Posts from 07/2012

Monday, July 02, 2012

Weekend Wrap-up

We had a violent windstorm called a derecho sweep in from out of town and destroy everything on Friday night, and the fact that we don't even have an English term for it tells me that something is wrong with immigration policy. The initial gust of wind split the neighbor's tree right down the middle to come crashing into my backyard. I was in my home office working on a proposal only fifteen yards away, so it was lucky that the branch hadn't fallen at a slightly different angle. As it was, I NARROWLY ESCAPED WITH MY LIFE, and the tree is allowed to get closer and closer to my office in subsequent retellings in future years.

While I was running through the house dangerously looking through all of the windows for impaling debris, Booty maintained her (very small) level head and took shelter in a sturdy zone.

The next morning, my neightborhood had power, thanks to the ancient common sense construction method called "underground power lines" although phone coverage was gone. The Internet vanished around 9 AM, probably as the result of a Verizon team trying to fix the cell tower and seeing ample opportunity for Comcast sabotage. I spent the afternoon in the Reston office with a few other proposal-y folks who lacked the necessities of telecommuting and then I returned home (dodging swarms of people searching for places to recharge all of their useless junk) in the evening for a second derecho which was barely noticeable at all. I would name the first one Irina Derecho and the second one Katya Derecho, if weather patterns were named after Alias characters.

The second one did manage to give me a weather migraine, which sent me to bed around 8 PM. In exchange for this negative mark on my weekend, the Internet was available to me when I woke up at 6 AM on Sunday. My parents stopped by briefly to borrow my Internet connection, but otherwise it has been a quiet, migraine-free, wind-free Sunday.

Meanwhile, Rebecca went to a parade in Bellevue, Iowa, which hopefully didn't turn out anything like .

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Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Invention Day: Amazon''

filling needs the world never knew it needed

Yesterday morning, I ordered some empty photo albums for my current project of archiving ten years of prints still in their one hour photo envelopes. This morning, they were sitting on the porch, apparently delivered in the early hours by some drive-by-night courier service. As a member of Amazon Prime, I find this level of service to be pretty good, but there is so much room for improvement.

What I propose is that Amazon adopt the psychic computer system from the movie, Minority Report, in which crimes were prevented before they occurred. Applying this system to Amazon would allow warehouses to begin boxing up and shipping orders before I even know I need to buy something. Then, once I've clicked the final Purchase button, I can hear a gentle knock at the front door as my goods instantly gratify me.

This would reduce shipping costs for Amazon, since they can begin preparing shipments months in advance and send everything via Media Mail. And, as long as the hive mind of the psychic computer can agree on your purchasing plans, there is no risk of ending up with an embarrassingly labeled box of sex paraphernalia prominently on your porch unless some Amazon employee finds a way to game the system.

This would also allow movie tie-in advertisements for the new Amazon Double Prime: the company could take all of the scenes in which Tom Cruise is running from the police and show him delivering your packages.

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Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Memory Day: Snapshots

Happy 4th, from your Mexican tourist friend.

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Thursday, July 05, 2012

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

Red (R):
This movie really only exists to show Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Hellen Mirren, and John Malkovich blowing stuff up, as old Retired Extremely Dangerous spies. If you expect anything more than that, you'll be dissapointed. It's stylishly put together but won't change your life.

Final Grade: B

Love, Save the Empty by Erin McCarley:
A Pandora recommendation from my Lenka station, this album has a good mix of styles and a soft-timbred vocalist. It didn't become an instant favorite, but it's an enjoyable listen.

Final Grade: B+

Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson:
It's been my experience that bloggers rarely transition into book-writing very well. The reason for this is that blog posts must be over-the-top to attract an audience, but are limited from oversaturation by the fact that you get a little bit every day. When you transform a blog into book form and get all of the craziness at once, it becomes a tiring read even if you generally like what you're reading. It's also hard to run a cohesive theme throughout so some books end up feeling like a mishmash of blog posts.

Somehow, the Bloggess (linked in my Bloglog) manages to pull it off. Although there were a few places where paragraphs could have been better edited (generally where each sentence tried to out-do the last one, but the paragraph would have still be funny with half the sentences), the book kept my interest throughout. Some reviewers hated the use of the f-word as all parts of speech, but I barely even noticed that, having grown up in the GoodFellas generation. If you enjoy the blog, you'll enjoy the book.

Final Grade: B

Pushing Daisies, Season Two:
If TV shows had bodies, there wouldn't be a mean-spirited bone in this one. It manages to be pleasant, cheery, and uplifting, without forcing itself into the guise of a kid's show. Although the seasons are free on Amazon Prime, this was one series I liked enough to buy on DVD for future watching. Although the show was cancelled after this season, it wraps up nicely, and I actually think that two seasons was a perfectly-sized run. You should always go out while you're on top (unless you're at home and it's sexy time).

Final Grade: A-

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Friday, July 06, 2012

Random Chart Day: Net Change in Activities During Rebecca's Road Trip

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Monday, July 09, 2012

List Day: 10 Skills I Leave Off My Resume

  • I can turn off light switches with either one of my nostrils.

  • I can spread cream cheese across the hole of a bagel, without having it fall through.

  • I can complete a Costco shopping trip from door to door in under ten minutes.

  • I can spot every Toll Road speed trap while they're still on the horizon.

  • I can dial the phone numbers of all of my friends manually from memory.

  • I can fast forward through the credit sequences of most popular TV shows without overshooting the actual start of the show.

  • I can work in a DOS environment without needing Cygwin or other aides.

  • I can order at Red Robin without a menu.

  • I can determine the potential tastiness of sushi, just by evaluating the city in its name.

  • I can finish an Uncle John's Bathroom Reader in under a month (without removing it from the bathroom).

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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Blog Physical Day

Next month marks the 16th birthday of this website, which has survived and sometimes even thrived as a barnacle of creativity on the Internet's hull since I graduated from high school in 1996. It had humble origins, hosted on my cutting-edge Pentium 60 (with uptime measured in how often I turned it off to travel home for school breaks), and has grown into a hugely popular website where I sometimes see two people visiting at the exact same time!

In honesty, the URI! Zone has gotten a little stale over the past couple years, as real life has reduced the amount of time I spend on it. Also, I have less of a need to seem witty on the Internet now that I'm no longer trolling for a wife. Recently though, I've been struck by occasional shrapnel of motivation to breathe some new life into my writing (generally when I'm sitting in traffic with all sorts of imagined free time in my head).

Whether I can successfully transform these whims into a revitalized blog remains to be seen, but it can't hurt to give my blog a once-over health check-up to see what's working and what isn't (though any ball-grabbing will be figurative). In spite of my laziness, I still do have something worthwhile to say, and promise to quit before I reach Garfield levels of inexorable awfulness. To equate the situation to the real world, I'm kind of like Chris Hughes, but without the millions of dollars, business savvy, or overarching vision of what I want to do in the next five minutes.

The primary lessons I've learned as a purveyor of light-hearted web content are as follows:

  1. You will never know what your readers find interesting until you post it. Your throwaway post will become a crowd favorite, while the posts you spend three hours on won't get a single comment.
  2. You are more likely to get comments if you close your prose with a question. This is known in the biz as "ending with a proposition".
  3. The amount of time you spend recording or ripping musical samples to accompany a post is inversely proportionate to the number of visitors who will actually download them to listen.
  4. You can never accurately judge how hard a Name That Tune contest actually is.
  5. A picture really is worth a thousand words, because your readers are lazy and would much rather look at a picture.
  6. Everyone loves lists, especially numbered ones.

With these lessons in mind, here are a few types of posts I've written and what their futures might hold:

Museday Tuesdays: This series was great to keep my music composition degree fresh, allowing me to maintain a mininum skill level at orchestration in case I ever get a plum partwriting gig, but only one or two people ever listened to my amazing compositions. I would like to keep music (and maybe some trumpet playing) in the mix for future posts, but I'm not sure how I want to approach this.

Newsday Tuesday: This is my favorite type of post because I enjoy making fun of NASA or mocking badly written science. I would like to include more of these in the future, but they are easily the most time-consuming.

Review Day: I can regularly count on high interest in my Thursday posts about video games, DVDs, and CDs of music that no one else likes. These will continue forever!

Final Grade: A+

Charts: It is very easy to make a chart, and charts are more popular than CDs of classical music remixed with ocean sounds. Expect many more of these in the future.

Contests: From Name That Tune to Captioning, I've tried to hold a contest at least once a year. The problem with contests is that the operating costs for the URI! Zone are about $250 per year, and giving out prizes greatly cuts into my advertising profits (0 dollars per month). However, it's fun to get or give away money, so expect these whenever I happen to rob an armored truck and have a surplus of cash (so, monthly).

Day-to-Day: Posts about stuff I actually do have been increasing, because that's honestly what a blog is supposed to focus on the most, and telling a story about what you ate for breakfast requires about as much effort as running for local office in Loudoun County as a Republican. I would like to use this space to provide more memories of ancient events -- a way to capture my thirty-two years of history before I go senile at 34 and forget it all.

If you have any feedback on things you have read, or suggestions for future posts, I would love to hear from you. How can I make the Seventeenth Edition of this website even better?

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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Memory Day: Eleven Years Ago Today

July 11, 2001 was in the heart of the limbo summer between undergrad and grad school. I was living with my parents in Alexandria, while commuting thirty miles one-way to Dulles every morning for my second summer internship at FGM. Because traffic did not gel with my master plan, I took to working from 5:30 to 1:30, which was nearly opposite of almost everyone else in the building.

FGM had recently hired a Java guru who spent most of the day comparing design patterns to coffee filters, which inevitably led to several hours of refactoring code. My project for the summer was to design a reusable set of graphical elements that could replace the heavily duplicated, hard-wired UI in the existing software. Some might argue that Java Swing already filled this need, but I believe that it's a rite of passage for Java developers to write extensions to JTable and then prefix their own letters. In our case, it was a GTable, and the G either stood for Gumbo or Global.

On July 11, we had the design review for GThings (the official name of the effort which I, as a lowly intern, had no say in). It was a smashing success all around -- the other programmers wanted to use GThings in their own programs because it meant they would no longer have to be responsible for all the graphical bugs found by the testers and could pawn them all off on us. The manager who rightfully wondered why it took two full-time developers and an intern to create and maintain this Great library was overruled by the will of the developers.

As a postscript to this story, the government nixed GThings as soon as I went back to school at the end of the summer and all of the code was immediately discarded. So of course, I was put to work on UThings the following summer.

After the design review, I stopped by Anna's house in Chantilly to pick up Kitty for a brief visit. Kitty was the cat we had adopted with Rosie in Blacksburg, with a penchant for chewing through mouse wires and peeing on everything. Anna's mom was never a big fan, and became even less of a fan when it was discovered that Kitty had managed to get fleas. That afternoon, we bathed her in the guest bathtub and then I took her back to my house while theirs was flea-bombed.

This was the day where I learned that you should always box up your cat when driving anywhere. Kitty cried all the way back, climbed on the windows, dashboard, steering wheel, under the seat, in the drink holders, and around the pedals. Thankfully the car had window locks, but I almost swerved out of my lane at least once.

As payment for her hair-raising journey, she peed all over my parents' carpet as well.

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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Chad Darnell's 12 of 12

on the 12th of each month, I take 12 pictures throughout my day, however mundane or sleep-inducing they might be

8:27 AM: After waking up in Auberge aux Deux Lions on the second day of our visit to Qu?bec City, I listen to the weather report in French while eating a banana (in English), listening to Alize?, and waiting for Rebecca to get back from her jog across a battlefield.

10:11 AM: Apparently, I am on a horse with THE HORSEWOMAN, outside of the Mus?e des Beaux-Arts. You can tell if something is free or costs money, based on whether we are inside of it or outside of it.

10:46 AM: After a nature walk and a neverending stairway filled with self-flagellating runners doing "stairs", we reach the lower town, filled with Rorschach horses along the St. Lawrence river.

11:06 AM: Rebecca eats a healthy banana outside of a store that sells ice cream dipped in maple syrup.

11:41 AM: Rebecca blends in perfectly with the folks in period costume.

1:16 PM: Fun fact -- during a music festival, you can slap a sign that says "Rickard's Pub" on any old tent and sell beer.

2:26 PM: Rebecca learns to play the zamboa outside of the Church of the Holy Trinity.

2:34 PM: Street performers in the Old Town. These guys were much better than an earlier acrobat who spent 20 minutes donning a wig to the soundtrack of Jungle Boogie.

4:01 PM: Catching a performance of Gruv'n Brass down at the ports.

7:33 PM: It's nice to plan your vacation without realizing that the Summer Music Festival is in town all week. This is a free performance of Boulevard des Airs, billed as performing "world music of France".

9:13 PM: In any other city, an advertisement saying "Free nightly performance of Cirque du Soleil, under the Route 40 overpass" would probably be a scam to steal people's kidneys.

10:35 PM: Cirque du Soleil is still incredibly weird, yet awesome.

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Friday, July 13, 2012

In Case You Did Not Believe that Cirque du Soleil Was Crazy

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Monday, July 16, 2012

Oui, J'ai BU.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Oh look, another free music festival.

Oh look, more acrobats.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

I'm famous here.

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Thursday, July 19, 2012

Conquering Mont-Tremblant

There will be no updates tomorrow, as I'll be flying home!

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Monday, July 23, 2012

Canada Travelogue, Part I of III

Our trip to Canada came about because we were too busy with school and work to plan our summer vacation earlier this year. Once May rolled around, flight prices were skyrocketing and choices were slimming. A Montreal-Quebec trip turned out to be the perfect antidote, and was easily one of the best vacations we've ever taken. Plus, the Canadian dollar is slightly depressed right now, so every time I withdrew $200 CAD from my bank account, I had the bonus euphoria of seeing only $195 US removed online. Thanks Canada!

Two Wednesdays ago, we woke up at the incapacitatingly early hour of 4 AM to fly into Montreal (by way of JFK). After an uneventful flight, we hit the road for Quebec City around noon. Driving in Canada is very similar to the US, apart from the increase in signs warning of moose collisions and the use of the metric system. Overall, driving in kilometers is a fairly unsatisfying experience because the numbers climb rapidly even though you don't seem to be getting anywhere any faster. I equate it to driving a Mercury Tracer.

We checked into the Inn of the Two Lions, which was clean, quiet, and about a fifteen minute walk from the touristy junk. We spent our first night orienting ourselves to the city, watching street performers, and wandering along the top of the Old Wall outside the Old City (this wall would probably have been surrounded by barbed wire fences and harsh words in the US for liability reasons). We also scoped out the locations of all the Summer Music Festival events, a Festival we didn't even know about until days before our departure (I am an excellent travel agent). For dinner, we ate at Chez Victor, a crazy burger joint with all sorts of odd concoctions. I skipped the deer and lamb burgers and went for one sporting cream cheese, while Rebecca conquered the "Mountain Dweller" which was full of goat cheese.

Day Two in Quebec was already featured in my recent 12 of 12 post, and was characterized by an unnatural amount of walking. Quebec is situated on a promontory, a classic defense strategy that eliminates half of invaders from fatigue and heart attacks before a single shot is fired, and we walked between the high and low points of the city at least three times, trying to see as much as possible. We don't really plan vacations in the itinerary-sense: we just book the flights and hotels upfront and then figure out what to do on a day-to-day basis once we've arrived.

We stopped at the Place d'Youville around noon. Most guidebooks argue that it was named after a Canadian nun, but I'm fairly sure it was introduced so snarky Canadians could say "Welcome to Youville, population YOU" in the seventeenth century. We learned that by buying an overpriced beer from the local Pub Rickard tent, we could claim a table under an umbrella to escape the heat wave which had followed us from Virginia. We caught the tail end of a Cajun folk group, Canailles, and would later return for Boulevard des Airs (French world pop), Chinatown (pop rock), Chic Gamine (soul), and Caracol (folk pop). While wandering in the streets, we also caught performances of Gruv'n Brass (brass funk), and Fanfarniente della Strada (Busch Gardens fusion). This was just a subset of free performances -- there was also a headliner venue that featured Bon Jovi and Aerosmith, culminating on Friday night with... Sarah McLachlan? Something seemed out of order there.

We only hit two "traditional" tourist attractions, besides the endless supply of churches. On Day Three, in search of ways to get out of the heat, we went up in the Observatory for aerial views of the city. It differed from normal panoramas because it was no longer the tallest building in the city. We had a great 270 degree view of the cityscape and a not-so-great 90 degree view of the hotels next door. The Observatory was also filled with Fujitsu touchpads intended to provide info about city landmarks -- all they taught me was that Fujitsu touchpads have awful touch sensitivity. Later, we took a free, pleasantly understated English tour of Parliament, marred only by the combative American who spotted a prominent cross in the chambers and wanted to know why no other religious symbols were present.

One event we made sure to catch was the free nightly performance of Cirque du Soleil, in a slightly seedy looking area of town under a highway overpass. Although initial glances made it appear like a leftover set from The Fisher King, hordes of people descended upon the site once the gates opened. The show was just as good as the expensive variety, full of contortionists, acrobats, people playing guitars on trampolines, and a plotline that would only make sense in anime.

Miscellaneous Statistics

  • Nights Stayed: 3
  • Cost: $130 per day, per person ($116 stone sober)
  • Churches seen: 3 (Notre-Dame Basilica-Cathedral, Holy Trinity, and the closed Jean-Baptiste)
  • Crepes eaten: 2 (ham, eggs, and mushrooms)
  • Desserts eaten: 2 scoops of gelato, 2 scoops of ice cream
  • High Point: overdosing on unexpected live performances
  • Low Point: seeing the Chateau Frontenac draped in an ugly painted sheet for roof repairs

To be continued tomorrow...

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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Canada Travelogue, Part II of III

From Quebec City, we drove back down Route 40, catching a funny episode of This Is That (3.4MB MP3) on the radio and stopping briefly in Trois-Rivieres for a lunch of barbeque poutine. Trois-Rivieres was a quaint town, but didn't seem to have much to offer for more than a few hours of entertainment. On the other hand, they were setting up a giant pool on the boardwalk for a wakeboarding competition, and a live chess competition was in progress. Nonetheless, we were back on the road as soon as the poutine was digesting, and made it into Montreal in the late afternoon.

Montreal was definitely a more urban venue than Quebec City -- in my sheltered suburban mind, a city is characterized by graffiti, panhandlers, visible social woes, the piquant flavor of urine infusing each bouquet of oxygen inhaled, and sometimes, a subway. For this leg of the trip, we stayed at the Hotel Les Suites Labelle. I chose it for two winning characteristics: it was built smack dab over the central subway station with easy access to almost everything we wanted to see, and it offered a daily buffet breakfast including eggs and sausage which was bland yet filling. Savvy travelers will know that a free breakfast is good for trimming a whole meal out of your budget (possibly two if you bring Ziploc bags and your room has a microwave). Eggs or meat are required to make it count as a free breakfast -- that "continental" garbage is a scam.

Our hotel was right across the street from a city park, Place Emile Gamelin, the site of a free circus performance which started within minutes of our first trip outside. Les Minutes Completement Cirque was a troupe of volunteers of varying skill levels with the noble goal of launching violas into space. Besides the usual number of dancers, bikers, and acrobats bounding over painfully unsafe city concrete, the troupe also solicited volunteers at the end and gave them all walkie-talkies to participate in a massive flash mob.

After a dinner of neverending pad thai on Rue St. Catherine (roughly on the border between the gay half and the less gay half), we wandered down to the waterfront for the International Fireworks Competition. Saturday night was Canada's entry in the competition, and they impressed us with some unusual, new varieties of fireworks, one of which looked like a hot dog.

It seemed like everywhere we went in Quebec, there was a free festival going on. Canadians were so happy that the temperature had reached double digits, they were ready to celebrate any little event. During our Montreal stay, it was the Festival of Laughs, which we went to for three of our four nights. It was hard to get into any of the standup comedy because none of the comedians used the same slow diction found on my On y va! dictation tapes from the 1990s, but the Place des Arts was generally filled with all manner of crazy events or musical performances. (I also noticed that, for some reason, Canadian musicians exhort the crowd to clap on 1 and 3, not 2 and 4).

On one night, men dressed as horses led a parade onto a stage, followed by a motley crew of dancing aliens, a singing duo who may have been local stars, another singing duo who sang traditional Nunavit songs. The band, Duchamp Pilot, came onstage for some punk rock, while the acrobats from The Voala Project were suspended from a giant crane doing synchronized routines to all of the headbanging beats. The next night, we entered a labyrinth filled with creepy performance artists acting like slightly-off serial killers, and were awarded sample bottles of Pert Plus for our troubles.

For the most part, the continuing heat wave forced us indoors during the day. We took an English tour of the Notre-Dame (a church name almost as ubiquitous as Subway sandwich shops in each town) where we cosmically and coincidentally sat next to an older couple visiting from Alexandria, Virginia. We dropped ten dollars for the Montreal Center of History which was so interesting that we stayed in there for nearly four hours, enjoying snarky and sociology-laden exhibits. We went to the Biodome, filled with capybaras, puffins, and penguins, and followed it up with a visit to the BU wine bar, where we pretended to be classy while listening to a pretentious guy at the next table philosophize to impress his date. Whether it was about the wine or a book he had read, I could not tell, but it provided a nice backdrop to the delicious buffalo-sauce-infused tapas we had with our wines.

The only misstep in Montreal was the Contemporary Art Museum, which cost us $20 to enter. It was sort of interesting, but focused more on art that makes you question what to classify as art rather than cool pictures you'd want to put on your wall. Each work was accompanied by an awful thematic write-up which reminded me of my A.P. English days in which I faked my knowledge of Beloved. After a line of dead rats hanging from a tree and a five minute video of a wolf standing next to a fence, we entered a courtyard with a pissing long-necked monkey. That was about as good as it got, and the museum was so small that we couldn't even dawdle for more than two hours. The museum ended with a video of a Rube Goldberg machine that seemed interesting at first, but after the 80th rolling flaming tire and continuous fade-out shots which proved that the artist couldn't get it working in a single take, we noticed that the whole video was thirty minutes long and left.

For our mode of vacationing, three days was a perfect span to leisurely see everything in Quebec City, and four days was great for Montreal. On the 8th day of our trip, we would flee the cities and drive north to the mountain town of Mont-Tremblant.

Miscellaneous Statistics

  • Nights Stayed: 4
  • Cost: $110 per day, per person ($100 stone sober)
  • Churches seen: 4
  • Metro ranking: Cleaner than Paris, less character than London
  • Desserts eaten: 2 scoops of gelato, 2 scoops of ice cream, strawberry-chocolate crepe, free cheese
  • High Point: Pretending to be classy in the wine bar
  • Low Point: wilting in the heat (Rebecca would argue for the Contemporary Art Museum)

Meanwhile, back home...

To be concluded tomorrow...

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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Canada Travelogue, Part III of III

At one time, it seems like Mont-Tremblant might have been three separate towns, a commercial strip along the highway with your standard gas stations and chain restaurants, an old town full of B&Bs and affordable local restaurants, and a bizarre ski resort town where a burger is $20.

Nowadays, all three sections are renamed "Mont-Tremblant", resulting in an array of unhelpful, identical highway exit signs which anxiously hope to direct lost souls towards the priciest portion. This devious Canadian trap might work if the locals at the numerous information offices weren't so friendly, disdainful of the resort, and careful to point you to the more charming areas where "the food and the prices are honest".

For the final leg of our trip, we stayed at the Refuge B&B, where the innkeeper, Robert, had anticipated our every need. In a hospitality fight to the death, Robert of Refuge B&B would barely eke out a victory over Jean-Francois of the Inn of the Two Lions. It also helped that Robert made delicious breakfasts for free: the first morning was crepes and fruit, and the second was a hearty meal of pancakes, toast, sausage, bacon, hash browns with bacon, kiwi, oranges, and granola yogurt. I'm not sure how I lost an additional five pounds on this trip, but you'll see photographic proof when I post all of the pictures on Friday as my Levis slowly inch meter their way lower and lower in the absence of a belt.

For dinner both nights, we went to a local restaurant, Au Coin -- a choice which was validated by the presence of our innkeeper sitting at the bar chatting with old friends.

On our first trip to the old town, we bought sandwiches and ate in a gazebo with a Florida woman who was up for her yearly three-month trip and was more than happy to identify the winners and losers for good restaurants. We then headed to the resort to see if it was as yuppy as our mental picture would imply. We were greeted at the gates by a banner advertising the International Blues Festival, but thankfully it had ended the day before. We were so festival'd out by this point that a little quiet felt just right.

The resort was a veritable theme park in its own rights. Perfectly manicured lawns surrounded shops and buildings so vividly painted that you might imagine yourself lost in a Langley High production of Heidi. The skyride across the middle bisected an endless row of hotels, jacuzzis, and swimming pools to dump us in an activity zone full of go-karts, bungee trampolines, and the aforementioned restaurants of wallet doom.

About six years ago, I wrote this post about skiing, and I still hold the same opinion:

I simply hate being cold, and feel like the effort you make to buy all the sharp, pointy gear, bundle up, trudge out to a hill, and stand around like an Eskimo is not worth the five seconds you're going down a hill. Cold apathy first grew on me as a kid, when the nearest sleddable hill was at Polk School, half a mile away (Heaven forbid they ever block off our street and let kids sled down that hill). Sure sledding was tons o' fun, especially when there was enough snow to build ramps that induced panic in all the mothers at the top, but what happens after your five seconds of fun? You get off and walk back up a hill. Then when you can't feel your feet and you want to go home, you still have to walk the half mile back.

For this reason, I greatly enjoyed the Mont-Tremblant ski resort at the height of the summertime because it transformed into an endless array of free hiking trails that crisscrossed the various ski runs. We did some warm-up hiking on our first evening, since it takes different muscles to walk up a hill than it does to walk through a city, and we are SERIOUS about our muscle groups. Mont-Tremblant is one of the tallest peaks in this mountain range (2800 feet), and on our second day we went all of the way up to the top. We then paid to take a skyride back down because downhill walking is bad for the knees of the old.

The tenth day of our trip was, once again, a travel day. I dropped Rebecca off for a five-day stay at some famous yoga camp (which I imagine was more of a substance abuse detox after our endless days of gelato and sausage), and then drove back to the airport on my own. Travel back was delayed by storms in New York which cancelled many flights and delayed my second leg by an hour. As we were about to board in LaGuardia, we were informed that the flight would be delayed another 20 minutes to "fix a broken tray table". Since I am a lucky guy, I ended up in the seat with the broken tray table, and learned that it takes union laborers twenty minutes to fix a tray by slapping on a sticker says "BROKEN DO NOT USE".

All in all, this was one of our more successful vacations, despite getting charged for bumper scratches on the rental car. If you are looking for a comparatively inexpensive foreign trip full of friendly people and a minimal language barrier, I would highly recommend Quebec.

In the summer.

Miscellaneous Statistics

  • Nights Stayed: 2
  • Cost: $100 per day, per person ($90 stone sober)
  • Churches seen: 0
  • High Point: The summit (GET IT?)
  • Low Point: Observing people eating at the $50 steak restaurant without any irony

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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

The Official Book of Ultima by Shay Addams:
This book documents the history and motivations behind the creator of the Ultima computer game series, Richard Garriott and Origin Systems, and was released in the early 90s before video game history was even a thing. I remember reading this book cover to cover, sometimes rereading continuously, in my youth, but it managed to find its way into a library donation box around the time I went to college. I picked it up again for nostalgia's sake after reading The Fat Man's book. It has aged surprisingly well, although your enjoyment of the material is directly dependent on how many Ultima games you played.

Final Grade: B+

The Good Stuff by Schuyler Fisk:
I liked the song, Afterglow, when it popped up on Pandora, but the full album isn't as strong. The unique timbre of her voice is smoothed away to nothing memorable by the steam iron of too many similar, maudlin songs. None of the songs are necessarily bad -- they just shouldn't be absorbed in rapid succession (not unlike nicotine patches). Of the two singers I discovered at the same time, I prefer Erin McCarley.

Final Grade: C

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows:
This sequel is slightly better than the original, although it's less about the plot and more about tagging along for the ride. It's an entertaining two hours full of witticisms and explosions, and is heavily dependent on Robert Downey Jr's breezy characterization of the title character.

Final Grade: B+

Burn Notice, Season Five:
The fourth season of Burn Notice was noticeably worse than the previous seasons, because there's only so many times you can put an even bigger evil mastermind/conspiracy behind the one just vanquished before people start rolling their eyes. There are ways to fix this and thankfully, Burn Notice doesn't go the Raymond Feist way of contradicting an entire series of existing lore and blowing up the universe. Season Five picks up a little danger and momentum while still maintaining its case-of-the-day structure and snappy dialogue. No season has matched the first one, but there are some great episodes mixed into the overall plotlines.

Final Grade: B

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Friday, July 27, 2012

End-of-the-Month Media Day

New pictures have been added to the Quebec, 2012 and Life, 2012 albums. Our Quebec trip was the first time we tried having just a single camera for both of us to share, and my album contains my favorite 180 out of the 500 we took. There may be some overlap when Rebecca posts her photos, but she's sure to include many photos that I did not.


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Monday, July 30, 2012

I'm at the beach.

What the "At Last" beach house lacks in modern appliances, reliable Internet, beach toys, and charm, is mostly made up by a ridiculously short walk to the beach (less than 100 yards), a screened porch, and a crow's nest with a refreshing evening breeze.

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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Smiths have arrived.

The weather in the Outer Banks is perfect -- mostly overcast with the occasional nighttime thunderstorm, hot and humid, yet windy, and ocean temperatures over 85 degrees.

When I was a kid, I thought the coolest people at the beach were the guys with the metal detectors. Now, I seem to realize that they are all poorly-aged bachelors combing the beach for riches they never find.

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