Posts from 04/2006

Monday, April 03, 2006

Tag Day: Six Weird or Unusual Habits

I was tagged by Anna on Friday. It's becoming increasingly hard to come up with things that aren't already on my 222 Things About Me page but I'll give it my best shot. And by "give it my best shot" I mean I'll kick that ball so far over the fence that the little kids will be crying for hours. Here goes...

  1. If I pet a dog, I will obsessively wash my hands afterwards so they don't smell like dog. Then I'll probably pet the dog again two seconds later, and have to repeat the whole procedure like a Pavlovian test subject who also has the misfortune of being OCD. This doesn't apply to any other animals -- I once licked Booty's nose as the result of losing a bet.

  2. I am an avid bathroom reader. I have gone into the bathroom just to read on more than one occasion. I guess I could have just taken the book out of the bathroom, but I'm sure I'll be vindicated when the nuclear holocaust arrives and I am saved by the structural integrity of my loo.

  3. I never get mentally nervous about public appearances or speeches (I'm actually more comfortable talking to a large group of people rather than a one-on-one conversation), but in the moments leading up to them I will still get symptoms of physical nervousness like shaky hands and fluttering heartbeats.

  4. Whenever I buy a TV show on DVD, the first thing I make a beeline for is the Bloopers. I am a blooper connoisseur -- the only true blooper is one where things go horribly awry. You can't just take five minutes of actors unable to recite their lines because of laughter and call it a blooper. I used to watch the deleted scenes, until I realized there's usually a very good reason those were deleted.

  5. I am almost as cynical about everything as Mike Catania, but it doesn't show as well. I read most of the print edition of the Washington Post every single day. No matter how heart-warming the story is, my brain will reflexively think about the most cynical angle of the story first. When I read about the high school walkouts supporting immigration last week, my first thought was, "They all just wanted to get out of school just like the Million Man March in 1996". Except for Animal Watch -- animals are never cynical.

  6. I will consent to watch any and every movie, even the really, really bad ones, unless the movie is more than about 140 minutes of running time. Anything below that I can justify as a couple hours of entertainment, but any more than that makes me think of how much time I'm wasting by watching a movie. Because of the highly skewed ratio of female to male acquaintances, I've probably seen more chick flicks than any guy I know.

Now, in an effort to promote cross-blog pollination, the six people I'm tagging are Kim , Mike , Rob , John , Kathy, and Rachel. The last two don't have blogs, so they can answer in the comments section. If I'd picked more people from my list of bloggers, then the other four might get P.O.'d for stealing the people that they could tag.

Happy Birthday, Tim Galyen!

Making money off of Daylight Savings Time
Daddy, the only thing I found out today is I don't want to be Jewish
Masturbation as 'intent to litter'

tagged as tags | permalink | 12 comments
day in history

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Following a home stretch of working all weekend long and taking a half-day at work on Monday, I have my Sun Java Developer's Certification project finished and ready for submission. The skills required to write the program are nothing that any decent developer wouldn't know already or be able to pick up quickly -- the hardest part of writing for me was going back through it at the end to make sure that every single line obeys the Java Code Standards on formatting, which dictate such minutiae as how many spaces are in 1 hit of the tab key (4) and how to place the curly braces between if statements. Besides that, doing all the work was reasonably interesting in a sick-work kind of way, although it did make me feel like I was back in college again.

I have to make sure that I submit it quickly enough to get it over with before I start second-guessing all the design decisions I made when writing it (but not so quickly that I make a careless mistake). What makes this particular certification so daunting is that it's expensive and anonymously graded. Here's how things work:

  • You pay your $250 and get a 6 page list of requirements outlining a project which touches on all major Java coding areas, like GUIs, databases, threads, and network.
  • You read the spec once a week for three months so it looks like you're working on it.
  • You finally hunker down and finish it off in early April (one month earlier than planned, I might add), and then package it all up to submit online.
  • You pay another $150 to go to a Prometric Exam Center where you answer four essay questions which essentially ask "How can we be sure you wrote this yourself unless we ask you about how you designed it?"
  • Six weeks later, your code is run through an automatic analyzer which checks to make sure you have covered every requirement that included the word MUST. If you miss any, your assignment is immediately failed without any explanation.
  • If you make it this far, you start with 400 points, and your project is pored over by some poor human grader with a checklist. Everytime he finds something he takes issue with, he subtracts some points. If you drop below 320 points, you automatically fail.
  • After grading, you get back your score sheet with just the numeric score -- no comments, no criticisms, no text whatsoever.
  • If you fail, you are allowed to fork over ANOTHER $125 and resubmit a corrected assignment two weeks later (as long as you can figure out why your other one failed, of course).

So the problem here is the opacity of the grading process. As soon as I submit the project, it's out of my hands and I have to hope the anonymous grader doesn't have a bad hair day. This certification is all about being able to make solid design decisions so there's no one right answer. If the grader dislikes some of my designs and subtracts some points, it wouldn't be the end of the world. But if I lose a point here for having more than 1 whitespace, and another point there for using a capital letter, eventually they can add up. I could fail and have no guidance on where things went wrong to make the second submission any better.

All this heartburn for a worthless piece of paper and a line on my resumé that I'll never reference again. Someday, I will become a high paid consultant and create my own brand of certification on something, then make all my money by failing people and forcing them to resubmit for half the price. This could be the biggest money-making scam ever created, although I'm obviously not the first person to want to exploit it (see also, CMMI, and graduate school).

Spider has fiery revenge on nudist
Robotic moose has revenge on hunter
Scam passing oven doors off as flat-screen TVs

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day in history

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Life in Progress

  • Mario and Luigi: Partners in Time is the funnest video game I've played in a long time. Its use of the split screen feels completely natural, it has charm, and it even has a good English translation. Part role-playing game, part platform hopper, and part adventure, this game is a tiny replica of Paper Mario for GameCube which is a definite compliment in my book. Buy it if only to hear Mario's faux Italian voice proclaim, "BABIES!" (everywhere!).

  • I've gotten so caught up in the above game that I haven't played much with my Nintendog, a golden retriever named Woofer. He's probably run away by now.

  • A thousand bucks later and my brakes are replaced and wonderfully tactile. There's so much padding down there it feels like someone tossed a chunky American baby under the brake pedal when I slow down. If you've ever been in a car with me, you know that I set the parking brake like I'm spinning the wheel on The Price is Right. Now it only takes a couple notches to feel snug, rather than the ninety degree angle it used to take.

  • The first thunderstorm of the year passed through Loudoun County two nights ago but I'm still not sure we can officially call it a storm. Take a look at the radar picture -- what kind of homoerotic storm manifests itself as a straight line?

  • I started reading the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman, since I liked his Ruby in the Smoke series and I love it so far. Most fantasy series spend so long on exposition and explaining why things are the way they are that you might as well go see the documentary instead. So far, this series grips you from the start and tells how things happen to be, leaving it up to the reader to figure out the rules of the world or explaining them throughout the book rather than in an introductory paragraph.

  • Paige is doing well in Spain, but I am not allowed to share her gallivanting dog stories on my website upon pain of death.

  • Last night, I uploaded my Java project and threw down the $150 for the essay portion of the exam (taken from the cock-fighting winnings of my last trip to Durham NC) and have scheduled it for Thursday afternoon after work. Maybe it will be graded before my annual performance review in mid-May so I can buy everyone a present.

  • I also rearranged my office, putting the computer back in its spring/summer position. I did this for two reasons: 1) In the old position in front of the window, the monitor becomes backlit like some yuppy Phillips wall TV as the sun moves further north, and right around April I can't see a thing on the monitor during the day, and, 2) I just can't leave things alone, can I?

  • There are two cats in the picture of my office. Can you spot them?

  • How is your life going?

  • Happy Birthday Geoffrey King! He can enjoy a new episode of LOST tonight.

    Presenting the case for shacking up before you get old
    Keeping in touch through IM without ever talking
    Bug has explosive revenge on teacher

    tagged as day-to-day | permalink | 11 comments
    day in history

    Thursday, April 06, 2006

    Musical Musings

  • I'm liking The Cardigans, especially the syrupy nature of the lead singer's vocals, as heard on Erase/Rewind (469KB MP3). I also like the vocal acrobatics and the sheer musical audacity of The Darkness, as heard on One Way Ticket to Hell (511KB MP3). They do camp in a good way.

  • Three worst songs I've heard on the radio this week:
    • Gwen Stefani - Crash (346KB MP3)
      She's obviously forgotten what a melody is and her beat sounds like the kid in marching band who didn't have enough rhythm to play the snare drum so they got the triangle. If the movie, Crash, had used this for a theme song, you never would have seen them in the running for the music Oscar.
    • Cheeky Girls - Cheeky Song (511KB MP3)
      This song is about four years old now but it's still embarassingly bad. These girls didn't make the cut on the British American Idol... I wonder why.
    • TATU - All About Us (447KB MP3)
      From the patented TATU department of "rush through the verse in broken English so you can get to the horrible chorus that really wasn't worth rushing towards in the first place".
  • Hearing foreign singers attempt to phonetically sing English really irritates me. I suppose it's as bad as when all our American sopranos try singing other European languages. I would rather hear some Italian chick singing well in Italian and not understand a word she's saying than hear her mangle English.

  • I was originally going to use Katie Melua's Nine Million Bicycles (513KB MP3) as an example of why pop singers shouldn't cover show tunes. Then I learned that the song is actually an original -- I can't decide if that's better or worse. Normally this is the kind of voice that I really enjoy listening too, but something about her delivery is just way too sterile to enjoy. Another annoying thing about the song -- every verse, she removes more and more syllables from the word "bicycles" until it's virtually monosyllabic.

  • Funny song of the moment: Moonlight Special by Ray Stevens: (629KB MP3)

  • The funniest CD I own is not a CD full of funny songs. Instead, it's Mancini Rocks the Pops, a collection of 80s pop songs arranged for orchestra by Henry Mancini who also conducts. Were I the parent of some budding musician who paid a billion dollars to see my kid through Oberlin, only to have them land a gig playing the piccolo part to With or Without You I think I might be a wee bit disappointed. See if you can recognize any of these classics:
    • (292KB MP3)
    • (187KB MP3)
    • (141KB MP3)
  • On a note closer to home, here's a recording of my first public solo performance as a trumpeter, playing Mira by Vander Cook in seventh grade (93KB MP3). It wasn't until three years later that I realized that every single one of Cook's songs sounded exactly the same (see also, Jim Swearingen).

  • Everyone seems to be head-over-heels for James Blunt these days. I like exactly two of his songs. The rest sound like he forgot all the words and is just making stuff up on the fly in a ridiculously stilted meter. I would like to hear Goodbye My Lover on double speed as if sung by the Chipmunks -- it might be an improvement.

  • Also new on my playlist this month:
    • Shaggy - Angel
    • Barenaked Ladies - One Week
    • Cardigans - Don't Blame Your Daughter
    • Jet - Look What You've Done
    • The Darkness - I Believe in a Thing Called Love
    • McFly - Ballad of Paul K
  • I've never liked a single song by Oasis simply because the lead vocalist was too annoying to listen to. For some reason though, I like Champagne Supernova enough to listen to it all the way through (515KB MP3).

  • KT Tunstall's CD still hasn't left my car. Go buy it.

  • Discuss.

  • Three Act Season Three of LOST
    He didn't like Led Zeppelin or The Clash but I don't think there was any need to tell the police
    A donkey is like a housewife

    tagged as music, reviews | permalink | 14 comments
    day in history

    Friday, April 07, 2006

    Friday Fragments

    Rachel gets to be in the tagline because it's her birthday today

  • Banquet Chicken Pot Pies have cost-cut, and now their pie tin is made of cardboard instead of aluminum foil. This is not good news for the crust-taste, which is 95% of the reason you eat a pot pie.

  • The essay portion of the Java exam was about as exciting as the staid one-story testing facility I took it in on Herndon Parkway. I did have to share the testing room with some guy taking a different test, and I'm sure I distracted him with my machine-gun style of typing on a keyboard, especially since the spacebar had years of accumulated human filth on it and would almost stick with a satisfying click after every word. Luckily the four essay questions only took about twenty minutes to answer so I was out of his hair quickly. I could have stayed for the full two hours.

  • I want to see Inside Man because I like heist movies, or any movie with intricate puzzle-like details.

  • Now I get to wait for four to six weeks for the results of my exam. In the meantime, I will start logistical planning and syllabus-writing for a Java course I'll be running at work starting in the Fall. If I pass the certification exam, I think I'll pretend to be one of those arrogant self-righteous professors that everyone's had to deal with in academic settings. I'll get a little button made and wear it in class and then demean and ridicule the adult students until they snap and bring a gun to work.

  • Did you have a parachute in elementary school gym? About once a month or so, our physical education classes, led by Mrs. Joyner and Mrs. Balthasar, would whip out this brightly coloured defective tablecloth and force the kids to stand around it. For the entire period, we would have to shake it up and down, raise it up and then duck underneath it, or just try to make a dodgeball roll through the hole in the middle. Occasionally we'd try to run in a circle so the parachute would spin, but people would always end up stepping on other people and collapsing. To this day, I see zero health benefit from shaking a parachute. Why was this such an integral part of gym?

  • We warmed up for gym in elementary school by running barefoot around the edge of the room jumping over cones while the greatest dance hits of the 80s played off of records over the loudspeakers. The gym served a double purpose as an auditorium, so whenever the parents had to come in for back-to-school night, the entire room reeked of foot odour from two hundred sweaty, nasty prepubescents.

  • Eminem divorced his ex-wife, Kim, three months after remarrying her. Who didn't see this coming?

  • I got a voicemail on Wednesday night from Shac, who resurfaced out of the past like a sperm whale on holiday. What the heck are you doing in Arkansas, Shac?

  • If you missed yesterday's comments section, you can hear James Blunt sings Goodbye My Lover as Alvin the Chipmunk, provided by Rob . It really distills Blunt down to his bare soul, which apparently is, "let me sing a lot of words in falsetto using only two and a half pitches". I was very tempted to add a techno dance beat underneath it, but then realized that simpler is better, and requires less effort.

  • I finished Book I of the His Dark Materials trilogy, and it was quite the satisfying read. It's not fantasy in the typical sense, because it also mixes in healthy doses of the modern world, religion, and science.

  • Happy 25th Birthday to Rachel today! Happy 27th Birthday to Ben Ahlbin tomorrow! Happy 24th Birthday to Diana diBiase tomorrow! April is really a watershed month for acquaintances' birthdays. I know what YOUR parents were doing in August! Eww.

  • My mom's birthday fast approaches and Kim's follows soon after. This is a good thing because then she (Kim) can no longer make fun of me for being old and crotchety without being in the line of fire herself. In the Line of Fire was a great movie, but why do Clint Eastwood and Woody Allen only make movies where chicks swoon over them?

  • No major plans this weekend, although it's getting warm enough to begin doing domesticated things like mowing the lawn soon. Last weekend, I cleaned out my shed with a shop vac and sucked up all the mouse poop from the determined mouse that resisted all my winter traps and destroyed a tarp.

  • Have a good weekend!

  • Eva Longoria's so fat, planes could land on her belly
    Lazy mole rats that get fat to have sex
    Rich women want hot men

    tagged as fragments | permalink | 12 comments
    day in history

    Monday, April 10, 2006

    The Car As a Microcosm of Its Owner's Cleanliness: A Highly Scientific Study

    You may think your friends are neat individuals, vacuuming the house before they have company, or shaving their lambchops off before the big dance. They might fool the public by having a nice clean desk with all the clutter tucked safely away in a drawer. However, all bets are off when you take a peek in their car. One glance through the back window is usually enough to confirm or dispel the myths about their cleanliness.

    Walk down the row of any parking lot and you'll see a variety of cars with their interiors in various states of clutter, from impeccably spotless cars that show the owner is out at the gas station every Friday afternoon at the 25 cent vacuum, to cars so filled with receipts and bags and fast food wrappers that CSI: Miami could reconstruct that person's life from the last four months with amazing accuracy. In some cases, Lab Technician Tshombe from CSI: Zaire could do it with nothing more than a pair of forceps and a rock.

    My own car interior is a little dusty, but has no clutter. This is by default though, rather than any concerted effort on my part -- I spend so little time in there that the only thing in the backseat are a pair of gloves and a scarf for cold mornings and a Club, which I like to slip on the wheel in seedy neighbourhoods (even though I never lock it -- it's just for show, because if someone's really going to steal your car with a Club on the wheel, they probably already have the tools needed to get it off). As I pass by other peoples' cars (on my daily constitutionals through parking lots where I search for illegal immigrants and provoke crime to fight), I've seen varying levels of craziness, such as:

    • A backseat filled completely with newspapers in paper bags: You don't get more money if your recyclables are well-travelled.
    • A child seat camouflaged on all sides by McDonald's wrappers: Honey, throw another cheeseburger back at Jimmy, he just won't shut up!
    • A broken lightbulb: Why is there a lightbulb there in the first place, unless you are a cartoon character and had a great idea while driving down the interstate?
    • A small tribe of empty Dasani water bottles: This just seems like a bad idea, especially in northern Virginian traffic -- who knows when you'll be able to get home and pee? I guess you could pee back into the bottle if worst came to worst -- ashes to ashes and all that.

    I bet it's even worse in SUVs, but the world will never hear about them, because I am too short to peek in the windows.

    Happy Birthday Mom!

    The original meaning of scumbag is "condom".
    Round One: Rosie O'Donnell vs. Naomi Campbell
    Onboard navigation system tries to kill British people

    tagged as random | permalink | 9 comments
    day in history

    Tuesday, April 11, 2006

    The Evolution of a Composer: A Pictorial (Part I of II)

  • In fifth grade (1989) I wrote and submitted my first composition ever, The Proud Beagle for solo cornet. I wrote it for cornet because I played cornet, and I played cornet because my hands were too tiny for a trumpet. This piece won second place in the school's yearly Reflections contest, and my clever sequence of sixths in the B section earmarked me as a tyke to keep your eyes on. (I washed my ear soon after).

  • I didn't write again until tenth grade where the high school pep band had a repertoire which consisted of a grand total of four (4) songs and a power chord someone had made with the leftover whole notes in the music budget. For added shame, one of the songs was called "Bread Man". To remedy this situation, I decided that I would write the biggest book of pep band arrangements in the history of pep bands and avidly wrote to publishers and composers in search of music that could be arranged for zero money down. Remember Return to Zork? It was a retarded video game but it sure had some great brass fanfares (one of which John Williams borrowed to write the theme to Harry Potter). This pep band book was a dismal failure because I blindly rushed into it knowing nothing about any instruments. (For completeness, I DID, in fact, finish the world's largest pep band book in 1998 made up completely of original compositions or compositions that sounded "a lot like" popular tunes but not close enough to warrant a fifty dollar arranging fee . I roomed with Beavis when I wrote most of them).

  • After my junior year, I went to the Governor's School for Visual and Performing Arts (And Humanities Because Virginia Is Too Poor To Give Them Their Own School) for trumpet where I had to write a 16 bar melody for a theory class. It went over so well that they had me turn it into a brass fanfare, which I painstakingly did without a piano or MIDI keyboard -- I had to click one note at a time into some archaic Apple IIgs program. They played the fanfare at the closing ceremonies which was a nice egotistical kick, although the horn players apparently disliked that the fifth note of the piece was a high B. I would later learn a secret in Music Theory classes (which are like Sex Ed classes without the sex) that horn players will protest mightily if they ever have to ascend higher than an F. In my defense, the note WAS an E before it got transposed up a fifth by the Apple computer, so don't blame the composer.

  • Following that stirring experience, I wrote a new song every month for the next year and half -- some more musically sound than others, and some just for fun (Bubba's Fried Chicken Stand). Writing music was fun and novel and I never cared about whether or not my songs would change the world. Occasionally I would send my scores to my old band director for commentary. I really didn't consciously know this melody was a "lift" but I guess I did steal from John Williams. And the circle of life continues...
  • To be concluded tomorrow...

    Blueprints for hijacking Air Force One posted
    Monster bunny on the loose
    Energy, immigration, it's all the same thing

    tagged as memories | permalink | 9 comments
    day in history

    Wednesday, April 12, 2006

    The Evolution of a Composer: A Pictorial (Part II of II)

  • I finally decided to go to school for composing and ended up at Virginia Tech in 1996 where my first composition professor hated everything I brought in and constantly asked me to do exercises where I should "put a few wrong notes in the score". Over time, lessons became less about learning new craft (because I was a stubborn son of a bitch) and more about a cat-and-mouse game where I would try to convert his dissonance exercises into tonality. One trick I used to do was to put four consecutive quarter notes somewhere in the score, and see how long it took him to zero in on them and change them for "rhythmic interest's sake". I think he batted near .992 or so on catching them all. If my compositions were a game of Pokemon, he was beating the crap out of Snorlax.

  • My next composition professor was on his way out the retirement door, and had another house up at Northern Illinois University where he spent most of my lessons. He would rather be sitting on his stoop with a six pack of Rolling Rock than actually doing any teaching, which is why kids abandoned his Music Appreciation classes like rats on a sinking ship. He pretty much gave me free reign to write whatever I wanted, and occasionally interrupted his stories of yore to correct some technical problems. This was a great composing environment for me and I wrote my best music under him. This was also when I roomed with Kelley Corbett, who one day said, "Dude, Uri, you write some crazy sh_t".

  • Once you get to Master's level composing, you have to care about it to succeed, and I didn't. Being in an environment where half the people really know what they're doing while the other half really think they know what they're doing makes you second-guess everything you write, and the fun, care-free days of writing songs over I - VII - VI - V without caring how it will be received are long gone. I got tired of the composers' concerts with songs like "Fantasy Using One Note for Three People Shooting Snot Into a Bucket" or "Insert Any Word Here for Solo Flute Because They Are the Easiest People to Guilt Trip Into Performing For You". As a result, my output went way down and the only things I have to show for my two years are a string quartet which sucked, and a chamber piece which didn't suck.

  • From there, I crawled back to the world of composing-light, where you can write music that performers want to play and the average American joe wants to hear, where no one looks down their nose at you when you arrange Irish Washerwoman for Doobie (even though he never plays it, PMO). I very rarely ever write these days, but when I do, it's fun again! And that's the whole point. Why do it if you don't enjoy it?
  • New LOST on tonight! Last one until May sweeps month! If you like to Tivo these things, make sure you set it for 65 minutes not 60.

    Hurry up, grandma
    Yahaya needs more minutes
    Gamers make good robbery targets

    tagged as memories | permalink | 5 comments
    day in history

    Thursday, April 13, 2006

    Chad Darnell's 12 of 12

    I'm a regular reader of Chad Darnell's blog, and decided to join this month's round of 12 of 12 for hijinks and fame (and the women of questionable morals that often follow fame). In a nutshell, it's simply a blog update where you take 12 pictures of your daily routine on the 12th of the month -- you can see his archive of past months here . This is what I did yesterday:

    1) 5:39 AM: Waking Up
    My alarm goes off every morning at 5:25 AM, and if I don't drag myself into the shower immediately, I will never get out of bed. This picture is actually a redo -- the first one I took was of me shaving, but the lens was so fogged up that I just looked like a blurry yeti with rabies (the last thing anyone wants is to find their picture on Google Images under just such a heading). Why are toothbrush handles so big today? Are peoples' hands getting smaller?

    2) 5:57 AM: On the Road
    I love my commute because it's only seven miles long. I love it more because the lights are always green at this ungodly hour. The artistic flare of the traffic signals can either be attributed to my impeccable picture-taking technique or the way I balanced the camera on the steering wheel while driving over potholes -- your choice.

    6:40 AM: Sunrise in Reston
    After I've had my hot chocolate and a breakfast bar, caught up on the news and all my e-mail, and attained some level of mild consciousness, I can turn around in my swivel chair to watch the sun come up over the Reston skyline.

    8:47 AM: Working Hard
    Two hours later, I surface from the tribulations of work to snap a quick one-handed picture of myself at my computer. That it's surprisingly in focus is a sign of my award-winning "left-handed technique". Get your mind out of the gutter.

    1:04 PM: Driving Home
    I head home right about the time that all those clowns who wasted an hour for lunch at Chipotle are coming back for more fun-filled work. Notice that my eyes are, in fact, on the road, although moments later, I hit a cow.

    1:27 PM: Eating Lunch
    This is me, eating a ham sandwich and reading the Washington Post. Apparently the President is unpopular, there's war in the Middle East, and that vegetable you thought was healthy actually causes eyeball cancer.

    7) 2:14 PM: Mowing the Lawn: This is me, wheeling my lawn mower out of the shed for the first mowing of the year. Immediately following this action shot, the front wheels of the mower got caught on the lip of the shed door and I almost dropped the camera. Undeterred, I gassed it up and trimmed my vast expanse of lawn (all 0.12 acres of it).

    8) 4:01 PM: Feeding the Cats
    I have two automatic food alarms installed in my house, and they start going off as soon as I get home from work everyday. Generally I can hit the Snooze button on these alarms until around four o' clock in the afternoon, which resets the alarms so that I don't have to hear them again until I wake up the next morning. Any earlier and I get an earful right around 3 in the morning, which is not fun for anyone involved. It's like my own personal version of the timer in the hatch on LOST, and things get pretty ugly if I don't get the food bin out in time.

    9) 5:45 PM: Playing Games
    After a quick shower, I decided to sit down for a game of World of Warcraft. Playing this game is like playing the lottery: you type in your username and password to login and then wait while the game tries to load your account. Five minutes later, you get a message saying that there's a problem with the server, you can't connect at this time, and to please try again later. This was fun for about eight and a half minutes.

    10) 6:23 PM: Cooking Dinner
    There's no healthier way to end the day than with a dinner of toast, orange juice, five slices of thick-sliced bacon, and three soft-boiled eggs. Am I right? Bacon grease is clinically proven to lubricate your internal organs like WD-40 on a squeaky hinge so make sure you get at least two helpings of it every day. P.S. The bacon was disappointing, and ended up looking and tasting like damp paper towels.

    11) 9:04 PM: Watching LOST
    It's Wednesday, so I'm watching LOST. Rather, I'm watching commercials intercut with tiny LOST interludes. I took this picture during a commercial so I wouldn't miss the moment when Michael Vaughn crawled out of the hatch to tell Locke he was one of the 4400. I hope that wasn't a spoiler.

    12) 10:22 PM: Going to Bed
    Yes, I go to bed incredibly early because 26 is the new Geriatric. Moments after turning off the camera and getting in bed, I got back up because I realized that I'd better upload the final picture so it wouldn't just be 11 of 12 (and 1 more still in my camera). A more apt title for this picture might then be Feinting to Bed.

    Bonus Picture: "RED"
    A stunning aerial flyby shot of a vintage 2002 IKEA couch, made more comfortable by a red afghan.

    Were you awed by the level of thrills and excitement in my day? I was going to include the part where I deciphered the alien language and successfully communicated to the alien ambassador that we have nukes, but cameras aren't allowed in that facility. These are all the parts I can talk about.

    Rival bands class over little-KISS tribute
    Ugly people make bad parents
    DEA Agent Who Shot Self In Foot Sues U.S.

    tagged as 12 of 12 | permalink | 6 comments
    day in history

    Friday, April 14, 2006

    Friday Fragments

    Because bullets and stream of consciousness make everything better

  • No one is at work this morning. Not even the clowns that wake up earlier than I do and roll in at 5:00 or 5:30. I guess that's what makes it a good Friday.

  • According to MONEY magazine, I have the #1 job in America: Software Engineer . The article does a good job of outlining the pros and cons of being one, although I'd argue that software engineering doesn't necessarily cause eyestrain and back, hand and wrist problems -- the type of person that makes a good software engineer is probably going to be spending hours at his computer getting carpal tunnel every day regardless, so they might as well get paid for it. If I were to grade my own job (at a small company), I'd give it an A- for stress, an A for flexibility, and a B for creativity. I can't judge "ease of entry" because I've been working here for so long that they probably have my baby shoes on file in HR.

  • Looking at the other nine jobs in the top ten list, there really aren't any that I'd rather be. Far too many of them involving constant, forced interaction with other people which I would probably hate very quickly. It might be fun, though, to be a psychologist for a month and just make up advice about my patients' mothers. It's always your mother's fault. Your face is your mother's fault too.

  • I would also get a kick out of being a criminal psychologist, the kind that works for the FBI and generates profiles of serial killers and the like, because I'm fascinated by how messed up people can get and what made them that way. I just finished reading In Cold Blood which was interesting enough if a little long-winded. I probably wouldn't have been as intrigued by it had I not seen the movie, Capote.

  • The reason I couldn't be a criminal profiler is that I probably wouldn't do well with all the gory, gruesome parts. I could take the cases that have not yet devolved into gore -- like tracking down a fourteen-year-old who's tearing the heads off all the Peeps in CVS before he ups the ante to live chickens. Or maybe the juvenile delinquent who ritually defaces all the boxes of Captain Crunch (he's a cereal killer, you see!)

  • I never understood the draw of Captain Crunch. It didn't taste that great, and if you left it in the milk for too long it became an unappetizing Admiral Flaccid. If I'm going to eat a cereal that's going to slice up the inside of my mouth, I'd rather just eat a box of Cookie Crisp and call it a day.

  • Best cereals from my youth (in no particular order): Fruity Pebbles, Honey Nut Cheerios, Corn Chex, Sugar sprinkled with Rice Krispies. Worst cereals from my youth: Any foul concoction purported to be Cocoa-flavoured or with a Monster on the front, or both, Fruit Loops, Nintendo Cereal.

  • Yes, I actually had Nintendo cereal, because you could cut out the Proofs of Purchase and send them in for some useless knick-knack. I also had a subscription to Nintendo Power magazine, a fifty page monthly advertisement for really bad video games hiding under the guise of a strategy guide. I should have learned my lesson when Howard Phillips gave Milon's Secret Castle two thumbs up.

  • I beat Mario and Luigi: Partners in Time for the Gameboy DS this week. It wasn't particularly difficult, but was entertaining and laugh-provoking throughout. This game is proof positive that Mario doesn't have to be in a 3D world and constantly fall off moving ledges to be entertaining. My Nintendog, Tuba, just learned how to sit. I still have my eye on the DS Lite (due out in May or June) just because it's so sleek and sophisticated looking. It has a ridiculously bright screen too. You could probably use it for illumination if you ended up with a flat tire in the middle of the Arizona desert during a new moon and didn't have a flashlight. Plus, it's tiny.

  • I recently saw an iPod Nano up close -- those things are crazy-tiny. I'd be afraid that I'd break it if I ever owned one. I'll never own an MP3 player because between my computers and my XM Radio, I'm very rarely in a location where I can't listen to my tunes.

  • Tomorrow is Angela Oh's birthday, which I will celebrate by doing yard work, unless these thunderstorms actual happen. I should really start poker back up, but I guess that can wait until next month. Have a good weekend!

  • How to tell that your daughter needs a hobby
    Some people watch NASCAR for the hillbilly wife fights
    Some people buy lawn gnomes...

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    day in history

    Monday, April 17, 2006

    Higher Education Week: Fifteen Things I Learned in Public Schools

    1. If random thugs have slashed open the back of the bus seat in front of you, you can use the hole to store your boogers and chewing gum. Updated for the 21st Century: If MS-13 members have slashed open the back of the bus seat in front of you with a machete, you can use the hole to store your drugs and handguns.

    2. Playing with yourself in the bathroom right next to the band room is a bad idea, because someone will catch you and you will not live it down until you graduate five years later and move away. [Editor's Note: This was an alto sax player, not me.]

    3. If one of your classmates gets a stomach bug and vomits up his lunch in your classroom, the smell will never go away 100%, no matter how many chemicals the janitor applies to the tile.

    4. If you live on the complete opposite side of the city from your spring sport, you can never trust the Activity Bus driver to know where she's going, because she only took the job to earn a few extra bucks, and will eventually give up and drop you off wherever she happens to be.

    5. If a teacher ever writes "Brian needs to work on his handwriting" or gives you a U in penmanship, it will not affect your long-term prospects for getting into college or running for office, so just give them the finger.

    6. No one really knows the words to the school song unless they went there before 1975.

    7. If you have a crush on someone, you have to confide it to the person most likely to tell everyone without a moment's thought, then pretend to be upset about it, but be secretly relieved the the word has been disseminated. Plus, if that person doesn't like you back, you can blame the blabbermouth for all of your life's woes.

      1. Girls are big big trouble.

    8. If you are a Safety Patrol, you can roll up your orange vinyl belt into a tight projectile and then whip it out at someone like Spiderman casting webs. If you are an officer, just make sure they don't get hit with your badge, or they will cry and tell on you.

    9. There will always be at least one classmate who is incapable of opening his milk carton correctly every day. Normally, he'll just open the wrong side, but sometimes he'll mangle the top so badly that he'll have to get a new carton. This same person will also not be very good at Origami during Art class.

    10. The kids in the Talented and Gifted program are generally pretty stupid, and will give you your first real-world shock when you start thinking about the people who aren't in the program.

    11. The kids with the nicest cars (generally received the day of their 16th birthday) will be the worst drivers. As you add more passengers to their cars, their driving skills will linearly decrease.

    12. If you play Nerf soccer in the band room, only use the bass drum as a goal when you are sure that no teachers are around.

    13. There will always be rumours about people who had sex in the auditorium, the lighting room, or backstage. They are all 100% true.

    14. If you get a teacher who says that they taught your parents or the parents of one of your friends, you are guaranteed to not learn anything worthwhile for that semester.

    15. If you are now in college and go back to the high school to visit your younger girlfriend, this is seen as a cool and acceptable practice. If, however, you are more than seven years older than she is, she is not a senior, and you hang out with her constantly at the boathouse even though you yourself don't do Crew, this is just considered creepy. There will be at least one creepy guy in the latter category every three or four years.

    Happy Birthday Kim!

    Yummy mummy worms are gross
    This is not the time or place for ninjas
    Midriffs put you off your eating

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    day in history

    Tuesday, April 18, 2006

    Higher Education Week: Fifteen Things I Learned in College

    1. Less than 2% of sheltered high school relationships will last beyond the first three months of college, simply because each partner is suddenly bombarded by hot people all around. It's like getting promoted to Best Buy after shopping in Radio Shack all your life.

    2. There is no greater concentration of loose women in the world than on a college campus.

    3. Going 73 on I-81 will get cops on your ass. Going 69 is acceptable. There will be a possibility of a speed trap every third crossover, or after each overpass.

    4. The professors with tenure are the ones you will learn the least from.

    5. You can identify freshman music education majors because they will complain during Music Theory about how they don't need any of that garbage to be a band director.

    6. If you have even a whit of musicality, you can practice your instrument for an hour a day and be better than that guy who sucks but thinks he's good and stays in the practice room all day long. The person you notice the most in the vicinity of the practice rooms is most likely the worst musician in the progam. The guy who slips out of the practice rooms under the cover of darkness and is never seen or heard except during concerts is probably a musical genius.

    7. Sopranos are more unstable than altos. Tenors are more neurotic than basses. Flutists are more neurotic than clarinetists, but there are more good flute players than clarinetists.

    8. 80% of music performance majors do not belong anywhere near a microphone, but they will all get their degrees. 5% of freshman Computer Science majors will be girls. This will drop to near 0 by senior year, because they will tire of being followed around campus and cyberstalked by 95% of their fellow majors. 95% of business majors are hambones, and 99% of those will be in a fraternity.

    9. There will be at least one eight obnoxious, pedantic geeks in any Computer Science class you take. They are only there as training for when you enter the real world and have to deal with them daily.

    10. Everyone will notice when you fan your pot out the window, even if you think you are being sneaky by disposing of the evidence with incense.

    11. A fun game to do in lecture classes is to put your head down and take notes until you fall asleep. Later, you can try to decipher the tail end of the notes, or convert them into hieroglyphics.

    12. You will never get a parking spot right next to your class. You will pay twice as much as you should for your parking permit and will risk towing at least five times in your academic career.

    13. You'd think that the townhouse party would be less crowded and annoying than the apartment party, but this is never true.

    14. The guy with the loudest music on your hall or in your complex will also be the guy with the worst musical taste.

    15. If you wrap the fire alarm in your dorm room with clear Scotch tape, it will reduce the volume of the alarm by 80%, and no inspectors will realize that you are violating the Fire Code. If you have a loft-bed, you can avoid fire drills and hall-sweeping RAs by rolling onto the slat between the mattress and the wall and pulling the covers back so it looks like you left the room.

    That ol' black magic doesn't fly with airline
    "To resign because of this, I don't think so."
    Immigration protests is to nuclear attack as...

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    day in history

    Wednesday, April 19, 2006

    Higher Education Week: Fifteen Things I Learned in Grad School

    1. Everyone who went straight to grad school from undergrad did so because they didn't want to enter the real world yet.

    2. It is much harder to skip class in grad school because every class only has ten people in it.

    3. People in grad school become obsessed with going to conferences and presenting papers. If you do not attend at least one conference every term, you're some sort of strange aboriginal leper.

    4. Going to grad school will make you realize how woefully lacking your undergraduate education was. (You will not notice a thing going from high school to college though).

    5. 95% of people in grad school are bound for academia and tenureland. The other 5% will do something completely unrelated to their degree or become the night clerk at CVS.

    6. There will always be at least one grad school out there willing to subsidize your degree in exchange for an assistantship. People who pay for the whole thing themselves and complain about it didn't try hard enough.

    7. Being a research assistant on a project that's about to be cancelled is like winning the assistantship lottery. You get paid to do absolutely nothing.

    8. People from other countries will outnumber Americans 2 to 1, and they will generally be smarter than we are.

    9. You will hate undergraduate parties as a grad student, because you are old, feeble, and just want to go to bed without hearing a Nickelback cover band in your backyard.

    10. The youngest professors will impress you the most with the amount of knowledge they have compared to you, and the oldest professors will be the most memorable. The ones in the middle are still trying to get tenure and will be forgettable (they probably won't even remember you after you graduate).

    11. Graduate composers are just more grumpy versions of their undergraduate counterparts.

    12. In college, you have to make sure the girls aren't dating someone before you start hitting on them. In grad school, you have to look for wedding rings.

    13. Your undergraduate students will prefer you to their professors, but only because you're almost their contemporaries. Despite this closeness of age, dating your students is still frowned upon.

    14. None of the books in the library will be less than ten years old, but they will be the lynchpin of all your research.

    15. The amount of free time you have in grad school is obscene, and most likely the number one cause of procrastination and not being able to get anything done.

    Happy Birthday Carly Williams!

    Man lives the American Dream commute
    Man with the worst commute
    Bartering from a paper clip to a house

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    day in history

    Thursday, April 20, 2006

    Higher Education Week: Fifteen Things I Learned in The Real World

    1. Your productivity will increase by 10% if you work from home rather than at the office.

    2. Always share an office with someone who spends most of their time on a customer site. That way you have a single office that's twice as big as a normal single, and no one can complain because you do, in fact, have an officemate.

    3. The average office employee will spend two or more hours out of their day not doing anything work-related. This amount increases if the employee smokes.

    4. The only skill you retain from college is how to work towards a deadline. The actual content of the knowledge you learned there is irrelevant.

    5. If you have someone on your team that listens to their voicemail over speakerphone, it is highly likely they have at least two more annoying habits.

    6. There is no such thing as a company motivational poster that actually does its job.

    7. Employees who seem "young" tend to get twice as much work done as their older counterparts, and they can even manage this after spending most of the time goofing off.

    8. If your job is 100% company-internal, or 100% schmoozing with customers, it is irrelevant. If your job somehow bridges the gap between these two, it is very important, but will never be recognized as such.

    9. Nothing worthwhile ever comes out of a meeting with more than four people in it.

    10. If some aspect of your job is highly divisive and handled differently on other teams, there will not be a corporate policy for it. Once someone finally gets around to making a corporate policy, team leaders will think it's too strict (or not strict enough) and do their own thing regardless.

    11. The people with the nicest offices and office furniture spend the least amount of time in the office.

    12. People who go out to eat for lunch every single day don't seem to realize that they're prolonging the amount of time they spend at work or interacting with people they can't wait to get away from at the end of the day.

    13. The more antsy you get about getting your security clearance, the longer it will take.

    14. If your company has an employee stock program of some kind, everyone will talk about it but no one will really be sure what it's all about.

    15. Even in a tech company, there will be tech-illiterate workers.

    I will be out of town for the rest of the week, wasting gas money to visit clowns of yore, so there will be no Friday Fragments column tomorrow. Feel free to write your own and post it in the comments section. Have you added yourself to the URI! Zone Frappr Map yet ? See you all on Monday!

    The game where your hamster devours you
    This is not the time or place for grenades
    Because faking six babies is so much easier than faking one

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    day in history

    Monday, April 24, 2006

    How I Spent My Spring Break by Brian Uri!

    I came home from work on Thursday morning and left the carefully manicured suburbia of Sterling in my sensible Honda Accord for the idyllic splendour of Blacksburg. My street is like Wisteria Lane, except that everyone else speaks Spanish and there are no attractive neighbours.

    This is Exit 222 in Staunton on I-81, the second most boring interstate on the East Coast, trailing only I-95 in sourthern North Carolina. The only reason Staunton exists at all is so you know you're halfway to Blacksburg (and so Kelley can have his wedding in September). The smoke signals rising in the middle of the picture are not Virginian Indians -- it was just a giant flying beetle that splattered across my windshield. On your right is the scenic view that you get when you drive down this interstate.

    My sister lives behind a trailer park in Christiansburg near the drive-in movie theatre. They just evicted someone with a meth lab in one of the trailers. Welcome to southwest Virginia.

    This is far too many animals for a house that you could fit in the back of a Chevy Suburban. You can see close ups of these animals and new pictures of Booty and Amber here.

    I think the completed stadium looks like an ugly leftover prop from Battlefield: Earth. The campus is much more gentrified than I remember -- there are traffic lights at all the intersections where you used to be able to laugh at all the sorority girls in their PT Cruisers getting in fender benders. The pool hall in Squires has been remodeled to look like a sports bar, with carpet and hanging TVs and bar lighting, and the food court now has an Au Bon Pain that you can actually walk into. There should never be a reason in this life to walk around an Au Bon Pain.

    Fifty-five former students of Dr. Bachelder made the trip back to town for his retirement concert, some from as early as 1972. We all had a surprisingly coherent sound given that many people had not played in decades. When the actual concert came around, Dr. Bachelder played a few songs with the symphonic band and then the current students moved around the sides of Haymarket Theatre for an antiphonal piece in his honour. Halfway through that piece, the doors opened up and all the alumni filed in to finish the piece. If you are unfamiliar with Haymarket, picture an auditorium designed for one-act plays and chamber groups. Then put an eighty piece band up on the stage and ring sixty to seventy trumpet players around the outside edge. Finally, put a crowd of unsuspecting parents in the center, hemmed in on all sides with no escape and tell the trumpet players to play as loud as possible (honestly though, when does a trumpet player ever need to be told that?). Parents who had just come to town to hear their kid play the oboe were suddenly bombarded by a wall of trumpet sounds that did not relent for another thirty minutes. By then, everyone in the middle was deaf, and the U.S. Department of Defense had entered talks to use trumpets in their latest "Non-Lethal Aural Weapons" program.

    The post-concert reception was at Gillies, across the street from Squires. I marveled, for a moment, at the fact that I'd never been in Gillies before, but then realized that it was a vegetarian cuisine, and I would have had absolutely no reason to step inside in the five years I went to school there. The food was rather sparse, since the music department budget is now comparable to the salary of a single professional musician who can't get a symphony gig and ends up teaching private guitar lessons at Music and Arts.

    This is Doobie, on the right. He wanted to be in my update today, even though he's a tuba player.

    I left Gillies around 1 AM because I am old and had been up since 5 the previous morning. The next day, the few remaining trumpet players who were still in town staggered into the music department around noon to take Dr. Bachelder out to eat at Mike's, where they made fun of Scott for still being drunk thirty-six hours later, Chris for being a big Chinese guy, and Kelley for being a poor trumpeter about to marry a high-powered lawyer. So in essence, nothing at all had changed.

    Bonus Picture: I am incubating a dinosaur in my hair gel.

    For more pictures from this weekend, visit the Photos section.

    Happy Birthday Philip Barbie and Andrea Frazao!

    Images of women such as Kelly Brook can be distracting to men
    Clever duck learns to cross the road
    Apparently his X-Ray Specs did not give away his false vocation

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    day in history

    Tuesday, April 25, 2006

    One Time At Band Camp

    because blogs always have to have at least one post titled as such, to show that the writer is hip and with it

  • Last year, I mentioned that my arrangement of Brick House would be featured on the next Marching Virginians CD. When I went down to Blacksburg last weekend, I scored a free copy of the CD, irrevocably eating into the profits of the marching band and forcing them to march through cow dung for the rest of their days. You can now hear this buzzworthy arrangement here (505KB MP3). It's actually the first version I wrote in 2000, not the revised edition from 2001, because (as all musicians know) the version you don't want anyone to hear ever again is the one that gets recorded for posterity. The classical musician in me no longer likes the fact that the song ends with a long fall whose tempo is dictated completely by the whims of three-hundred and thirty separate musicians, 80% of whom have been drinking heavily.

  • On a side note, listen to that first trumpet player crack not one, but two high E-flats. No doubt they demoted him to the Mellophone section after that recording session. There is precedent for that you see -- one year we had way too many trumpets audition for the MVs and not enough horns. In this litigious age where one of the previous year's trumpet dads threatened to sue the band because we cut his kid (for being a jerk-off), they weren't taking any chances with cuts. So, we were told by the band director to dress up the worst nine trumpet players as horn players and let them play mellophone all year long. They always hung out with us though, because apparently there are more parties in the trumpet section. You can tell that by just looking at me -- don't I seem like a partying god?

  • On a side side note, I love the fact that my site's been around for so long that I can refer to previous blog posts to capture moments in time. I can pinpoint the exact day that someone found my site by searching for animated squirrels or the first day I gave you clowns the gift of speech by providing a comments section.

  • I don't really like the new arrangement of Carry On Wayward Son -- it's too symphonic and not Kansasian enough. All the filler music doesn't even sound like it came from the same song. What do you think?
    • New Version (873KB MP3)
    • Old Version (335KB MP3)
  • Dr. Sochinski is still up to his old tricks, surgically inserting classical repertoire into the field shows for an audience that doesn't even recognize Blood, Sweat, and Tears. Here's his latest stealth arrangement: The Toe Cutta (629KB MP3). Hopefully you can recognize it, even if you are Mike Catania who had never heard of Thriller.

  • I have to admit that it was fun playing the last movement of Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony on the field. Not because it was a fine piece of art, but because it was fun to watch everyone pretend to be able to read music and fall down a lot. We probably sounded something like this: (299KB MP3).

  • I'm not sold on songs where the band has to say stuff during the song. I think Crazy Train (91KB MP3) and Crosstown Traffic (173KB MP3) were perfectly fine arrangements before the sound effects were added, most likely by a clarinetist disgruntled with her role as "warm marching body that we can't hear anyhow #327" in the band.

  • The fact that Carmina Burana is on this CD is tragic. We're supposed to make fun of the JMU band for putting it on their CD.

  • You probably didn't find this post very exciting unless you yourself have been in a marching band, or went to Virginia Tech. However, it is no worse than when I review a video game or talk about how hard the fourth note of the third Verne Reynolds etude is extra musical (and other retard trumpet topics).

  • House Blasted by 3,000 Gallons of Sewage
    An Internet video that shows someone spraying graffiti on Air Force One looked so authentic that the Air Force wasn't certain whether the plane had been targeted.
    TV show's sex jokes not harassment

    tagged as music | permalink | 12 comments
    day in history

    Wednesday, April 26, 2006

    Capsule Review Day

    LOST: TV Soundtrack by Michael Giacchino
    Written by the guy who wrote the soundtrack to The Incredibles and Alias, there's nothing amazing or underwhelming about this CD -- it's just a solid television score in an age where it's just as easy to overdub a scene with a throwaway Blink 182 song. Giacchino must have done something right, because I could picture the images from Season One of the show in my head as the various songs and motives popped up. The ensemble is interesting too -- a studio orchestra, ten trombones, four harps, three guitars, and three percussionists, who spend most of the CD performing on custom instruments created from the wreckage of the crashed airplane from the pilot episode. Not a single trumpet in sight. Rating: A

    The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
    This is the first book in the multiple-award-winning His Dark Materials trilogy. Part fantasy, part Crichton-technothriller, and part childrens' fable, the trilogy is a vague retelling of Milton's Paradise Lost. Pullman is quite the skilled writer and there's obvious care and attention to detail in every aspect of the world he created for this series. I actually read this book twice before continuing to the next one, because I wanted to make sure I didn't miss a single detail. Imaginative and worth a read. Rating: ****

    The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman
    Book Two immediately draws you in, turning the tale of Book I on its head with a simple understated foreward that's only two lines long. Pullman does a great job of deepening the story without letting it get out of control, and the story confirms the fact that this trilogy has an overall arc to it (unlike the show, 24, which uses its middle section to give everyone amnesia and STDs from mountain lions). This book wasn't as finely crafted as the first, but it was much more of a page-turner. Rating: ***

    The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman
    Let's say you were the next Jane Goodall, on the trail of the elusive Gherkin Monkey in the rain forest. You come across a steaming pile of monkey dookie on the forest floor and use your otherwise useless biology major to deduce that this poop does, in fact, come from the Gherkin Monkey. You trek into the wilderness for several months, often coming across more exciting signs of the monkey, from a tuft of hair caught on the bark of a tree to some of the monkey's underpants. After long hours spent getting closer to the monkey, you suddenly arrive at the end of your journey to find out that it wasn't a Gherkin Monkey after all, it was just an everyday opossum that was tragically misunderstood. That's the type of letdown I got from reading this conclusion to the trilogy -- I had high hopes for a rare artful work and ended up blinded by monkey spoor. It becomes clear from the start that Pullman has an anti-religion agenda, and throughout this long, tiresome book he lets his preaching get in the way of his storytelling. The book meanders through universes and vague philosophies, using coincidence to bring unrelated characters back together when they need to be, and losing the thrust of his original story under the weight of his anti-church sentiments, which aren't even coherent enough to write a thesis on. There are many imaginative stories told here, and the conclusion of Lyra and Will's story is emotional and touching, but it's hard to notice these tiny good things when you're wading through monkey dung. If you're like me though, you HAVE to read this book if you've read the first two books just to find out what happened. Rating: * 1/2

    This thriller starring Clive Owen and Jennifer Aniston was "okay". I have yet to like a movie with Clive Owen in it -- maybe I should start paying attention to that. As thrillers go, it's pretty easy to figure out the twist, and too much time is spent developing characters and back stories that could just as easily have been skimmed over. It also suffers from a dose of Melissa George, she who can't decide if she's blonde or brunette -- in this movie she can't decide if she's English or American. The film is about twenty minutes too long, and even has an ending after the ending which needlessly stretches the running time out by another fifteen minutes. Rating: Yawn

    Last weekend, I went bowling with Kim after dinner at the Capital City Brewing Company in Shirlington. It had been over four years since my last bowling outing (which was in Blacksburg when Kelley and Philip still lived together) and I'd forgotten how fun it was. I bowled a 149 in the first game, which was slightly above average for me, but then promptly dropped by thirty points in the second game after my luck had worn off. Now if only they could invent a fan that magically removes all the smoke from your clothing as you leave the alley it would be a perfect outing. All us'n Virginians should definitely do more bowling together. Rating: Set phasers to FUN!

    Happy Birthday Noah Egge!

    I'd rather have an antique watch
    Chad Darnell on the end of Alias
    Police release sketch of rape suspect, then advertise for a new artist

    tagged as reviews | permalink | 4 comments
    day in history

    Thursday, April 27, 2006

    My cul de sac used to be a juvenile wasteland, where all the neighbours were old, Hispanic, or old Hispanics. Sometime between last summer when Anna and Kathy moved out, and the beginning of Spring, children began emerging from some hidden child dispenser, biking up and down the court or playing firmly in the way of oncoming traffic like ineluctable locust swarms. There are now at least ten children from age three to thirteen who congregate daily under the shadow of the portable basketball hoop and the deft tones of poor dribbling echo through the pavement into the foundation of my house for three hours every evening.

    Playing the role of the neighbourhood hermit (which involves unhygienically crouching over a typewriter in the back room with the lights out, poring over tomorrow's web update), I never noticed that all of these families had moved in. I suppose this means that I'll soon have to write checks to buy cookies from the Girl Scouts and cheese and sausage from the local marching bands.

    Yesterday, I happened to be outside mowing the cancerous growth of my lawn (the result of four inches of rain in the past week) when the kids got tired of running around in circles while the big kids played basketball. They all formed up in a friendly driveway, organized by one of the older boys, and took turns in a battle of wits. And by battle of wits, I mean they had a "your momma" joke contest. Granted, all the jokes were pretty stale, and some of them just got weirder as the kids got younger (one four year old said, "Your momma's so fat, she falls on the wall.") but it's a good sign for the future when kids can form themselves into teams to sling insults at each other. Everywhere you go these days, you hear people complain about the youth of today, how they're rude, ignorant, or feel like they deserve everything without work. But if the kids on my court are any indication, their parents are at least doing something right.

    Years from now, when little baby Thor Uri! goes running up the court into oncoming traffic, he's going to be the pro momma jokester that organizes the other children into pun wars. I will be proud.

    Happy Birthday Jonathan Shachter!

    Talking toilets in prison
    You've got to have goals in life
    Who needs karate when you're a magician?

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    day in history

    Friday, April 28, 2006

    Friday Fragments

    My mind is a swirling miasma of scintillating thoughts and turgid ideas

  • I updated my smiling visage on the About page since the old picture was almost two years old, and did not accurately reflect the substantial increase in hotness and maturity I've gained (I've got a +2 to maturity). The new picture was taken during my Blacksburg trip with my camera set to the highest resolution, coincidentally named Superfine™, which is also the caption of the picture. AM I RIGHT?

  • About a year ago, I got tired of swapping tiny camera cards in and out and always running out of photo space so I bought a 512 MB card at Costco for some obscenely low price and haven't looked back. Now when I engage in Superfine™ photo shoots, it's nice to to take pictures of eighty super models and still have enough memory left to take another hundred extreme close-up pictures of my eyeball.

  • Speaking of eyeballs, I've been using Microsoft ClearType for a couple months now and I give it two thumbs up. ClearType is a free method of displaying computer fonts on any Windows XP computer to be both sharper and easier on the eyes. You can see an example of the difference here . If you spend many hours each day on your computer and have eye strain, give it a try. It may seem strange for the first week, but once you go ClearType, you'll never go back.

  • I believe there's a possible marketing slogan there for Microsoft, similar to the well-known one about dating Asians.

  • Making the case for bringing my camera wherever I go is the sight I saw while leaving work the other day. The parking lot was full, since it was 1 PM and I am a slacker, but the first row of parking had a single space open. Or not so much open as providing a resting spot for the resident parking lot Canadian goose, who was sitting quite calmly in the middle of the space, a perfect example of parking alignment. Since I couldn't take a picture, I made an artist's sketch, much like the one you'd see if the goose had parked in a court room during a closed trial.

  • Is courtroom-artist a legitimate artistic style? It all looks the same as if everyone went to the same courtroom pastel school. If you're going to allow someone to poorly draw murder suspects, you may as well just put a photographer in the room for accuracy. Also, do we really need to preserve the drama of a closed courtroom for future generations to enjoy? I suppose that having the sketches is required for evening newscasts where the biased reporters try to make up some dark secrets about the people in the trial but have no footage to fall back on since the judge wisely kicked them out.

  • But I digress from the point at hand, which was eyeballs. Actually, I'm allowed to digress because today is Friday Fragments, so eat it.

  • In honour of Friday Fragments Friday, I'm going to be washing my car, cleaning the house, and starting lesson plans for the Java course I'm running. This weekend, I'll be laying carpet in the newly painted and cleaned storage room in the basement, which only minorly smells of cat pee now. I think I will also start up summer poker next weekend, the first weekend in May, because it's lucky to begin something at the beginning of the month.

  • Have a spectacular weekend! If you would like a homework assignment for the weekend, take a Superfine™ picture of yourself and send it in for cash prizes. There may or may not be actual cash involved in the cash prizes.

  • Employee web-surfing not unreasonable
    Robber locked in bank
    Man stole to keep 17 mistresses

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