Happy New Year! Welcome back to the 2006 edition of the URI! Zone. In August of this year, this site will have been around for ten long years (although it will have only acted as a blog-like enema of the tortured soul for five of those years). What this means, for people who are not so hot with numbers, is that my site is older than Napster, older than Slashdot, and older than MacOS 8. It's just one year younger than Amazon, eBay, and the Java programming language, and HoTMaiL is its elder sibling by a mere month. Honestly though, this site is far cooler than HoTMaiL ever was. I am all the hot male you could ever want and I have the added bonus of not resulting in spam.
I enjoy writing my daily column for all you thankless Internet hobos, and while I know I'm not a great writer, I hope that I'm at least entertaining enough for your daily fix. Booty-willing, I hope to still be writing when I'm 104 and carpal tunnel has gnawed my fingers away to nubbins (since by then, the Internet will be run on brain waves, and you will hit the Back button by quickly jerking your head to the left). If I don't last as long as I expect (since Oriental people are younger than they appear and I could already be 104 and about to keel over), then I at least hope to be writing this ten years from today, when I am 36 with 18 kids and the future wifey is ordering me to come help with poopy diapers instead of wasting my time writing updates about how funny poopy diapers are and how they will not be so funny when she puts my keyboard in a Caps Lock and dashes it against the rocks below. (You see by then, I will have acquired Internet notoriety and will be living off my PayPal earnings in a villa on a cliff overlooking the ocean, with a cliffside pool like the one in Road Rules). My site is older than PayPal too.
For today's update, I dug deep into my archives (which are ever so wonderfully organized now) and looked at my journals to see what I've been doing on previous New Year's Eves. Some people might argue that this type of update is too easy, but I counter by recognizing that I can't do this again for at least ten years without repeating content. So, here's what I've done since 1994:
1994: In tenth grade, I was on a band trip to the Peach Bowl where we played Sweet Georgia Brown on the field during halftime with eight million seventy-two other unique snowflake high school bands and then drove back home immediately following the game to save on hotel fees (fewer nights means fewer cheese and sausage sales required). At midnight, I was somewhere in South Carolina reading A Separate Peace for English homework, and the next morning we ate breakfast at a truck stop.
1995: Stayed home with my parents and most likely played computer games until midnight, then went outside, shouted "Happy New Year!", and went to bed. I wasn't just a party animal, I was a party mineral and vegetable as well.
1996: Ate dinner at the Atlantis Pizzeria with Aaron Ulm, Jack Wilmer, and Jack's Maryland friend, Bruce, then came back to my house, where we watched the movie Stakeout and played Doom.
1997: This New Year's was spent at the Orange Bowl where VT lost against Nebraska. In another "what a cheap band" episode, we drove straight home after the game and spent New Years Eve on an Abbott bus.
1998: We were on a Gator Bowl trip this year, at the Sea Turtle Inn. On New Year's Eve, all three hundred and thirty members of the band (besides a few weenies that went to bed early, probably to study their CS textbooks) were on the beach. The next night was when the trumpets played Tech Triumph on the beach until the cops came. If "CS" offends you, pretend I said "EE".
1999: '98 was the year we went to the MUSIC CITY BOWL, which earned enough money to send us to Nashville for about forty-seven minutes, if I recall correctly. We were back home in northern Virginia well before New Year's so a bunch of trumpets got a couple rooms at a motel in Springfield for the night. This was back before I drank at all, but it was still a fun night. This was also the night Jason and Rosie started smooching late at night when they thought everyone was asleep. Don't worry, Internet moralists, they were just smooching, and now they're riding the matrimonial monorail for life.
2000: The day before we took off for the Sugar Bowl and the National Championship, the trumpets decided to reenact 1999 at the same Springfield motel, with fewer freshmen and less smooching. Kevin Moorhouse introduced a game called Mr. Bud with over thirty-five written down rules.
2001: Spent New Year's Eve with Nikki in Montclair where we watched an unmemorable movie (which may have been Road Trip. This was back when I had an affinity for Killian's, and may have had six of them that night. Don't worry, Internet moralists, I was already twenty-one. Now, I have an affinity for any beer you can buy thirty of for fourteen dollars at Costco. That's called economics, kids. Nikki did not drain a bottle of Arbor Mist this year -- I guess the previous year was enough.
2002: This was the year I was living in Tallahassee and had agreed to host my VT friends for the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville. After an ill-advised make-out session with a homeless guy in downtown 'hassee, I got the flu. All I remember about the night they arrived was that X-Files was on TV, I was too hot to be cold and too cold to be hot, and shivering on the floor of my bedroom because being up high on the bed made me nauseous. I spent New Years Eve sick in some Jacksonville bar on the one night that Jacksonville decided to go below freezing, and when that got old, I trudged back to the rent-a-van and waited for the others while homeless men outside eyed the van with its motor running with great interest. F U Jacksonville.
2003: When I started writing my daily updates, I stopped writing my little archived journals, because there's only so much writing you can do in a day before you go crazy and start attacking random power walkers on the sidewalk. As such, I have no idea what I did for this year -- can anyone else remember?
2004: Went to a wild party at Ben's house in Chantilly. Because I lived mere minutes away, I didn't drink, and just went home to sleep with Kitty and Booty after the ball dropped. What did I tell you about being a party noun?
2005: This year, Anna and I decided to have a party at my house in Sterling, since I had a basement and a pool table. What else could you possibly need for a party? Only about ten people showed up, most likely because we didn't decide to host it until six hours before midnight. (We redeemed ourselves as party hosts this past Halloween).
2006: We decided to stay in at my house with some tasty treats from Subway, my patented New Year's Chocolate Chip Cookies on a patented New Year's themed plate, and the first few episodes of the British version of that show, The Office. After those, we channel-surfed through a panoply of shows, including the Road Rules with the cool pool, MTV's ball coverage with way too many bands I had never heard of (and what the heck is up with Laguna Beach?), a show about baby penguins, and a couple episodes of World Poker Tour. We actually got so enthralled by either penguins or poker (who wouldn't?) that we missed the ball dropping by one minute, and it was 2006 before we knew it. Oh, and some guy from some band that sucks tried to crowd-surf into the audience and everyone backed away so he landed on the floor. That he's in a band called "Fall Out Boy" is just delightfully fitting.
My site is older than Fall Out Boy.The mixup caused the shoes to make a flatulent sound with each step.
obviously a completely original update idea
This time around, it only took two full days for the four cats to recognize each other and stop growling like possessed puppets. Anna dropped off her two cats on Friday afternoon before fleeing to the relative safety of the big city. Booty and Amber were immediately on their guard, Kitty automatically went into super-bitch mode (super power: Cujo disguise), and Sydney was completely unphased, wandering around the house trying to open up all the doors and cabinets. Sydney's new way of being loved is to walk up to someone and then fall over on his or her feet like a tipped cow on Prozac -- you can't help but to pet her after she's upside down and meowing. Amber is funny because she's inherently cute, and even when she's growling and acting tough, she still has that cute quality to her -- it's like a four-year-old mimicking the latest MTV rap video, adorably thuglike until she whips out the glock and busts a cap in your shin.
Cats introduced to other cats are interesting because they decide to hate all the cats in the room, even the ones they've lived with for years. For the first two days, Booty growled at Amber and Kitty punched Sydney in the face multiple times. It wasn't until last night that Sydney and Amber remembered that they are totally related, and started romping around like "kittens in a living room".
You can see a few new cat pictures on the Photos page. You can also watch the following movies to fully understand the quirkiness of cats. I had to switch to a new version of my Windows Media Video encoder, so please let me know if you have trouble viewing them.
While playing with my blinds, Amber gets spooked by the beginning of Tim Booth's Wave Hello (363KB WMV).
On Day One of the Great Experiment, all the cats find domains to call their own. Since there aren't many hiding places to choose from, Sydneyand Amber agree to engage in a tenative state of détente (54KB WMV).
Kitty engages in a needless show of force, just to keep everyone on their toes (118KB WMV).
People never believe me when I say that Booty's favourite game is to empty the water bowl on the floor, but now I have proof (534KB WMV).
Happy Birthday Sam!Cat dials 911
This picture is titled, "When the Owner is Away...", and depicts the internal ethical struggle cats must face when their owner is off at Ruby Tuesday eating chicken fingers and their wild friend (who we can hypothetically call "Sydney" since it's an all-American name) suggests that they throw a party. What these teenager cats don't realize is that they will go to jail when caught, and then get shipped off to a boarding home for juvenile purrpetrators where they'll have to play with a dog and only get to eat twice a day.
Roughly forty percent of my meals in the past five days have been restaurant food, which is not good for the pocketbook or the waistline, but it was a necessity from entertaining so many women of upstanding morals. I lunched at McDonald's on Friday then dined at Subway on Saturday, followed by a mistimed trip to McDonald's on Sunday when we thought they were still serving breakfast (we tried IHOP but it was bulging at the seams like a Manassas townhouse violating their new family statutes). On Monday night, Florida-Kathy and Not-From-Florida-Chris came over and cooked me some pasta with French bread (and some mixed vegetables, but those were just for show, like parsley), after which we played another fun geeky game like Settlers of Catania, called Carcassonne (not the heavy metal band). Last night, I went out to eat with Anna & Ben, fresh from their Big City Adventure, and Virginia-Tech-Jen, who's turning into Indiana-Jen as the years go by.
Speaking of years going by, my mom retired from the FAA yesterday, so I will most likely have to increase the length of my posts, since she won't have anything to do all day long. Alternately I can just take my shelf full of TV Shows on DVD and dump them by her TV while she's sleeping. That should buy her several hundred hours of entertainment. As for my own TV shows, I'm nearing the end of Alias Season 4 and I've got Scrubs Season 2 coming in the mail. Alias was seriously good again by the end of the 4th season -- too bad they had to poop on excellence by rewriting the whole history of the show in the finale's last three minutes. Even if you hate the concept of Alias, you should at least watch Tuesday from Season Four, where Sydney gets buried alive in Cuba, and Facade from Season Three, both standalone episodes requiring very little "show knowledge" that show the show in its top show form. The latter stars Ricky Gervais from The Office and his acting chops as a terrorist from the IRA are ridiculous when you consider that Alias was only his second show ever, and not quite the comedy he was in before.
Hopefully after the show's cancelled, all the Alias actors can get new gigs since they're great dramatic actors (sharing sheets with Ben Affleck does not count as a gig though). Maybe Marshall can crash-land on the LOST island to take the place of drunken-driving Michelle Rodriguez who will apparently have to return to Los Angeles to serve jail time since her Hawaii DUI was like her third offense. I hope when the time comes for her to go to jail, they send her off in a magnificently final way -- maybe the survivors run out of food and eat her for brunch: bad for the waistline but great for ratings.Pro Bono: Bono worries that he talks too much politics
Are these news stories real or fake? Decide which one(s) are pure invention, and then reveal the hidden text at the bottom to see if you are right. Regular readers of the Washington Post are disqualified from this contest because that's like insider trading, and we're all honest 'round these parts.
Martin Luther King Jr. to be remembered on April Fools Day
A committee appointed by D.C. Council member Marion Barry has moved the District's annual Martin Luther King Jr. parade from its traditional date near King's birthday in wintry January to the warmer month of April, when the civil rights leader was assassinated. Last year, days after Barry was hospitalized for flulike symptoms, the parade was canceled at the last minute because of plunging temperatures. Aside from the disrespectful symbolism of remembering King on April Fool's Day, one activist said, it makes no sense to hold a parade that marks King's murder. A member of the parade committee said the committee discussed April 1 without realizing that it was April Fool's Day.
Robbed at Gunpoint, Barry Harbors 'No Animosities'
D.C. Council member and former mayor Marion Barry yesterday urged two young men who robbed him at gunpoint Monday night to turn themselves in to police, promising that he would urge authorities not to prosecute them. "I have no animosities," Barry declared. "I don't even want you prosecuted, really. I love you. Give yourself up. Call the police... I will do all I can to advocate non-prosecution. There is a sort of an unwritten code in Washington, among the underworld and the hustlers and these other guys, that I am their friend," Barry said.
Congressman Moran has a Hectic Birthday
Lloyd Grove, "Reliable Source" columnist for the Washington Post, reported that Congressman Jim Moran's (D-Va) house was the site of "a ruckus that a witness described as 'something out of a Jerry Springer episode.'" According to Grove's account, a female friend of Moran visited the divorced congressman and was surprised to find two others, and after screaming and door slamming, Moran had one of the women "by the arm, trying to get her out of the house." Moran's chief of staff, Paul Reagan, explained: "It was just three very good friends who came to give him birthday presents and were surprised that the others were there." Moran has come under fire in the past for suggesting that the Jewish community was responsible for the war in Iraq.
Metro Launches a Star Search
Worried that commuters have turned a deaf ear to the recording that warns when a train is about to pull out of a station, Metro officials plan to record a new message this year and are searching for new talent. The three tones that would-be stars are asked to use are polite, authoritative and serious (Nothing jokey, nothing warm and fuzzy). The winner doesn't get a professional recording contract, a concert tour, or even a free ride on Metro, but will be heard throughout Washington D.C. saying "Doors Opening" and "Doors Closing". A text consultant for the Shakespeare Theatre said candidates should remember the first rule of speech: clarity. "You want to be able to understand the messages, and the trick with that is to let it sound human".
The following were among cases handled recently by the Washington Humane Society:
In Strange Reversal, Condom Discovered in Nut
Consider it a modern-day twist on the story of the Trojan horse. When Diane Geist brought home some mixed nuts from Walmart, it turns out one of the shells was concealing a condom. Geist said she could understand Wal-Mart being skeptical. "I'll baggie up the evidence and run it down there," she said. Store representatives expressed surprise at a condom being able to fit into the relatively small shell of a hazelnut. Geist agreed it was a tight fit. As for the rest of the nuts she had bought? "My husband finished them off," Geist said.
How did you do?Starring Jennifer Affleck
Spouting nonsensical nonsense like a whale with a blowhole, and it's pointed right at you
On Saturday morning, I made my annual pilgrimage to the real brick n' mortar book store to buy a wall calendar for 2006. Border's had a horrible selection this year so I got a calendar full of llamas for a multitude of reasons:
I guess the last point doesn't matter so much in the grand scheme of things since it was my party and I bought the gift certificates, but I've learned that you should take every opportunity you get to feel frugal (rightly deserved or not), because then you can hemorrhage cash without guilt later on.
Now, Why Cats Paint of 2005 has been relegated to the file cabinet with all the other old calendars. I seem to have kept every calendar since 1992, except for 1994. Maybe this was a subconcious note to self that 1994 was my junior year and sucked enough to not be worth remembering. As you can see from the picture above, my tastes have changed throughout the years (the Virginia and Antique Maps calendars were gifts though, so they don't count). The only big difference in calendars of yesteryear is that I actually used them to remember dates and wild parties and the like. In 1993, there's some kind of event on practically every day of the month. In contrast, my 2005 calendar has one day per month filled in with "PAY MORTGAGE".
This weekend, I also saw Walk the Line with Kim, who had seen it once before and thought it was see-worthy again. Plots for movies like these are always the same: guy has talent, guy does drugs, guy is in a bad way, guy redeems himself. Generally movie biographies don't interest me -- I watched the first half of Ray and got bored enough to turn it off. However, I ended up liking this movie, probably because of the music and the performances of Jokin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon. They were able to fully become their characters for these roles, and I rarely ever felt that I was watching a movie star play a role. They also had impressive singing voices as well -- I would buy their albums. Sadly though, I have to admit that I did not know a single Johnny Cash song going into this movie, even Ring of Fire which I was assured that "everybody knows". Bottom Line: A+ movie, would watch a movie with these actors again.Tip of the Day: Don't flee a bank robbery with a personalized license plate.
Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance is one of those hybrid games released with little hype that doesn't sell well because it's too hard to categorize. At its core, it's a turn-based tactical combat game with some semblance of role-playing elements like leveling up characters, numeric stats, and an overarching dramatic storyline. The game consists of 28 levels in which you maneuver your army across the battlefield like chess pieces, striving to accomplish various goals such as routing the enemy, seizing a location, or staying alive for ten turns. The story (which is a notch higher than the usual RPG dross) plays out through non-interactive cut scenes between levels, and a whole lot of text. If you are illiterate, you will hate this game.
Graphics and Sound (7/10)
The graphics are a mix of bland 3D and cutesy animé cartoons, which are sufficient to get the point across but won't win any awards anytime soon. Every time one of your men attacks an enemy, the view switches from a bird's eye view of the map to a 3D battle scene where the units perform fancy moves and swing their swords. Thankfully, you can turn this feature off (something I did almost immediately). I hate not being able to skip things in games as it is, and with hundreds of mini-battles in each level, these scenes got old very quickly, despite how cool they looked (see also, every single cut scene in Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time).
The sound effects in the game are passable, but the music is quite good -- an old-fashioned orchestral soundtrack that will remind you of old school Super Nintendo games. The instruments are obviously MIDI-based and not sampled, but the way it evoked memories of older games made this decision work. This game could have appeared as is on an older system and would still have been just as fun. There are only a few major themes that play through the levels, so hearing the same old battle music got old about halfway through the game. However, just as I was getting ready to mute the TV and pop in my
Johnny Cash Monkees Boxed Set, all the music changed for the remainder of the game. The battle music became rearranged with a lusher orchestration and everything seemed to be written at a more epic scope (and the story in the game itself became more epic as well).
Gameplay and Interface (6/10)
The instruction manual is useless, and there are billions of numbers and options throughout the game which are only explained through a context-sensitive help system that really doesn't give you a big picture. The game does provide some tutorials on how to play, but none on what all the numbers do. Luckily, you can completely ignore almost every superfluous number and still enjoy playing the game. Each fight between units essentially boils down to an attack and a counterattack, so the only numbers that truly matter are how much damage your guy will do and how much he will take. Death is permanent in this game, so if one of your men dies, he cannot be used in any future levels. Between levels, your army returns to their base where you can manage the recruits, buy new gear, and assign bonus points here and there. The menu system here is easily the most cumbersome menu system in the history of menu systems, with menus that have submenus going four and five levels deep. The simple act of telling one guy to give his sword to a friend and then buying him a new sword takes over 20 button clicks to do.
Fun Factor and Difficulty (9/10)
There is a luck factor in the game -- sometimes characters will score a critical hit or dodge a massive fireball, but as I played, I never felt that the outcome was too random. The game is almost a puzzle-game in a sense, because it rewards careful planning, good formations, looking a couple moves ahead. The way you organize your men is key, and you'll generally want your tough nuts in front with the pansy healers and magic users in the back. Each unit has a specific matrix of positions where they can attack, but it's not so strict that it becomes a glorified chess game. I found myself appreciating the game more as I got deeper into it and began to understand how counters worked and the best ways to position my people. Once you know what you're doing, the game is not very difficult at all, although there are a few frustratingly long levels that you will lose right near the end and have to replay several times (you can only save the game between levels, not during). If you are just intent on blazing through, you can probably beat the game in under thirty hours. If you are anal-retentive like me, and insist on having every single one of your men survive for the entire game (and also want to kill every single enemy on the board and get every piece of treasure), it will probably take you over forty hours with replays. In this case, your best friend is the button combination Start-B-X which resets the game so you can start the level over when things aren't going your way.
Japanese role-playing games can be made or broken on the strength of their English translations. I recall a supposedly touching moment in one of the old Final Fantasy's where a main character was killed that made Japanese gamers everywhere cry. Either they're a bunch of pansies, or they had better dialog than the English version which was something like "I am dead. Urk. Don't cry me." The translation of Fire Emblem is very solid English, but not as witty or charming as the translation for Paper Mario. Where video game characters of yesteryear always said "Yo" when they were translated for Americans, now they say "...". Whole conversations can go on with just "..." which I presume can be translated as This character is not currently saying anything but he is struggling inwardly or showing a look of disapproval. Here are a couple examples of how you would use "..." in your daily life:
If you like thinking/strategy games which require no reflexes whatsoever and don't mind a cumbersome interface, buy this game. It's accessible enough to pick up quickly, with loads of deeper features for people interested in exploring them all. It's very rare these days that I actual have the will power to beat a game, so the fact that I beat this one must mean it was worth my while. Plus, it's possible to play this is short spurts of an hour or so and still find yourself making steady progress through the game.
This game also taught me that I need a new roommate -- it's very hard to take staged pictures of yourself.Vomiting and jellyfish and too much time on his hands
When I went to Border's to buy a wall calendar, they had two full carrells of books devoted exclusively to Sudoku. There is a Snood-version of Sudoku that lets you play it with Snoods instead of numbers. In the pit orchestra I was in last year, people were passing Sudoku pages around like numeric bongs to pass the time between acts of Mikado. Over at the Chompblog, every Tuesday's update is Tuesdoku Tuesday (which is not as fun as the competing feature, Newsday Tuesday, on the URI! Zone). So what's the big deal about Sudoku?
I stayed home from work on Monday and Tuesday of this week to get over a random winter bug, so I figured there'd be no better time to unearth the secrets of Sudoku for my blog-reading public. In a controlled lab setting (my office with Booty sleeping next to a giant glass of orange juice), I played a few (52) games of Easy mode Sudoku at websudoku.com to see what all the fuss was about.
Sudoku is "okay". It's an intriguing premise and I can appreciate the elegance of how the solutions come together without any need for guessing, but at the end of the day it's a boring addiction more than a fun one (your mileage may vary, especially you SUV-driving motherlovers). By the time I was on game twenty or so, I was clicking "Play Another" out of habit, and not because I got any particular enjoyment out of beating the puzzle. It reminded me of playing Snood for the eighty-billionth time, or running through Diablo II for the ninety-billionth time hoping to get that one Screwdriver of Kings off a monster.
Speaking of puzzle games with loopy Japanese names, does anyone remember Sokoban? You were a non-union worker in a warehouse and you had to push all the boxes into clearly-marked storage zones. You could only push the boxes though, so if a box got pushed into a corner, you had to restart the level. That there was the epitome of a frustratingly boring carpal-tunnel-inducing addiction but I still beat it as a kid. There are plenty of web versions online if you do a Google search, so I'm sure you could use up some of your company's valuable work time by giving it a try .
Speaking of valuable company time, you should also watch these videos:Karaoke for the Deaf (3MB WMV).
LOST awakens from its two months of reruns tonight! It's Mr. Eko's story and there are two to one odds that Ana-Lucia gets fed to a bear then shot tonight.Cyclops Kitten No Hoax
On Saturday night, we went out to Winchester for a surprise going-away party for Vu, who left yesterday for a new job and funner friends in San Francisco. Anna made a tort and I made my patented "going-away" chocolate chip cookies in a colourful "going-away" bowl. The extended Spellerberg clan was there, and children and small animals flocked to me like I was the Pied Piper. You can see pictures from the party on the Photos page.
On Sunday night, Kim and I drove into D.C. to see the final tour of Les Miserables at the National Theatre where we met up with Ben & Anna and Ben's mother. The show was great, but the performances weren't quite as good as they were four years ago. I'll write about the actual show tomorrow -- today's update will remain completely extramusical. We parked in a seedy parking garage on 13th Street where the number of support columns exceeded the number of parking spaces by two-to-one, to the point where it felt like I was playing a giant game of Gridlock or maybe a macabre round of Tetris while parking.
Parking was a flat $11 fee, and the attendant kindly told me that one of my headlights was out (so apparently I've been that annoying guy in your rear view mirror with one headlight for about a week). This is part of the matching ensemble with my driver's side window, which does not roll down in the winter, but works again every spring, forcing me to open the door to get parking garage tickets or scare Department of Defense gate guards when I pull up for my interviews. My parents always swore by the Metro, but to me, it's really not that much more expensive to drive into the city and control your own schedule -- I feel like the time I save standing on a windy platform waiting for the one Blue Line train to amble into the station is worth the couple extra bucks I'd pay for parking.
This isn't to say that I like driving in the city -- only that it's not quite annoying enough to avoid. I dislike the fact that all the lights are on the corners looking more like festive decorations than signals, or the pedestrians that start waddling into the intersection with two seconds left on the clock. This will not get you better field position for a game-winning field goal -- you will just get honked at and possibly die. On the way out of the city, we drove past multiple cars who were riding the white line like it was a new Metro rail. I half expected to see those little amusement park rail huggers on the bottoms of their cars, but they were just drunk, high, or sleeping for the most part.
During the show (which we had a great field position for), there were a massive number of camera phones out. One guy across the aisle took a picture of every single scene in the musical, and an usher finally came down and told him not to in the last scene. The old guy right behind us took a picture in the quiet, moving silence following the death of the main character at the end of the musical, which just felt very fitting for D.C. After that, he started humming a tritone off-key during "Do You Hear the People Sing?" but I think he was just trying to help us get the right answer to that question.
I developed a tickle in my throat seconds before the curtain opened on the second half, and struggled mightily to not be that guy who coughs through the performance. Luckily any coughing I might have leaked out was drowned out by the lady with the velcro purse full of sweets one row back.Vote Impaler in 2006
Today I will hit the high points of Sunday's show in as few words as possible, since my Florida readers hate when I talk about musicals. In some places, I've linked to MP3s of what I think are the "best performers in that role",taken from my Les Mis Week in 2002 .
Jean Valjean: Randal Keith:
The only returning cast member. Excellent, possibly even better than before. Effortlessly hit the highs, the lows, the louds, and the softs.
Javert: Robert Hunt:
Tried too hard to be evil when the character is just an authority figure. Good voice, okay actor. Pissed me off all the time by changing the rhythm of the lyrics. The composer wrote those eighth notes for a reason, dumbass -- you can change them when you graduate from composer school. Doesn't hold a candle to Philip Quast (799KB MP3) who is ridiculously good.
Fantine: Joan Almedilla:
So-so singer, kind of peculiar-looking. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with peculiar-looking people, since I myself am peculiar-looking. However, when you're in a musical and you're peculiar-looking, it distracts the audience from the music unless you're a really good singer. Sometimes sounded like she didn't speak English and was singing phonetically. Not as good as Debbie Byrne (527KB MP3) or Ruthie Henshall (549KB MP3).
Bishop of Digne: Gabriel Kalomas:
Excellent -- really gave it his all for a part that's only five or six lines long.
Young Cosette: Rachel Schier:
Cute kid, good singer, believable actress. Hopefully she never grows up to take the useless Old Cosette role.
Gavroche: Anthony Skillman:
Another good child actor. Sang the Little People song fast enough so that it wasn't annoying.
Grantaire: Trent Blanton:
Very strong, although he didn't get to do much more than pace around and drink brandy.
Thenardier: Favio Polanco:
Excellent performance. Not sure if it's my favourite but there was nothing wrong. I still like Barry James's take on the character (513KB MP3).
Madame Thenardier: Jennifer Butt:
Another excellent performance. With so many people dying and puppies with cancer in this musical, the comic figures are really important. Both Thenardiers worked well together.
Eponine: Melissa Lyons: Very strong voice, but another distractingly peculiar-looking actress. I think the 2002 Eponine, Jessica-Snow Wilson was hands-down the best, despite her odd name-hyphenating technique.
Enjolras: Victor Wallace:
Decent singer and actor in a rather thankless role of the revolutionary. Not quite as ballsy sounding as Anthony Warlow (239KB MP3).
Marius: Adam Jacobs:
A disappointment. Another distractingly peculiar-looking actor (where do they all come from?) and looked like Fantine's real-life brother. Every time I was almost accepting him as Marius, his voice would go all nasal-peanut and he'd sound like a cast member from Avenue Q. Also messed around with his rhythms and changed the words of Empty Chairs and Empty Tables to Empty Chairs AT Empty Tables. This was not an improvement -- the reason you sing the part written on the score is because it works. Rewriting is not interpretation. Michael Ball is still the definitive Marius (281KB MP3).
Cosette: Leslie Henstock:
Boring, but only slightly peculiar-looking, as if she were the love child of Fantine and Marius. The role really doesn't give actresses anything to work with, and this actress just phoned it in. Cosette's only job in the musical is to sing the two high pretty notes in the musical. She batted 1 for 2 and had the good fortune of sustaining the note 90 cents flat for about ten seconds. I still like Tracy Shayne (534KB MP3).
As good as ever. The suicide scene still works, and the Decepticon streets of Paris are still very cool.
Still a little "all the same" towards the end, but very powerful. Some of the arrangements were tightened with added horn lines which were nice, and a small new scene was added where Valjean meets Cosette for the first time. The new scene obviously sounded like it wasn't written by the original arranger -- like the added song in the movie version of RENT which just doesn't belong.
Excellent. Able. I miss pit. Kept up with the stupid artistic-license singers who were changing up all the rhythms.
Why are they choreographed to do all those funky things? Just because there's 20 cast members twiddling backstage doesn't mean they all have to walk around the stage in every scene pantomining things. It's almost as distracting as funny-looking people.
Excellent. I was surrounded by hot women in fancy clothes, and Ben. I guess Ben was hot too.
Despite the occasional weak performer and a second half that creeps a little bit too slowly, the show was still incredibly powerful, on the strength of the other performers, the music, and the underlying story. A+. Would watch a musical by these French clowns again.
Happy Birthday Robin Langridge!Side effects include pain, headache, vomiting, an irregular pulse, and a broken leg
When I was a little tyke in elementary school, my sister and I spent a couple summers at Summer Day Camp since both of my parents worked and we were untrustworthy prepubescents who would probably burn the house down unattended. One time, in an ever-so-eighties kind of way, they ran out of things for us to do, so we all went on a field trip to the roller rink. I had never roller-skated before and lacked the innate sense of rolling balance that everyone else seemed to have (no doubt because in my homeland, the streets are made of sun-baked cow dung and the wheels on roller skates are oblong). However, I amused myself by standing upright and pulling myself along the wall around the outside of the rink. In roller rinks, you see, you have to roll counter clockwise around the rink, like you're a track star on wheels. On a tangent, why do we run counter-clockwise on a track?
So there I was breaking the sound barrier at six inches per second when the hip 80s DJ put on some notably denim bubble gum band and said, "All you guys off the floor, it's time for the ladies to roll!". This segregation by gender occurred just when I was at the halfway point on the opposite wall, equidistant from the two offramps at the ends of the rink. I spent the next five minutes laboriously tugging myself towards the exit, as gaggles of girls swooped past me in the left lane, giggling and goggling at my ineptitude. Perhaps this traumatic experience is why I never really got into any activities requiring a lot of balance and forward movement, like skiing and skateboarding (I used to sit on the skateboard and roll down the hill -- that was more fun).
There's a better reason for my lack of skiing enthusiasm though. I simply hate being cold, and feel like the effort you make to buy all the sharp, pointy gear, bundle up, trudge out to a hill, and stand around like an Eskimo is not worth the five seconds you're going down a hill. Cold apathy first grew on me as a kid, when the nearest sleddable hill was at Polk School, half a mile away (Heaven forbid they ever block off our street and let kids sled down that hill). Sure sledding was tons o' fun, especially when there was enough snow to build ramps that induced panic in all the mothers at the top, but what happens after your five sceonds of fun? You get off and walk back up a hill. Then when you can't feel your feet and you want to go home, you still have to walk the half mile back. I think yesterday's post on dooce.com sums up my own feelings nicely:
So should my friends ever drag me out to a ski resort, I will probably be the wise, bearded, professor-looking guy camped in front of the fireplace with books and hot chocolate with snow bunnies on each arm, watching cold people fall on their asses through the thick double-paned windows. Bearded might be a stretch, since I'm Asian, but I'll work on it.Buy one for your friends!
We had a scare with Sydney yesterday. Anna and Ben woke up to find her waiting by the food tin as usual, but refused to eat a bite and showed no interest in eating, preferring to stand still and stare straight ahead without talking. This is a cat that talks to herself twenty-four hours a day, and learned to open trash cans to eat stray pieces of lettuce, so that behaviour in itself was alarming. Anna poked around the house to see if maybe she'd gotten into another bottle of multivitamins or bleach and found two little puddles of kitty honking. Cats throw up all the time, but this coupled with the odd antics made them think that Sydney had possibly licked the bottom of Anna's mug of cold medicine the night before. Apparently acetaminophen is highly toxic to cats.
Anna rushed Sydney to the vet, and Sydney showed signs of improvement all the way there, playing with the windshield wipers and wandering all over the car. Two hundred dollars of blood tests later, the results came back negative. Next, the vet wanted to run more tests and X-ray for blockages, but after talking it over, Anna decided to just take Sydney home and keep an eye on her. This is, after all, the cat that ripped all the fur off a toy mouse and ate the fur -- the sole reason there are child locks on all my cabinets. If she can get through all the other disagreeable meals she's had, surely she could fight this.
At last check, Sydney was doing just fine and hadn't honked again since the morning. She probably had just licked some doggy poop off of Baylee's behind, or something equally as offensive. Had the tests come back positive or had there been a blockage, we would have had to confront those scary questions that all pet owners hope they never have to consider: How much money do you spend to care for your pet before you go from loving pet owner to crazy (broke) pet owner with two mortgages? Where do you draw the line between protecting your pet and providing for your family (which many people say should include the pet)? If you're paying a thousand dollars for a surgery to bring Fluffy back instead of putting her to sleep, are you doing it for Fluffy, or for your own needs to have Fluffy with you?
On an unrelated note, I still have a cough from last Monday's cold. It's one of those coughs that's annoying but harmless throughout the day, then starts tickling your throat as the night progresses, until everyone around you thinks you're a plague monkey. I wish it would just go away already.Sea monsters coming to eat you
Happy Who the Hell Put Bush Back in Office Anniversary Day
It was just this weekend that I finally wrote "2006" on a check without thinking about it, rather than writing "2005" first and then using creatively curvy lines to give the 5 a sex change (sex is German for six, you see). I like the fact that I was born in 1979, because then the last digit of my age syncs up with the year we're currently in 75% of the time, so I'm not as likely to forget that I am, indeed, 26 and not 25.
I've done a lot of adult activities in the past three years, from buying a house, and starting (then ignoring) a 401k, to designing and decorating rooms with
gauzy curtains and walnut shelves backhoes and NASCAR photos. However, I didn't truly feel like an adult until Friday afternoon when I poured myself two teaspoons of Robitussin DM, swigged it down without hesitation, didn't grimace, and didn't require a chaser to evade the taste. Voluntarily drinking cough medicine and not minding the flavour -- how much more adult can I possibly get? There was a time when I'd rather stay sick than take any kind of medications (except for citrus-flavoured Dayquil, which is historically tasty).
I'm sure I'll revisit my level of adultery once I have kids, but that's a good three months away, at least. In the meantime, I'll just wait for my sister, or Anna & Ben, or any one of my many married or soon-to-be-married friends to start popping out the pipsqueaks so I can be the jovial uncle figure that swoops into town on holidays and spoils the kids rotten because they're not his own, and tells them that the sun sets in the west because of the big magnetic tractor beam in San Francisco. How cute would it be, for example, if there were a Kelley Jr., and it was a girl?
In a double whammy of an adult wake-up call, I also got called for jury duty on February 6 (my first tour of public service for the people of the United States). To prepare for this, I've been diligently rereading Runaway Jury by John Grisham, since it seems to be representative of the way you serve on juries. Maybe if I bring a bottle of cough syrup as a beverage, the prosecution will be unnerved enough to dismiss me with one day served and $30 in my pocket. Then I can blow that cash at one of those Hispanic brothels that are always in the news these days and call it a day.Job fair turns out to be massive ID theft scam
1) In my freshman year, I spent 100% of my time in class or in my room. I was one of those guys that always had the door shut. I roomed with a sax player named Andy who had dreams of being in Chip McNeill's jazz band and would spend hours practicing to Kenny G CDs on his soprano saxophone. Despite this, he was much cooler and more outgoing than I, and made it his life's purpose to turn me into a social animal. This mostly failed, but we were good friends. I lived in 5050 West AJ, and to this day, I use a variant of 5050 for passwords on unimportant things like work voice mail. No one except Anna leaves messages for me at work, so you should leave an after-hours message for me today: 703-885-1375.
2) In my sophomore year, I roomed with Beavis (the same famous Beavis who visits this site) in 3119 East AJ. This was the second year that AJ had a serial arsonist, resulting in nightly fire drills. I actually went outside for 100% of them. Beavis was cool because he lived in Maryland and often went home, meaning that carless BU could hitch frequent rides home to lust after his resident high school crush (who was but a junior -- how's THAT for being an old lecherous man?). Beavis also had to endure the three weeks where I bought a boxed set of Henry Mancini's complete works, and played dreary, depressing (but skillfully orchestrated) 70s music nonstop in the dorm room.
3) I only ever went to one college party that was actually broken up by the police. It was a trumpet "Pre-Social Social" in 1998 at the Foxridge apartment of one of our section leaders. Jason lived in one of those weird 4-person apartments that was actually two 2-person apartments with the wall torn out of the living rooms, so it had two kitchens. When the cops knocked on the door and asked, "Do you realize how much noise you guys are making?", drunk Jason replied, "Yes." The cop then proceeded to send everybody home, but didn't notice the entire contingent of freshman trumpet players hiding in the back bedroom. This was back in the day when older band members actually took care of their young'ns, making sure they didn't engage in a total alcohol transfusion or pass out on a highway. Technically, I didn't count as an older band member even though I was a junior, because I was still 18. Since I never drank and finally had a car, I often wound up playing chauffeur. This year, I inherited Beavis' old room, but got a new roommate,Nathan, a guy who I went to high school with.
4) In my fourth year, I lived with Kelley "When I was a freshman I drank a bottle of Everclear and showed up the next day at a football game still drunk with vomit on my Marching Virginians pants" Corbett in 3112 East AJ. I went outside for roughly 35% of our continuous fire drills, which was only slightly worse than my class attendance record for that year (and BETTER than my attendance record for the following year). This was the year that Delta Mu, the non-service music fraternity was in its prime (until they took it wayyy too far and had Greek T-shirts made for it, thus turning themselves into the very tools they were mocking), and we spent many nights at Jason "Best Meat" Chrisley's palatial lakeside home in Pulaski (his parents were butcher millionaires who owned gas stations or something) jumping on trampolines and paddling around the lake (I also remember making out with a girl on the shore of this lake in the dead of winter in two feet of snow -- good times). Jason "Best Meat" Chrisley was called "Best Meat" because his parents were butcher millionaires (see above) and he could supposedly make the greatest steaks in the world. We often challenged him to this task because he got the steaks for free, and who wouldn't do something shallow like that to get free steak? By the way, Dave McGarry, the guy who donated his initials to Delta Mu is still making music with his band, Preston Grey. Check them out sometime.
5) In my last year at Tech, 2000-2001, the fire drills of Ambler Johnston finally defeated me and I moved off campus with two hot chicks, Rosie and Anna. Actually, it was originally supposed to be Rosie and Jen, but women always have some sort of drama going on. They were already roommates beforehand and got in a big spat about nothing so Jen got voted off the apartment (and eventually moved into Foxridge in the building next door to us). Since it would have been weird with just Rosie and me in an apartment, we preyed upon the naive and innocent freshman, Anna, to round out our triumvirate of doom. Anna was floored that upperclassmen would want anything to do with her newbie ass, so she agreed immediately, though I'm sure her mother had something to say about moving in with a seedy, disrespectable fellow such as myself. I remember that Shac would constantly ask me what living with two girls was like and whether "they walked around in towels after they took showers". This is also when we got Kitty, who converted Rosie "I'm a total dog person" Pereira into a cat-lover after falling asleep on her back while she did homework.
It's fun to put quoted phrases in the middle of peoples' names.B- if you don't show up for class
I'm pretty lackadaisical when it comes to my health, as evidenced by the fact that my dentist visits that occur less often than the Summer Olympics. When I'm legitimately sick, I actually stay home from work and recuperate rather than become a walking Asian of Contagion in the office and I'm considerate enough to not hang around my friends when I should be quarantined (though I bet they have all caught my infectious zeal for life! LOL!). In my super-immuno mindset, anything that can't be cured with lots of fluids and bed rest will naturally go away when it's run its course, so I only go to doctors when absolutely necessary.
For example, I had planned to get my wisdom teeth removed this month -- it's been on my short list of things to do since October when Kim's mouth exploded into a festival of fun and she had to get emergency surgery on her wisdom teeth. However, the month's end is approaching rapidly and all my teeth are still in my mouth. The only reason for this is inertia: my company switched health insurance providers for 2006 and the amount of effort it would take to set up with a new oral surgeon is a tragically insurmountable obstacle.
Now, I've had this Cough of Annoyance for two and a half weeks (it's got a +3 to being annoying, and is more effective at night). During the day it's just a plain old cough, but at night its tickly nature makes me cough on a loop, like I'm the backup track for K-Fed's next hit single. Every day that I'm about to call the new doctor to set up an appointment, it goes away just long enough to seem like it's coming to an end. Last night, I tried a few home remedies (like dancing naked in a field at midnight) and made myself a mug of hot tea with honey. In my zest to mix the honey in though, I broke open the teabag with the stirring spoon, and tea grounds spilled out into the bottom of the mug. Of course, I did not realize this until I had started draining the dregs and ended up with tiny lumps of tea in my throat, which were easily more ticklish than my cough. Needless to say, that remedy did not help me get to sleep any faster. The throat gnomes are going to be mining tea out of my esophagus for weeks to come.
Today, I feel fine and don't think I'm infectious (and I've been careful to wash my hands like a Hefner and not blow my nose in anyone's Cheerios), but there's a slight lethargy to my being. I feel like I'm just one step out of phase with my surroundings, but I don't think I'm having an out-of-body experience or anything like that. I'm going to call the doctor this morning just to make sure I didn't catch Dutch Elm Disease or anything. I will let Anna know if she needs to burn the couch I sat on last night once I get checked up.
Alternately, I could be a ghost and you could be getting this news update from beyond the grave. In that case, woooooooooooooo."Everybody Hates Gilmore Girls"
I came back from the doctor's office with a clean bill of health yesterday. I'm not a viral spawn of destruction and there's no Spanish moss growing in my lungs. The doctor just said that my cough is a leftover throat condition from my cold two weeks ago. She prescribed an over-the-counter cough medicine for the daytime and a narcotic cough suppressant for the night, but I ended up getting neither. I reason that if my only course of action is to wait for the cough to go away, then one medicine is just as good as the next: I'm already using an over-the-counter drug during the day, and if the prescription drug is just to help me sleep better, I can get the same effect with Nyquil. Just in case though, I'm going to be working at home until the cough goes away, since Annoying Coughing Officeman is only slightly lower on the Office Etiquette Chart as Guy Who Makes All His Calls on Speakerphone.
I reaffirmed my dislike of doing new things yesterday, not because new things aren't exciting, but because of the fear that people will make fun of you when you are doing something they have done for years. Enroute to the examination room, there's always a little pagan ritual you go through with the nurse, turning this way, standing on that scale, turning around to get measured and so forth. The nurse, who goes through it twenty times in a day just expects you to know what to do and where to face. The second time through, I'm always fine, but the first time is always anxiety-causing for me. It's just like going to the grocery store and getting an incredulous look from the tomato stacker when you don't know that bacon bits are sold in the spices aisle and not the salad dressing aisle. It's much easier to just give up on looking for them and go without bacon bits for a week or four.
I'm just as guilty when it comes to things in my own comfort zone -- I often call people colourful names on the Toll Road when they suddenly have to merge into or out of the Smart Tag lanes or when they come to a complete halt in the middle of the toll plaza while they search for the full service line. Since I know what goes through my head in those situations, I also know what people were thinking the first time I went to a "leave your tray on the table" fast food joint and wandered around looking for a trash can.
This "everyone should automatically how stuff works" phenomenon applies to tools and gadgets as well. Do you know what all the things in your manicure kit do, or what every contraption on the Swiss Army knife is for? I have toolboxes with eighty billion bits and bolts inside, and the only way I'll ever know when to use one is to look at the job at hand and think, "This looks like it might fit in there".Dance Dance Revolution to cure fatties in West Virginia
Fifty million visitors can't be wrong, unless you ask them something they don't know
Within twenty-four hours of mentioning Celeste Cheese Pizza-For-One's in my Friday Fragments column last week, I rediscovered them at Sam's Club. Normally, Sam's Club is something of a poor man's Costco -- its only redeeming features are its larger selection of TV DVDs, and the flour-shelled Beef & Cheese Chimichangas in the Frozen Foods aisle. The only reason I was there on Saturday was to pass the twenty minutes until the Best Buy across the street opened up. With a box of Chimichangas under my arm, I happened to glance across the aisle to see the pizzas sold in a bulk box of eight. The box looked just like it did in the eighties, with slightly darker earth tones. When I opened up two boxes for lunch that day, I discovered that the cardboard crisper circle now has an ornate design on the back, giving the impression that you could cut it into a Burger King crown if you so desired.
So, I popped a pizza into the microwave for exactly two minutes and forty-five seconds and then took the pizza (still on top of its box and crisper) to the top of the steps with a Calvin & Hobbes book to relive my yesteryears (Almost eighty percent of meals in my childhood were eaten on the landing in my split-level home, with me sitting on the second step and my food and a book on the top step). It still tasted exactly like I remembered!
Celeste pizzas are never fully cooked -- despite the space-technology crisper circle, the pizza will be crisp on the outside and the middle, but soggy along its inner radius. The cheese stays frozen in tiny pockets of tundracity while other areas of cheesiness melt too much, turning into a dark red rubbery material which some Amazon cultures use in place of honeycomb to repair holes in their skiffs. If you try to cook it any further, the cheese starts to harden and become unappetizing, and then the pizza becomes permanently attached to the crisper circle. The consistency of the pizza is much like the consistency of the crisper -- cardboard with a slightly papery aftertaste. Despite all of this, they still taste pretty darn good, because it's a childhood food, and every food you eat as a child elicits charming memories of wood elves and fairies. On the international pizza scale, I'd say they're still below Totino's but above Ellio's "Our pizzas look like giant rectangular Go Fish cards" pizzas. In the long run I'll stick with Totino's, but who can argue with an 80 cent pizza that takes less time to make than a bowl of soup?
Somewhere in the fuzziness of my memory, I'm recalling an old 80s movie where someone takes a whole Celeste pizza, rolls it up, and eats it like a wrap. I can't remember anymore than that though. Was it the refrigerator sex scene in Hot Shots with Charlie Sheen?The couple will marry on Valentine's Day and plan to consummate their vows in a coffin
I can assert with virtual confidence that I am no longer a spreader of disease and my cough has gone away for good, so they can finally remove me from the terrorist deck of playing cards where I was third in command of the clubs suit (Queen of Clubs was the girl that licks everything from the anti-smoking ad and King was Mike's Futon of Death). It only took three weeks for the cough to stop, fast enough for me to enter February with a healthy, clean outlook, but not so fast that it didn't annoy me during my weekend plans o' fun.
After the past returned to haunt me in the form of prepackaged frozen pizzas on Saturday, I took a trip out to Fake Alexandria, which is the area of Fairfax County south of the Beltway also known as Hybla Valley, where the low-class county trash preys on the City of Alexandria's good name and reputation. While there, I was forcibly involved in an afternoon caper that included a flaming car, multiple police officers, and a very tasty doughnut. Sadly though, I promised not to reveal any further details, but the tale is interesting enough that I think Kim should post a full disclosure the next time she's run out of blog ideas.
Three hours and seventy miles on the odometer later, we were eating dinner at the Bennigan's in Springfield Mall, which was apparently having a Commodores, Guns n' Roses, Bon Jovi lovefest, playing classics back to back throughout the night. I ate a sliced jalapeno pepper and peed in the nastiest bathroom ever found outside of a gas station -- even the Queen of Clubs would think twice about licking that bathroom floor, as I think there were multiple new species of life gestating in and around the sink area.
From there, we moseyed down the thoroughfare to the theatre for a showing of Annapolis which came with a free side of hoody high school kids making comments at the screen. My ticket was only $7, since I'm a bona fide student of the Florida State University where I have been working on my doctorate by correspondence for the past three years. The movie was entertaining but mostly silly -- a better title might have been Rocky Goes to the Academy, since the Naval Academy is only used as a back drop for a boxing / coming-of-age story. Most of the movie consisted of deep and meaningful lines of dialogue taken from better movies and James Franco frowning while trying hard not to turn into the Green Goblin.
In fact, the only things I learned about the Naval Academy from the film was that there is only one attractive female on the entire campus, but she will be a year ahead of you so you can't kiss her without being kicked out, and if you lie about taking a shower you'll get kicked out, and if you're fat and eat junk food you'll get kicked out. BUT you can punch a visiting Marine officer twice without provocation and he'll let you advance to the boxing finals instead of kicking your insubordinate ass out. They say that the reason the entire film was shot in Philadelphia was because the Academy and Annapolis didn't support the movie, and I can see why -- as a patriotic recruiting movie, it's not really that good. I think it would have been more successful in luring young, inexperienced high-school graduates to service if they had added a storyline where the Navy clones an entire battalion of Jordana Brewsters and they all fall madly in love with the incoming plebe class.
It will be interesting to see if President Bush includes this "Hot Clone" initiative in tonight's State of the Union address. If he's going to preempt higher quality television like Scrubs and House for twenty minutes of empty rhetoric and eighty minutes of clapper-ass clappers, then the least he could do is to introduce a nucular stem-cell cloning technique that creates hotties. It would be a definite step towards world peace.Fear of Girls: The Documentary
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