Friday, August 28, 2015

List Day: 4 Songs Weird Al Should Parody

  • Don't Let Me Fall - B.o.B: Rhyming "don't let me fall" with "shooting for stars" is already a stretch, so why not "don't let me fart" paired with all of the things that might lead to gastrointestinal distress? However, this might get repetitive around the 1:54 mark.

  • Stone Cold Sober - Paloma Faith: "On A Sewn Old Sofa" is a rapid patter song about all of the things that Weird Al has saved money on by buying them at the thrift store.

  • Take a Bow - Muse: The metric pattern of this song is perfect for a song about a driven cook who's slowly being driven crazy by his trade. For example, at this point in the song, "Bake, you must bake..." is followed by "Yeah Eggs, feed them eggs..."

  • Crystallized - Young the Giant: With its built in pentatonics, replace "any other (any other)" with "Benihana Benihana", and you've got yourself a perfect hook for a song about Japanese food.

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Thursday, August 27, 2015

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

Ascension:
This Syfy miniseries (which ultimately was not picked up for an actual season) tells the tale of a 100-year voyage to Mars that departed in the 1950s and is now halfway through its voyage, with the original generation dying off and a new generation born on the spaceship coming into power. It's a mixed bag, having all of the tropes necessary for an interesting sci-fi story that's more than just a space battle, but they're assembled in a very workman-like manner without enough finesse. The pseudoscience is horrible, and the set designers seem to have forgotten that the group came from the 1950s after the pilot episode, but the political infighting and plot mysteries are well-done and get better as the series progresses. It's generally a fun watch, if only to see Bobby Cobb from Cougartown as the ship's captain. Free on Netflix.

Final Grade: B-

Sherlock, Season Two:
The goodness graph for this season looks like a right-handed checkmark. The first episode was passable, the second exceedingly boring, and the third made it all worthwhile. The show is only engaging when the villain, Moriarty, is a primary character, and his absence from any given episode is very noticeable. I would even recommend only watching the third (and final) episode of this season. Free on Netflix.

Final Grade: B-

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson:
This seminal 1992 sci-fi book describing a virtual reality Internet before its time starts strong and whimpers out. The first chapter is a compelling introduction to the world and jargon at large, but the jumps in time and personality-lacking protagonist, Hiro (the katana-wielding hacker), muddy the waters. Extended sections of the middle of the book involve Hiro talking to his virtual assistant learning about ancient Sumerians, and these monologues go on for so long that it feels like the author was so proud of his research that he didn't want to edit. I ultimately ended up skimming these chapters but it didn't matter in the end, as the plot became too tangled to follow or care about and imploded in a confusing cloud of swapped alliances and hard-to-differentiate supporting characters.

Final Grade: C-

Witcher 3:
Following my First Impressions post about this RPG, I ended up playing it solidly for another month or so. It was fun and enoyable to play until the point where it wasn't. Ultimately, there was just too much story to sit through, and I felt the need to be playing more and watching fewer (thankfully skippable) cutscenes. I didn't feel like I was making consistent progress and finally moved on after seeing less than 20% of the plot (but spending many fun hours getting there).

Final Grade: B-

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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Memory Day: Twenty Years Ago Today

Twenty years ago today, on August 26, 1995, I was fifteen years old and about to start my senior year of high school. According to my historically preserved Far Side calendar, the 26th was a Saturday just after the end of Band Camp, and my sister had just left for her sophomore year at UVA.

Having finally reached the Age of the Learner's Permit (15.5 years in Virginia), I spent much of August doing behind-the-wheel training through Keith's Driving School. On this particular Saturday, my instructor, Big Mike, was particularly disagreeable since he'd just had surgery the week before. I did my hour behind the wheel in Hybla Valley with a girl named Lucy in the back seat while Big Mike played his country guitar demo tapes, and then we swapped for the next hour. We ended, as always, at a 7-11 so Big Mike could grab a bite. His self-applied nickname was actually Big Mike -- I'm not just calling him that because he was bulky.

In the afternoon, I crushed soda cans for recycling in our newly purchased Crusher (thanks, 1990s), and then went for a bike ride around Alexandria. Finally, I went up the street to our neighbours, the Jarrett's. Walt Jarrett worked for one of the big publishers back then (maybe Houghton Mifflin?) and hired me to read off several pages of price lists so he could punch them into the mechanical calculator more quickly. I earned twenty bucks for about an hour of mindless work, which went towards the purchase of Phantasmagoria (the full-motion-video horror game by the creator of King's Quest) the next morning.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

EUsday Tuesday, Part IV of IV

Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Photos

Montreux was a bigger town than expected, with narrow European streets and a bustling, walkable feel. Still, it struck a fair balance between the over-urbanization of Munich and the pastoral setting in Grindelwald. You could walk lightly trafficked streets to get that quaint, European town feel, but the tail end of the Alps still loomed overhead, just a ways down the coast.

We debarked from the train and walked to the Hotel Tralala, a chic music-themed hotel where John Kerry once stayed in May 2015 (according to the framed letter at the front desk). Each room had a famous musician featured heavily, and our bed was watched over at all times by Sting. On the first evening, we walked down to the waterfront to get a feel for the town, passing by Montreux's most famous tourist attraction: an underwhelming statue of Freddy Mercury from Queen. We ate dinner at an expensive place with a nice view overlooking Lake Geneva, where Rebecca relearned rule of life #23: Never order the risotto because afterwards, you'll just feel unsatisfied like you ate a side of tasteless butter.

As a light rain washed across the town, we scurried back towards the hotel (all uphill of course), and ducked into a tiny local restaurant for wine and dessert. Now that we were back in the French-speaking area of Switzerland, my high school French came in handy again, and in this restaurant, I was even able to help the owner serve a group of Asian tourists who spoke zero French and a small bit of English (they were having trouble ordering "warm" water -- pas trop chaud et pas trop froid).

On our first full day, we visited the resident castle, Chateau du Chillon. It was pleasant enough, but nowhere near as impressive as Carcassonne in 2008. It didn't help that the castle was in various stages of revitalization, and whether an area was kept as it originally had been, restored to how it had looked, or restored to how the archaeologist thought it should have looked, was a decision that varied from section to section, resulting in a clash of styles similar to my artwork when I try to draw plants as a colourblind person.

On the way back up to the hotel, we stopped at a place that the guidebooks identified as a wine tasting bar, Cave Vevey-Montreux. It turned out to be a wine distributor, but the owner was very friendly and did an impromptu tasting just for us. After buying a bottle to drink on our afternoon hike, she even gave us a free corkscrew so we'd remember the place.

In the afternoon, we hiked in the Gorges du Charderon, a canyon of extreme height variations tucked just behind the city. When we reached the highest point, we had our bottle of wine and watched out for roaming goats, and then descended by way of over 1800 stairs (we probably should have gone back through the forests instead). After a traditional meal at a local restaurant (fried stuff with egg on top), we chased the sunset to a nearby church with slightly creepy organ music playing inside.

Our final stop on the trip was Geneva. Rick Steves hates Geneva so much that his guidebook is essentially a paragraph telling everyone not to go there. Because of this, we only allocated a single afternoon, but it was pleasant enough and not horrible in the least. We arrived the day before Swiss Day (August 1), so the entire city was gearing up for some major entertainment that we ended up missing.

An oft-cited tourist attraction in Geneva is the Jet de l'Eau -- a fountain of water that shoots out of the bay to relieve excess pressure in the water system. This is about as exciting as it sounds, and we docked additional points from it because we waited there for 20 minutes with nothing to show for it (apparently it isn't running for 20 minutes out of every hour). Only when we were leaving did it deign to begin.

We also visited Eglise Catholique, a nondenominational church used only for political ceremonies and selling postcards, but the best part of the afternoon was spent simply eating gelato and people-watching on the Place du Bourg de-Four. And really, that was the general pattern of our afternoon -- wandering to various parks and plazas, eating gelato, and moving on, not unlike a savannah elephant. In the evening, we stayed at Hotel Central, a family-run hotel / B&B with tiny rooms whose entrances went through the bathroom -- we made sure not to go #2 until we were on our way out.

The trip back on Saturday was uneventful, except for the fact that airport security picked me for random questioning twice, and picked Rebecca zero times. We blew all of our remaining francs on airport chocolate (which we have been steadily eating every night since), and then spent a long 9 hours on a delayed United flight whose video screen system crashed almost immediately after departure and could not be rebooted. (First class, in their reclining cocoon seats, were unaffected).

Now we are home again, and I still have over 200 hours of leave to burn through by the end of the year. Where should I go next?

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