All-District Band is like the Pro-Bowl for band members, but without any hopes of making millions of dollars or getting on a Wheaties box. Every year, hopeful band geeks from an arbitrarily drawn district (which were obviously gerrymandered to favor schools that actually cared about music education) would line up for a five minute audition that would make or break their all-star ambitions.
The auditions were done blind by members of the nearest military band, who needed that extra $20 paycheck to make the monthly payment on their eight million dollar flute which they purchased before realizing that music, like crime, doesn't pay. One by one, the judges (properly hidden behind a chalkboard draped in a quilt sewn and donated by the alpha band mom) would ask for a couple major scales, a two octave chromatic scale, and then a musical excerpt with all its identifying information blacked out (but which always seemed to come from a Voxman duet book).
You could get immediate feedback on how horrible you were based on how much of the excerpt they asked you to play -- when it was obvious that you weren't Pro-Band material, you'd be asked to play two or three bars, but the virtuosos would get to play the entire selection. Evidently the judges needed to hear a few minutes of beauty every hour to stave off the madness caused by a tsunami of musical detritus from uninterested students who thought a minor scale was one played sadly, and who only showed up because it was required by their band directors.
If you actually made it through the audition and landed a spot in the gig, you got to spend an entire three-day weekend circling (and peeing on) the other local talent to establish an order of dominance -- the first chair player had to prove that his 0.2 extra audition points were justified, while the next four chairs waited to pounce on that first cracked note in the solo which might prove to them that the judges were wrong and they deserved to be doing the solos. Alternately, you could squeeze into the bottom of the section as LAST CHAIR and avoid the drama altogether while playing all the notes in the chords that aren't really noticed if they go missing (see also, the tenor sax part and the entire second violin section).
The above picture was taken from the 1992 All-District Junior Band, where I successfully landed the prime "12th chair out of 12" spot as an eighth grader (Steve Seltz is in spot #10 on my left). I got to skip school on a Friday and didn't even suffer the ignominy of being last chair, since Dutton Hauhart (on my right) sat in as First Alternate after some trumpeter higher up on the food chain called in sick.
In fact, there were only two downsides to that year of All-Districts (besides having to play more Jim Swearingen music) -- one was the fact that every guest conductor seemed to have some sort of woodwind background and insisted on picking songs where the trumpets slept for ninety-two bars and then played a half note. Had I wanted this experience, I would have joined an orchestra.
The other downside was the concert uniform. Rather than the obvious idea of wearing black and white, we were told to show up in our school's band uniform. Coming from a school whose mascot was the F.C. Hammond Admirals, I was the sole band member to show up dressed as some macabre parody of a sailor, as if the cast of Today's Special had picked out a navy prop from the It's A Small World ride and brought it to life.
This choice of wardrobe did not impress the ladies.Woman wearing a cow suit is arrested
To celebrate their tenth birthday, Google has released a search page that allows you to search the Internet as it was in 2001, seven long years ago. The Internet was much less cluttered back then, although most of the pages returned no longer exist anywhere. Here are a few things you can look up in this ancient snapshot:
♦ Urizone was just a drug that inhibited staphylococcal cell wall synthesis.
♦ Kathy Biddick was on the roster of the 1992 Highlander Marching Band as a bagpipist, with her brother and friends, Deirdre and Sanjeevanne. They played selections from Dead Poet's Society in their field show.
♦ Mike Catania was a budding composer with an embarassing homepage.
♦ The first match for Brian Uri! was my page at youngcomposers.com. I have no idea how they got the categories for my compositions -- I guess I'm a New Age composer.
♦ Kelley Corbett was the leader of a cult.
♦ I predict a mortgage crisis in 2008 returned zero results. Obviously all the pundits are lying.
♦ Anna Spellerberg was signing online petitions to stop ocean dumping, and doing interviews about her home-schooled roommate from freshman year:
What does Ancient Google reveal about you?X-Ray shows knife stuck in skull
♠ Unnecessary Use of "Scream" at Halloween: The fact that Halloween is approaching doesn't mean you can put "scream" into any phrase and make it topical. The ABC network becomes AB-Scream! for a month, which doesn't even make sense. Busch Gardens hosts Howloscream! which seems redundant to me. (Do something about that, Philip). I suppose it's better than the half-assed Hallowscream that most other venues host.
♠ Joe Biden: Despite his obvious knowledge of the issues and confidence in his answers, he sighed loudly into the microphone on multiple occasions, which means we'll have to listen to conservative pundits nitpick this for the next four weeks as an example of either arrogance, sexism, or smoker's lung. He also broke into what's classically known as the "shit-eating grin" every time he and Obama were accused of something.
♠ Sarah Palin: I only watched the first hour of the debate, because it all went downhill after the initial question, which Palin essentially replied to with a variant of "I'm going to ignore all your questions and say what I had planned to say." A debate is an opportunity for verbal ripostes and witty repart?e (and not once did either candidate use the "How appropriate...you fight like a cow." dialog option). Palin subverted the format by giving speeches and ignoring every question.
♠ Joe Six Pack: I must be the only person in the world who DOESN'T want my next-door neighbour anywhere near the power structures of our government. For example, Doobie is awesome, but would you leave him the keys to your Porsche on Tuesday morning if you knew that Tuesday night was Beefeater night?
♠ Gwen Ifill: You can't pose two different questions to the candidates at the exact same time. If you can't finish your question without taking a breath, it's a bad question. When someone doesn't answer your question, MAKE THEM ANSWER YOUR QUESTION. When you detect that the debate might go somewhere interesting for once, don't immediately kill the momentum by moving on to the next question because of time constraints. The VT cow with a hole in its stomach could have made a better mo(o)derator than you.
♠ New Kids on the Block: Their reunion tour was at the Verizon Center last night. Didn't we learn anything from the 1980s reunion of the Monkees?Denver police immortalize protesters in T-shirt
Saturday, October 4th, was Poker Night.
Early in the game, a four-of-a-kind appeared on the table. This was followed by a straight flush -- Seven of Hearts through Jack of Hearts (and someone else also had the Six of Hearts). This is the sort of magic that happens when I move poker upstairs into the kitchen for the winter months when the basement is chilly. Hearts was pretty much the only suit to appear on the board after that.
After three people were out (myself, Rebecca, and Anna), the consolation prize of mini eclairs came out, because if you've just lost $10, the best remedy is to eat yourself into oblivion. While opening the tin, Rebecca remarked that it "felt very light", and then noticed that it did not contain any eclairs.
In the ensuing chaos, during which Anna believed that Rebecca had sliced her finger open on the box and/or been stung by a killer bee, I took a knee and proposed. (This is probably the only socially acceptable way to give someone a box of delicious eclairs and not face disappointment that the eclairs aren't anywhere to be found!)
Despite the excitement of the newly-engaged, the game continued eventually ending in a win for Ben. The REAL eclairs also came out, cleverly disguised in a plain old tupperware. In one of the final hands, the Four of Hearts from my well-played deck of cards became cracked and marked, rendering the deck useless. I also took credit for this, saying that it was a sign that October 4th was a good day for proposals.
I could kick David Copperfield's ass at magic.
We're engaged!Tallahassee woman shoot self, and misses McNuggets
Academic: (adj.) Theoretical or hypothetical; not practical, realistic, or directly usefulMy Composition (0:30 MP3)
When I think of academic music, I picture lines of music education majors lined up for their continuation exams, hoping that they're just barely good enough at their instruments to continue with the part of the degree where playing is not required.
I decided to write the intro to one of those sonatas that every incoming freshman has to play at least once -- in this case, a sonata for trumpet and piano. Among the devices that make it academic: blatant repetition of motives in different voices, chords with 9ths and 11ths in them, and the occasion Lydian mode, all bundled up in a fine Kennanesque impersonation.Man fined for unchivalrous picture
Q: Dude... wait, what?
A: If you missed the news that we're engaged, you can read the whole story here!
Q: What if Rebecca had said no?
A: Obviously, that would have meant that someone wasn't getting any mini eclairs. I'm a vindictive bastard when crossed.
Q: Where did you get the diamond?
A: The diamond was secretly smuggled out of a war torn province known as Arkansas in some poor redneck's pooper. Marcel Tolkowsky, himself, was brought back to life to perfect the diamond's Ideal cut, and the Motion Picture Association of America was lobbied heavily for its G rating.
Q: Is the engagement ring insured?
A: My homeowner's insurance has been updated to cover all physical loss or destruction, except in the following circumstances:
Q: Where and when will the wedding be?
A: The wedding will be held on a one mile floating chunk of the Antarctic ice shelf to bring visibility to the global warming crisis (we will be something of a shelf-help group). After the reception, guests will be invited to set the ice floe on fire to accelerate the flooding of useless coastal locales like Florida. The date of the wedding will depend on the rate of global warming and the time it takes for another piece of the ice shelf to break.
Q: What sort of music are you considering for this event?
A: Ceremony music will be provided by Mike (of Mike and Chompy), who will be playing a single tenor steel drum. Music for the reception will be provided by a twenty-tuba ensemble led by Doobie, performing arrangements by BU. The first dance will be to a tuba arrangement of Low, by Flo Rida.People love angry-faced cars
I'm usually not a big fan of superhero movies -- most examples of this genre require you to have a pre-existing knowledge of the story from comic books and are packed with lamely ridiculous special effects and character development (It's clobberin' time!). However, I liked Iron Man a lot, even though (as a "superhero origin" story) it ended just as it was getting started. It felt more like a good movie with superhero elements than a good superhero movie, which is just fine in my book. I also liked the literal quotation of "Iron Man" by Black Sabbath in the end credits.
Final Grade: A
Predictable, with a couple big laughs as high points in an otherwise low-key affair. Tina Fey is always fun to watch, but Amy Poehler is nearly as annoying as Amy Sedaris in Strangers with Candy. Catch this one on Bravo the next time you're stuck at home with the flu.
Final Grade: C-
Forgetting Sarah Marshall:
This Judd Apatow production was not quite as good as the hype, but still worth watching, and occasionally hilarious. Jason Segel plays the same schlubby kind of guy he plays in all Apatow movies and shows, and Mila Kunis (from That 70s Show) and Kristen Bell take on the roles of competing love interests. It's a little disconcerting to see Kristen Bell and NOT think she's in high school after watching Veronica Mars -- especially in the obligatory Apatow montages where she humps a rock star.
Final Grade: B+
Complete and Utter Failure by Neil Steinberg:
This is the book I've been reading recently instead of studying for Java Certification exams. It's been out of print for years, but after hearing it mentioned in a Bathroom Reader article, I picked it up for a penny on Amazon Marketplace (plus eight million dollars in shipping). I expected a standard bullet-by-bullet list of failures and flops like the endless waves of Weird News and Dumb Criminal books that come out every year. Instead, I was surprised to find that it was an actual narrative, with the author humourously tying the stories of historical flops into his own life story. Among other topics, he talks about how the National Spelling Bee makes one winner and eight million losers, the people who DIDN'T climb Mount Everest first, and Elisha Gray's failure to get credit for the telephone. This is an easy and enjoyable read, perfect for anyone who wants to mix a little nonfiction into their appetite of crime thrillers without getting too serious.
Final Grade: A
Happy Birthday Mike!Buy this dad a beer
thwarting Windows Defrag for the third year running
♠ Traffic has spiked incredibly this week, probably due to the casually dropped news of my engagement. Surprisingly, I got more traffic from the engagement than I did when I posted the link to the nearly nude cheerleaders in Idaho -- I guess monogamy is not 100% dead yet. Here's another picture of the ring, since it should be worth about 25 female visits today.
♠ Now that I've won the marriage primary, I suppose I should campaign to get the relationship accepted by the general public. I promise free kittens, Guinness, and those leftover wedding coozies that Rebecca found at work with "To Have and To Hold and To Keep Your Beer Cold" printed on them to anyone who will endorse my wedding.
♠ I find it humourous that these coozies were printed up and then returned for some long-forgotten wedding. I can just picture the groom ordering them as a surprise for his wife-to-be before becoming crestfallen at the fact that they don't really gel with the theme of "Disney Princess Weddings".
♠ I actually knew a girl named Hilda from high school who had a Disney-themed marriage. She also worked at the Disney Store for several years, so perhaps those are the benefits they got instead of health coverage. I did not attend the wedding, so no word on whether Goofy officiated.
♠ Now that we have officially announced our engagement by changing our Facebook status to "Engaged", I am bombarded with wedding ads like a London flat during World War II (if London had been subjugated by The Knot). I suppose that ads telling me I should lose 20 pounds before I get fitted for a tux are better than the ads that Facebook used to have that tried to convince me that my Mom lived in SimCity.
♠ I never really enjoyed SimCity because it was impossible to build a normal true-to-life city. I would usually just enter the cheat code to get a billion dollars and then lay out a strict grid of railroad tracks and police stations. I never understood why those silly Sims would rather live next to the pollution-less railroad tracks instead of a road. Riding the train was fun in Europe because stops were everywhere. In an American version of SimCity, you'd only be able to get on and off in Lorton and Florida, and you'd need roads at both ends to drive your car out of the auto-train (and the engineer would be busy text-messaging).
♠ Speaking of auto-trains and Disney, the first time I took the auto-train was with my parents after my sophomore year of high school, when we visited Disney World for a week. I clenched my jaw while I slept, and the next morning all of my front teeth were shaken loose and painful from the train vibrations. I had to eat cream cheese out of a packet for breakfast because I couldn't chew anything. The second time I took the auto-train was when I moved to Florida for grad school in 2001.
♠ It's now been seven years since I started grad school. There's no good point to mentioning this again other than to tell Kathy to finish writing her dissertation already. I suppose I could threaten her cats -- it worked for Mike (of Mike and Chompy) when he was writing his thesis in 2003.
♠ Writing theses as a composition student is probably easier than writing feces -- you create a musical work, send the score to a bunch of professors that are already thrilled with you, show up for the defense and walk out ten minutes later as a Master (hopefully Of The Universe).
♠ This weekend, the plan is to start preparations for the upcoming Halloween extravaganza, study for Java Certification (three chapters, seriously!), visit some of Rebecca's relatives, and meet at the DC pad of Mike (of Mike and Chompy) for an all-night birthday celebration before heading to work on Columbus Day.
♠ Have a wonderful weekend! Don't forget that Sunday is 12 of 12!Cactus Kid advert ordered off air
9:33 AM: Sunday Sleep-ins.
9:50 AM: Obligatory post-shower pic.
10:08 AM: Rebecca has cereal for breakfast.
11:31 AM: Making another chocolate cake for a visit to relatives.
12:32 PM: Studying diligently (five chapters down this weekend!)
1:35 PM: Tasty, greasy buffalo wings for lunch.
2:47 PM: Driving up to Silver Spring to visit Rebecca's relatives.
4:47 PM: Killing time by visiting the local Silver Spring thrift store in search of costume parts for Halloween.
6:29 PM: Visiting Mike (of Mike and Chompy) in Glover Park, having just walked back from Starbucks.
6:47 PM: Rebecca meets Chompy.
8:00 PM: Anne arrives with a hat for the birthday boy.
9:20 PM: Trying to teach all these clowns how to play Settlers of Catan.
See more 12 of 12ers at Chad's site!
Happy Birthday Dan Shiplett!Rap fan pays fine rather than listen to classical music
carefully preserved in journals and the Wayback Machine
Friday, October 15, 1993: A typical day in my sophomore year saw my English class reading Julius Caesar out loud in its entirety (...we only have sixty more pages to go...) because our near-retirement teacher also ran a bed & breakfast in Berryville, and tried to think up as many substitute-friendly activities as possible to stretch the lessons out without any actual teaching.
In art class, we had a substitute that looked like Rasputin with sunglasses, and the only reason I knew this historical figure was because Rasputin sneaks onto the rocket ship in the computer game, Martian Dreams, and gets blasted to Mars where his body gets possessed by a Martian when he sits in a Dream Machine. (The game was as ridiculous as it sounds, and ran at about the same speed as a no-legged dog on my 286).
Seventh period band was cancelled for one of those ridiculous high school bonfires where every fall sport gets to run past an oil drum fire that even a hobo would scoff at, the only redeeming feature being the field hockey players in their short skirts.
Saturday, October 15, 1994: Today was Homecoming Day at T.C. Williams, which meant that the marching band got to march a circuit through the parking lot at the Bradlee Shopping Center. My dad had returned to tuba playing as a hobby the year before so he provided me with some teenage angst by marching in the parade with us, playing his sousaphone. Today was also Alumni Band day, where the four trumpet players from the Class of 1974 stand around on the field, trying to get their arms up over their potbellies so they can play really badly on trumpets that still have the gum lodged in the mouthpieces from the last playing in 1975.
We also beat Hayfield 16-10. This was important to us because Hayfield was ranked #12 at the time, and we were just rank. I'm pretty sure our 16 points came from five field goals and an extra point from a very confused kicker.
Sunday, October 15, 1995: I worked on some really horrible pep band arrangements today and also biked to Ultimate Frisbee club, but only three people showed up. I was excited because Monday the 16th was the Million Man March, which meant that most black men in the city were skipping work to prove that they were dependable, upstanding human beings. Because of this, I got to drive the Dodge Spirit to school instead of taking the bus (apparently my dad believed me when I ventured that all the bus drivers were black men).
Apparently, nothing of note happened in my first two years of college...
Thursday, October 15, 1998: Tonight was the dress rehearsal for Joe Ehrenberger's senior recital, featuring my first commission that was actually requested. Every budding composer has his share of crappy songs written simply because a performer friend once made an offhand comment like "I'll have to play one of your songs someday!" while high and drunk -- this was the first time someone actually sat down with me and wanted me to write something unique for them. Dave McKee (who also dubbed a later composition, "that Grade IV trumpet solo with the Grade VI accompaniment") had the ignominous honour of conducting the ensemble.
Friday, October 15, 1999: Pinnacle Brass, the third greatest brass quintet at Virginia Tech, had a paying gig commemorating the opening of Harper Hall, a yuppy dorm filled with yuppy suites and yuppy walk-in closets. After rocking the second trumpet part, I went home and played Warcraft II with Kelley Corbett all night long, because he was obsessed.
Jumping a few years further in time...
Tuesday, October 15, 2002: Nothing happened in the real world today, but Jamellan from the NoHunters community released his pre-YouTube-era video mocking those ridiculous commercials about why iMacs are so great. Watch it here (1.7 MB AVI).
Friday, October 15, 2004: By now, I was living in Sterling. Friday night was Poker Night, but no records exist as to how far in last place I came in back then. I also had a migraine that day.
Saturday, October 15, 2005: My Honda Accord broke 40,000 miles (it's now at 71,000 because friends refuse to live in an appropriately close city) and I did my Saturday morning shopping routine of Shoppers Food Warehouse, Home Depot, Costco, and Target. After a few hours of remodelling in my storage room, I spent the rest of the day doing a fifteen-man run of Upper Blackrock Spire in World of Warcraft, where we forced Tordin to kite General Drakkisath into another part of the dungeon with his [Blastershot Launcher], while other thirteen players launched anemic attacks against his underlings and I typed /purr over and over again.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008: I'm now 29 with two cats, a steady job of five years (eight with the internships) and a lady-friend. I no longer play the trumpet or march in bands, and compose very rarely, but still play Warcraft almost every other day. What are you doing with your life?Tattoo clue led to car thief
Post an amusing caption to this photo from last night's debate in the comments section. No voting or prizes this time around -- I'm saving up to buy a wife!New father names daughter Sarah Palin, without mommy knowing
fortified with nutella and verbs
♠ The neighbour's new dog was outside barking at 3 AM this morning with one of those annoying alto clef frequencies that are impossible to tune out (no doubt it would go well in a symphony orchestra). This pain in the neck was accompanied by a more physical variety. Having slept on it wrong a couple nights ago, I can now only turn my head about ten degrees in any direction (that's 0.18 radians for Math majors).
♠ If this neck pain had come ne(ck)xt week, I could have just stuck a few bolts in my neck and been Frankenstein for Halloween. Unfortunately, it's still a little bit early to be dusting off the costumes. This year, I will not be reprising my role as Justin Timberlake, or any sort of Internet meme although the Dramatic Chipmunk would be tons of fun if I had one of those fast-rewind press tape recorders. I still never had a chance to use the late-delivered ukelele from 2005.
♠ The annual BU-hosted Halloween Party is coming up next weekend, on the same day that Anna turns 27, Booty turns 6, Amber turns 4. The age of the partygoers continues its inexorable upward creep, made obvious by the presence of wine on the shopping list and the insane number of pregnant non-drinkers expected to attend. Evidently all parents on the guest list interpreted "baby-free" as "baby-free unless they are inside your metaphorical oven".
♠ International Airports would make a fortune if they expanded their Duty Free zones with Baby Free zones (where you can boink all afternoon long while waiting for your flight and not have to worry about incurring any hidden babies). And if you already had a kid and weren't interested in the boinking, you could go to the Doody Free zone, where your child is guaranteed not to poop until you leave.
♠ My plans for the weekend involve some heavy-duty shopping, some heavy doody, and some high-octane studying. I'm hoping to sign up for the Java Certification exam in the next couple weeks so I don't have to worry about it through the holiday season. On Sunday, we're going down to the Apple Festival in Syria, Virginia, which might be rather peculiar, since I am now allergic to apples.
♠ Have a great weekend!Gamer plays 36 Warcraft accounts at the same time
Sometime in the past decade, I became mildly allergic to raw apples. A few minutes after biting into an apple, my lip will swell up and my throat will constrict to the point where it feels like something is perpetually stuck down there. The same thing happens when I eat raw watermelon, which has tragically forced me to get my daily fruit intake from Jolly Ranchers to prevent any need for hospitalization.
This food allergy really doesn't bother me as much as something like a cheese allergy, because apples are just a "sometimes" food for me, and red apples are stupid (everyone knows that Golden Delicious are the only kind of apple worth eating). It does make it Morissettely ironic that I decided to go to the Graves' Mountain Apple Festival in Syria, Virginia this weekend though.
While strolling through the typical country fair set up with crafts booths and bluegrass bands, I found myself surrounded by my nemesis, the apple. From apple butter to apple cider to keychains shaped like apples, the sheer amount of apple-themed paraphernalia frightened me (to my core). Festivals like this would be more enjoyable if they involved a food that some of our population wasn't allergic to. For this reason, I propose that next year, Sterling should host the First Annual Bacon Festival. Here's a brief list of the kinds of attractions you might find at this festival:
What else would you like to see at my Festival?Bus driver suspended for playing video games while driving
The Scouts, the youth movement best known for its focus on bracing outdoor activities such as camping, hiking and fishing, is to arm its teenage members with practical advice about sex.
Advocates of the decision see this as a logical extension of existing Scout activities, noting that if you don't brace yourself while boinking out of doors, someone's going to have a very unfortunate head first fall into a latrine.
The movement, whose motto is Be Prepared, has issued new guidelines aimed at Explorer scouts between 14 and 18 in a bid to help them better understand some of the realities about sexual relationships.
The Scouting Association (which is the British equivalent of the Boy Scouts of America) also plans to bring Tom Lehrer out of retirement to release a CD of new songs about hot scouting sex (330KB MP3). Along with campfire ditties like Two Half Hitch Bondage and Orienteering Your Front to Her Back, he will also reprise his classic STD hit, I Got It From Agnes.
The Scouting Association [. . .] says the main aim is for leaders to encourage young people "to resist pressure to have early sex". But, acknowledging that many youngsters are already sexually active from the age of 16 and younger, the movement is hoping to provide help and support to enable teenagers make safe and informed choices.
A similar sexual awareness program was attempted by the Boy Scouts of America, but the final version was a watered-down "Family Life" merit badge, where sexuality was reduced to a single bullet point and given equal importance with "the effect of technology on the family".
One BSA spokesman acknowledged the uselessness of the badge: "We were worried that the Patrols would want to practice their sexual activity on camping trips, and that would mean we'd have to let girls into the Troops if we wanted to avoid all the homosexualishness." It is common knowledge that gays are part of the BSA Axis of Evil, on par with athiests and Girl Scouts whose parents sue over gender equality.
The advice even allows for Scout leaders to arrange a visit to a sexual health clinic or to hand out condoms if they believed a youngster was "very likely to begin or continue having intercourse" without protection. Chief Scout Peter Duncan said: "We must be realistic and accept that around a third of young people are sexually active before 16 and many more start relationships at 16 and 17.
Trips to the red-light district are also part of the curriculum for these randy scouse gits. Scoutmasters use everyday working girls to familiarize scouts with the difference between the Thrupenny Bits and the Elizabeth Regina, and which parts might pass diseases to their Three Card Tricks. Scout leaders also play the popular Internet game which involves replacing the word "wand" with "wang" in various Harry Potter texts and explaining why Hermione is not for humping.Mila Kunis plays WoW and has a twink
When I was growing up, my parents had a staggered workday schedule. My dad would be on the 6:10 bus to the Pentagon Metro station and at his desk by 7 AM, which got him home in just enough time to catch the tail end of Duck Tales (though he never took advantage of this scheduling perk). My mom followed a more traditional rush hour timetable, where she drank coffee and watched the fake-smiled anchors on Good Morning, America!. As a result, she generally left the house around 7:30, and didn't get home until 7 PM or later.
Since my dad was the primary caretaker in the evenings, the responsibility for feeding us was his and his alone. Weeknight dinners could be classified into various phylums and classes, but originated from two major food kingdoms: Foods You Cook in the Microwave, and Foods You Boil in a Pot. In those six or seven years before we could be trusted to make our own dinners, we saw boiled hot dogs, fried chicken, fish sticks with tartar sauce, TV dinners, and more boiled hot dogs, coupled with some frozen vegetables boiled in a pot.
The best nights for me were fried chicken nights, and the worst were the weeks when chicken hot dogs were on sale. Boiled hot dogs of any kind are barely edible, but the taste of a chicken hot dog (which probably had 0.01% chicken anyhow) was palpably noxious ("It tastes like FEET!")
It was always a relief to survive to Saturday without contracting any sort of avian flu from the chickendogs, because Saturday night was delivery/restaurant night. It was here that I got hooked on Pizza Hut Pan-style pizza and wonton soup while watching all sorts of rated-R grown-up movies with the family. When the Erol's video store ran out of worthwhile movies, we'd take trips to the Chesapeake Bay Seafood House, or Shakey's (a middle-class man's Shoney's), or the local Chinese eatery under the bowling alley by Hammond, which served the shrimp chips that stuck to your tongue and flaming ice cream.
To prove that the nuclear family was still alive and well, Sunday night was always Family Dinner night, where the mom figure dutifully cooked a three-course meal, the dad figure painstakingly picked out a CD of tuba music to listen to, and the kids complained about the lack of edibility or taste in whatever was made (unless it was spaghetti). At the end of the meal, we would sit back and talk about the previous week and then have a round of "Good Things, Bad Things".
The rules for "Good Things, Bad Things" are simple: each family member nominates a highlight from the past week and also a low point. After nominations, the family votes (hands are sufficient and more secure than electronic ballots).
This tradition evolved over time into "Just Good Things", because while I was sweeping the Good Things category ("Brian got second place in the Science Fair!"), my sister was dominating the Bad Things category ("Ellen got detention and an arrest record!").
What were your family dinners like?Iranians eat world's largest sandwich before it can be measured
or "how I stumbled upon the URI! Zone"
Here is the most recent collection of weird search terms for the site. Though the original searchers may have left feeling unfulfilled, future searchers will no doubt be satisfied by my attempts to providing meaningful results.
Happy Birthday Jason!Man arrested after receiving sexual favours from a car wash vacuum
the crazy glue of Internet society
♠ I've read over 1300 pages of Java Certification texts in the past month, and am now ready to take the next test in the series identified by a jumble of too many letters (at 10 AM this morning). In order to pass, I have to get 49 out of 69 questions correct, which is an obscenely low 71%. Of course, it's only obscenely low until I fail with a 70.5%.
♠ Live-Blogging Fragment: I got an 89% on the exam!
♠ Speaking of easy grading, there's a drive to dumb down the grading system afoot in Loudoun County. They want to lower the A threshold from 93 to 90 so everyone can be an equal-opportunity dumb smart kid. In my day, 94 was an A- and 95 was an A and I was still able to win the "free bowling" pass for being on the Honor Roll.
♠ Free bowling used to be the ultimate reason to get good grades. There was a bowling alley right across the street from my junior high school, and having straight (green grocer) A's meant that you could get free shoe rentals and then bowl for 99 cents per round. This early association between bowling and academics eventually faded (I haven't bowled in two and a half years), although I still get hungry for personal pan pizzas after I read a book.
♠ I hated reading the Head First Java book, though, because it seemed to feel that 900 pages of bad jokes was a necessity for learning (and it turned out that the 300 page concise book I purchased was for an older version of the exam). I don't honestly need a cartoon of screen caps from kung fu movies to understand what the Decorator pattern is in software development.
♠ Decorations for this weekend's annual Halloween party have been in full swing, and even Ella has gotten into the spirit of the holiday by dressing as a "zombie kid with a duck head". Building on the decorations from last years' party, this expansive party will eventually cover two city blocks and take up to one and a half years to setup.
♠ This year's party will also feature a guest appearance from Vu (Winner - Best Costume Overall 2005) who has been hiding in San Francisco for the past three years, but happens to be in town this weekend. The only thing funnier than his costume was the look on his face when a drunk guy started hitting on him.
♠ Plans for the weekend include the aforementioned Halloween Party, as well as the obligatory clean-up session, where I throw out any burned or extinguisher-foam-covered furniture and replace all the broken window panes. We'll also be heading down to Centreville to learn some new poker games at Kathy & Chris' house.
♠ Saturday is also Anna's birthday, Booty's birthday, and Amber's birthday. Happy Birthday to all! These cats are 27, 6, and 4, respectively, and will be receiving a special variety bag of catnip in the mail.
♠ Have a great weekend!Drinking and Voting
Winners of the costume costume and various other random games won sexy black T-shirts with this logo emblazoned across the front.
Anna's decorations included spider webs which were so thick that even a few kitties were caught.
Rebecca and Vu raid the candy bucket.
Jaood arrives as a pirate, surprised to find two other pirates already arring and avasting. He duels Ben's pirate (who also received Costume Contest votes as "Figure Skater") and wins.
The cast of Juno is one of several good pregnant-friendly costumes.
This year I came as Ugly Betty. Womens' shoes are highly uncomfortable.
Annie won "Most Creative" for her interpretation of the Leopard Operating System for Macs.
Levi Johnston and Bristol Palin were another pregnant-friendly costume pairing.
We also had appearances by two Sarah Palins, a John McCain, and an Avril Lavigne. John McCain may have been inappropriately cuddling a Sarah Palin in a dark corner.
A record-breaking 39 people showed up for this year's party, and a good time was had by all. I'll try to put up the rest of the pictures sometime this week -- they're already on Facebook if you can't wait!
Votary: (adj.) consecrated by a vow; of a devotee or a followerMy Composition (0:30 MP3)
For this definition, I pictured a scene from an epic Technicolor film with a lush orchestral score where the contrast is too sharp by half a notch.
I envisioned the opening motive sung by a Russian bass, half an octave lower than the normal bass range, accompanied by brass and percussion. Unfortunately, MIDI Russian bass is the equivalent of Jabba the Hutt auditioning for the Sound of Music. Picture a Prokofiev score, like Ivan the Terrible or Lieutenant Kij?, and you'll have the style I was aiming for.Fooled job seekers stuck with face tattoos
On snow days and the occasional summer holiday in my youth, I would accompany one of my parents to work, because government coworkers are much cheaper babysitters than the real thing. Every trip had its traditions, like getting to punch the Bus Transfer button in the Metro station, and pulling the bus cord when we finally arrived back home.
Another tradition when I accompanied my dad was a trip to Al's Magic Shop, a longtime DC business that finally closed in 2004. This store was jam-packed with retracting knives, sleight-of-hand tricks, and an owner (Al) who was always willing to show off the latest tricks to wide-eyed seven-year-olds. His presentation was flawless, and though I could never pull off the tricks quite like he could, I'd always leave the store with a new magic trick to bore my parents with.
I kept these tricks in a box under the house which went missing about three years ago, so I presumed that perhaps a disappearing trick hat had swallowed the box from the inside and sent it into a Bermuda Triangle of magic.
The real story is more boring. I employ a technique known as "dual-boxing" when I clean: when I have two boxes, and the larger one is empty, I put the other box inside of it to save space. The magic tricks were safe inside a larger dehumidifier box, and I rediscovered them while setting up for the Halloween party last week.
Besides the collection of gag goods like Snakes In a Can, toy hatchets, and handcuffs, here are some of the other tricks you might find in my magical stash:
This colouring book is pristine when you flip through it, but after applying a few imaginary crayons to the cover, you flip through it again and everything's coloured in. You can then use your imaginary eraser to remove the colours, but if you erase too much, the pages become blank!
These ropes were used in various tricks where they all ended up the same size or knots magically disappeared. Pretty much the only trick I could do with them was to tie them all together and whip my sister with them.
These two boxes are labelled "Steel Tube and Balls" and "Cups and Balls". They required slightly less manual dexterity than the ropes, and I was an expert at making my balls disappear.
These swizzle sticks are meant to be flipped back and forth so the audience can see that the plastic gem settings are identical on each side. With a little trickery, you can then make the gem settings move to different places on the sticks. I was horrible at this trick, so I pried out a fake gem and had it set in an engagement ring -- don't reveal the magician's secrets!
There are so many trick decks quarantined in this box, it's a wonder that some of the cards didn't escape into my poker decks. One of the cards even has a partial straight printed on it, so you look like you have a full hand when you really only have a couple cards -- probably handy in Asshole. The other deck seems to have a few too many Eight of Diamonds.
One of my favourite tricks, because it required even less skill than blogging, was the pencil slicer. You passed a plastic pencil around the audience, stuck it in this zig zag box and sliced it into three pieces. Afterwards, you could magically heal the pencil!
World of Goo is one of those games with a ridiculously simple conceit that ends up sucking you in and being more challenging than you thought possible. This is the kind of game you might stumble upon at work as a Flash applet and waste the remainder of your afternoon trying to solve (Be forewarned, Fantastic Contraption addicts).
The goal of each puzzle is to build a tower of goo balls to a suction pipe in the sky (a certain number of goo balls must enter the pipe to pass the level). You can pick up a goo ball and drop it anywhere on the screen -- if it's close enough to other goo balls, a sticky little network is formed. However, the goo balls obey the laws of physics, so placing too many on one side of your creation will see it topple over before you can reach the pipe.
The difficulty level starts out simple, but gradually introduces new types of goo balls, such as balloons that give your structure a little extra upward mobility, and adhesive goo balls that stick to walls. In the level on the right, the exit pipe is on the far side of a spike-filled tunnel -- you must balance out your use of balloons and normal goo so you don't go too high or low.
This might sound frustrating, but you can take a step back in time at any point during the game by touching one of the white bugs flying around the screen. This design decision encourages experimentation, and allows you to reduce frustration by seeing what happens when you let your goo balls fall into the rotating saw blades (see also, the Mass Self Destruct button in the old Lemmings game).
It helps that the entire game is perfectly polished. As a $15 WiiWare download-only game, I was surprised at how professional the game appeared (it's also available for PC, but the Wii Remote is perfect for it). Levels have a consistent art style and the music is catchy without being obnoxious.
Bottom Line: Charming, cheap, and addictive.One-legged roller coaster rider sought
Because it's the last day of the month, I took the opportunity to upload the past month's worth of photos and dub it an update. You can also enjoy two short movie clips:Anna's scared of Mike's cut (800KB WMV)
Happy Halloween!Mystery Beatles chord discovered
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