Monday, September 26, 2016

List Day: 10 Facets of My Voting Bloc

  1. I am solidly upper middle class in a double-income no-kids household. I have no debts, other than a small mortgage that will be paid off in the next five years.

  2. I have two bachelor's and a master's degree (unless they took it away because I never use it).

  3. I work as a government contractor in software engineering. While my immediate job is dependent on government spending, my career as a whole is not.

  4. I like to believe I make decisions grounded in science and fact rather than emotion.

  5. I have historically voted for Democratic Presidential candidates but do not vote blindly along party lines. I think John McCain probably would have been just fine as President.

  6. I am not a fan of big government and am aware of how much waste it entails. However, I also recognize that our country is too large and diverse (geographically, demographically, and population-wise) to operate successfully anymore with a much smaller government.

  7. I have no problem paying higher taxes to support infrastructure and social services, even if I don't directly benefit from these services.

  8. I am a moral, if not religious, person but believe that a country's systems should not be used to enforce morality. I believe that allowing morality or religion to influence laws is dangerous -- it's a good idea right up to the point where it isn't anymore, and that point is hard to define.

  9. I recognize that rural white voters have legitimate concerns (that may seem outdated or incorrect to me) simply because of the environment they live in and their lack of exposure to the normalcy of contrasting ideas.

  10. I think our political system has been broken by the effect of private money as well as the immediacy and manufactured outrage of the 24-hour news cycle. However, I don't think there is a better option so we might as well fix the system from within.

tagged as lists, politics | permalink | 4 comments

Friday, September 23, 2016

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

Limitless, Season One:
This short-lived TV series picks up where the "forgettably entertaining" Bradley Cooper movie left off, and even uses him as an occasional guest star. Telling the tale of a burnout who takes a drug that expands his mind's potential and starts solving cases for the FBI, this show maintains a very consistent tone of light comedy that never veers too deeply into melodrama. It's very much a network show so it won't challenge you much, but is a pleasant joyride with a solid, cohesive plot that gradually deepens over the season. The show was cancelled after one season, but the finale has a very good ending that wraps everyone's storyline up nicely. Free on Netflix.

Final Grade: B+

You're Never Weird on the Internet (almost) by Felicia Day:
This is a pleasant, quick read that barely stuck with me at all after I was done. As a memoir, it seems to skip hefty chunks of time, but the tone strikes a good balance between actual content and "being quirky". As a fan of The Guild, I found the sections on World of Warcraft interesting, but someone not familiar with Felicia Day's acting or web shows probably wouldn't get much out of this. I finished it in about a day.

Final Grade: B-

Love Stuff by Elle King:
I bought this album partly because of the single, Exes and Ohs, but mostly because I needed to get my Amazon basket up over $25 to get some much-needed Add-On items shipped. With few expectations, I was surprised by a solid album of southern rock. Her voice occasionally goes into "ugly country" timbre, but the songs are consistently well-written and catchy.

Final Grade: B

IT Crowd, Special:
The Brits love their Christmas specials, and this one provides an epilogue to the series finale from Season Four. As an extended episode, it takes a bit to get going, but eventually reaches the levels of absurd humour seen in the older episodes. Definitely watch if you're a fan of the show. Free on Netflix.

Final Grade: B

tagged as reviews | permalink | 0 comments

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Memory Day: 1982

1982 was another year from which I retain no memories of my own -- the first dribs and drabs of events I still have today don't start until 1983. According to my parents, my sister spent a good chunk of this year sick and in Children's Hospital, so there wasn't much leeway for entertaining me in the nature I had grown accustomed to.

My parents recall that I was good with puzzles very early on, and could even piece together a puzzle flipped upside down so the picture was not visible. This intelligence was also demonstrated in an earlier test at the pediatrician's, where they wanted to see if I could put a raisin in a bottle and just ended up eating the raisin.

After turning 3 in September 1982, my parents toted me along to see the government bureaucrat responsible for slowly processing my naturalization paperwork. According to legend, he had a thick Southern accent and kept reciting my name as "Brianhh" while he leafed through tall stacks of forms. After a minute of this, I piped up from the corner of the room where I was playing to say, "Not Brianhh, Bri-IN. Bee. Are. Eye. IN!" This confirmation that I was a future STEM contributor led to the office finding my paperwork more quickly than expected.

I still retain my naturalization certificate because it functions in place of a birth certificate (I was probably born in Kenya). Every six months when I have to renew my military cards for work, I get to tote the big certificate around to bewildered government employees that don't know what it is and just want to stamp out a new ID card before lunch -- to them, I am an "edge case".

The picture below was taken late in 1982 in our upstairs living room, which mostly sat unused except at Christmas time. We had a fireplace there that we were never allowed to use because of a structural fault in the chimney that apparently sent smoke back into the house. I also continued to wear that sweater with the wildlife on the front well into kindergarten three years later.

Other posts in this series: 1979 | 1980 | 1981

tagged as memories | permalink | 0 comments

Monday, September 19, 2016

Upgrades Day

There have been plenty of upgrades going on in the past couple of weeks as the stuff in my house (including myself) continues to atrophy over time. For example, the Blue Couch of Amazing Naps is now 12 years old, and the Coffee Table of Grad School Adventures is 15.

The American Dream desk (whose name was coined by Jim Barry because it had all of the space a composer could ever possibly need), constructed on March 19, 2004 and decommissioned on September 1, 2016, grew increasing wobbly as I moved it back and forth between two separate rooms that alternated between being a bedroom and an office. It has been replaced with an Ergo Depot Jarvis standing desk ($650), which has an electric motor that raises and lowers the desk like a hipster transformer, so I can now play Overwatch for hours in a standing position and call it a healthy activity.

To make up for the many cubic feet of storage space the old desk had, I bought the credenza seen underneath the window in the above photo ($250), where I keep office supplies and bags full of extra cables (wrapped neatly in 1996 era bags from the Hokie Bookstore). This credenza also holds the flatbed scanner I use to bring history to life, although the color photo printer has been relegated to the basement crawlspace because I never used it frequently enough to keep the printer heads from clogging.

I also bought an adjustable music keyboard stand ($37) so I can compose while standing or sitting. It had the right price point, but smelled horrible because of cheaply made rubber caps from China. Leaving them outside in the sun for a couple of days got rid of the worst of it, but it initially smelled like I did during crew season when I weighed 100 pounds and tried to fill the coach's launch with gasoline from a 50 pound container and spilled it all over my legs every day.

I replaced my desktop machine with an HP Envy 750se (i7, 16GB RAM, 256GB SSD) ($1000) because my 2011 machine was starting to get unpredictable IRQ blue screen crashes. I still hate Windows 10, but have to admit that it runs much better as a fresh install than as an upgrade from an earlier OS. I kept my Xonar DX sound card and GTX 960 graphics card from the old box.

I also upgraded to Finale 25 ($150) with the whimsical thought that I might do more composing in the future. I last upgraded to Finale 2011 which had enough issues to make composing a "not fun" activity. I haven't used the new version much yet, but am pleased that many of the obvious MIDI problems have gone away in this new 64-bit version. I still need to see if the historical "stuck MIDI note" issue will rear its head once I start using it more intensely.

The fresh install of Windows 10 eliminated the free Windows Movie Maker software I used to use to convert old home videos for your viewing pleasure, so I've finally installed Adobe Premiere Pro (already owned but never used) and started watching tutorial videos which demystify the horribly overarchitected UI that always scared me off in the past. I am now able to crop a movie clip, fade in and out, and add a soundtrack, which is really all anyone ever needs to do.

Finally, I just purchased a Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook ($760) to replace my 2012 HP Folio. I loved the Folio, but it was starting to have graphics issues and random keys would sometimes stop working. If I could just get another Folio for a reasonable price I would have, but the Dell sounds like a decent replacement. It's a classic ultrabook with extended battery power and no touchscreen (does anyone want a touchscreen on their laptop?) In the spirit of hand-me-downs, the Folio will become our foreign travel laptop (devoid of personal or work details to prevent Chinese espionage when we cross the border), and our 2009 Netbook will go into the basement crawlspace where electronics go to die.

These major infrastructure investments will rejuvenate my primary work area in the house, and I'm hoping they lead to new patterns of productivity or creativity in the last months of 2016 which, otherwise, has been pretty placid. The $2847 net price tag is about $2500 more than I would spend in a normal frugal month, so I will have to forgo lunch at Popeyes 496 times to balance out my checkbook.

What are you spending your money on this month?

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

 

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