02/2007

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Musical Patriotism Day

There was an article in the Post yesterday about Virginia's revived interest in picking a new state song that doesn't offensively talk about darkies. The last time they tried to pick one, the committee could not reach a consensus on any of the finalists' songs -- and now our poor state has been tuneless for almost seven years. We at the URI! Zone consider this to be a travesty of the second highest order, and hypothesize that it could not possibly take almost a decade to come up with a song that everyone can love. To prove this, I sat down at my keyboard after dinner last night and allowed the creative energies of this blue-ridged state to course through me like the James River, but with less pollutants and foam. Three hours later, I found inspiration:

Listen to Hail Virginia (590KB MP3)

If you are a Virginia resident, please do our heritage proud by e-mailing your state representative today to recommend my wonderful song. Thank you and God bless America.

Mooninites trigger bomb scare
Naked student interrupts lunch
Outbreak of mat herpes triggers wrestling ban

tagged as mock mock, music, favourites | permalink | 7 comments

Friday, February 02, 2007

Friday Fragments

makin' a world of diff'rence since 2005

♣ To capitalize on the success of my new state song (it's a foregone conclusion that mine will be picked since I know a former Mayor), I have also written the marching band arrangement, a crucial piece of any pre-game show (560KB MP3). I am also in talks with Wynton Marsalis to record a series of technically perfect but emotionally uninteresting jazz solos over the chords, to be placed on a CD and sold at Starbucks. At the very least, this should start to build public recognition of my work.

♣ So I don't get added to a list of dissidents, I would like to state that I don't necessarily endorse Northern Virginia seceding from Virginia At Large. However, here is how it should go down if it ever happens: The new state capitol would be Alexandria. We would get the state schools of Virginia Tech, James Madison, and George Mason, part of the Shenandoah Valley for tourism purposes, and all the counties along the Potomac River. We would also keep the name Virginia. South Virginia would get UVA, Virginia Beach, Hampton, King's Dominion, Busch Gardens, the entire Eastern Shore and cockfighting. This is a ridiculously fair trade -- why didn't anyone think of it sooner?

♣ We would also be The Seahorse State because our boundaries kind of look like an anorexic seahorse, if you rotate it twenty degrees counter-clockwise.

♣ Speaking of horses, Harry Potter is now in a play which tells the story of a stable-hand who has an erotic fixation with horses. Harry wants people to stop thinking he's Harry Potter, so he's mixing things up with this role. Actors are always afraid of getting typecast -- if I were one of the Mr. T's or Gary Coleman's of the world, I would milk my one-note wonder for all the money it was worth and then retire at 29.

♣ I've posted this before, but it deserves another mention since it's Friday: Mr T. sings "Treat Your Mother Right". Are you treating your mother right?

♣ Have a great weekend!

Japanese women are "birth-giving machines"
It will make the mud tired. We're killing the mud softly.
That question isn't about hair.

tagged as fragments | permalink | 2 comments

Monday, February 05, 2007

Home Repair Day

Last week I tore up the vinyl tile in my foyér (additional accent added because it's exceptionally French). Expecting to find the floor underneath, I instead found another layer of vinyl flooring, in an ugly yellow 70s earth tone. Apparently the previous owners were fashion savvy (they wanted nothing to do with yellow floors) and archaeology savvy (layering tiles instead of simply removing the old tiles would ensure that valuable information about our living habits in the late twentieth century would be available to alien archaeologists in the future when Old Rag Mountain turns out to be a long dormant volcano that covers northern Virginia in a four foot Saran Wrap layer of ash and liquid hot magma).

Yesterday, we installed laminate flooring, and found that it's as painless and quick as advertised. It only took about two and a half hours to measure, cut, and lay the flooring, and the end result is completely seamless, except for the one board under which I installed a secret pneumatic lever that opens up to reveal my gold bars and jewels (so now there are two places in the house where I keep my Booty). I spent last night painting the trim, and edging the walls (with NOUGAT, which is not quite as cool as PUFFIN BAY GREY when exclaimed, or exclamated, depending on whether you're from Virginia or South Virginia), and the next steps will be to fill in the remaining parts of the walls with NOUGAT, recarpet the stairs, and do something about the chocolately poopy bannisters.

Today I woke up at 9 AM instead of 5 AM and leisurely posted this article for your reading enjoyment. What do you think I should do on my vacation this week? Share your ideas in the comments section!

Women propose marriage and men can't refuse.
Dolphins play with bombs
Yale in a lather over steamy showers

permalink | 5 comments

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

List Review Day: Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past for the Super Nintendo is still flawless -- one of the greatest games ever made. Every other game in the series is a delicate balance of caveats with BU the Reviewer saying, "It's great, but...". See if you can match these statements with the Zelda game they describe before we get to the main review (this is called review foreplay in the "biz").

  • It's great, but a good 80% of the game is spent sailing on an empty ocean, vast and boring like Iowa. Then you sail into archipelagos shaped like dice and get shot at and die.
  • It's great, but all the monsters in the last half of the game are floating eyeballs that move in parabolic paths to knock you into the lava.
  • It's great, but the clock resets every four days, meaning that if you don't progress fast enough, you lose everything you've done recently.
  • It's great, but you can't skip any cut scenes, the story makes no sense, and the game forces you to collect one hundred hidden spiders to get any good loot.
  • It's great, but the actress playing the school marm is so annoying that you almost want Brown to be shot in the back by Buford Tannen over a matter of eighty dollars.

(Hint: One of these statements is a red herring and has nothing to do with Zelda).

Top Five Annoyances in Twilight Princess

  1. The Wii Controls get in the way of the game. They're imprecise at worst and tacked on at best. Swinging your sword by waving your controller seems intuitive at first, but old-timers will be too used to pushing a button for that action, and will spend much of the first half of the game flying through the air like polar bear cubs shot from cannons instead of attacking because the button now makes you jump. Like old games, movement requires precision -- you have to stand directly in front of a chest or ladder to use it -- and the control stick makes it way too easy to miss your mark or fall off a cliff. Also, Link takes a step forward on each sword swing, so once you have mastered the delicate art of madly swinging your sword at an enemy until it dies, you'll find yourself in the lava / abyss / quicksand / [insert lack of solid floor here]. Swimming and diving are the worst implementation ever seen in a video game. An obese quadriplegic could probably swim the length of the local community pool easier than Link can in this game.
  2. The game ALWAYS tells you what an item is. You get the full set of instructions on what a Map is, even on the eighth map you pick up. More annoying is the message, "You got a blue rupee! That's FIVE (5) rupees!" as if that's the most money you're ever going to see in your life. There' no need to interrupt the action for that.
  3. Dungeon music is annoying, generally two or four bars long and looped over ambient noise. The rest of the world probably has great music but you never get to hear it since the "DANGER DANGER THERE IS A MONSTER NEAR U" theme overlays everything all the time.
  4. There's still an annoying fairy character that follows you around offering helpful hints and giggling in your Wii Remote. There should be no giggling under my fingertips unless I'm an unlicensed and particularly unskilled massage therapist.
  5. The game is slow to get started. I realize that new players need some time to get situated and learn the controls, but whole "you're just a poor peasant boy minding his own business until disaster strikes" storyline is overplayed now.

Top Five Reasons to Play Twilight Princess

  1. There are several minigames, none of which are required, and all of which can be beaten with some practice. Yeti Snowboarding is a little frustrating, but I suppose it's acceptable that mythological beasts be able to defy the laws of physics. You only have to fish twice.
  2. Every dungeon is a perfectly-tuned puzzle fest filled with moments of elated discovery. Zelda developers have mastered the art of single rooms where all the pieces are right in front of you, if only you could figure out how they all go together. I was stumped many times, but only had to look up an answer once, and it turned out to be a lack of understanding about what I was able to do, not a problem with the puzzle.
  3. Backtracking is at a minimum, and once you've solved an area, you generally don't need to come back. The game does a good job of pacing and pushing you towards the end.
  4. Though combat is annoying, it's ultimately pointless. You never have to master all the moves and combos to enjoy the exploration / puzzle side of the game. Boss fights are epic to watch, but generally pretty easy. This works and is a good design choice.
  5. The game is full of content -- you may have beating Luigi's Mansion in two hours (I know I did), but this game will easily last 40 - 50 hours, even if you rush through it. The storyline actually makes sense for once, and the cutscenes don't presume that you read at a first grade level.

Bottom Line

Twilight Princess is an excellent game and succeeds in spite of its kludgy controls. It's easily the best of the 3D Zelda games and deserves a spot in your Wii.

Those damn bikers killing the environment
Grumpy workers are the best workers
Hot Zero-G Space Love

tagged as reviews, games | permalink | 3 comments

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Live* from the Living Room

The creative nerve center of this site's daily updates has relocated to a less expensive office space down the hall to facilitate the painting and recarpeting of the old space. From here, I can write updates while listening to my MP3s in 5.1 surround sound, and need only turn my head slightly to the right to watch old home movies or find out who America's Next Top Bass Fisherman will be. This also puts me at a good vantage point of the entire house, and near the front door in case of a sudden grease fire from all the bacon, or a botched kidnapping from one of the many software engineer love triangles I am currently involved in.

And let me tell you, software engineer love triangles may not be as dramatic as NASA astronaut triangles, but they're much more deadly. Why just last week, one of my Java developer lovers trapped me in an infinite while loop and println'd all the reasons I wouldn't go out with her. (I don't remember what happened next because I ran Out of Memory). Last year, another software engineer tried to use pepper spray through my window and carjack me, but thankfully that was during the period where the power window was broken on the driver's side. Sure I had get out of the car and look like a total tool when ordering in the drive-thru or exiting parking garages, but it was a small price to pay for my safety!

Despite the Love Triangle Threat Level being raised to orange in the aftermath of the 2/5 attacks in Florida, my vacation has been going swimmingly. On Monday, I rotated between painting the foyer and playing Zelda, as the mood suited me, and spent the entire evening reading on the couch until the chill in the air made me realize it was almost midnight and the automatic thermostat had kicked into "WTF GO TO BED" mode.

On Tuesday, I took a day trip to Italy and then returned home for lunch at Chick-fil-a, followed by two interesting off-the-radar movies: Idiocracy and Unknown, both of which I've already added to my burgeoning list of goods to review on the next Capsule Review Day. I spent the evening clearing out the office, and even moved the resident behemoth, the American Dream Desk (name composed by Jim Barry), a few feet away from the antique white walls which will soon be a tasty NOUGAT.

The plan for today? There isn't one yet, which is how vacations are supposed to go. When on vacation, you're supposed to roll with the punches and not plan a thing. I suppose it's a good thing that I felt like yesterday was Thursday, since it means my vacation is progressing nice and slowly. I don't know a single thing about the state of things at work -- for all I know, the company could have been bought out by a competitor or relocated to Petropavlovsk in my absence, and I really don't care. I'll probably paint a little today because painting is mindless and fun, kind of like rodeo clowning. Beyond that, I'll do whatever seems like a good idea at the time (the snow outside makes it a good bet that I won't leave the comfort cocoon).

Also, An Hour of Commercials featuring brief excerpts from the hit show, LOST, will be on tonight. The November - February hiatus is finally over, and we'll finally get a rewarding ending to the cliffhanger where Hurley's about to eat Claire's baby. Don't forget to set your VCRs!

*: The URI! Zone is taped before a live studio audience. Plus, it has to be live in a LIVING room.

Teen gets frostbite after barefoot run
Two years ago, Mr. Incredible, Elmo the Muppet and the dark-hooded character from the movie "Scream" were arrested for "aggressive begging"
Electric Slide on slippery slope

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

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Synopsis Day

When we last left the show, Locke was talking to Hurley on the cliffside, trying to convince him that Claire's baby was neither delicious or nutritious, and that the island was merely making him see a crispy chicken sandwich.

Last night's episode picked up right where we left off, with Locke failing to calm down an increasingly unstable Hurley. Out of ideas, Locke removes a tub of Dharma Initiative ranch dressing and makes a trade. Hurley collapses to his knees in tears and then proceeds to down the entire tub of ranch dressing, only to discover a prize in the bottom -- a Dharma Initiative decoder ring made up of concentric rotating circles with the Numbers.

Meanwhile on the other side of the island, Sawyer faces down a massive army of attack penguins by shooting their leader with the air marshal's handgun, causing the others to scatter. Upon closer inspection, the dying penguin has been tattooed with a Dharma sign that the audience has never seen before: The Muffin. The Muffin turns out to be a geodesic bakery behind yet another hatch, where Dharma scientists experimented with utopian confections such as the Apollo candy bar.

Before Sawyer can explore the new hatch too deeply, he is kidnapped by the Others. In the final minutes of the episode, it is revealed that the Others are a band of modern day contestants from the show Survivor, and the survivors of Oceanic 815 are actually all dead in purgatory, but don't realize it. The Others are actively trying to make the 815ers realize they're dead so they'll leave the island for good, led by Juliette (played by Nicole Kidman).

The episode closes on a silent image of Walt, now 23 and too far beyond puberty to pretend to be a 13-year-old boy any longer, stepping out of the jungle and onto the beach.

L O S T

Auto repair shop robbed for the 29th time
Band leader reassigned after playing wrong anthem
First Person Shooters can improve your sight

tagged as random | permalink | 2 comments

Friday, February 09, 2007

Friday Fragments

the red-headed stepchild of American literature

♣ My week of vacation time is coming to an end, and I didn't have as much time to play Where In The World is Brian Uri! as I would have liked, but I still think the week off was a success. I was just returning from a day trip to the Great Wall of China when I realized that this weekend is the third anniversary of buying a house and living in Sterling.

♣ This also means that I've been out of grad school for almost four years. In celebration of four years of real life without bankruptcy, illegitimate children, meth habits, or gang initiations involving loss of digits, I will eat Popeyes for lunch today -- two piece meal, dark meat, mild, with fries, no drink.

♣ I also added a subtly artistic blue background to the URI! Zone, a pleasantly understated callback to the early days where the site was all about blues, blacks, and llamas. I thought about redoing the banner as well, but ever since I first drew the URI! logo in 1997, I've been unable to resketch it as perfectly.

♣ On Wednesday while sightseeing in Paris, I received an e-mail from the long-lost Jim Barry by electronic carrier pigeon (pigeon voyageur d'électronique in France), informing me that he still visits regularly, but has had laptop troubles recently.

♣ This made me wonder (got me to wonderin' in Tallahassee) how many regular lurkers I have here that visit but remain under the radar. If you are such a misanthrope, post a comment today with your name, rank, serial number, and whether you like long walks on the beach. I might just use your census data to write about things that you care about instead of my usual drivel! If you choose not to answer, one of my not-so-shy regulars may have to resort to census acts of violence (*click click* OW in Zulu).

♣ When are acts of violence not senseless?

♣ Now that my whirlwind tour of foreign countries has come to a close, my remaining vacation days will be spent close to home, finishing up the office renovations and catching up on movies and games. Monday is the day I return to work (and also 12 of 12), and Tuesday is the day after the day I return to work. I have no plans for Wednesday yet, but if my superhero cape comes back from the cleaners in time, there just might be some "throwing down" involved.

♣ Have a great weekend!

Reckless French eye presidential pardons
World of Whorecraft
Oh, Naked Stock Photography Guy, what have you done this time?

tagged as fragments | permalink | 0 comments

Monday, February 12, 2007

A Waste of Money

The noble Rip-Off: life's way of teaching you the value of your money, or reminding you that you have far too much disposable income. We've all made purchases in our lifetime that we immediately regretted, usually because they didn't live up to the hype and expense. Other times it's just impatience -- you knew there was a water fountain at the end of the ride, but you went and bought that eight dollar Dixie cup of Dr. Thunder in Disney World anyhow.

I remember being a kid at Christmas, hyped up for the latest super toy only to find out that it pretty much sucked. The mentality of a kid at that point of realization has two stages: first comes intense disappointment, followed by a stubborn determination to continue playing with said toy (It looked like more fun in the commercial! I must not be playing with it right. Maybe it gets more fun if I keep playing with it. At least I should play with it long enough to get my parents' money's worth. See, it's fun now, isn't it? Smile).

Here are three outrageous rip-offs from my own past. Share your own in the comments section!

The Super Scope
Everyone in the 80s was familiar with the Nintendo Zapper -- the light gun that allowed you to shoot birds in Duck Hunt, or in my case, made the cartoon dog laugh continuously at all my misses. When the Super Nintendo came out, it was only logical that Nintendo would create a new light gun for the new system.

What they ended up with was an over-the-shoulder-boulder-launcher that consumed six AA batteries every four hours and caused acute tendonitis. In the entire time I owned it, there were only two games made for it (there may have been more after it was relegated to the dustbin). One came with the gun and was called Super Scope 6 -- a peculiar name for a cartridge that had only 2 mini-games on it. The other, Battle Clash involved shooting at big boss robots on the screen. After nine robots, the game was over. I do believe both games had been beaten in the first twelve hours of ownership.

Music Theory from Zarlino to Schenker: A Bibliography and Guide
It's like a three pound birdwatcher's guide to dead music theorists (a theorist is a "one-off" from a composer -- the latter writes the music while the former makes up some rules and tries to fit the music into them. Meanwhile the "two-off" musicologist is writing about how people felt when they read about the rules). Because Tallahassee is not a particularly cultural town, I paid $85 for this textbook at the only music store in town. They accepted no returns, and I opened the book maybe four times in an entire semester.

Now in general, compendiums are useful and interesting because there's so much information in one place. However, opening up this tome reveals no centerfolds of dead sexy theorists (your choice as to whether that phrase has one or two adjectives) and no Junior Jumble of fun facts and torrid romances from their lives. Instead you get a brief biography with important terms in CAPS and a list of other sources to search for real information. This could be the start of the worst treasure hunt ever -- at least in Zelda when they say, "I wonder why he told us to follow him. Maybe we should follow him!" you can expect a couple rupees for your troubles if you decide to follow him.

Virginia Tech Three-Meal Dining Plan
The bane of college freshmen everywhere, this meal plan seems so reasonable at first glance. You get three square meals a day, all-you-can-eat, and don't have to worry about the dollar value of any particular entrée you get. Sure it's expensive, but your parents can trust that you'll eat healthily (according to the daily allowance pyramid scheme) and won't run out of meals accidentally before the end of the term.

Then, you get to college and realize that no one in their right mind has the time or inclination to eat three meals a day, and that the "all-you-can-eat" label is misleading because the meals are offered at the worst dining halls on campus. I'd sooner listen to Katie Melua sing Nine Million Bicycles ten million times than eat another meal at Dietrick (the old Dietrick, not the new multicultural international cuisine version of '04). By the end of the first semester, I'd used maybe 60% of the meals. Meal plans aren't like minutes or leave time -- whatever is left at the end of the term gets swallowed up, never to be seen again.

(Today is also 12 of 12. Mine will be posted tomorrow. You should participate!)

"I just thought it wasn't very, like, clean," he said.
Get her some sweat for Valentine's Day
Man mistakes diver for some animal he just made up

tagged as random | permalink | 6 comments

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Chad Darnell's 12 of 12

5:28 AM: In this month's edition of Foggy Mirror Photo Shoot, I am wearing a top hat.

5:41 AM: My morning commute doesn't normally look like a scene out of The Gruesome Murder of a Hitchhiker.

5:52 AM: In the parking lot, gazing up at the company logo on the sixth floor. When it's dark, you don't notice that the building is completely dwarfed by buildings twice as big, sporting more familiar names like Microsoft and Oracle.

5:56 AM: At my desk with free hot chocolate and no missed calls. Not bad for a week away from the office!

6:45 AM: The 12th of the month is the only time I ever use my whiteboard.

7:13 AM: A little tech-company humour.

10:14 AM: Taking a quick break for a mid-morning snack.

1:12 PM: Internally debating whether to wash the road salt off the car, when the forecast calls for more snow on Tuesday (I ultimately did).

3:15 PM: After repainting and recarpeting, the study is now the guest room and the guest room is now the study.

4:02 PM: It's time, once again, for the yearly file cabinet clean-out!

5:58 PM: In the study formerly known as the guest room, getting a little bit of telecommuting in, with the help of Amber in a basket.

6:56 PM: After dinner, all the good seats for watching TV are already taken, so I went and uploaded all my pictures instead. Should something shocking happen in the next four hours before bedtime, the world will never know.

Bonus Picture "Love": A plate of mildly stale but still edible heart cookies left by Anna a couple weeks ago.

See more 12 of 12ers at Chad's site!

ESP lab to close, but maybe you already knew that
40 tons of cow intestines
'Lost' and Found (no spoilers, some hints)

tagged as 12 of 12 | permalink | 8 comments

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

In the spirit of Valentine's Day, we are now selling frozen turkey hearts to interested visitors. The first ten to act will also receive other assorted giblets, like the liver and gizzard. Please make checks payable to The URI! Zone (refrigerated shipping extra). And now, on with the show!

Capsule Review Day
(there are no spoilers in these reviews)

Idiocracy
After some initial hype, this movie seems to have skipped the theatres completely, probably because of the premise that corporate entities like Costco and Carl Jr.'s have taken over the world five hundred years in the future. Written by Mike Judge, the creator of Beavis and Butthead, King of the Hill, and Office Space, this movie satirizes the dumbing down of modern society in the same way that his previous movie satirized office jobs. It's light on substance, but fun enough to watch once, and Luke Wilson is his usual harmless self in the lead role. The biggest problem with this movie (and to a lesser extent, Office Space) is that while Judge makes some hilarious observations about his subject matter, he's not quite as good at stringing them all together in a meaningful storyline. This movie probably would have been better as a series of brief skits on MadTV rather than a feature length film.
Final Grade: B-

Unknown
I'd never even heard of this movie until I walked into Blockbuster, despite its all-star cast, but I was pleasantly surprised. Five men wake up in a locked warehouse with no memory of who they are or why they're there. From these contrived Saw-like beginnings, a tightly-drawn psychological puzzle emerges when the five realize that a kidnapping went south, with two of them being the kidnappees. They've only got a couple hours to escape or figure out who the bad guys are before the rest of the kidnappers return with the ransom. The plot drags a little whenever they cut to the outside world (a subplot of cops chasing the other kidnappers), but overall it's an effective Memento-style whodunit. The final-final twist is a little too clever and probably unnecessary, but it's still a fun way to end the movie.
Final Grade: B+

Illusionist
Having been taught a lesson by the debacle that was Gosford Park, I usually tend to avoid any movie that looks like a period piece. I'd sooner listen to Rasputina's remake of Led Zeppelin's Rock and Roll on infinite loop than watch Kirsten Dunst prance around as Marie Antoinette. I picked this one up only because I know Edward Norton could win an Oscar for his role as a nanoparticle in the movie adaptation of Prey, and had a blind faith that he could save this movie. Don't let the turn-of-the-century trappings scare you away from Illusionist: it's not a period piece; it's just a very well-done movie that happens to be set in a period. The movie's both engrossing and fun and the performances are top-notch throughout, even with "That Sideways Merlot guy" as the head of the police.
Final Grade: A

24 - Season Four
Out of the first four seasons of 24, this could be the least annoying season ever. This is a high accolade in my book, and shows that the writers of 24 are getting better at exploiting the formula every season. Thankfully, the most annoying actress from previous seasons is no longer on the show, and there are some great new introductions, like the perfectly-detestable indecisive Vice President. The season peters out a bit at the end, but the overall pacing is tight, and cougar storylines are kept to a bare minimum.
Final Grade: A-

24 - Season Five Prequel
As an extra, the DVD sets like to include mini-prequels, ten minute episodes not shown on TV that bridge the gap between seasons. The season four prequel was mildly entertaining, but this one was horrible. It was essentially a ten minute commercial for Toyoto which involved Jack Bauer driving around a lumber yard. Not since Alias has there been such a pitifully disguised product placement.
Final Grade: F--

Trash-Filled Car Crashes In West Yarmouth
Maker of large omelet on I-66 vanishes
Family fun when you don't have much money

tagged as reviews | permalink | 2 comments

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Snow Day

Similar to the way the Chicago River is dyed green every St. Patrick's Day, The Weather Channel pulled some meteorological strings to paint the D.C. metropolitan area a pasty shade of pink for Valentine's Day. It's a pretty good marketing ploy, and I predict that it won't be long until we see the Pepto-Bismol company become the permanent corporate sponsor for the holiday.

They must have underestimated the amount of pink dye it would take to coat the entire area, because it was all white by the time it reached my house (then again, everything is whiter in Loudoun County, the county with the fastest growing yuppy population in northern Virginia, and soon the entire world). When I got up this morning, I was greeted with a driveway trifle consisting of a layer of ice, a layer of snow, another layer of ice and a final layer of snow (and then a layer of beef sautéed with peas and carrots).

After watching my neighbour's car roll back down the sloped driveway, I wisely decided to work from home for the second day running. It really doesn't take much to convince me of the power of telecommuting -- besides, my home computer is faster than my work computer and the monitor's bigger too, so I get far more accomplished and save $1.22 on commute gas, which goes towards noble causes like the Popeyes Fund for Deprived and/or Depraved Individuals.

Around 2 PM, I tramped outside to shovel the driveway before it had a chance to refreeze overnight. I attacked the snow/ice tag team (hereafter called snice, which incidentally is also the way you say something is nice in Tallahassee) with verve and vigor. Occasionally I had to use the snow shovel like a pick-axe on the more troublesome spots, but the driveway was finally clean after about two hours of heavy labor. My back will be feeling it tomorrow though -- it's times like these that I wish I could make copies of myself to do all the work for me.

Plus, I could call them my ice-clean clones!

Illegally Park-ed
"I will certainly jump. It's what I do. I love it," Holmes said.
Large squid lights up for attack

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Friday, February 16, 2007

Friday Fragments

a doctor-recommended cure for sexually transmitted dizziness

♣ I finally finished cleaning out my file cabinet yesterday after work. I tried out a new system -- instead of carefully and meticulously filing anything and everything I've ever owned, I removed all the bills and receipts older than three years old (The old artwork and drawings I kept for slow days where I can write more in the "What's In My Messy Drawers Day" series). This weekend, I'm going to purchase a little shredder.

♣ I used to just take all my identity-theftable paperwork to the office to shred, but the ten-year-old shredder there can no longer slice up a voided check without a horrible jam which then requires you to squirt oily goop into the blades every five checks. Squeezing giant condiment bottles seems worthless to me unless the end result is a hot dog.

♣ The 250 checks I ordered four years ago have finally run out, which means that I no longer have to cross out my Centreville apartment address anymore. It'd be nice to do away with checks completely, but to me, some bills (like the mortgage) really shouldn't be left to automatic online payments.

♣ A group of multinational Arctic scientists crosses the tundra in search of two missing colleagues, a Czechoslovakian and a Turk. They find two polar bear mates raiding the mens' campsite and shoot them down. After cutting open the female bear and finding the body of the Turk, one scientist says to the other, "The Czech is in the male."

♣ Speaking of mail, I'm expecting a bundle of joy soon. It's not so much a baby as it is an Amazon.com package with two new Cardigans CDs, a single-bound volume containing all fifteen books from the Wizard of Oz series, a Gameboy DS game, am anthology with a new short story by Janny Wurts, and a reprint of Zilpha Keatley Snyder's The Egypt Game, a children's book from my past.

♣ I reread Eyes in the Fishbowl by Snyder this week. I first mentioned this book in my Authors of Yesteryear featurette in 2002, and I still gravitate back to it every couple years to see if I can understand it any better. It's a great story, but the ending is either abrupt, just plain confusing, or was translated into Russian and back to English four times by Babelfish. Anna's reading it now to see if I'm just dense, which also gives her a chance to take a break from her insane "I will reread the entire Harry Potter series continuously until the 7th book comes out in July" cycle.

♣ I can't say that I never reread my favourite books, but restarting Book One immediately after finishing Book Six is an exorbitant amount of Harry Potterness. I honestly didn't realize it was possible to love Harry Potter more than Paige, who could easily be a member of the winning team on It's Harry Potter.

♣ I have no big plans this weekend -- I'll probably get a little shopping done on Saturday and then record a series of "Learn Sign Language" books on tape on Sunday. Have a great weekend!

Study required to find out why kissing your sister is gross
SUV Plows Into Theater As Moviegoers Watch Dreamgirls
Young women even have phrases for couples, frequently spoken with a touch of derision: They're "joined at the hip," or "married."

tagged as fragments | permalink | 6 comments

Monday, February 19, 2007

Happy Presidents' Day

Please take a moment to bask in the greatness of America's most revered Presidents:

  • Chester A. Arthur
  • William Henry Harrison
  • Warren G. Harding
  • Updates will resume tomorrow!

    Milli Vanilli to get the movie treatment
    Paraglider survives 32,000ft fall
    Four-legged duck

    permalink | 1 comment

    Tuesday, February 20, 2007

    Sixth Annual Oscars Week

    I've given amazingly accurate Oscars predictions for five straight years now, predictions made with such accuracy that the Academy called yesterday and told me to just fax over my '07 list so they wouldn't actually need to vote. As I sat down to write this year's list, I realized that I have absolutely no interest in making a sixth sequel in this series and would sooner lick a dog's nose than write all the HTML needed to format a list of movies.

    Not every tradition or saga needs to be held in perpetual perpetuity, and some, like another Rocky movie or shaking your keys on the third down in college football, should be gently led out into the retirement pasture and shot down gangsta-style. Trust me, as I am an authority on this style, which generally involves replacing the -er syllable with an -a on any noun that performs some action (i.e. playa, rappa, bass fishaman).

    So with the Oscas* off of the agenda, I suddenly had a week with no real updates mapped out. I decided to make them musically-inclined -- Tomorrow will probably be a Musical Musings Day, and Thursday will be an Audience Participation Day where you get to be the Barrymore to my Grant and write lyrics to a melody I provide. The fun never ends in the URI! Zone, unless I forget to pay my hosting bill this year.

    *: This is a more advanced, hardkore use of gangsta-style.

    Sorry for the delay in getting this posted -- yesterday afternoon I took a trip down to Manassas to visit Anna & Ben and parked in a visitor spot next to an ice-hump long enough to make any randy Eskimo happy. By the time I was leaving around 10 PM, someone had parked behind me, and I didn't have enough momentum to get out of my spot without the risk of hitting the guy in front of me. So with my car being a principal character on the Car-Tomb Network, I was forced to spend the night in one of Manassas' many crack dens, next to a doerdoa named Alfredo and a hobo who thought it was the Greyhound station.

    Hip Hop Outlaw (Industry Version)
    Science finds ways to regrow fingers
    Mama cat adopts rottweiler

    permalink | 4 comments

    Wednesday, February 21, 2007

    Musical Musings

    It's been ten months since my last Musical Musings column which may be the blink of an eye on the geological scale, but is an eternity on the celebrity marriages scale (this scale is much more scientific and applicable in everyday life. Incidentally, ever since Rob confessed that "everyday" versus "every day" was his pet peeve, I have been careful to use the appropriate terminology).

  • I'm currently listening to A Camp, a solo album by Nina Persson of The Cardigans. Despite the ambiguous title, the CD is an interesting piece of work -- a mix of country-tinged ballads and hard-rock creations. Though jarring at first, the change actually makes sense with the change in Persson's voice (she can no longer do the coy, innocent tone she had six years earlier, and she's smartly changed the musical style to fit her voice. I still will never be able to reconcile this Swedish singer singing about Texas though.
    • Gordon's Gardenparty (1994)
      Bluest Eyes in Texas (2001)
  • The musical score to The Illusionist was written by Phillip Glass, which is not an unusual thing. However, five minutes into it, any musician familiar with his piece, Facades, would realize that he just wrote three or four variations on that work and played them in various permutations throughout the entire movie. (Some listeners would argue that that's how he wrote his entire songbook, but that's neither here nor there).

  • "We're not dealing with Philip Glass here; we're dealing with someone who can write music." - Dr. Peter Spencer

  • The last "hometown" act I plugged was Preston Grey featuring Dave McGarry, and now I've got another one for anyone who likes to spice up their day with acoustic acts:. Rebecca Berlin went to my high school several years after I graduated. I first came across her music (composed and sung by her) when I worked as a composer/arranger for the band director back in 2000, and found one of her high school songs in my files during last week's cleanup session. Relying on the Google workhorse, I found that she's still writing and has some decent samples up on her page. I'm also a sucker for artistic lyrics that aren't just "I went to the store / and bought me a door / make that four / four doors" and female vocalists with a clear timbre (see also, Nina Persson, Natalie Imbruglia, Sita, and Tracy Shayne).

  • Here are ten bite-sized examples of "that's neat!" moments from music I listen to:
    • Nina Persson says "Bubbles" in Happy Meal
      The Hi-Lo's become a musical saw in Italian Street Song
      Bobby McFerrin vocalizes Spain with Chick Corea
      The Tonight Show band does a bloated round in Jumpin' at the Woodside
      Kansas destroys the barline yet again in Journey from Mariabronn
      KT Tunstall builds up to beat the crap out of the high note but then jukes into prettiness in Universe and You
      Muse dabbles in twelve-tone disco music in Space Dementia
      Scissor Sisters dabbles in Pink Floyd disco music in Comfortably Numb
  • To continue with the disco theme, this month's Funny Song of the Moment is "Bra Size 45" by Ivor Biggun .

  • I had the pleasure of hearing the greatest song ever written on XM last week -- it's a shame it doesn't get more air time, considering that it was essentially the theme song for the URI! Zone in 2005.

  • I've recently heard a good bit of Rhythms Del Mundo on XM Radio -- remixes of popular works by groups like Coldplay and Arctic Monkeys against Cuban rhythms and instrumentations. Not all of them are successfully, but they're definitely an interesting take on the songs. The songs are at their worst when it becomes apparent that the original singers weren't singing in tune (but then again Franz Ferdinand never sings in tune).

  • You can HAVIDOL
    Dad tackles wrestler
    iTunes fingers piano fraud

    tagged as music, reviews | permalink | 2 comments

    Thursday, February 22, 2007

    Audience Participation Day: Write My Lyrics

    Happy 222 Thursday!

    In the spirit of the harmlessly funny movie, Music and Lyrics, which I saw on Sunday, I've come up with a song without words which is just crying out for your lyrical prose. Now is your chance to put all those AP English classes to good use and bury me in your artistic gerunds and dangling participles of doom. Here are the rules for this contest:

    1. Write 2 verses, a chorus, and a bridge to the melodies below (There is a 3rd verse, but only overachievers need to write it). An MP3 sample has been provided for anyone who can't read music.
    2. You may slightly alter the rhythms to fit your lyrics, but you may not make wholesale changes to the chords or melodic lines.
    3. Send your entries by email, NOT the comments section. Half of my visitors are dirty plagiarists that take my high school essays and resubmit them as their own. If you post in the comments section, your lyrics may end up on the poetry black market by sundown.
    4. The deadline for submission is in ten days: Sunday, March 4.
    5. After the deadline, all submissions will be posted for voting. The winner of the popular vote will receive a $10 gift certificate to Amazon.com (void if less than three people enter!). I have the deciding vote in case of ties or ballot stuffing.
    6. By entering this contest, you agree only to allow your lyrics to be posted on this site. You still retain all other rights to your own work.


    Listen to the song, set against a bare-bones accompaniment (3:40, 3MB MP3)

    Here is a sample entry which I cooked up. If I can write this made-for-TV-movie-quality tripe in six minutes, surely one of you can come up with something good in ten days!

    In the City, by Brian C. Uri!

    Verse 1:
    Hear the crickets here,
    and you will never stop being
    Far away from the deer.
    Sniff and smell manure,
    and spot a unicorn alight upon the dale.

    Verse 2:
    Share the fleas with sheep,
    and you will wonder why you can
    never go-o to sleep.
    Taste the mangy rabbits,
    and wish that you could sell your farm in I-o-wa.

    Chorus:
    To go, where the grass never grows,
    Where the taxis are numerous,
    and they will hit you with a smile,
    and then buy you some joe.

    Bridge:
    Take the Greyhound to L.A.
    Pollute your face.
    And then enjoy a Big Mac and small fries.
    Give some money to a bum.
    And sing and dance.
    And then get mugged and then lose your pants.

    If you have any questions about the rules, just ask! Good luck!

    Man sues IBM over porn addiction
    Bigfoot's foot found in landfill
    How not to talk to your kids

    tagged as music, contests | permalink | 1 comment

    Friday, February 23, 2007

    Friday Fragments

    bite-sized biscuits of wisdom for the soul

    ♣ The shredder I purchased last week works pretty well, and devoured six inches of documents like a starving Art History major turned performance artist, clocking in at just under five minutes. It also has a setting that lets you destroy CDs and DVDs in seconds, which is both useful and entertaining -- truly a technical achievement on the part of the designers.

    ♣ At work, my team received a Technical Achievement Award for the five-month sprint we did for our latest release. Ironically, only three members of the team went to the company's "Let's Pretend Christmas is in January" party where the award was presented, since everyone else was too burnt out on working the very overtime that got them noticed.

    ♣ On Wednesday, everyone on the team received a miniature version of the award -- a peculiarly-shaped piece of glass with our names inscribed. This intriguing yet useless figurine now graces the top of my bookshelf, above the box of breakfast bars and slightly to the right of my Lunchbox Award. I'm hoping that on the equinox, the sun will shine through my window and refract across the figurine to show me where the buried treasure is so I can retire at 27.

    ♣ It's actually slightly to the left (not the right), but I'm writing from the perspective of the lunchbox. If you've never pretended to be a lunchbox, it's an interesting exercise. You really need to get in touch with your inner thermos, but that's just my two cents.

    ♣ Someone recently sent a check to Verizon for zero dollars after the recent stories of Verizon call center workers being unable to tell the difference between two cents and 0.02 cents. Though I think it's funny, I wouldn't want to publish my name, town, bank, and signature on the Internet for the sake of a joke. I'm sure his funds are getting hijacked as I type this.

    ♣ A recent news story told about an attempted plane hijacking in which the pilot tricked the hijacker by conspiring with the passengers in another language. After everyone else braced themselves, the pilot braked suddenly to knock the hijacker off balance, and then a stewardess threw hot coffee on him. This is exactly the reason why airport security is overkill -- nowadays, every red-blooded male and stewardess on the plane is just itching to quash any hijackings or minor rebellions to teach those terrorists a lesson.

    ♣ After reading up on several plane hijackings as training for my post-retirement career, I've deduced the biggest error they all tend to make: hijackers would encounter much less resistance from the passengers if they just sent the plane somewhere everyone wanted to go. No one honestly wants to be diverted to Cuba or Moscow, but I bet if you told the pilot to fly to the Bahamas with instructions for the authorities to meet at the gate with a case of rum, the passengers would actually aid you. Why fight to maintain your business-class trip to some boring convention when you could get forcibly diverted to a tropical beach where you can woo the native women? Trust me, for I'm an expert in native-wooing.

    ♣ In fact, my wooing powers are so legendary that I've started receiving e-mail requesting my help with the wooing. I now woo on a part-time basis and the woo income is a nice supplement to my non-wooful day job. I also work for the other side, having created a vacation retreat where the women wooees being harassed by wooers can spend a few days being wooless. I call it Lake Woobegone.

    ♣ I'll close today with this video of Nora, the piano-playing cat. Have a great weekend!

    Someone missed the study on sister kissing
    I always knew that a geek would make a great husband.
    Surgeons who play video games better at surgery

    tagged as fragments | permalink | 2 comments

    Monday, February 26, 2007

    Sign Day

    After many years of loyal service, the ubiquitous Radiation Warning Sign (seen on everything from Doc Brown's stolen Plutonium to the small print on Hot Pockets sleeves) has been updated. Five years of focus groups in eleven different countries led the International Atomic Energy Agency to the underwhelming design shown below. Of particular note was their preschooler focus group that said yellow was for caution and red was for dead .

    Apparently, people thought the original sign just meant "radiation is here", much like the "George Washington slept here" signs that dot the Virginia landscape. Scientists really felt that they needed a more intimidating sign so people would take the tooth-losing, gonad-shriveling effects of radioactivity seriously. However, the problem with making signs more complex is that they are also more likely to be misinterpreted or confusing. For a native stumbling upon an illicit nuclear power plant erected in an unregulated third-world country, it is not necessarily apparent which of the following is the actual message of the sign:

    1. Radiation will kill you, so run away as fast as you can.
    2. Thibi, the Red Jack-o-Lantern God, decrees that death is inevitable so don't try and run away.
    3. Radiation will remove all the skin from your head.
    4. Radiation will impregnate you if you are a pirate.

    (Obviously, #4 is the intended message of the IAEA).

    The more general problem here is that you cannot trust focus groups and the public to offer good feedback on design issues, as seen from last month's public contest for a warning sign for nanotechnology labs . Here are some of the entries that will definitely be among the finalists, if only becauses they are so obviously related to nanotechnology:


    Warning! Sesame Street airing soon

    Watch for X-treme Croquet Players

    Warning! Spirograph users out of control

    Beware Volkswagen Mechanics

    Jewish Travel Agency

    Warning! Very Small Baseballs

    Elderly Nanoparticle X-ing

    Keep Hands Away from Ray Gun

    Not All Puzzle Pieces Will Be Used

    BLAME THE COOTIE CATCHER

    Warning! Chicken Wire Not an Effective Bong Material

    Warning! Very Small Genitalia

    Warning! Fat People in Greenland, Peru, and New Zealand are Breaking the Earth

    Watch for Falling Triforce

    Short People Are More Dangerous Than They Appear

    Beware of, you know, things. And stuff.

    Happy Birthday Dad and Jim Barry!

    Jim Gaffigan on Hot Pockets
    Man mistakes porn DVD as cries for help
    George Takei responds to Tim Hardaway

    tagged as mock mock, media, favourites | permalink | 1 comment

    Tuesday, February 27, 2007

    Newsday Tuesday

    "I can't say I know exactly how a victim of a sexual assault feels, but I think it's something like this -- they invaded my home," Washington said.

    I'm sure there are worse ways to defend yourself when you have a history of short-tempered outbursts and shoot the guys delivering your furniture, but it'd be hard to top this one. After remaining silent for thirty days following the shooting, the best that homeland security officer, Colonel Keith Washington, and his lawyer could come up with was "They raped my house"?

    To be fair to Washington, he at least tried to come up with some details, such as "One of them hit me with a lead pipe". However, any reasonably educated American who has ever played the game, Clue, knows that you can't invoke the lead pipe unless the pipe is in the same room. It's not even clear from the news reports if the pipe was ever found or if Washington had a pipe-shaped bump on his head.

    Three CD players hidden under a cathedral's pews blared sexually explicit language in the middle of an Ash Wednesday Mass, leading a bomb squad to detonate two of the devices.

    Detonating a CD player spouting filthy lyrics will surely teach it a lesson, but it seems like overkill to me. Why did it they have to incinerate two of them before realizing that the third was harmless? This sounds like a case of a very bored bomb squad that hadn't gotten to blow anything up in a long, long time (which incidentally puts an ironic spin on Ash Wednesday).

    In fact, this would probably be a good way for the now predictable show, COPS, to generate some ratings numbers: At the beginning of any chase, the cops warns the perp (via a bullhorn) that if they get caught, they'll have to pick from three mystery prize boxes. One of the boxes has a Get Out of Jail Free card which will allow them to walk. The second is empty, and the perp gets taken into custody. The third box contains a bomb. Good old-fashioned American hilarity ensues.

    Animal control authorities are not amused by a fast food chain's marketing stunt encouraging customers to dress their cats in a special take out bag.

    I think my position on these atrocities is already well-established.

    Happy Birthday Paige Jenkinson!

    Teacher buys pot via text messages
    Lawmaker comes down on plastic gonads
    Land of the All-Night Gas Line

    tagged as newsday | permalink | 1 comment

    Wednesday, February 28, 2007

    How the Sugar Daddy Makes His Money

    After a development cycle more cranked up than an ADHD two-year-old with a caffeine IV, my company released the next major version of the Metadata Registry to the Defense Information Systems Agency and the Department of Defense yesterday, to much cheering and applause. You can browse a few of the unrestricted pages here , but since most of you are pothead hippies, Russian spies or dirty Canadian socialists, getting an account is not bloody likely. Stupid hippies.

    Since my evening was taken up with the installation, followed by some miscellaneous gallivanting in Falls Church, I was unable to write my original update for today: How to make a paper mach? Amber statue. To fill the void, I thought I'd write a public service announcement about why my job is important to the future of mankind1.

    Every organization has data of some kind -- inventories, requisitions, or even the details of a particular vehicle. To ensure that everyone in the organization describes these things in the same way, they use metadata which is "data about the data". Metadata can be stored in a language like XML and tells users rules like "every minivan will have four wheels, and can seat four to seven people". By obeying the metadata, Colonel Bob in Omaha can trade his data with Private Poopson2 in the field and be assured that it's compatible.

    This works fine within the organization, but over time, different organizations define their data in different ways, resulting in multiple stovepipes which cannot easily interact with other agencies. A simple example of this is the inability of neighbouring police departments to communicate during the 9/11 attacks because there was no standard frequency that could be shared.

    This is where the Metadata Registry comes into play to save the world (had The 4400 really returned from the future to save humanity, I bet that building the registry would have been their first act). The Registry acts as a neutral middle ground where different agencies and organizations can publish their metadata. By putting all the metadata here, the Army and Marines might realize they have different definitions of what a tank is and work together to either create a common definition, or understand why there are differences between the two, (or they could duke it out on national television with the loser forced to use the winner's definition, which could be the start of a very lucrative show on FOX). If the Coast Guard suddenly captures a Havana tank on a routine run of the Florida-Cuba circuit but they don't yet have any metadata to describe it, they could just go to the registry and reuse the Army's tank definition. The ultimate goal is to promote reuse of similar metadata so more agencies are on the same page.

    The other puzzle piece of the registry involves taxonomies. The Army and the Baltimore Aquarium might have very different definitions of a tank which have nothing to do with each other. Since it would probably not be cost effective to send two ton glass tanks to Baghdad, a taxonomy can be used to classify the Army tank as a "weapon of moving destruction" and the Aquarium tank as a "big thing to put sharks in".

    The mix of metadata and taxonomies work together as a massive information playpen which has often been cited as a crucial piece of the Agency's data strategy, and over time, other agencies like NASA have joined in the fun. In laymen's terms, this translates as "no layoffs for BU".

    1: I will only discuss the common knowledge portion of my job. There are no such thing as aliens, and we really did land on the moon.

    2: etymology: Son of Poop

    Sorority kicks out the "socially awkward"
    A sheepish house of horrors
    Strewth! Australia rocked by 'lesbian' koala revelation

    tagged as programming | permalink | 3 comments

     

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