10/2007

Monday, October 01, 2007

Weekend Wrap-up Day

On Friday, I met my sister at the East Falls Church Metro station around 3, fresh from her two-hour trip out to UMD for a ten minute meeting. We wandered around Ballston Commons for about an hour and a half, taking in the sights and determining that the athletic shoes I bought a year ago are worthless for continuous walking. We were waiting for Rebecca to get off of work and join us for a round of drunk croquet, and with time to spare after our constitutional, we decided to see a random movie at the Ballston theatre.

The only one playing with a matinee price was The Kingdom with Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner, and an unbilled Jason Bateman. The movie was pretty decent, with a riveting beginning and end and a more slow-paced middle section, interspersed with fun explosions and chase scenes. Worth a rental but won't change your life (if you want a life-changing movie, then watch URI Home Videos, 1979 -1981 for the scene where I change my own diaper).

After the movie, which was shown in a frigid theatre where icicles formed on the undersides of seats and moviegoers, we met up with Rebecca and had dinner at the Rock Bottom Brewery where I had to finish my sister's beer because she is a lightweight. We also bumped into Jack there, quite the cosmic coincidence. From dinner, we took my sister home to my parents' house where she's been living for the past few weeks with her three cats while she does Vet Science internships at various area colleges.

Saturday was basement-work day, during which my dad and I hung some smokin' mirrors, painted trim, and touched up our milk chocolate masterpiece. Incidentally, milk chocolate is not a colour that inspires capital letters the way PUFFIN BAY GREY does -- it seems to have a literary inertness which PUFFIN BAY GREY lacks.

After painting, I won $50 in poker, with the assistance of Messieurs Guinness and Killian, which I'm going to deposit in a mutual fund for Booty's college education (BOOTX). I'll have to win some more games to send Amber, or else she'll end up going to technical school and become a car mecatnic.

Sunday was a lazy layabout day which included a trip to Friendly's, some reading, and a game of Monopoly, which I hadn't played since I left Tallahassee. I landed on Boardwalk during the first round and decided to buy it to be different (normally I never do). After that I proceeded to land on it at least seven more times, but never once collected any rent. After a healthy meal of chimichangas for dinner, I went to bed, ready for the start of OCTOBER 2007.

What did you do this weekend?

60 pint binge leads to four week hangover
Long Island can be a dangerous place for wandering rabbits, experts say.
Sister locked up and forgotten

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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Newsday Tuesday

A storm seems to be brewing in the IT job market. Pay raises have continued to outpace inflation, and bonuses are downright impressive - 11.6% on average. Yet, as the 2007 Network World Salary Survey finds, dissatisfaction over the salary package is rampant.

Based on the results of this survey, I'm guessing that I'm not a typical IT worker in the United States. Sure there are some minor annoyances in my job, and I wouldn't kick a bigger salary out of bed, but at the end of the day, I'm pretty happy with my package (and I've heard that the ladies are too, but that is a topic for another day -- in fact it might even span multiple days. ROWR!)

Being a software engineer is a wonderful career for people with the right mindsets and skills. Every day I get to work towards a tangible goal by being creative, solving problems, and tracking down hard-to-find bugs. At the end of a development cycle, I have a product I can point to (hopefully with pride) that serves as a visible reminder of my efforts, and on top of that I get a decent salary to boot.

Take a look at the salary chart in the upper right. Even though it costs a million dollars to live in the city nowadays and Popeyes has raised the cost of their two-piece meal from $4.36 to $4.68 while shrinking the size of the chickens by 10% (my lawsuit is in the works), those are decent salaries for what we do. Sure, the numbers for Kansas are a little low, but that's offset by the fact that you can get a spaghetti diner meal and a shoe shine for a nickel, and you'll never worry about spending money on entertainment because there's NOTHING TO DO THERE.

For the amount I'm paid, I get to mosey into the office whenever I feel like it dressed however I want -- an office where the worst catastrophe might be a spoiled lunch in the refrigerator that's been broken for three weeks, or getting bored to death by Mr. Talky around the corner. For those inconveniences, I should be thankful that the pay is so high -- it's not like we're emptying garbage cans, transporting medical waste to be dumped on the beaches of New Jersey, or battling insurgents in the seedy back alleys of Old Town Alexandria. When you compare our situation with any other profession, how could anyone have the nerve to complain? And apparently, the benefits are nice too -- far nicer than I presumed:

Forty-nine percent of male techies say they've fallen asleep at work, while only 35 percent of women admitted doing so. As for smooching, 44 percent of men techies say they've kissed a co-worker, while only 34 percent confessed to puckering up with a colleague.

These numbers are a bit misleading since we all know that there are only two total women in the entire IT profession, which means that one woman has not kissed any coworkers, while the other one is a total slut (but is also ashamed of it -- wouldn't you be ashamed to smooch a CS major?). Personally, I've never snoozed at work, but that's just because snoozing is so much more comfortable at home, so working straight through the day means I get home for the snooze that much faster. I have started nodding off before, generally during four-hour meetings, but that's usually just a good time to hit the bathroom or scout out the kitchens on every floor in search of leftover pizza. Sure, it's usually crappy Papa John's garbage, but free is free. And, unlike 25% of IT professionals, I've never boozed on the job either, though I have worked on critical code for the United States government following a dinner with wine.

This is fine though, because if one of our missiles ever hits Kansas, the state's population will welcome the diversion from perpetual boredom, and I can blame it on the coworker that was smooching and snoozing on the job.

Happy Birthday Dutton Hauhart!

Video games cracking down on cheating
Man screws company
Turtle power boosted by second head

tagged as newsday, programming | permalink | 2 comments

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Memory Day: Gymnastics

As I mentioned a couple months ago, being stuck in day care was an agonizing way to spend the afternoon, much like that of a cat dipped in peanut butter trying to groom itself. In fact, it was after-school day care and not college applications that sparked in us the early drive to do extracurricular activities. One of mine was gymnastics, which I started in fourth grade with my sister (who was in sixth).

Luckily for us, the city's gymnastics program was offered at our school, so there was no need for buses or travel, and we got out of day care twice a week. Unluckily for us, gymnastics was taught by the same gym teachers who felt that the backbone of physical education involved playing with parachutes, square dancing, and eighties dance music. The gymnastics program that was offered gave us only the barest glimpse into the world glamourized by the movie Stick It, where girls in spandex sat in bathtubs full of ice cubes and puberty is the dread killer of dreams. (This movie is not to be confused with the recent documentary, Stick It In, which details the fight for obscenity and respectability in an outlawed college football cheer).

A typical gymnastics session would begin with the entire group running in a circle and jumping over cones to the mellifluous sounds of Donna Summer (this sounds exactly like gym class because it was). This was followed by light stretching and several individual gymnast moves like the front walkover, the back walkover, the front flip, the back flip, the bridge, and various pointed-toe jumps with adjectives like "back" and "front" describing them. There were no pommel horses or rings, though we occasionally got to walk down a balance beam or do a single canned routine on the parallel bars (everyone had to do the exact same routine for safety purposes, and it always ended with the Penny Drop).

While Olympic gymnasts were engaging in death-defying (and crotch-defying) feats, we were inventing "routines" set to the best of Michael Jackson that had us rolling around on the carpet or doing cartwheels, round-offs (cartwheels with attitude, OH SNAP), or posed splits. The one tangible skill I walked away with was the ability to reach two inches past the edge of the Sit N' Reach box in the Physical Fitness test -- this, coupled with my ten minute mile ensured that I could at least get a Satisfactory rating. The day that I could effortlessly do a perfect split without even thinking about it is far in the past. Today, the only toes I can fondle without straining belong to someone else (and generally the cops have a problem with this).

As I grew older, the gymnastics program went on tour, and the best of the gymnasts travelled to a local Jewish private school once a week where we taught the faithful how to run around a room jumping over cones. The only difference between them and us was that all of their parents had bought special gymnastics tights and shoes, while we rolled up in our trashy public school shorts and T-shirts, smoking joints and getting in gang fights.

Book now for the flight to nowhere
Man eats 21 pounds of grits
Biologists aim to kill an island full of snitches

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Thursday, October 04, 2007

Out of Ideas Day

Don't worry, I'm not out of ideas, because as a last resort I can always string some vaguely rhyming words together and suffix them with DAY (see also, Museday Tuesday, Newsday Tuesday, Manic Monday, and Dave Day).

It's actually Hollywood that's out of ideas, something that's been painfully obvious every since they released The Second To Last Karate Kid and Bewitched. The most recent example of OOI Syndrome (pronounced OO-wee) is the Alvin and the Chipmunks movie coming out in December.

Apparently it wasn't enough to make 120 minute versions of every 30 minute sitcom from the 1950s -- now they have to make a movie based on an animated cartoon from the 80s, which in turn was based on a silly novelty record from the 60s, which was based on the weak gimmick of playing a recording twice as fast to sound like a chipmunk. This, to me, is like figuring that the bassoon has kind of a funny sound to it, deciding that it would be a good idea to write a twenty-minute concerto for one, and then actually getting it performed in public.

Of course, it's never good enough for Hollywood to bring nostalgia back without "updating" it for the current generation, so for this movie, apparently Alvin, Simon, and Theodore are now 80s rappers and Jason Lee (of My Name is Earl and Kevin Smith fame) has pimped himself out to the highest bidder in the "I would expect Tim Allen to play this part" role of David Seville.

I'm not sure what the plot of this movie will be like, but judging from the official movie trailer, it will involve chipmunks pooping and other chipmunks eating it. Always hilarious. It might actually be a step up from the cartoons, where the chipmunks got into ridiculous scrapes which allowed them to sing songs like Creedence Clearwater Revival's Proud Mary over a chase scene of some kind. The fact that I watched it at all was probably just because DuckTales, a superior cartoon in every way, followed immediately afterwards.

Happy Birthday Deborah Lipnick!

Restaurant's chillis cause London chemical scare
Wouldn't it be great to live at the mall?
Lawmaker shows nude photo to students

tagged as mock mock | permalink | 2 comments

Friday, October 05, 2007

Friday Fragments

a fifth of october is not nearly as good as a pint of guinness

♠ I finished the second season of Prison Break this week -- it was a fun watch but the final episode suffered from "we should end this show now but we want to set up another season and make more money" syndrome (see also, the end of Alias' fourth season).

♠ Last night I started watching the Heroes pilot on the recommendation of Rosie and Jason. It's neat but hasn't really hooked me yet. So far, I think it would be a far cooler show if it were completely about the adventures of Hiro, the Japanese office worker who can "bend the space/time continuum like Star Trek".

♠ One of the characters on the pilot is essentially invincible, which would be a very helpful superpower to have when doing all my manly work in the basement. For my efforts, I generally collect a manly assortment of cuts, scratches, and scars.

♠ It's strange to consider how many scars I have now which I don't remember getting. I can only remember the stories behind the big ones, like tripping over the tennis racket on the first serve, slicing digits on razor blades and bow saws, and (in the case of my knee) tripping next to the pool at my grandparents' neighbours' house in Michigan.

♠ When my sister and I went to Michigan for summer vacations, I only liked going into the pool when the water was over ninety degrees (Farenheit, of course, for the Euros). I preferred jumping on the trampoline all day long instead.

♠ The love of trampoline-jumping carried on into my college years, the trampoline was one of the reasons we went to Jason Chrisley's house in Pulaski so often (he also had the best meat). Here's a picture of Shac and Philip on said trampoline.

♠ Jason Chrisley is now a paramedic in Radford -- no word on whether he put his Virginia Tech music degree to work.

♠ This weekend was one of the weekend's I'd originally planned to go down to Virginia Tech on, since I haven't taken a trip there since the retirement concert last April but it turns out that I'll be going down on the 19th instead. In lieu of a road trip, I'll be heading out to Winchester this afternoon to celebrate VT Fall Break with the Spellerbergs.

♠ Tomorrow night, I'll be partying it up in Arlington, and Sunday, my dad and I will be installing the carpet in the basement, using Harry Potter magic and jacks to levitate the twelve-ton pool table while we stretch the carpet underneath it. You can see the color of the carpet in the swatch nearest to the wall in this picture. You can also see what it looked like when I moved in over three years ago .

♠ Happy Birthday to Mike Robb on Sunday. Have a great weekend, everyone!

Infrared Scans May Regulate HOT Lanes
Government inadvertently deletes ca.gov domain
Cats cross pool swimmingly

tagged as fragments | permalink | 1 comment

Monday, October 08, 2007

Happy Columbus Day !

Updates will resume tomorrow.

Peacock fell in love with luxury car
I'm 73 years old, I know karate, I know judo, I know everything
Tired of Wet Backs?

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Birth Day

Mike (of Mike and Chompy, and sometimes Jamie) was a fellow composing grad student at Florida State, arriving from an "I just graduated but don't want to enter the real world yet" background like me (unlike the vast "I was in the real world and hated in so now I'm fleeing and sacrificing my salary in the process" populace). In our first semester we had 16th Century Counterpoint and Pedagogy of Music Theory I together -- two-thirds of my total courseload since grad school, as everyone knows, is HARD AND RIDICULOUSLY TIME-CONSUMING OMG.

I didn't really hang out with Mike until October of 2001, because I am an introvert and new people kind of suck. I remember liking some piano piece of his on the October 5th Composers' Concert, back in the halcyon days when this web site was nothing but a politically correct music travelogue with all the personality of Kanye West reading a teleprompter.

Following that concert, a musical gang consisting of Jim Barry, Dimetra, Allen Scott, Mark Connor, Mike Catania, Angela Oh, Kitty Steetle, and Kathy Biddick went to a local bar (it may have been the Irish one) for drinks, and I decided to tag along. From there, we went back to Mike's apartment before it had a pool table, new strains of life growing in the sink, more clutter than the hoarding lady with 400 cats, and a futon with AIDS. In fact, it was so boring that we immediately left for the Waffle House at 2 in the morning.

The next time Mike and I crossed paths was on Monday the 8th, when we did a joint presentation of a Zarlino work in Counterpoint class by playing it on trumpet and steel drums. He liked my font.

Mike celebrated his 22nd birthday with lunch at The Loop with Kathy and me, where I ordered a side of fries, and we spent three hours working on a crossword puzzle because there was nothing else to do in Tallahassee (we also called up Kathy's friend, Julie, in North Carolina to get one of the wildlife-related puzzle answers).

From that point on, we spent pretty much every non-educational moment hanging out at Mike's place where we painted crappy art , carried a pool table up three flights and built it with Keely's levels, made fun of Alex, bought a dog named Ginger who chewed on everything and was rechristened as Chompy, and played lots of Scrabble, Monopoly, and Super Smash Brothers.

Happy 28th Birthday to Mike Catania!

Vick passes 'rigorous' be-nice-to-animals test
Gang punches hole in Monet
Bush makes a lot of decisions

tagged as memories | permalink | 4 comments

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Pointless Vignette Day

The intersection of Church Road and Sugarland Run is a nondescript residential intersection whose most exciting feature is a four-way Stop sign. On the road running from lower left to upper right in the picture, there are small concrete medians between lanes intended to help drunk drivers and the British to stay in their proper lanes. That, at least, was the theory behind installing them, but not a month would go by without some left-turner blowing out a tire or crushing the concrete edges of the median.

The next step was to add a universally-understood sign to each island (which either means "Stay to the right of the median" or "lean right to avoid codpiece"). This failed as well, probably because no one knows what a codpiece is and why you would want to avoid it. Not two weeks would go by without seeing the sign completely flattened to the ground, no doubt caused by a soccer mom alone in her SUV on a cellphone trying to turn the corner with one hand and not even feeling the bump.

After about two and a half years of repairing this sign with alloys of ever-increasing indestructability, Loudoun County finally added a giant flattened bumblebee to the sign, about two feet tall and blazingly bright. Their reasoning was: if you are turning past the median, and you fail to see the seven-inch raised concrete island, the multiply-reinforced signpost, and the sign with the giant booger on it, you will still notice the new warning and drive around it to avoid getting stung.

This was pretty effective until just yesterday, when I was driving home from work to find the intersection congested. A pair of high school girls in a tiny blue hatchback had not only managed to hit the median dead-on, they also managed to get their low-riding car stuck on top with four wheels spinning, unable to get off the island. The distressed pair was being assisted by middle-aged men from all walks of life, because when you help out a young girl with car trouble she will obviously want to go out with you.

The white guy with the potbelly was directing the scene, while a couple of Hispanic guys in their tiny Toyota truck attempted to pull the blue hatchback off the island with a length of twine they had in their truck bed, blocking the entire intersection in the process. Before anyone suggested that they just build a raft, the twine miraculously worked and the cast of the farce drove away in their separate cars, leaving the island with just one more battle scar.

I'm hoping that the County will consider some sort of incendiary device when they come out to repair it again.

Chimps don't mind being chumps
52-cent doughnut may cost man 30 years to life
Man sentenced in pride killing of ostrich

tagged as random | permalink | 2 comments

Thursday, October 11, 2007

List Day: Five Costco Coupons

Every month around this time, I receive a big book of coupons in the mail, aimed at enticing big spending on bigger boxes. The deals range the gamut from "inspired economy" to "if I buy that I should really be donating more money to charity". Here are five sample coupons from this month's brochure:

1) For eighteen hundred dollars, you can purchase a security system consisting of 8 mountable cameras, a DVR to record your surveillance tapes, and a 19" LCD monitor to watch your grounds in real time. If you aren't in the right income tax bracket to have "grounds", you can also use the system to film your remake of the music video to Video Killed the Radio Star, or get a local job as a janitor and install them in the locker room of your choice.

2) As you can see from the picture, these shanks are fashioned from bone so they don't set off any metal detectors. The perfect prison-fight weapon for wrongfully imprisoned lambs who've done mutton wrong.

3) In a normal orientation, this might just be a birthday cake made of bling, but turn it upside-down and you have a high-class chandelier that brightens any wine and cheese party (for only four hundred and eighty dollars). Plus, when your guests are openly admiring your style, you can say, "Why yes, it's a Pecaso."

4) I originally thought that Spanakopita was the Spanish version of the popular online encyclopedia, but apparently it's something you put in your mouth and swallow. It may be $3 off, but I've learned that there's an inverse relationship between the number of syllables in a food and how good it tastes.

5) The ad copy for this coupon was obviously written by an electrical engineer who spent one too many nights working on the logic gates in his project box, but that doesn't prevent this bargain from being a steal! Mix your own cocktail by choosing a maximum of five different drugs to get you high. When addiction has claimed your job and your home, keep warm on the streets by wrapping yourself in ThermaCare heat wraps.

Don't forget that tomorrow is 12 of 12!

Boy tries to go to Applebee's
How to rescue a 250 pound bear
Mexico Pol Stripped of Marathon Title

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Friday, October 12, 2007

Chad Darnell's 12 of 12

widescreen edition

6:34 AM: Getting a slightly late start to the morning. It's always harder to wake up when it's chilly out.

6:50 AM: A view from the driver's side window, while on my way to work. The car's console is reflecting in the window glass over the ONE WAY sign -- there are no ghosts in Herndon.

7:35 AM: At my desk, working hard.

7:52 AM: Reenacting the Heroes DVD cover, using only the Sun and the Oracle building.

11:31 AM: When 12 of 12 falls on a Friday, you can always bet on seeing a picture of Popeyes.

11:38 AM: A scenic picture of the brisk Fall sky, complete with Dominion Power lines.

11:42 AM: I hate election month.

11:48 AM: Welcomed home by two lazy-assed cats who didn't even clean the house like I'd asked.

3:09 PM:: After a few hours of working from home, I took a break for a quick snapshot.

3:48 PM: In the basement, prepping for the installation of the second half of the new carpet on Sunday. Now that almost every room in the house is renovated, I'm not sure what I'll do in future 12 of 12s. I may have to resort to cat pictures with misspelled captions.

4:34 PM: Doing one final mow of the yard before the Fall!

5:45 PM: Looking in the fridge for something to eat. I ended up being lazy and having leftover chicken in mushroom/sour cream/onion/lemon/dill weed sauce that Rebecca and I made last night. Everything is better with dill weed.

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


Happy Birthday to Rick Dunham on Saturday and Dan Shiplett on Sunday!

Online bid for rich husband deemed poor offer
Artist implants third ear in his arm
Lap dancers in heat earn more money

tagged as 12 of 12 | permalink | 7 comments

Monday, October 15, 2007

Basement Nostalgia Day

This panoramic picture was taken just days after I'd closed on the house in February 2004. I spent an entire day listening to Tower of Power and scrubbing grime off of the walls. It was very apparent from the markings on the walls that the basement had recently been subdivided into tiny apartments, no doubt to house a burgeoning immigrant population.

My first "lazy Sunday" project in the house was to convert a set of basement shelves into a bar. I started by tearing the backs off of shelves, to let some light into the dark corners for my housewarming party in June 2004. Next, I completely tore out the shelves so I could carve hollow grooves into the sides to house the electrical wiring for two fancy lights.

The pool table arrived in the summer of 2004, and I bought a slick pool table light off of Yahoo for about $120. Work then lagged for a year while I spruced up the parts of the house that I actually lived in, and renovated one of the guest rooms so Kathy could freeload for a summer. Next up (in the summer of 2005) were some classy jazz posters in frames that were 50% off at Michael's and one of my parents' cast off TVs (they tend to cast off a TV every two and a half months or so).

During the last half of 2005, I put the basement to good use, hosting (and losing) multiple poker games, throwing a wild and crazy Halloween party, and starting the tradition of a "Month of Thanksgivings", where I invite a different batch of friends over every weekend in November for turkey.

I didn't do a damn thing to improve the basement in 2006, although my dad snuck into my house while I was on vacation at the beach to finish my bar. I did host another "Month of Thanksgivings", followed by a St. Patrick's Day extravaganza in 2007, but I was too busy painting my upstairs bathrooms the colour of an 80s glam star's vinyl jacket to renovate anything in the basement.

When September 2007 rolled around, I had finally finished working on all the other parts of the house and had time to focus on the basement. Rebecca helped me pick out paint (milk chocolate), replacing my old seeing-eye-dog, Anna, who is now married and has her own paints to worry about. After a couple days of painting last month, my dad and I faced the hairy task of moving the pool table so we could lay carpet underneath it. We accomplished this in a cost-effective manner by raising it up on two dollies from Costco (and then returning them for a full refund afterwards).

The new and improved basement features a wall of mounted mirrors, four high-tech speakers on the walls (such that when you stand at the focal point of the sound waves, Pimpin' All Over the World can burst your ear drums), new curtains, and a calico cat. It's all done!

Mexican cops arrest cannibalism suspect
Chocolate expert damages truffles
Japanese make PETA-friendly frog

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Museday Tuesday

in which I have thirty minutes to write a thirty second song

Frowzy: (adj.) Dirty and untidy; slovenly / Ill-smelling; musty.

My Composition (0:24 MP3)
Old Musedays:
Sidelong
Moodily
Obnoxiously
Obsessively
Spikiest
Leggier
Carsick
Dinkiest
Reclusive
Trifid

For this word, I pictured a ramshackled hovel, smelling of stale cat urine and just a little bit condemned. It would be a good companion movement with Reclusive.

Student suspended over photo of Pat Robertson giving 'finger'
Mr. White Man's Time wins punctuality award
Lessons Learned: Don't post your parties on YouTube

tagged as museday | permalink | 4 comments

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

List Day: Eight Useless In-Major Classes

Last night I was browsing my archive of worthless garbage and stumbled across the degree program for my Computer Science major. Virginia Tech was not fully accredited at the time of my enrollment, probably because the head of the department was a witchy harpy with the charm of a brown loafer with dog poo in the treads.

  1. CS 1104 - Intro to Computer Science: Between the endless historical discussions of Charles Babbage and the archaic lessons on binary math, the only lesson this freshman course taught me was how to fall asleep during lecture.

  2. CS 1044 - Intro to C Programming: This was the last C-based class offered in the curriculum before Java took over everything. I blew $200 on a C++ development package and used it for three projects (one of which erased my computer). I never programmed in any kind of C again.

  3. CS 3604 - Professionalism in Computing: This intensely deep course offered such ethics lessons as "when you find a bug, you should report it". It also had a public speaking aspect where thirty socially inept students had to present some sort of technical topic before the class. My presentation was on Armadillos and why they could not be computer programmers.

  4. STAT 4714 - Probability and Statistics for Electrical Engineers: I'm not sure why I was in this class, since I was not an electrical engineer. None of the material even applied to any engineering-related fields, so I'm guessing they took one normal Prob & Stat course, and rebranded it for all the different fields that wanted it.

  5. CS 3414 - Numerical Methods: This course was offered at 8 AM in my final semester, and it was taught by a TA. From this description, it can be implied that I did not attend and do not remember what was taught.

  6. CS 3724 - Introduction to HCI: HCI is the study of how easy-to-use and intuitive a web site or application is. This course died of overkill, since we had to read a book filled with common sense rules like "if your web page is justified on the left side, don't justify a random line on the right because it will look funny". Then we went to class where we'd discuss every rule in the book, and then have the professor say things like, "See? Doesn't this screenshot look funny when I move this line over to the right side?"

  7. CS 4634 - Design Of Information: An entire semester of this course taught me that words are easier to read when you make them bold and that you should lay out your presentation so that the main ideas are clearly visible. Much of the coursework duplicated what I learned in fourth grade making science project backboards (but that class was free and we also got playground time).

  8. CS 4204 - Computer Graphics: A course in 3D graphics sounded like it would be fun, but the entire semester was spent on theory of occlusion. In laymen's terms, occlusion means that objects closer to you will hide the objects that are farther away, so you shouldn't make the computer draw the hidden parts. Fortunately by this time, I had become a master of schedule occlusion, which stated that classes closer to the dorm are easier to get to than classes in McBryde, so I should never go to the far away ones.

Hardee's unveils 920-calorie burrito
Hobo Spider Recycling Program
Woman accused of being a potty mouth

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Journal Day

As mentioned in previous posts, I used to keep a private daily journal religiously throughout high school, writing in it every single day. The habit dropped off in college and I only wrote in spurts until around 2004 when I stopped altogether. It got to the point where keeping a private journal and a public blog at the same time was far too much work and one would inevitably suffer (as you can see from posts like these).

Reading through old journal entries last night made me wish that I still kept it up -- it's almost fascinating to see the naive and idealistic viewpoint the old entries were written in, as well as the random events of days that I would otherwise completely forget about. Here are a few samples of events recorded in my journal, using the exact wording I used long ago.

9/26/93: We just got back from visiting some college campuses for my sister. We saw Mary Washington, William and Mary, Christopher Newport, Virginia Commonwealth. In the motel, my sister and I shared a room. The people upstairs had loud music and my sister started banging on the ceiling. Then these two big black guys came down and argued with us through our door.

4/30/94: I just got back from Jenny's house for the bio presentation. Jack and Ben were there too. Jack said that some people on the lightweight boat got arrested last night. After the boat party, they were going to egg someone's house when a cop pulled them over. The cop had gotten a call from a lady with a car phone who had been cut off by some kids but it wasn't them. The cop asked Ed Muellen what he was going to do with the four dozen eggs in his front seat and Ed said he was going to make a very big cake. Two guys got arrested but they weren't charged. Everyone got off.

11/23/99: Saturday morning we woke up early and met Jason and Richard for our trip to Philly. We got to Philly around 11 after an uneventful trip. Liz and I sang musical songs in the front seat once the people in back (Shac, Melody, and Kelley) had fallen asleep. VT beat Temple 62-7 and the game got pretty monotonous after the first three quarters. We decided to meet up at Hooter's afterwards, but the street had changed its name since the last time Jason was there. My car o' people drove around Philly for about an hour and a half in the ghetto before finally finding it. There, we ate dinner, watched the Florida / Florida State game and I napped a bit for the ride back.

Naked Tickler caught
Police: Someone Let Air Out Of Tires
I may have killed her, but I didn't eat her

tagged as memories | permalink | 1 comment

Friday, October 19, 2007

Off to Blacksburg for the weekend!

Happy Birthday to Marija Ugrinich today, and Katherine Mangu-Ward and James Goldlust tomorrow!

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Monday, October 22, 2007

Empty Day

I got back from Blacksburg too late to write an update so check back tomorrow!

Helicopter crew spied on sunbather
Woman wants horse as service animal
Man claims leprechaun let him in

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Museday Tuesday

in which I have thirty minutes to write a thirty second song

Trampled: (adj.) To tread heavily, roughly, or crushingly

My Composition (0:29 MP3)
Old Musedays:
Sidelong
Moodily
Obnoxiously
Obsessively
Spikiest
Leggier
Carsick
Dinkiest
Reclusive
Trifid
Frowzy

I find it more interesting to hear about what you hear in these fragments than to write about how I came up with them. Share your Music Appreciation 101 thoughts in the comments section!

Happy Birthday Jason Mirick!

Dumbledore is gay
8-year-old snitch reports drunken mom
Fake turf watered as supplies dry up

tagged as museday | permalink | 4 comments

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Blacksburg Travelogue

part I of II

We left northern Virginia around 10:30 on Friday, after a leisurely breakfast of bacon and eggs. I-81 surprised me, because for the first time I can recall, there were no state troopers along the entire stretch from I-66 to Christiansburg. I reflexively slowed down at every cubbyhole near Staunton just to be safe, but for this one trip, the only hazards to worry about were the reckless truckers and land piranhas. Throughout the drive, we listened to XM (mixed with random CDs when south-facing mountains were too high to get reception), and learned The Salmon Dance, among other classy tunes. Lunch was a chicken ranch sub at a Subway in Salem.

After dropping our junk at my sister's house (both she and her husband are out of the state for awhile), we made a beeline for the Virginia Tech Music Department, where I missed Dave McKee by 10 minutes and chatted with Shelby Cole, who mistakenly thought I was married. I also learned that Jay Crone is now the head of the department, John Husser's office is in the basement, Jimmy B has his own office, and the CAL/C lab is (still) always empty.

Next, I decided to give Rebecca the grand tour of the campus, and started by heading for the old quad to make fun of the Corp. We were met at the top of the stairs by Skippy himself, another music graduate of yore putting his degree to good use by doing computer-y things. I'm guessing that the chances of the two of us randomly meeting there was probably 1 in X where X is the total number of drinks consumed by all the Marching Virginians on every Game Day between 1987 and 2002 when they went "dry".

The next stop on the tour was the University Bookstore, by way of the Torgeson Hall archway and library. We marvelled at the exponential growth in Hokie-related gear, like Hokie Bird Hot Sauce and Childrens' VT Rocking Chairs (only $129) before escaping to the Drillfield.

The Memorial for the 4/16 shootings was very well-done and tasteful, 32 stone markers arrayed around a central point on the Drillfield. The town as a whole was plastered with way too many "We Will Prevail" banners for my tastes -- how are you supposed to move on and heal when you're surrounded by signs that try to convince you that you are unaffected by the past?

We walked to the Duck Pond next, where that massive swollen bladder of rain you see behind Burruss Hall finally decided to pee on us. After hiding under a tree for a few minutes, hoping that it would pass, we ended up sprinting to the nearest building, which turned out to be the Entymology building. We (paper) towelled off in the bathrooms and then waited out the rest of the storm by learning all about insects and plant pathology. We also found a picture of Kelley's wife, Kathy, on one of the bulletin boards, and a table containing an array of bugs in cups with photocopied signs all over the building pointing to BUG-IN-A-CUP, as if it were some major festive attraction.

When the rain abated and we had learned all there was to learn about the fascination field of soil erosion, we went to Becca's room in Lee Hall where we bumped into her parents who had travelled down for Parents' Weekend. The five of us went out for the dinner at Macado's where we had sandwiches and a Diablo Quesadilla, and I got a free Killian's from the waitress who was obviously smitten by gallant charm.

After dinner, we returned to campus, where Becca introduced us to her eight million friends. We then played a game of travel Scrabble on the floor of her dorm room while all the other girls on the hall spent three hours getting ready for sausage parties that they would probably only stay at for ten or fifteen minutes.

Because we would have to get up relatively early in the morning to molest cattle, Rebecca and I returned to Christiansburg somewhat early and ended the evening with an episode of LOST from the second season, since I have succeeded in getting her addicted to the show.

The next morning, we had a quick breakfast at Bollo's (coffee for Rebecca and pumpkin chocolate chip muffins for both of us) and headed out to Kentland Farms, west of Foxridge.

To be continued...

Happy Birthday Beza Lemma!

Inmates saved prison
The worst mayor in America
All the uglies live in Philly

tagged as travel, day-to-day | permalink | 3 comments

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Blacksburg Travelogue

part II of II

Kentland Farms is an independent farm run by Virginia Tech where all the Animal Science students can hone their skills (I hear that one student majored in animal husbandry until they "caught him at it" one day). Because it was Parents' Weekend, there were several hands-on demonstrations showing how the cows move through the various stages of their captivity. Becca and her friends showed us how to brand a cow with dry-ice, giving new meaning to the Applebee's term, steak fajitas con sizzle. I also took a brief video of one of the talking cows for all the readers who have never left the pleasant captivity of the suburbs (2MB WMV).

The next part of the tour allowed Rebecca to practice her ultrasound techniques on random reproductive entrails of dead cows. She was able to discover the 60-day-old dead calf in the formaldehyde, after which we went outside to look at the living baby calves, which were much cuter and fuzzy. We watched the calves play, and then observed a mama cow urinate all over her baby (I believe this is called "golden cowers").

The day was passing us by and we had to moove, so with a backwards wave, we left Kentland Farms for heifer.

After a quick stop at the New River which was just a few more miles down the road, we went back to town and ate some incredibly tasty wings and cheesy potato wedges at BWW. We then met up with some friends of Rebecca and drove out to Jefferson National Forest near Roanoke to go hiking on McAfee's Knob.

The Knob was a seven mile round-trip hike, and I was all over that Knob despite the sore throat and cold that I could feel building up in my esophagus. Foolishly, I didn't know how long the hike would be until it started. The trip up was punctuated with breaks, puppies, puppy poo, and continued exhortations of "it's just around that bend". We finally hit the summit after a couple hours of trekking, where the temperature plummeted, the wind surged, and everyone blew off the edge and died.

Once we had recuperated a bit, we wandered the summit, trying to locate notable landmarks. We could see Roanoke, and tried to see their single tourist attraction, the GIANT STAR YOU CAN SEE FROM SPACE, but failed. We snapped a few more shots (which you could see if you had a Facebook account, but which also will be posted here next Wednesday on Media Day), Sam did a handstand for his website, and then we stumbled back down the mountain. Wisely, we took the fire road out, which was a much easier jaunt.

Dinner that night was supposed to be at the Homeplace, but the place was packed with parents and students and so many khaki-suit combos that it looked like a UVa fraternity invasion. A quick change of plan later and we were headed back to Blacksburg to eat at Cabo Fish Taco on Main Street, where I had the shrimp tacos.

Afterwards, Rebecca and I wandered around downtown and Squires for a bit, breaking into the carelessly unlocked Recital Salon for old time's sake, and then went home to care for my full-blown sickness.The next morning, we had a late breakfast at the Waffle House and then hit the road back to northern Virginia around 1 in the afternoon.

The End

Happy Birthday to Anna (who is 26) and BOOTY (who is 5) and AMBER (whose birthday is vaguely around this date, so she's 3, but whose paperwork was never mailed to me by the crazy Craig's List lady we rescued her from)!

Parrot imitates fire alarm
Landlocked Mongolia becomes new maritime ally for United States
Chessboard Killer convicted of 48 murders

tagged as travel, day-to-day | permalink | 1 comment

Friday, October 26, 2007

Friday Fragments

fast-acting relief from the pains of coherency

♠ The actor that plays Jin on LOST was arrested for suspicion of drunk driving last night, so I guess they're going to kill him off next season. LOST has always been MADD's moral compass, since the three other actors who had major traffic violations were all killed off in the long run (I can't mention names since Rebecca's not caught up yet!).

♠ They recently got Jack Bauer again for drunk driving, but somehow I bet that 24 would not maintain its trajectory to syndication if they killed HIM off. Alternately, they would write the scene where Jack finally dies, and on every take, Kiefer Sutherland would come up with a new meta-way to avoid the death. The seventh season would end with him turning into an invincible superhero and flying away, while giving the finger to the director.

♠ I finished watching the first season of Heroes before I went to Blacksburg and found it enjoyable but not addictive. I didn't like how they occasionally refilmed particular scenes with slightly different details -- nearly ten minutes of the season finale was recap material. I was also highly let down by the ending. Obviously the special effects budget had vanished to pay for that exploding house midseason.

♠ With the most recent batch of shows on DVD complete, I'm done with TV for awhile until the next seasons of Scrubs and Veronica Mars come out. This is just as well since my schedule is going to be jam-packed for several weeks. This past week, I spent evenings from 5 to 7 in a free training session offered by my company. As a sly tactic by HR, the training was described as free and completely voluntary, but to get out of it, you had to email one of the founders of the company directly with a "I Will Not Attend" RSVP. This seems to be a rather explosive way to further your career, in my opinion.

♠ When not training or working in the basement, I've been frantically reading through Janny Wurts' Light and Shadows series so I'm caught up when the next book comes out next week (according to the British cover, the book will be called Janny Wurts by Stormed Fortress). As Anna mused, this series is like my "Harry Potter".

♠ The book coming out next week is the finale of PART 3 in a five part series. Part 3 has been published in incomplete sections since 1997 (because the entire book is too large to fit in a single binding) so after three thousand pages of unresolved threads and plots, I can't wait to devour the finale. I can't even imagine the willpower and determination it would take to write a book, knowing that it wouldn't be done for ten years -- I can barely update this web page on time every day.

♠ If my updates are ever particularly late, you can also take comfort in the blogs linked on the left sidebar, including the new one by KATHY (of Kathy and Chris). Together, all of us bloggers can ensure that we live in a world where someone, anyone, has updated the next time you're bored at work.

♠ This weekend will be filled with some hardcore Halloween partying, as well as a trip into DC to see "25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" at the National Theatre. Then I'll recuperate from all the Halloweening and start planning for the Month of Thanksgivings!

♠ Happy Birthday to Jaspreet Singh! Have a great weekend, everyone!

Beer?
Barmaid crushed cans with her breasts
The Excused Absence Network

tagged as fragments | permalink | 1 comment

Monday, October 29, 2007

Halloween Party Media Day

On Friday night, twenty-eight lucky finalists from the reality show, Who wants to go to a Halloween party? braved the rainstorms and descended upon Sterling for a night of pool, drinks, and babies dressed up like animals.


Anna spent all week baking, and provided witches' fingers, kitty litter cake, and troll liver squares. Erin brought drunken hobo eyeballs, which (depending on where the alcohol pooled in the jello) were either 0 proof or 190 proof. I provided the more traditional foods like pigs in a blanket (60 devoured in under 30 minutes), really really really scary potato chips, and various dips.

Because my jazzy posters don't really fit the theme of a Halloween party, I used Photoshop to paste skulls and scary faces over the likes of Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. Under the blacklight, we achieved a very cheap 3D-glasses effect.

My costume was "A Very Special Kwanzaa Box", which won first place in the Funniest Costume category and awarded me a $10 gift certificate to Target (graciously provided by the host of the party).

Anna came as Little Bo Peep, exploiting her child as a Sheep. Combined with Ben as the Big Bad Wolfman, the family won the $25 Best Overall award. Ben also got the Scariest award.

The Blankenships arrived as a family of cowboys, bringing the capacity of "plaid" in the room to near critical levels (see also, the Wolfman and the Construction Worker).

Whenever the party got really boring, I spiced it up by stealing the Sheep and carrying it around the room.

Among many other costumes, we saw an assortment of gangsters, a kendo master, a vampire, Idontknow (the third baseman), a hockey player, a girl and her teddy bear, Sailor Moon, Hermione, and the Lion and the Witch (with a Wardrobe) (Most Creative category winner). Anna's parents also gate-crashed the party in complete ape costumes with boobies and we had five weenies without costumes.

Besides the costume contest, massive amounts of food, and trying to convince Ben that no, we did not need another drink, there were healthy rounds of pool going on at all times.

Later, the Vampire challenged the White Witch to a game of beer pong for a case of Turkish Delight.

Innovative approaches to abstinence
If you're in a crowded area, where you're in close proximity to other people, make sure they're flame retardant
FEMA Meets the Press, Which Happens to Be . . . FEMA

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

New Computer Day

The Windows XP operating system is being discontinued at the end of this year, and since Windows Vista is a real operating system like Kappa Kappa Psi a real fraternity, I decided to purchase a new computer for the first time in three years to get a fresh copy of XP before it vanishes forever. Last night I shelled out $650 for a Dell desktop and then another $380 at various cheaper dealers for things like memory and graphics cards.

As I was comparing the various options for processors and graphics cards, I realized how far out of the loop I've gotten on computer hardware since the innocent days of my youth when I'd gladly blow a couple grand on the fastest model of computer because it had one extra expansion slot which would be perfect for my adapter card that converted binary numbers into chocolate chip cookies or automatically added major thirds to all my chords. It used to be easy to pick out a computer -- find anything called a Pentium and get the one with the biggest number. Now, there are dual cores and quad cores with numbers smaller than before, but which are actually faster because they can do two things at once. I plan on testing this out by installing a copy of Doom 3 and My Little Pony Adventures on the new machine and trying to play them side by side in two windows.

For the interested geeks, I ended up getting an Inspiron 530 with an Intel Core Duo E6550, 4GB 800MHz RAM, 340 GB Hard Drive, and a GeForce 8600 GTS 256MB PCI-Express graphics card. Roughly the same machine in the "gamer" line was nine hundred dollars more. I probably could have gotten better game-friendly gear, but I haven't really played any computer games since World of Warcraft and I would rather spend my evenings cleaning up from Halloween parties than figuring out if the 8600 is faster than the 8700 or which one makes animated boobies jiggle more realistically.

With the new computer becoming my primary machine, I'll have four total running computers in the house (this is probably more than in the entire country of Burkina Faso) -- the second existing solely for backing up data and the third to play music in the basement and living room. I'll probably take the most recently fast one (the one that this update is being typed on) and either sell it on eBay as the creative wellspring of the URI! Zone, or learn how to install Linux on it and turn it into a test environment for work (since even the slowest machine in my home is faster than the 2003 gerbil I have running at work). This will have the side effect of making me enjoy working from home more, and preserving the environment by taking a fourteen-mile round trip off the road a couple times a week. I do it all for the Earth.

Hi Earth.

Scientist republishes The Time Machine as fact
Caught in a sex act (with a bike)
Whistleblowers in anonymity

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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Media Day

Since it's the last day of the month, I thought I'd play catch-up and upload 119 photos into my Photos gallery. Some of these have been seen in various forms in my news updates, but for the first time, you can see the complete series in its unadulterated glory.


See More Basement Photos

See More Cat Photos

See More Ella Photos

See More Photos from Jen's

See More Photos from Great Falls

See More Photos from Blacksburg

See More Photos from the Halloween Party
See Even More Photos from the Halloween Party

Happy Halloween! There's candy on my desk.

Studies have found that sleepwalking can be brought on by stress, alcohol, eating cheese or consuming too much caffeine.
Don't eat cheese out of a bathtub
Is she for real?

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