The URI! Zone - 07/2009
because I have a higher rate of return when I go on trips
I have returned from the sunny climes of Nags Head, North Carolina, where the daily weather was a sunny 88 degrees with a slight breeze, and the local "Nags Hood" gangs haunted the ice cream parlors at night, looking like the love children of Eminem and Dennis the Menace.
The "Shore Thing" beach house was comprised of between five and ten people at any given time, not unlike a pick-up Ultimate Frisbee team. We consumed vast quantities of food, including catfish, crabs, shrimp, corn, burgers, hot dogs, beer-battered shrimp, ice cream cake, patriotic fruited cake, Greek spaghetti, shells and cheese, nachos, fresh guacamole, friendship bread, and potatoes.
We also discovered that a large quantity of the liquids we'd brought along had gone bad, fermenting into beers and wines over time, so we did the responsibly green thing by drinking them, instead of just throwing them away. (Because Dare County does not have a house-to-house pickup for glass and aluminum recycling, we also made sure to invite other people who cared enough about the environment to bring all the drippy bottles home with them, which is kind of like purchasing carbon offsets).
Our house (though a little too near to highway traffic) was perfectly positioned, with a three block walk to the beach, a habitually empty parking lot there for the lazy, and a two foot walk to the one-man-six-women hot tub and swimming pool. It was also just two blocks from Jockeys Ridge State Park, which we went to twice to catch the sunset. The clouds failed to cooperate on both trips, but we got some good dune jumping in, and also managed to wake up at least once for the beach-based sunrise.
On the last day, we sat on the beach with hundreds of other beachgoers and watched a very decent fireworks display off the pier -- sitting in the sand with fireworks going off directly over your head is much more enjoyable than trying to get to the Mall.
We got home after an eight hour odyssey that involved tons of SUV traffic, most of the back roads in eastern Virginia, and two wailing cats, and then I took yesterday off to readjust to the pace of Northern Virginian life and also to celebrate the birth of Kathy and Chris' daughter, Mallory Jean Smith. Congratulations to them!
Most of my Outer Banks pictures are up on Facebook, and they'll appear here towards the end of the month. I hope you all had a relaxing week in my absence!MP's cuckold sign shocks Portugal
It's been a while since I gave my Mom any money, so I thought I'd have my annual caption contest. These pictures were taken from Reuter's Pictures of the Month, and since yesterday was Doobie's birthday, one of them includes a tuba.
for quitters, not fighters
♠ Today is Cow Appreciation Day, so if you dress up like a cow, you can get free food at Chick-fil-A. They seem to have many fun promotions for their food -- if you camp out in front of one of their new stores for 24 hours on the day before it opens, you also get free chicken sandwiches for a year.
♠ Although I confess to having eaten the Dietrick Express chicken sandwich for five dinners a week regularly in college, I would probably get sick of chicken (sicken) if I ate it every day for a year. However, I have eaten Shells and Cheese for five meals in the past twelve days.
♠ Speaking of food, we had dinner at the Big Bowl in Reston last night. I had the delicious Barbeque Pork Chow Fun, which has to be good because it's chow and it's fun. More Americanized Chinese food should have easily sellable names like that -- no one knows what the hell Moo Goo Gai Pan is until they order it, and then they're disappointed to find out that it's runny pancakes. Sure, the Goo and Pan could intimate Gooey and Pancakes, but then the Moo could mean beef. This sort of thing should really be explicit before you order.
♠ Speaking of ordering, on my beach trip people ordered hush puppies and LIKED them. If that isn't a sign of our eventual apocalypse, nothing is. I agree that breading things sometimes makes them better, but breading corn raises its taste score from a -8 to a -4. I'm guessing that the creators of hush puppies just wanted to remind you about the cyclic nature of life: it's embedded corn going in, and embedded corn coming out.
♠ Yes, I went there.
♠ My plans for the weekend include some shopping and some geek-learning, as well as dinner plans in Arlington on Saturday night. Then on Sunday (which is 12 of 12 for the mathematically-challenged), Rebecca and I are going to have a last-minute cookout for all of our friends who don't do well at planning ahead. If you're within shouting distance, feel free to stop by.
♠ Have a great weekend! Don't forget to participate in the caption contest!Monkeys recognize bad grammar
12:53 AM: Coming home late from a dinner in Arlington (at least, late for a suburber).
8:34 AM: Waking up to a chest cat.
8:53 AM: Soft-boiled eggs and toast for breakfast.
10:12 AM: Easing into a busy day with a couple episodes of Alias, which Rebecca is watching for the very first time.
11:30 AM: Finally getting my ass in gear with a belated shower.
12:52 PM: The cats' water gets temporarily moved off the counter while we make various dips for a cookout.
3:25 PM: Blowing bubbles for Kiwi.
3:32 PM: All sorts of foods and dips, including bacon-wrapped scallops.
4:20 PM: Kiwi finds a friend who will feed her delicious sticks and grass.
4:36 PM: Cookout!
7:53 PM: After playing badminton we taught Ella how to do card tricks.
8:09 PM: Time for a single game of pool.
See more 12 of 12ers at Chad's site!Sperm travels faster towards hotties
Coquettish: (adj.) Lightheartedly flirtateousMy Composition (0:30 MP3)
This title initially made me think of something in the style of Count Basie's Cute, so I started with a standard jazz ensemble format, swapping in a vibraphone instead of a guitar. The final result is a bit more boisterous than coy, but it was a fun diversion to write!Buzz Lightyear was the first man on the moon
Vote for (only one) favourite entry using the Poll in the right sidebar! Voting closes on Sunday the 19th. Remember that the winner will receive a $10 gift certificate to Amazon.com!Cats exploit humans by purring
or "How I Stumbled Upon the URI! Zone"
celebrating the last day in this century when it will be 07/17/09
♠ I'm in the process of overhauling our home network, because there are far too many computers to maintain (four desktops, two laptops, and a netbook) and I don't want my house to start resembling the Math Emporium. And since my computers have been assigned animal names, I can say that I'll be cannibalizing llama for spare parts to beef up koala, and I just installed Debian Linux on puffin. I'm planning on switching over most of my archival computers to Linux, although I'll keep my main desktop on Windows XP for gaming.
♠ Speaking of gaming, I cancelled my World of Warcraft account again a couple weeks back, because I hadn't played it seriously since late May. This is my second cancellation, since I originally played it for two years, took a year off, and then reactivated for a year and a half. If my life were an SAT pattern, it'd probably mean that I'll start up again in about a year's time but only play for another year.
♠ Filling the void left by WoW, I've been reading some Terry Pratchett and playing through some older Nintendo DS games -- New Super Mario Brothers is still excellent, and Yoshi's Island is still more frustrating than finding a close parking space at Wegmans on the weekend. I haven't replayed any Zelda games, but honestly, you can pick up any one of them and get the experience of playing them all -- sit through an uninterruptable cutscene, learn from a fairy that pressing UP makes you go up, and make bigger triangles out of smaller ones.
♠ There's a triangular construction site at the intersection of the Toll Road and I-66, which is a staging ground for building the Horribly Overpriced Tycoon lanes, probably filled with many expensive building materials. Two sides of this triangle are ringed with barbed wire fence, offering a great deterrent against theft. The last side is just Jersey barriers. I'm guessing that VDOT security is just inept, although I'm secretly hoping it's an elaborate trap for copper thieves, in which the barbed wire sides will close in like an industrial Venus flytrap.
♠ I had a tiny Venus flytrap as a kid, but I think it was mostly domesticated since I generally had to cripple the fly myself and drop it in the plant. Without my aid, it would have been just a Venus anttrap, which phonetically sounds more like a cute Swiss actress than a fierce carnivorous plant.
♠ Speaking of cute, the other day, I saw the license plate, IMAQTPI, on a Jeep. Did you really need to put that on a license plate? Couldn't you have just gotten a novelty keychain license plate and put your sorority house keys on it? No one on the Beltway cares if you're an attractive private investigator.
♠ The Beltway is really ugly now that all the trees have been razed for HOT lanes. I'd imagine the feeling you get from seeing it would be like the first time your girlfriend shaves her head "to be different". Rebecca, please keep your hair and remain a QTPI.
♠ Have a great weekend! Don't forget to vote in the caption contest before Sunday!Local librarians shake their book carts in dance competition
Congratulations to Katie Morton for getting the most votes in last week's caption contest! Katie will receive a $10 gift certificate to Amazon.com and bragging rights. The voting was quite close this time around with first place only one vote ahead of second, and the submitters of the various captions can be seen in the image on the right. Congratulations to everyone who entered!
If you have any ideas for future contests, please be sure to let me know. We are always interested in moving forward with the times here at the URI! Zone.Leesburg DMV now a drive-in operation
Fairfax County has long been viewed as the ultimate burb, where Washington goes to walk the dog and water the lawn. But the more residents look around, the more they see what many have tried to avoid: high-rise offices, blight, crime and housing that's more likely to have a balcony than a back yard. That changing reality came into focus last week when County Executive Anthony H. Griffin raised the possibility of officially making Fairfax a city [...]
For the uninitiated, a county generally has a larger land area but a smaller population than a city, and more roads that meet at oblique angles (or not at all, in the case of the ubiquitous cul-de-sac, which is French for "place that stops you when you're lost so you can turn around"). County-dwellers have the power to choose their own trash disposal companies while city-dwellers have more government-sponsored parades on holidays. Despite their differences, cities and counties both share a mutual hatred for cable monopolies, a similarity dubbed by linguists as "comcastic" in nature.
An immediate glance at any map of the sprawling county is enough to tell that it has about as much right to call itself a city as I do to call myself a purveyor of fresh seafood, even when there's a cooler in the trunk of my Accord. As the amorphous blubber around and between ACTUAL cities, Fairfax County isn't so much a city as it is a protective buffer zone for the City of Alexandria when the South rises again (and it WILL). This is also why Fairfax County includes a fake area called Alexandria -- to fool the Confederates into razing the useless Hybla Valley instead of a rather pleasant place to live.
More telling, though, is the fact that there's already a city by the name of Fairfax in Northern Virginia, and coexistence would be tricky, if not downright hostile. Charles Dickens was unavailable for comment.
Regardless of whether the county changes its status [...] the discussion underscored a growing tension within Virginia's largest jurisdiction. What does Fairfax want to be? A giant urban expanse like many new Sun Belt cities? Or more of a residential suburb, with a handful of urbanized pockets sprinkled in?
Building on the imagery of majestic skyscrapers in urban pockets, the township of Reston has already started a tourism campaign, in hopes of attracting vibrant citizens who will vote in favour of cityhood.
For [some] families, Burke is their corner of suburban bliss, a community so complete that they rarely venture more than a mile or two beyond their homes. "It had all the ingredients that I wanted for my family," said Mary Holden, 46, a mother of four. "My kids' schools, their sports teams, their friends, the shopping -- it's all here. I can go a whole week not ever leaving Burke, quite happy."
Coincidentally, the Opponents of the Intercounty Connector (OIC) have proposed an alternative plan to reduce road maintenance, which involves walling in all of these self-contained communities, greatly alleviating traffic on main highways. This would have the side effect of driving up tourism dollars if Kurt Russell could be persuaded to film a sequel in one of the new urban islands.
Holden and others probably would be quite unhappy if they ventured about 10 miles north to Merrifield [where] two sleek new five-story apartment buildings rise from a weedy parking lot. It's just that kind of urban feel that attracted residents such as Duy Anh Huynh. "I definitely think of Fairfax as a city. It's awesome, very vibrant," Huynh, 34, said [...]
In a poll of Northern Virginia residents, a solid 84% of residents didn't even realize that Merrifield was a real place. Of those, 78% found it amazing that Mr. Huynh was able to get all the way there without catching the more noticeable cityscapes such as Arlington, "the frickin' District of Columbia" or even the smaller diet-cityscapes like Shirlington. Said one respondent, "Dude must have fallen asleep on the Orange Line."
"What would you rather do, leave it the way it is?" asked Robert E. Lang, author of the book "Edgeless Cities" [...]. "It's neither fish nor fowl. They are going to be out-citied by Arlington and out-countried by Loudoun."
Left out of Lang's quote was his assertion that they would also be "out-tooled by Montgomery County", but this comes as no surprise since Maryland has a higher tool ratio per capita than any state on the East Coast besides New Jersey. Fairfax County is a very distant fourth.
The one typically urban issue Fairfax is grappling with is neighborhood blight. [...] Some areas, such as the partly vacant mall in downtown Springfield, have developed such an unsavory reputation that several of the mothers in Burke said they do not allow their teenage children to go there.
Said Mary Holden, "It was bad enough when they had the Babbage's there with all those floppy disks of devil games but how can you pretend an Orange Julius is benign? Didn't OJ kill his wife or something?"
Still, the city label doesn't quite fit for some community leaders. [...] "I think the county form serves us pretty well," [Supervisor John W. Foust] said. "Future growth will be more urban, but we've got a huge population that has chosen a suburban model."
"And since maybe 3% of county residents can competently drive their Suburbans in a straight line, " continued Foust, "do we really want to see the unfortunate results of an upgrade? I think not."Family sees Virgin Mary in bird droppings
I've recently begun reading the collected works of Terry Pratchett, a language satirist who everyone else was probably familiar with ages ago. Though it took me some time to get into the first two books, the third (Equal Rites) is quite the charming page-turner (and not just because it isn't separated into chapters).
When I wrote my text adventure game, Augmented Fourth, while in college, it was often compared in tone to Terry Pratchett, and I can now see the correlation. After reading his first book at the beach, I took a renewed interest in the game I'd created (which is in a genre now commonly called interactive fiction, or IF, instead of text adventures) and put together a second release that fixes a few minor irritating bugs. If you've played it before, there's nothing terribly new to worry about, but new players might find an enjoyable diversion.
Augmented Fourth is similar to the classic Infocom games from the 1980s, in which you play a failed trumpeter who has been thrown into Orchestra Pit by a king who was displeased by your performance. From this muddy beginning, you type in text commands at a prompt, exploring the Pit, solving puzzles, and eventually gaining your freedom. When I first released it nine years ago, it was nominated for two awards and eventually made it on to a master list of suggested works of modern IF.
There are a few ways to get started if you would like to play:
Though I haven't been active in the IF community since the year 2000, I think I might be interested in getting involved again -- maybe I'll write a new game with all the free time I've gained from cancelling my Warcraft subscription!Couple loses despite backing every greyhound
Who's on your list?It seemed like a good idea at the time
it's like Crocodile Dundee meets the Pianist
♠ This past Tuesday, I finally went back to the dentist, but since over a year had elapsed, I had to do another "initial inspection" instead of a cleaning. This means that they spend twenty minutes taking X-rays so they can overcharge my insurance provider for useless procedures. As expected, they immediately harped on the time-bomb nature of my wisdom teeth and told me that I should see their oral surgeon.
♠ I then told them that, last year, their oral surgeon had said it would be too risky to have the teeth removed. Their reply was, "Oh, he's been turning down almost everyone, let's send you to a new one." If you knew that, why send me there in the first place? And why does he still work for your office?
♠ Since my X-rays look identical to the way they did last year and in 2005, I'm going to belay any further wisdom tooth exploration and add this visit to my list of times I didn't get teeth out. I'm signed up for a cleaning next week though, and I can also increment my "Cavity-Free for 28 Years" sign by 1.
♠ Speaking of "word-free" signs, here is the comments section from the day Mike (of Mike and Chompy) told his accident-free story. It's a good old read for a Friday morning at work.
♠ I miss the days where I had such a dearth of responsibilities at work that I could slack off and read things on the Internet for the entire day. Nowadays, I'm lucky to go a day without someone accidentally erasing our websites. It used to be that a good 2-3 weeks out of every year were low-key enough to get away with not doing anything, and it's during times like that that I read the entire blog archives of Dooce, Dad Gone Mad, Dating is Hell, and Debaucherous and Dishevelled. (Apparently the key to blogging success is to start your blog name with a D. In August, I plan on rebranding this site as The DURI! Zone).
♠ For the first sixteen months at this job, I was on a dead-end project that required no work whatsoever. The only work-oriented lesson I came away from that with was that content management systems that start with a V and end with "ignette" are surefire ways to destroy your company if not halted early -- treat it as you would treat things that start with a V and rhyme with "iris". However, I effectively used that time to learn JASS and triggers for coding Warcraft III maps and games under the pseudonym, ~CattleBruiser~.
♠ This weekend, I plan to sit down with Inform 7, the new "natural-language" programming language for writing Interactive Fiction that evolved during my nine-year hiatus to determine whether it's brilliant or insane. I'm not sure how I feel about coding a banana in my game by typing "A banana is a fruit. It is edible." -- it seems too touchy-feely, and not at all geeky.
♠ "Coding a banana in my game" is not a euphemism, but it does remind me that I need to pick up a copy of the new remake of The Secret of Monkey Island and enjoy it again as much as I did 19 years ago.
♠ The rest of the weekend will include a barbeque at the home of one of Rebecca's work folks, 400,000 acres of rainforest razing around the globe, and a few hours of work-work on Sunday (bringing my work hours for the past two weeks up to an even ninety hours).
♠ Have a great weekend!Principal fired for jumping on students
This weekend was a mix of relaxing and administrative activities, starting after work on Friday with the organization of my 500 CDs into three new CD binders. Previously, most of my CDs were jammed into a ratty case older than some fourth graders which was never designed to hold so many. At capacity, it resembled a fat kid in a Speedo, and weighed more than Booty.
On Friday night, Rebecca and I had sushi, and even experimented with a weird seaweed/jellyfish salad which was weirdly weird. It's tasty, if you can ignore the rubber-crisp texture, which tasted like someone had taken one of those spindly rubbery wall-walkers from a cereal box and deep fried it.
Saturday was quite the relaxing day, starting with the organization and labeling of home improvement supplies in my storeroom and ending with several hours of research into Interactive Fiction programming. I've decided to resurrect an abandoned piece I started writing back in 2000 called Robin Caruso, which is written in Inform 6 and is actually over halfway done already, instead of diving straight into learning the new Inform 7 language. My hard drive is already littered with the crushed ash butts of my unfinished projects, and after rereading the plot manifesto I'd laid out, I actually got excited about completing this project.
On Saturday night, we made beer-cheese soup, which may have been sabotaged by our decision to use American Ale and Sharp Cheddar. It was great as a dipping sauce for expensive breads, but more like toe-cheese when consumed alone.
Sunday was spent at a barbeque, where we hung out with Rebecca's coworkers, ate stuff, and played traditional party games like Apples to Apples and Loaded Questions. We left there around 5 so I could come home and work. I also started and finished the book, Ender's Game, another one of those long-known classics that people mention so disgustingly often that I rebelliously never get around to reading. I'll post a full review on Thursday, but it was good enough to keep me reading through the end. The book was a good recommendation by Mom, but she also recommended the Lord of the Rings trilogy which I HATED more than creamed corn on peas.
What did you do this weekend? Discuss.Jumbo flying squid attacks scuba divers
The Department of Homeland Security relied on a rushed, flawed study to justify its decision to locate a $700 million research facility for highly infectious pathogens in a tornado-prone section of Kansas, according to a government report.
The aspect that initially brought this to the GAO's attention was DHS's plan to harness tornadoes as a natural centrifuge as well as creating new samples of pathogens. "You'd be pretty mad too, if you were a cow in a tornado," said one analyst responsible for the recommendation (and who also maintains a personal website that insists Wizard of Oz really could have happened).
The department's analysis was not "scientifically defensible" in concluding that it could safely handle dangerous animal diseases in Kansas -- or any other location on the U.S. mainland, according to a Government Accountability Office draft report obtained by The Washington Post. The GAO said DHS greatly underestimated the chance of accidental release and major contamination from such research, which has been conducted only on a remote island off the United States.
It's comforting to realize that current pathogen research is done "on a remote island", until the article's later revelation that the location is just two miles across the sound from Long Island in New York. Government officials downplayed the risks, noting that Atlantic winds would probably blow diseases into Connecticut (and eventually Lowell, Massachusetts), avoiding the higher population centers around New York City. "No one actually knows anyone who lives in Connecticut," reasoned another spokesman. Indeed, posing the question on the street in Sterling only provoked blank looks. "What about that Yankee guy?" asked one participant in the impromptu survey.
The criticism of DHS's site selection comes as the proposed research lab, the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF), was expected to win construction funding in the congressional appropriations process.
Greenpeace of Kansas has already seized upon the laboratory's acronym for their latest poster campaign.
A Texas consortium that hoped to lure the DHS facility to San Antonio argues that the agency has wasted millions of dollars trying to justify its choice [...] "They call it 'Tornado Alley' for a reason," said Michael Guiffre, an attorney for the consortium. "This really boils down to politics at its very worst and public officials who are more concerned about erecting some gleaming new research building than thinking about what's best for the general public."
When told by his assistants that the population density of Texas is 2.5 times higher than Kansas, Guiffre shrugged dismissively. "Texans are tougher."
GAO's draft report said the agency's assessment of the risk of accidental release of toxins on mainland locations, including Kansas, was based on "unrepresentative accident scenarios," "outdated modeling" and "inadequate" information about the sites.
Because of computer date formatting issues, DHS analysts who believed they were using the latest published data from '04 were actually looking at the notes from 1904. As such, their conclusions that "exiting Kansas by covered wagon is not a viable vector of travel for the West Nile Virus" are patently false.
Laura Ingalls Wilder was unavailable for comment.Imbuing your child with perfect pitch
or "How I stumbled upon the URI! Zone"
Today is Mike's (of Mike's and Chompy's) lucky day, since the number of strange Google searches are increasing exponentially, and leaving enough search terms for more than one Weird Search Day this month!
There are no major spoilers in these reviews.
The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett:
With 38 Discworld books published, some of the later ones are bound to be better than the earlier ones, but I like to approach bodies of work from the beginning. This fantasy parody tells the tale of Twoflower, Discworld's first tourist, who accidentally causes the city to burn down after introducing the populace to the concept of fire insurance. A fun read, with artful use of the English language.
Final Grade: B
The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett:
Book #2 is really the second half of the previous story, and picks up right where it left off, with Twoflower and Rincewind falling off the edge of the world. I lost interest about halfway through, and it wasn't quite as intriguing, but now I can watch the Color of Magic miniseries with Ben Ahlbin's twin brother, Sean Astin, and Tim Curry.
Final Grade: C+
Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett:
From the opening text, Book #3 is a polished, enjoyable read:
This is a story about magic and where it goes and perhaps more importantly where it comes from and why, although it doesn't pretend to answer all or any of these questions.
It may, however, help to explain why Gandalf never got married and why Merlin was a man. Because this is also a story about sex, although probably not in the athletic, tumbling, count-the-legs-and-divide-by-two sense unless the characters get totally beyond the author's control. They might.
This book is less about making fun of fantasy tropes (which isn't that hard to do) and branches more into general satire and humourous language usage. By tradition, a dying wizard passes his powers on to the eighth son of an eighth son, but dies before learning that it's actually a daughter. It loses focus a bit towards the end, but I think it's a good starting book if you're intrigued at all by Terry Pratchett.
Final Grade: A-
Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card:
This is a classic sci-fi novel complete with star fleets and insect-like aliens -- to prevent the destruction of the human race, the military locates genius children and train them to become the next commander. I tend to think most sci-fi is ridiculous and stupid (Star Wars and Starship Troopers), but don't mind it when it's used merely as a backdrop for another story (like Janny Wurts' short stories about Private Jensen, and Firefly). Although it does have some boilerplate sci-fi elements, it spends more time on the psychology / strategy side of things. It's also a little hard to believe the protagonists (who range in age from 5 to 16) are atually children -- apparently being a genius also means you never act or speak like a child at all.
Final Grade: B
Prison Break: The Final Break:
This is a 90-minute straight-to-DVD movie that fills the gap in the final season -- after the ending, the TV show skips ahead four years and gives each character an epilogue. The Final Break fleshes out the events that happened during those four years, giving added weight to some of the events which might be misinterpreted based on just the epilogue. The plot is "somewhat okay" and mostly unnecessary, and it feels like they tried to fit four episodes of material into two episodes of time. It's a so-so diversion if you're a big fan of the show, but doesn't really add much to the story -- at times it almost feels like they were using it to pitch a new show idea: "Prison Break with Chicks".
Final Grade: C
Happy end of July! Only 64 more days until I'm hitched!Woman finds 'stolen' Audi in neighbour's garage
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