
  • Crushed hopes: 0
  • Differential of Cats over Time: 0
  • Power outages: 0
  • Exercise sessions: 0
  • Branches downed: 1
  • Games purchased: 1
  • Trips to McCormick & Schmick's: 1
  • Delicious sandwich recipes invented: 1
  • Water jugs left in Safeway: 2
  • Harry Potter Books Reread: 3
  • Episodes of The Wire watched: 4
  • Hours spent playing Bastion: 4
  • Hours spent writing code: 5
  • DDMSence enhancements completed: 6 of 58
Secret list of celebrity .xxx domains removed from market
Kentucky Jury Sides with Doctor In Penis Amputation
SignalGuru helps drivers avoid red lights

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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Memory Day: Snapshots

I have no idea where this was taken, but I remember my parents wearing those goofy cloth hats throughout my childhood.

Update from my Dad: "The picture on your web site was taken on the playground at an elementary school in Arlington on the Fourth of July 1983 or 1984. We were with Rosa Lopez and her sons waiting for the fireworks to begin."

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Thursday, August 29, 2013

Review Day: Far Cry 3

Having burned out on all of my web development and open source side projects over the summer, I decided to indulge in one final game to fill the pre-Labor Day doldrums of August. Even grown-ups deserve a summer vacation.

Far Cry 3 is a novel, if flawed, hybrid game that combines a first-person shooter with open world mechanics (meaning that you can run around ignoring the main storyline as much as you want, Skyrim-style). There are also very weak RPG elements, like a skill tree that you eventually get all of the skills from anyhow, and a tacked-on crafting system that adds nothing to game, other than annoying artificial limits on how much stuff you can carry before you hunt and skin a tiger.

Far Cry 3's strongest selling point is graphical. The tropical island setting is rendered beautifully and without framerate dips, even on my three-year-old graphics card. Simply wandering around the island exploring evoked the same feelings of awe that I felt playing Skyrim for the first time. Driving down twisty mountain roads reminded me of driving in Puerto Rico, and little touches like the island music playing on the radio station were pitch perfect.

Underneath the fancy paint job is a solid, fun core of an action game which spices up the exploration with both tactical and chaotic base takeovers, racing challenges, climbing puzzles, and a manageable variety of guns to play with. There's even a fully implemented Texas Hold'em minigame which is fun, but easy to bluff in. The in-game economy has far too much money available -- later in the game, I was regular taking small (King's Quest IV sized) leaps off of cliffs so I could use up some medicine and buy some more. I also purchased every single color of every gun I had, just because I got tired of the game's user interface telling me that my wallet was full (and because pink guns shoot fabulously).

Like all console-crossover games, the UI is more awful than it needs to be. You regularly spend more time exploring submenus than playing the game, because developers today forget that the PC has more than 6 buttons to press. The minimap is particularly annoying, as the HUD display is too zoomed in to be helpful for anything but enemy awareness, and the overland map is too zoomed out. I spent as much time switching between maps as I did exploring. Luckily, the UI problems are mere annoyances -- the actual game controls for jumping, shooting, and running around are tight and responsive.

The plot is forgettable: a pastiche of cliches, unsympathetic protagonists, and more dream sequences than later seasons of the Sopranos. It serviceably ties the big set pieces of the action together, but its unforgivably unskippable cutscenes kill the momentum more effectively than commercial breaks on Whose Line Is It Anyways. No doubt the unskippable cutscenes (and the small wallet) were copied from the Zelda series.

This game is not for completionists -- although the "open world" mechanic means that you could spend years exploring the island and collecting useless relics and achievements, all of the non-plot action eventually gets stale. I started out combing every square inch for secrets, but mostly stuck to the main plotline after about 20% of the island was cleared. It's best if you use the side activities as a mere vacation between main plot cutscenes. You can also only go on one quest at a time, which seems like a needless console limitation (and the game annoyingly and repeatedly reminds you about the main quest if you haven't made progress in a while).

My last nitpick (which doesn't affect the actual game) is UPlay, the social gaming application that Ubisoft requires you to make yet another account for. So, I purchase the game on Steam, which then opens up UPlay, which then loads the game while telling me to buy future games through UPlay. I don't need or want a social client for my gaming and never play with random people on the Internet anyways. Leave me alone.

This review contains more negative feedback than the Yelp review of any given small business owner who has refused to pay their Yelp bribes in full, so it might surprise you to learn that I would definitely recommend this game. The novelty of combining so many game styles onto a graphically impressive island full of natives, ruins, and abandoned Japanese bunkers buys plenty of goodwill. It plays like Skyrim Lite meets Dishonored meets my honeymoon in Kauai, and I probably squeezed a good twenty hours of enjoyment out before I stopped dilly-dallying and beat the game.

Final Grade: B

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Friday, August 29, 2014

End-of-the-Month Highlights Day

New photos have been added to the Life, 2014 album.

  • Events
    • Had a barbeque with the Newdorf and Ahlbin clans on 8/2.

    • Saw Jim Gaffigan "in concert" on 8/9.

    • Attended a "Boozy Brunch" on 8/16.

    • Dinner at the Ambrogne's on 8/22.

    • Harper's Ferry Hiking on 8/23.

    • A spider bit me between my toes at the beginning of the month and it still isn't fully healed. This must be what it's like to live in Oklahoma or Arizona.

  • Projects
    • Worked on a few proposals at work amongst the usual software development tasks.

    • Narrowed down my continuing education options to Data Science and Cybersecurity, but won't start them until next month.

    • Cleaned out the crawlspace under the house, throwing away the last remaining sets of anonymous Legos (grouped in individual freezer bags with no instructions or identification).

    • Planned our next week-long vacation following Beach Week.

  • Consumerism
    • Greatly enjoyed True Detective, Season One and The Shield, Season One.

    • Rebecca got a new HP laptop.

    • Played a lot of Divinity: Original Sin.

    • Listened to more Paloma Faith, but did not find any new amazing music this month.

August's Final Grade: B, time is flying!

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Monday, August 29, 2016

Colorado Wrap-up

Here are a few quick reviews to close out our two weeks in Colorado. If you're headed that way yourself and need some recommendations, I'll be glad to help!

Lodging

  • Foot of the Mountain Motel (Boulder): Pretty views and friendly staff, but sketchy area and minimal amenities (no A/C) (C-)
  • River Rock Cottages (Estes Park): Great centrally-located studio cottage with hot water and comfort for days (A)
  • Fireside Inn (Breckenridge): A warm, inviting, British B&B experience in a good location (B)
  • Queen Anne Bed & Breakfast (Denver): A bit far from most tourist attractions, but great breakfast, free wine and cheese happy hour, and very cool room design (B)

Restaurants

  • Southern Sun Pub & Brewery (Boulder): Great service, good beers, unmemorable food (B)
  • West Flanders Brewery (Boulder): Great Belgian beers, good food (A)
  • Oskar Blues (Lyons): Good beers, good food (B)
  • Rock Cut Brewery (Estes Park): Good beers, nice environment (B)
  • Rock Inn: Great comfort food (A)
  • Ed's Cantina (Estes Park): Good food, unmemorable beer (C)
  • Claire's on the Park (Estes Park): Unmemorable (D)
  • Breckenridge Brewery (Breckenridge): Unmemorable beers, good food (C)
  • Giampietro (Breckenridge): Great pizza and pastas (came here twice) (A)
  • CB & Potts (Breckenridge): Good beers, bad wings (D)
  • Park & Co (Denver): Unmemorable (C)
  • Wahoo Fish Tacos (Denver): Dry fish but big portions (D)
  • Crooked Stave Brewery (Denver): Does anyone like sour beers? (D)
  • Frozen Matter (Denver): Good ice cream, intrigued by speakeasy in the freezer (B)

Worthwhile Activities

  1. Hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park
  2. Seeing acrobats in the Breckenridge International Festival of Arts
  3. Seeing Ronnie Chieng at Comedy Works in Denver
  4. Visiting the Denver Nature and Science Museum
  5. Driving Trail Ridge Road across Rocky Mountain National Park
  6. Hiking up Quandary Peak
  7. Horseback riding in Breckendrige
  8. Couples Massage in Estes Park

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Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Review Day: Dead Cells (PC)

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

Dead Cells is an addictive mash-up of three separate gaming genres. At its core, it's a side-scrolling platformer with monsters to kill and challenging boss fights like the Castlevania series. As a Rogue-like game, death is permanent and kicks you back to the beginning of the game with reset stats and basic starter equipment. Some earned abilities are permanent and persist beyond death, allowing you to explore old levels in new ways, evoking comparisons to the Metroid series and reducing the general level of frustration.

This feedback cycle of explore, grow powerful, and die is perfectly implemented, with interesting loot drops, forgiving but tight controls, and randomly generated levels that contain enough common features so that you learn what to expect, if not exactly how it will come at you. You have to reach the end of levels to save your progress towards permanent upgrades, creating a nice risk-reward mechanism for how long you choose to explore a dangerous level for better loot, and how much you might lose if you die before you exit.

As you gain permanent upgrades (like the ability to grow a climbing vine, stick to walls, or smash through floors), alternate paths through the world open up into completely optional levels just as you start to get tired of the original ones. There's always just enough freshness to keep you exploring, and no single run feels particularly grindy. For example, killing the first boss might seem impossible on your first few runs, but gradual permanent upgrades will eventually make him managable. Immediately afterwards, you'll unlock new options that make him much easier to beat on subsequent runs. It's challenging without feeling tedious.

I'm not great at platformer games, but there are enough different ways to develop the character (melee, ranged, trap-based, elemental magic) that I can find ways to play my strengths. And since the build essentially resets on death, there's plenty of incentive and opportunity to experiment with builds that I wouldn't normally consider.

The music and sound design is well done. Graphically, I'm not a huge fan of the 16-bit style, but the animations are fluid enough to minimize my annoyance. I purchased the game on PC and have rare issues using double jump properly with mouse and keyboard -- a console purchase or a game controller might be more comfortable. Regardless of the platform, this is a nicely-polished $20 package with plenty of replayability and content. I've already put about 20 hours of play in and have not grown tired of it.

Final Grade: B+

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Monday, August 29, 2022

Pandemic Retrospective, Part III of IV

November 2020 - January 2022

The rancid mayonnaise jar that was 2020 was coming to an end. After over 200 days in quarantine, I had a barely functional system for getting through each day. I devoted all of my energy towards supporting my family, doing great things at work, and "keeping the trains running on time" with very little in reserve for relaxation or personal growth. Life was monotonous and unsustainable, but none of our immediate family had gotten sick and vaccines were just over the horizon.

Just when I felt like I had a handle on quarantine and could breathe a little easier, my situation regressed. Rebecca became pregnant with Ian and was once again plagued with day-long morning sickness and no energy to spare. Meanwhile, I developed an annoying health issue that, while not serious, demanded daily oversight for nearly five months. The continued need to stretch thinner held me captive in survival mode. I felt like I was barely keeping it together with Scotch tape and sheer willpower.

The arrival of the earliest vaccines definitely improved our spirits. Rebecca received hers in January 2021 (Ian too, by the transitive property) and all of the grandparents were vaccinated by February. Shifting focus from protecting ourselves to protecting just Maia eliminated much of the mental load in navigating our strange new world. I finally got my own shot in April at a pop-up shot clinic in an abandoned mall anchor store, and I remember how efficient and positive my experience was. The overwhelming optimism, enthusiasm, and kindness demonstrated by an army of anonymous volunteers stands out in my memory in stark contrast to the manufactured conflicts and community fractures playing out in the news and on social media at the same time. I resolved to take full advantage of "The Grand Reopening" and put some positive energy of my own out into the world... just in time for Ian to be born.

Ian as an infant was a force of nature, always uncomfortably gassy and communicating at Broadway-worthy decibel levels, while constantly punctuating the nights with ovine bleats in his sleep that triggered the baby monitor even though he required no attention. He arrived 1 day before Rebecca's scheduled hospital visit, effectively canceling our plans to have a final date night to catch our breath. The summer of 2021 felt like a new quarantine purgatory -- while everyone else was out dancing at concerts and licking porous surfaces, we were doing the standard new baby routine of keeping Ian alive at home until he reached his traditional vaccine milestones. For us, whooping cough was a bigger deal than COVID. The world was open, even if we couldn't be.

We took a beach trip with our quarantine pod in August, when Ian was just 3 months old. This trip was probably more draining for me than any pandemic-related event beforehand. We chose Sandbridge to shave a couple hours off of our traditional Outer Banks trip, and then nullified that bonus with I-95 traffic and epic thunderstorms (8 hours down, 7 hours back). Ian cried all of the way there and all of the way back. I'm sure we did a lot of fun activities (Maia had her first milkshake and her first ice cream bar from an ice cream truck which we called "the music truck" all week long), but all I can remember is pacing around the beach house, day and night, with Ian in a sling while listening to the Fratellis and trying to get him to stop crying and go to sleep.

My own sleep quality declined in 2021 and mimicked a five-year-old cell phone battery: I'd go to bed every night near 0% and barely recharge up to 59% by morning before spending most of the day right around 25%. My alcohol consumption crept up steadily over this period too, going from a six-pack per week to two or three beers each evening. I was never alarmed about this because it was never about getting drunk or giving in to addictive behavior. I didn't drink irresponsibly or exceed my limits. I used drinking as a blatant, calculated crutch to stave off boredom and sameness, as if having a few interesting beers around to try (even gross IPAs and grosser sours) might make each day feel just a little bit different than the one before and after it.

Some nights, I couldn't sleep at all and would just lie awake thinking about our fractured society and wondering if there was anything I could be doing about it. While the spotlight shined brightly on our divisions and how striated the battle lines were, I was thinking more about how technology was pushing us towards these divisions for the sake of monetary engagement. I remember seeing friends abandoning other friends based on opinions without any question about whether those opinions were truly heartfelt or just swayed by secretive social media algorithms. I remember seeing people I worked with and respected Liking and Sharing aggressively divisive content on LinkedIn (completely unrelated to their actual jobs). It felt like social media was turning our society into a two-dimensional quilt where anything not on the Good side couldn't be anything but Evil, and I just wasn't okay with that. I burned a good amount of my limited energy on drafting and redrafting serious posts for Facebook at 3 AM. I hoped that staying active there (and posting lots of cute MaIan pictures) would outweigh the net negative value of the platform.

We tried one more outing in 2021, a retreat at a quaint resort in West Virginia that promised strict pandemic mitigations and delivered none. The staff tore off their masks as soon as they were out of the public eye, and other patrons privately heckled the few families, like ours, that still wore masks indoors. I remember walking across the idyllic mountain campus and hearing another family seriously discussing ivermectin as a COVID cure and comparing their veterinary sources that could procure it at a discount. I remember being one of just 3 families that ate all meals outside of the crowded dining hall, only for Maia to get stung over her eye by one of the many juice-loving hornets living on the hotel porches. (We ended up eating the rest of our meals alone in our stuffy hotel room).

Ultimately, I'm sad that I don't remember more of 2021. I look at photos from the period and remember moments rather than days. I wrote a weekly series of posts on this blog about raising Ian (the Battle Reports) and, until Rebecca pointed it out, I never realized that I was always focusing on the negative aspects of keeping him happy rather than the positive aspects of his awesome personality and unique energy. Not all of this was caused by the pandemic: when a virus-related quarantine overlaps with the birth of a newborn, it's hard to know whether practiced patterns of survival are necessary or just complacency. I recognized this in the final months of 2021, but lacked the energy to do any course correction.

Other posts in this series: Part I: Introduction | Part II: March - October 2020 | Part III: November 2020 - January 2022 | Part IV: February 2022 - Today, and Conclusion

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