Posts from 08/2012

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

New Edition Day

When it comes to websites, age is inexorable, barring any accidental domain expirations or federal indictments in New Zealand. The URI! Zone quietly turns 16 today (Olympics-eligible!), since I'm at the beach and too lazy to do anything special. Notable improvements include:

  • A new background, featuring llamas, around the outer edges of content.
  • A new viewport above the website, showing the road you might travel to reach the URI! Zone, which looks unusually like a Laurentian maple forest.
  • The ability to go to the next and previous post from any single "permalink" post, and to see what those posts are titled.
  • An easier-to-read font.
  • More cheese.

Happy birthday to my website -- may it bring you many free Amazon gift certificates from easy contests in the coming year!

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Thursday, August 02, 2012

Memory like a steel trap.

Our house, "At Last", is directly across the street from the Wright Brothers Days Inn, which is useful for both its easy beach access and unsecured Wifi. The building looked very familiar to me, and I confirmed yesterday that this is, indeed, the place where my family stayed on our very first Nags Head trip in the late 80s. Our room had a kitchenette so we never had to eat out, and we went through an economist-sized allotment of canned dinners. It rained at least two of the days we were there, and we played five-card draw with plastic poker chips stored in a Planters peanut can.

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Friday, August 03, 2012

An apropos location for a "flight"

We have now been to the Outer Banks Brewery for two separate meals.

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Monday, August 06, 2012

And we're back.

My fifteen days of vacation this year are now at an end!

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Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Beach List Day

Books Read at the Beach

  • Ghost in the Wires: My Adventures as the World's Most Wanted Hacker by Kevin Mitnick
  • Kingpin: How One Hacker Took Over the Billion-Dollar Cybercrime Underground by Kevin Poulsen
  • Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets by David Simon
  • Clockers by Richard Price

Games Played at the Beach

  • Lost Cities
  • Hey, That's My Fish
  • Ticket to Ride, Europe
  • Timeline
  • Snood
  • Mini Golf, Diamond Course
  • Mini Golf, Gold Course

Numbers at the Beach

  • Holes dug: 6
  • Smiths entertained: 4
  • Rain delays: 2
  • Jogs on the beach: 2
  • Olympic Swimming events fallen asleep during: 900

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Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Memory Day: Eighteen Years Ago Today

August 8, 1994 was a Monday, and the second day of Penn State Science and Energy Camp, which was held at Boy Scout Camp Goshen. By now, I was already an Eagle Scout and had no further need of merit badges, but this camp allowed me to earn five more badges whose requirements were too annoying to do on my own. There are three approaches to earning a merit badge in Boy Scouts:

  1. Buy the merit badge requirements pamphlet, find a registered counselor in your home town, and fulfill all of the requirements.
  2. Get your uncle who owns a farm to register as the "Rabbit Raising" counselor and earn the merit badge by spending the summer on his farm.
  3. Go to a week-long Boy Scout camp and earn the badge by showing up to daily hour-long sessions.

The badges offered at this camp were too boring to earn through method #1 and impossible to earn through method #2 without a physicist in the family. This made the cost-benefit of method #3 very strong, because there is no better way to learn about Atomic Energy, Chemistry, Energy, Electricity, and Space Exploration than at an outdoor camp with no hot water and minimal electricity. As an example, in order to earn my Space Exploration merit badge, I had to assemble a model rocket, paint it, and launch it on the final day.

I attended this camp with two other scouts from my troop, Chris Anderson and Tom Campbell. We arrived on Sunday evening and were placed in a campsite with seven other scouts, according to old journals: Mike B (a strong, little black kid), Randy (a big guy who was kind of stupid), Steven (a short little nerd who got on everyone's nerves and shared a tent with Randy, who nearly beat him up a few times), James (a guy on the Robinson crew team), Mike T (evidently unremarkable since I didn't write anything about him), and finally, David and Ian, two older scouts that were paid $75 for the week to keep an eye on us. There were 43 scouts spread across 4 campsites in search of the "easy A", including a 250-pound guy named Serena (who asked us to call him Sir instead) and a guy who was an exact lookalike for Screech, from Saved By The Bell, who we obviously called Screech.

Monday was the first day of classes and we quickly realized that the sessions were going to be ridiculously boring, consisting of old VHS movies, reading assignments, and minimal (outdoor) lab activities. By the end of the day, we had so much pent up energy that we all met up in the nature area (a seemingly irrelevant name to assign to a clearing when you're in the woods) to play a game of "Manhunt". The game had barely been going on for five minutes when someone leaned against a wooden flagpole and it fell on Ian. The camp director kicked us out moments later.

As punishment for the falling flagpole, we had to do aimless tasks to clean up the nature area, like digging holes to fill them in again, or piling up sticks and then returning them to the foliage. Later, the camp director yelled at us for breaking a tree in our campsite, even though the tree had always been broken. This is when we all earned our Recidivism merit badge.

In fact, I barely wrote a thing about the merit badge classes once they got started. I passed all of the quizzes on Friday and won an "Outstanding Energy Guy" award which gave me a patch, a shirt, and a hat. I spent the rest of the time loaning books to Ian to keep him distracted from burning all of my matches.

Money well spent!

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Thursday, August 09, 2012

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

Wanderlust (PG-13):
This is a by-the-numbers romantic comedy featuring Paul Rudd being Paul Rudd. It has a few laughs but is mostly forgettable. One of the funnier scenes, showing Paul Rudd talking dirty to a mirror for several minutes seems more like an outtake than part of the narrative.

Final Grade: C-

lovestrong. by Christina Perri:
The "Jar of Hearts" song that plays on every radio station really isn't that good of a song, but somehow manages to get stuck in my head all of the time. There are a couple other good songs on this album, but Christina Perri suffers from a timbre issue similar to April Smith: when you listen to one of her songs in isolation, she's got an impressive set of pipes and a unique sound, but it's overkill when you listen to an entire album without pause.

Final Grade: B-

The Litigators by John Grisham:
This book is a few notches better than the last 4 or 5 lawyer books from John Grisham's photocopier. There are absolutely no new ideas presented, but he's taken the familiar chunks that work and mixed them together into a "pleasant for reading on an airplane" soup. If you need anything more than that, you're better off finding another author.

Final Grade: B-

Catch Me If You Can by Frank W. Abagnale:
This is the memoir behind the Leonardo DiCaprio / Tom Hanks movie of the same name. It was a quick read -- finished in a few hours -- and pleasantly engrossing. I read this between the Montreal trip and the beach trip, and it got me in the mood for all of the computer hacker books I read last week.

Final Grade: B+

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Friday, August 10, 2012

Random Chart Day: Zone Comments

Comments were enabled on this website on April 11, 2003. Since then, there have been 6483 comments posted. Here's a look at some of the people who talk way too much here (counting all of the previous aliases for the people who did weird things like change their last names or decide not to be Jaood anymore).

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Monday, August 13, 2012

Chad Darnell's 12 of 12

8:27 AM: Waking up in a tent, in Greenbrier State Park.

8:54 AM: Campfire food for breakfast.

10:47 AM: Down at the lake-beach.

11:00 AM: Frisbee time.

11:27 AM: Rebecca shows what she learned at yoga camp.

12:17 PM: Scrounged sandwich and chips for lunch.

2:20 PM: Returning to Virginia.

3:02 PM: Booty is HUNGRY.

3:35 PM: Showered and shaved and ready for the day.

5:54 PM: Making pork and mushroom skewers.

5:55 PM: Grilling.

7:27 PM: Watching the Closing Ceremonies.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Composing Spotlight: Labyrinth

Movement I. Ingress

Labyrinth is the longest continuous composition I've ever written. By the low standards of the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy, this also makes it the best one. Weighing in at about sixteen minutes, Labyrinth is a chamber ensemble piece in nine movements (performed without pause). I wrote it as my Master's Thesis at Florida State back in 2002.

The piece was written for a chamber ensemble consisting of 2 flutes, 1 oboe, 1 alto sax (doubling soprano), 1 bassoon, 1 trumpet, 2 horns, 1 trombone, 1 tuba, 2 violins, 1 cello, 1 double bass, 2 percussionists, and a conductor. The low probability of ever having these 17 musicians in the same room willing to perform for free was probably a big subliminal factor in my writing, since I knew that I would never have to deal with the herding-cats tedium of actually getting the piece performed in my lifetime.

Almost all of my compositions are through-composed: I start writing from the introduction and try to stay out of trouble until I write the last note. Sometimes, I'll deign to start from a melody or chord progression (especially for jazz charts) and then preface it with an intro, but from that point, I'll still compose straight through to the end. Because of this, the first movement of Labyrinth was especially difficult to compose, as I wanted to ensure that every single musical idea from the rest of the piece had a germination point in this very first section.

A higher degree of planning went into this piece, as befits a Thesis. Normally, I would just drop Booty on the keyboard and call it a motive. In this case, I plotted out the tonal centers of each movement, the relative lengths, and the basic concept I wanted to convey, but I did NOT write down any melodies or themes. I sat down and started writing Movement I. "Ingress" while living at Anna's parents house, during the summer of 2002, but ended up discarding every single idea I wrote. This either eliminates Chantilly as a hotbed of creativity, or just proves that when you write something, you should always plan to throw at least one version out.

My requirements for the first movement were:

  • The melody should use all 12 pitches, without sounding like a lame 12-tone piece.
  • There should be a half-step, whole-step, half-step motive (shown in the last measure of the score above).
  • The germs for every subsequent movement should be present in some form here.
  • The alto saxophonist should have to play a unison duet with a violin, because that never happens and it will probably piss the violinist off.

After many false starts, I finally settled on the melody seen here in August 2002. The remaining fifteen minutes actually flowed out fairly rapidly once this movement was in place, and I had a finished work by the December holiday break.

    Listen to the first movement (1:04 MP3)

Jump to Movement: I | II | III | IV | V | VI | VII | VIII | IX

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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Memory Day: Eleven Years Ago Today

August 15, 2001 marked the formal severance of my Virginia residency, an act of abandonment that would allow me to get in-state tuition rates a year later at Florida State. At the time, I had no idea how much I would end up keeping in touch with college friends, and didn't know if we would just naturally scatter to the winds like dandelion tufts bound together by nothing more than proximity and Killian's. It was for this reason that I originally started a blog, and you can see from the relative innocence of those early "this is what I ate for lunch" posts that I really had no particular goal in mind.

Before this trip, I had only been to Tallahassee once, with my dad, to lease an apartment and figure out where things were situated. My plan for this trip was to take the Auto Train from Lorton to Sanford, FL, converting a 13 hour drive into a 4 hour drive (plus 18 hours on a train). This is evidence that perhaps Virginia Tech was mistaken in giving me a math minor.

Anna and her sister, Emily, came out to say goodbye in my final hours as an Alexandria resident, after which I drove a 2001 Honda Accord, swollen with music textbooks and computer gear, to the Lorton train station.

Riding the train was a pleasant experience, although I spent very little time enjoying the scenery. I was engrossed in several boring remedial textbooks, hoping to augment my mediocre VT music education enough to pass all of the scary FSU entrance exams. I did not yet realize that the threshold for passing these exams was more of a speed hump than an Olympic hurdle.

The main things I remember about Florida highways were the 80 MPH speed limit (which was never enforced until 90) and the sudden monsoons that reduced visibility to 0 before vanishing completely. After an uneventful drive across the part of the state that isn't the panhandle, I arrived at my cinderblock Parkwood apartment and settled in, ready to begin the Florida chapter of life, full of Totino's pizzas, Jim Barry, and Ginger (the dog)!

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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Seasons One - Four:
My mom has been trying to get me to watch this series for years, so I took in the first four during some treadmilling / photo-albuming multitasking this year. It's cute, with witty dialogue and one-liners, but feels a little too dated for me to get into. Apart from some really good standalone episodes, it's high on teenage angst and starts to feel repetitive by the third season. Ultimately, I looked at the three seasons I had left and the four I had just watched and decided that it wasn't worth continuing when there are better things to watch.

Final Grade: C+

Easy A (PG-13):
This movie, about a high school girl who unwittingly gets a false reputation as the school tramp, is in the same vein as Mean Girls and Election. It lives up to its influences pretty well, and works as both a "smart" comedy and an easy laugh. It doesn't seem to have received much hype or widespread availability, but it's worth your time if you stumble across it in a bargain bin or bargain Amazon Marketplace stall.

Final Grade: B

Ghost in the Wire by Kevin Mitnick:
This autobiography of hacker, Kevin Mitnick, is hit-or-miss. It's an engrossing technical tale of social engineering, hacks, and clever tricks, but Mitnick presents himself with such a puffed-up ego that the tone of the book feels all wrong. If he were as great a hacker as he purports, he wouldn't keep getting caught throughout the book by law enforcement (who he continuously dismisses as ineffective), and if he were truly as repentant after each arrest because of the heartburn he caused his family, he wouldn't run out and do it again. Ultimately, it's a fun book for the tech talk more than the biography.

Final Grade: C-

Paris-Buenos Aires by Boulevard des Airs:
This is the album of one of the ska-reggae-world-infused bands we saw at the Summer Festival in Quebec. It's a catchy, fun little package, but feels overproduced -- the songs feel much safer than the live show and don't do the live performance justice. This is especially noticeable in the trumpeting, which was bombastic, technically fluent, and high in the live show, but is limited to unison saxophone doubling on the CD. In spite of this, it's an enjoyable change-of-pace CD to have in the car.

Final Grade: B+

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Friday, August 17, 2012

List Day: Forgotten Movies

In chronological order, here is a list of movies I've mentioned or reviewed in the past which I have minimal recollection of. I didn't love them, and they weren't catastrophically awful like The Heartbreak Kid -- they simply failed to make any sort of positive or negative impression in my long-term memory. I didn't even recall watching a few of them until I looked up the movie posters online. Is it worse to hate a movie or to not have it stick with you at all?

  1. Curse of the Jade Scorpion
  2. Snatch
  3. Eye of the Beholder
  4. Heist
  5. Joy Ride
  6. Daredevil
  7. The Pianist
  8. 25th Hour
  9. Gothika
  10. The Cooler
  11. Starsky and Hutch
  12. Master and Commander
  13. Jersey Girl
  14. Without a Paddle
  15. I Heart Huckabees
  16. Squid and the Whale
  17. Yours, Mine, and Ours
  18. Kung Fu Hustle
  19. Annapolis
  20. Proof
  21. Just Like Heaven
  22. The Pledge
  23. Elizabethtown
  24. Inside Man
  25. Brick
  26. The Kingdom
  27. Simpsons: The Movie
  28. We Own The Night
  29. Michael Clayton
  30. Married Life
  31. The Taking of Pelham 123
  32. Terminator: Salvation

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Monday, August 20, 2012

Weekend Wrap-up

This past weekend was one of the busiest of the year, starting with a Friday night showing of Stick It, which I was reminded of while researching Friday's post and thought that Rebecca would get a kick out of, now that the Olympics have ended.

On Saturday morning, we went to Rebecca's parents' house and did some kayaking on Lake Barcroft. The outing was nicely aligned with the first hot-cool day of the summer, where it didn't feel agonizing to be outside in the humidity (since Virginia is the armpit of the East Coast during the summer). In the evening, we had a Persian dinner at the home of one of Rebecca's PT classmates in yuppy-Sterling.

On Sunday, we had our first ever trip to the local bowling alley (with our across-the-street neighbours) for a bowling special of 3 games (plus shoes) for $10. I hadn't been bowling in at least six years, and managed to reach a top score of only 124. Out of 300, this is a 41%, and thus, would be passing in public school.

In between rainstorms, we ducked out for our first ever visit to the Udvar-Hazy Air and Space Museum Annex, whose name sounds more like an ice cream flavor than a Smithsonian institution. It was my first trip, since I am philosophically against museums that bill themselves as "free" but then charge $15 for parking. The occasion was a meet-and-greet party for FGM and the company it is merging with.

We ate free sushi, saw an overwhelmingly underwhelming IMAX movie about the history of flight which opened with the statement "As the twentieth century comes to a close...", and rode in an interactive flight simulator. Rebecca was the pilot, and got stuck in a neverending barrel roll, and I was the gunner, a tacked on position that's about as useful as being Player 2 in Super Mario Galaxy.

Mixed throughout these events was time enough to start new seasons of Dexter and Community.

How was your weekend?

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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Composing Spotlight: Labyrinth

Movement II. Determination

Picking up immediately where the first movement left off, the second movement was characterized by a regular beat, and motivated, driving melodic lines. Although I didn't use classical key signatures in this work, the tonal center between movement I and II fell from a D to a Db, which was intended to signify motion in unexpected directions through this labyrinth.

The first melodic line in this section (once again doubled between sax and violins, as dictated by Rob Kelley's favourite joke) is derived from the half-whole-half step motive. It's written in a triple meter (12/8), because classical musicians often have trouble swinging merely from the presence of the word "Swing", and because I would just end up inserting a bunch of triplets anyhow.

After two statements of the melody, the woodwinds engage in "dicking around" for a bit, representing distractions from the primary goal of solving the labyrinth -- this material is spun out more in later movements. The theme of the "adversary" is briefly restated in a single measure here as well (around 1:00 on the MP3 excerpt), derived from the 5/4 measure at the end of the Movement I theme.

Next comes a restatement of the original Movement I theme by the trumpet. The motor drops out from under the end of this melody, leading us to a more static-feeling third movement.

    Listen to the second movement (1:04 MP3)

Jump to Movement: I | II | III | IV | V | VI | VII | VIII | IX

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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Memory Day: Thirteen Years Ago Today

August 22, 1999 was the Sunday before the first day of classes in my fourth year at Virginia Tech. I had just finished a week of band camp and had moved into East Ambler Johnston with Kelley Corbett and his eight hundred towels. I had a 19 credit schedule lined up that included Physics, Intro to Human-Computer Interaction, Conducting, Counterpoint, Trumpet lessons, Composition lessons, Flute lessons, and Marching Band.

The pictures on the right were taken at the End-of-Band-Camp festivities with a brand new 2 megapixel camera. You can also date the images by the classy shadow-bevel effect, which meant that I was still using Paint Shop Pro for all of my graphics needs.

Sunday the 22nd opened at a band fraternity party (Kappa Kappa Psi). As section leaders, Pat Brown and I had decided to get as many freshman trumpet players involved socially as possible. Although most parties cover their expenses by selling cups, this particular one was ticket-based, which meant that we could get the whole trumpet section in for the price of one ticket and the time it took to photocopy it sixty-three times.

I was also taking freshmen under my wing by giving them rides to and from the party, and on this particular day, I took a little freshman girl named Anna Spellerberg home from the KKP party (pictured, above right with the pineapple). As everyone who knows her today can attest, Anna is very shy. I was only able to glean a few details of her life during the 10 minute car ride home, namely that she had a boyfriend back home named Ben who she met at her neighbourhood pool and who was coming down to visit in a couple weekends, she wanted to major in something wildlife-related so she could be outside all of the time and liked animals like her dog, Kelsey, she was the third of five sisters, she was worried about getting cut from band because she went to a private school called O'Connell with a really weak band program, she lived in the "Wellness Hall" where alcohol was frowned upon but not because she didn't like alcohol, but it was just that she didn't want it around where she lived, and she wasn't sure about her new roommate yet.

East AJ welcomed everyone back to campus with an 8 AM fire alarm that Sunday, but it didn't bother me since college-me was prone to doing things like waking up at 6 AM to do laundry without fighting over the machines. For lunch that day, I went to Owens with Nikki Giraldi, Shac, and Shac's new roommate, Brian, who didn't say a single word the entire time.

After a brief stop to say hi to a new freshman, Andrea, that went to my high school, the rest of the day was consumed with band, band, and band. We played at something called a "VT spirit rally", and the fact that I remember nothing about it means that it was probably a horrible idea that we never tried ever again.

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Thursday, August 23, 2012

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

Planet Earth:
It can't be denied that Planet Earth has some beautiful footage and a top-notch production quality. However, something is missing that makes this DVD set more boring than entertaining (we actually found that the best use of it was to watch an episode just before bedtime so we would fall asleep on the couch to the soothing imagery). It's beautiful on the outside, but lacks any depth, and bounces from biome to biome like a biologist with ADD, passing up many chances to provide any interesting details. We also quickly tired of the reuse of footage of a single polar bear that seemed to appear in all of the episodes, probably intended as a manipulative guilt device for our treatment of the environment. Sure, our actions probably led to a reduction in polar bears, but the featured bear obviously made some poor individual choices and needs to accept responsibility for getting killed by a walrus.

Final Grade: B-

Human Again by Ingrid Michaelson:
I liked Ingrid Michaelson's first CD enough to give it a rare A. The music was different, raw, and occasionally edgy. Every album since then has been the musical equivalent of despeckling a JPEG -- touching up perceived deficiencies and hiding the rough edges to make it more palatable for the Starbucks crowd. Human Again is her fourth album, and the songs fall into two categories: forgettable, or annoyingly repetitive. A perfect example of the latter category is Blood Brothers, which I can't listen to without picturing Ross Gellar saying "Dude, stop saying 'Blood' to strangers".

Final Grade: C-

Kingpin by Kevin Poulsen:
This was my second beach book after the Kevin Mitnick autobiography. It's impossible to do any useful browsing in the Kindle Store, so when I'm a beach run, I'm more likely to just order any book linked from the page of a book I liked. I enjoyed this book, both from a biographical and a technical perspective. Poulsen has an engaging writing style that was very easy to read as well.

Final Grade: B

Survival by Muse:
I didn't realize that Muse had been commissioned to write the "official song of the 2012 Olympics" until after the Olympics were over and I was reading about their upcoming album full of dubstep. Apparently they performed in the closing ceremonies too, but NBC cut them out in favor of some new sitcom. The Olympic song, Survival, is a fun, Muse-stamped arrangement with embarrassing, awful lyrics, kind of similar to the song they were commissioned to write for the Twilight movies. It would probably be better without any lyrics at all, but actually improves when slapped over a montage of athletes.

Final Grade: B-

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Friday, August 24, 2012

Recipe Day: Improved Egg Drop Soup

I originally posted this recipe for Egg Drop Soup back in 2006. Because recipe improvement is easier than self-improvement, here is an updated version that gets closer to my goal of delivery-restaurant-quality soup.

  • 4 cups chicken broth, made from Bouillon cubes
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 2 tablespoons chopped chives
  • dash of white pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 whole eggs and 1 egg yolk


  • Make chicken broth in a pot, then cool 1 cup of the broth in the fridge until it is no longer warm. Stir in cornstarch (into the cool broth) until it is clump-free.
  • In a small bowl, whisk the eggs and yolk together with a fork.
  • Pour the remaining 3 cups of broth into the widest saucepan you have. Stir in ginger, chives, pepper, and salt. Bring to a rolling boil and then lower heat to simmer.
  • Stir in the cold cornstarch broth to thicken.
  • Apply academic knowledge of angular momentum to set up circular waves in the saucepan. Keep slow but steady waves circling the saucepan throughout the next step. This is critical to obtaining egg strings instead of egg clumps, and it's very helpful to have someone else stirring constantly!
  • Drizzle egg a little at a time from the fork into the broth. It will cook immediately, and the broth in motion will cook it in strings rather than clumps.
  • Once all of the egg has been added, remove from heat and serve. Makes 2-3 bowls.
  • Garnish with chopped green onions if you have any left in your fridge, since every recipe calls for one stalk's worth and they're sold by the bushel.

CMMI Lessons Learned

  • Using part of the broth to make Rob Kelley's slurry instead of cold water minimizes any thinning of the taste. Previously, I had to resalt the broth to make up for the cold water and often ended up making it taste like the ocean.
  • Using a wide radius saucepan instead of a pot makes it much easier to drizzle the egg in strands rather than clumps.
  • Adding the slurry before the egg improves the suspension of the egg in the broth.
  • tagged as recipes | permalink | 5 comments
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Monday, August 27, 2012

List Day: Stuff Going On

  • On Saturday, I started development work on the next version of DDMSence, in order to keep my open source street cred from expiring.

  • I'm currently in the middle of watching Breaking Bad (S2), My Name is Earl (S1), and rewatching 24 (S4) while on the treadmill.

  • I'm in the middle of cleaning up the basement for upcoming barbeques and potential Halloween parties, since it hasn't been used all year long.

  • I loaned my six pound Mickey Mouse bowling ball from junior high school to the son of our neighbours. It was just gathering dust in the closet in a makeshift bowling ball bag composed of an Eastpak backpack with a broken zipper and a piece of foam.

  • I stopped playing Diablo 3 before the 1.0.4 patch and haven't come back to it. I just downloaded the original Fallout, a series which I've never played before, and will give it a spin this evening.

  • We ate out at both Jackson's and Toltecos this weekend to make up for all of the egg drop soup and buffalo-onion meatballs I made for dinner last week.

  • Anna's youngest sister, Becca, who wasn't even alive when Michael Dukakis ran for president, is expecting. Should there be a nuclear catastrophe in our future, we'd better hope that the Catholics survive, because they'll be very good at repopulating the shattered husk of the Earth.

  • I've settled on a new schedule for blog posts: Monday will be day-to-day types of posts, Tuesday will be music-related, Wednesday will be old stories and memories, Thursday will remain Review Day, and Friday will continue to be whatever I happen to think up that takes minimal effort to post.

What have you been up to these days?

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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Composing Spotlight: Labyrinth

Movement III. Perplexity

The dogged determination of the second movement dead-ends into a more static, murky feeling, with the barline intentionally blurred through the repetition of a major thirds motive by vibraphone and flutes, first together, and then gradually spacing apart. The motion in this movement is supposed to be less purposeful.

At two points in the movement, the muted trumpet attempts to reinstill a steady beat (bringing back the determination) with a melody derived from the major thirds motive, but each attempt to do so results in the wrong meter and ultimate stagnates back to the vibraphone. After the first attempt, the tonal center is where it started, but the second attempt leads to an unexpected new key.

From here, the alto sax melody restores some semblance of a beat, more "dripping water" than "driving", which subtly shifts meter and brings us to the fourth movement.

Labyrinth is the first, and only, piece which employs extramusical effects, specifically in this movement. I always felt like plucking on piano strings through the cover or burning a violin to get a crackling sound were cheap gimmicks, and my music is cheap enough without needing any gimmicks. However, to perfect the feeling of this movement, I had low brass players breathing through their horns without playing, or making "tut tut" footstep noises beneath the melodies. This movement also uses its fair share of pitch bends and glissandos, devices I generally ignored because it took too long to make the computer imitate them. Looking backwards on this movement with nine years of perspective, it's chock full of "the types of things I wouldn't normally write", which probably gave it some much needed freshness.

When this piece was reviewed by my thesis defense board, Professor Clendenning asked why the trumpet lines were always harder than the rest of the ensemble, pointing specifically to the end of the excerpt shown above. I replied that my experience as a trumpet player gave me confidence that the lines were fairly straightforward for any good trumpeter. Professor Spencer added that even a bad trumpet player would be cocky enough to give them his best shot and think he had done them justice.

    Listen to the third movement (2:42 MP3)

Jump to Movement: I | II | III | IV | V | VI | VII | VIII | IX

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day in history

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Memory Day: Snapshots

I have no idea where this was taken, but I remember my parents wearing those goofy cloth hats throughout my childhood.

Update from my Dad: "The picture on your web site was taken on the playground at an elementary school in Arlington on the Fourth of July 1983 or 1984. We were with Rosa Lopez and her sons waiting for the fireworks to begin."

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day in history

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets by David Simon:
This was the 3rd of 4 books I read on our OBX beach trip. It's much more effective, and tightly edited, than The Corner, although both books do an equally effective job of convincing me not to move into downtown Baltimore. The book jumps around between characters a fair amount, so it takes a little time to get them all straight. Fans of the true crime genre will enjoy it, although the story focuses more on the detectives themselves, rather than the crimes they investigate.

Final Grade: A-

Dexter, Season Six:
I have never been a fan of Julia Stiles' acting abilities, and this point was driven home when she woodenly stumbled through the three Bourne movies, obviously out of her depth and looking for someone to save a dance with. For this reason alone, the sixth season of Dexter gets a tiny bump in grade over the fifth season, but it still doesn't reach the series high points of season two and four.

The theme of this season is faith and religion, but it seems like every "lesson" that Dexter learns throughout the season in endless voice-overs was already learned in a past episode. This highlights the broader problem of inconsistent writing that unbelievably breaks continuity. Dexter often acts out of character, making sloppy mistakes, attacking in broad daylight, or (in the worst episode of the season) speeding down a highway firing a stolen gun out the window at billboards. His voice-overs are overused to provide exposition on things we already know about, to the point of self-parody. As a non-spoilerish example, Dexter escapes from a crime scene. In the next scene, detectives are remarking that no one was found there. Dexter's voice-over helpfully adds, "Because I escaped." He might as well have added, "By swimming away. I eventually reached the beach. Then I had a burger. Then I went home."

The season does build to a great ending, but it feels intentionally drawn out. Had the fifth and sixth season been compressed together, it would have been a much tighter, engaging story to tell.

Final Grade: B-

Dead Like Me, Season One:
This was Bryan Fuller's first show about death before he made Pushing Daisies. It tells the tale of Georgia Lass, who dies at the age of 18 and then has to spend eternity as a grim reaper, finding people who are about to die and helping them to cross over. It has a lot of high reviews on Amazon, and plays with a few fun concepts and characters, but it simply isn't very good. It tries hard to be clever and sound deep, but ultimately has to stretch too hard to tie everything together. Skip it, and watch Pushing Daisies twice instead.

Final Grade: D+

More Java Pitfalls by Michael Daconta, Kevin T. Smith, Donald Avondolio and W. Clay Richardson:
The information in this book is solid, useful, and well-organized. Its only flaw, unfortunately, is that it's now dated by about nine years. Many of the tips cover Java GUIs, or web practices from the days before Struts and Spring took center stage. However, this book would be good for a new CS grad to read for awareness when leaving the cocoon of academia for a real job (as well as Effective Java).

Final Grade: B

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day in history

Friday, August 31, 2012

End-of-the-Month Media Day

New photos have been added to the Life, 2012 album. As a reminder, you can type N and P to go to the Next and Previous pictures when you have opened up one of the photos.

Have a good holiday weekend!

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day in history


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