Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Composing Spotlight: Labyrinth

Movement IV. Adversary

Continuing the analysis of my Master's Thesis, about eleven years too late to get invited to speak at any theory conferences...

The motive that opens this movement is the derived from the last measure of the original theme, and acts in the role of an interrupting cow throughout the piece. In this case, the motive is used to break up the static feeling of the third movement. Although this piece has nine movements, things can get a little more meta by grouping Movement I through IV and Movement VI through IX together. This makes Movement IV the climax of the first third, in a way that would probably satisfy Hauptmann in his grave.

The interrupting cow motive is followed by a new theme in 5/4 time that represents the minotaurish figure in the piece, which keeps the protagonist from solving the labyrinth too easily. I choose 5/4 time as a challenge, because I rarely ever hear 5/4 used in a useful or natural way and wanted to see if I could do any better. The oboe doubles the trumpet on the melodic line a half step lower to get an uncomfortable effect. An alternate interpretation is that I made the oboe a half step lower because they were going to be flat anyhow, so I thought I'd codify it in the score.

So to date, the protagonist has entered the labyrinth with steely resolve, tried to find the way through, gotten completely confused, and was then chased away by a minotaur. In the fifth movement, he gives up altogether, although (spoilers!) the fact that there are four more movements later on suggest a happier ending.

    Listen to the fourth movement (1:13 MP3)

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

tagged as music | permalink | 0 comments

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Memory Day: Nineteen Years Ago Today

September 5, 1993 was the Sunday before Labor Day. I was 13 (going on 14) and just about to start 10th grade at T.C. Williams High School (in the days when junior high went from 7-9 and high went from 10-12). This particular Sunday was thematically Scouty, starting with a merit badge and ending with a Boy Scout award ceremony.

I was in the process of earning the Beekeeping merit badge, and got up early to travel down to Stafford. A guy that worked with my dad, Doyle Johnson, lived on five acres of land with his eight kids and numerous beehives, and I spent five hours dressed up like an Outbreak scientist, learning to steal the honey from the bees and process it in Doyle's garage.

From there, we drove back to Alexandria for an outdoor Court of Honor where I was awarded more useless merit badges above and beyond the minimum required for Eagle Scout. It was the equivalent of needlessly prolonging a game of Super Mario 64 by getting all of the red coins, even though that was a game that wasn't any funner when it was prolonged.

After the Court of Honor, we returned home and I played my sister in a game of Brian's Clue, which was like Clue but with our friends as the game pieces and people I thought were annoying as the murder victims. Apparently, I won, and then did my mandatory half hour of trumpet practicing to satsify my Dad.

September 5 was also notable because I had just started keeping a journal on the day before. My first entry was on September 4, and I would go on to maintain it daily through the start of college in 1996, and then sporadically until about 2003. In those early days, I was paranoid about it being discovered, so I had it disguised as an EGA graphics resource file on my 286, with all sorts of tripwires and hidden counters to catch anyone (like my sister) who might snoop it out. This was all needlessly Rube-Goldbergian since the computer was in my room and no one even knew that I was keeping a journal. Within a couple days, I also learned that you could password-protect files in WordPerfect 5.0, and my methods of obfuscation quickly became unnecessary.

tagged as memories | permalink | 1 comment

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in this review.

Clockers by Richard Price:
This urban crime drama was the last of my "throwaway beach" reading materials. It's an easy, engrossing read with vivid descriptions and nicely-crafted dialogue, solid B material. Unfortunately the book is old enough that the Kindle edition seems to be an optical scan of a paperback. As a result, there are numerous typos, strange capitalization, and odd punctuation from where the scanning process couldn't quite interpret the written page -- this is prevalent enough to be distracting from the story. For example, a "clocker" is a street-level drug dealer. Half of the time, you'll correctly read "clockers" and the other half, you'll see it as "dockers". I'm fairly certain that drugs weren't getting sold by a pair of yuppy pants, but if I'm mistaken, then I totally misunderstood the story.

Final Grade: B-

Community, Season Three:
If you didn't like the second season of Community with all of its fantasy trappings, you definitely won't like the third. However, the parodies are more successful in this season because the show finally owns the concept and isn't shy about what it's trying to accomplish. A few standout episodes (like a Ken Burns Civil War parody and a Law and Order parody) and one-liners improve a season that's "funny enough", but with a little too much Chang.

Final Grade: C+

The Dark Knight Rises:
I really wanted to like this movie more than I did. I recently went back and watched the first two movies of the trilogy and found that they both stood up well to the passing of time. The final movie comes in at 2 hours and 45 minutes, but I didn't think it was too long -- instead, I felt like they spent too much of that running time on unimportant plot twist garbage, relegating some of the more interesting sections to near-montages. Much of the dialogue was unintelligible, and this was exacerbated by the fact that a main villain wears a mask so you can't see his lips move. Luckily, this is a movie that you can enjoy both by tracking every detail and by just going along for the ride, so missing a bit of dialogue won't hurt. Overall, this is a worthwhile popcorn movie, but doesn't quite rise any higher than that.

Postscript: Anne Hathaway's costarring role as "Anne Hathaway" was a distraction, and kept breaking the fourth wall in my bubble of immersion.

Final Grade: B+

tagged as reviews | permalink | 3 comments

Friday, September 07, 2012

Brian's Barnyard

I wrote this animal-themed Bejeweled clone back in March 2003 (probably as a way to procrastinate on something grad-school-related) and just rediscovered it last night. If you are one of those ancient dinosaurs that still has a security-hole-ridden Java plug-in installed in your web browser, you can play it below!

Applet has been removed. Hope you enjoyed it!

tagged as green (recycled) content, games | permalink | 9 comments

Monday, September 10, 2012

"Make Your Own Fun" Day

If you happen to be bored one afternoon, update any public online profiles (like Facebook or LinkedIn) with exuberant, yet mildly believable lies. Online profiles are the most likely way that print media will get background information about you, should you die, win an election, or get involved in a scandal. Exploit the laziness of their fact-checking pursuits and become whatever you want to become.

Here is an example:

Mike (of Mike and Chompy) was indicted today on twelve counts of coupon fraud. According to his LinkedIn profile, Mike is an award-winning ballerina with the Imperial Russian Ballet Company, having performed The Nutcracker on every continent of the world (except for North America). Before his coupon empire collapsed, Mike was also involved in the establishment of Judaism in and around Tallahassee, Florida."

Mike's last tweet before his arrest was "My coupon fraud has a 100% Success Rate!" The hashtag, #freechompy, is currently trending on Twitter.

tagged as random | permalink | 2 comments

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Composing Spotlight: Labyrinth

Movement V. Despondency

Continuing the walkthrough of my Master's Thesis...

This movement marks the midpoint of the Labyrinth, and also functions as a developmental bridge between I-IV and VI-IX. Chased out of the fourth movement by some sort of minotaur-like presence, forward motion grinds to a halt here. The entire fifth movement is characterized by slow, plodding, elephantine motions, gradually getting deeper and muddier until it collapses under its own weight.

The primary melodic material in this section is played by the violin, and was first introduced by muted trumpet in the third movement -- it has morphed from a busy, productive line into a more melancholy one. Over the slow 4/2 tempo, I take almost every motive heard so far and work each one into counterpoint with the melody, stacking them up like chromatically-buttered pancakes.

This is the movement where the protagonist feels like the Labyrinth will never be completed, which is very similar to how I felt about writing the piece at this point in its lifecycle.

    Listen to the fifth movement (3:55 MP3)

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

tagged as music | permalink | 0 comments

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Chad Darnell's 12 of 12

5:50 AM: This may look early and cold, but Rebecca was already up and moving towards Springfield for school.

6:05 AM: Making a mental note to put Windex on the shopping list.

6:12 AM: Chilly enough for seatwarmer action.

7:15 AM: The tale of the rapidly-growing spider plant.

11:21 AM: Driving home for lunch in a dearth of traffic.

11:41 AM: Someone has to eat these leftover hot dogs.

12:30 PM: Anna and brood drop by to deliver the communal Halloween party decorations.

1:49 PM: Booty hungers.

4:30 PM: Working out with Jack Bauer (and Calvin and Hobbes, for when Jack Bauer is boringly recapping plot points for 30% of an episode).

5:56 PM: Video game time, today with Guild Wars 2.

7:32 PM: Grilling up some steaks for dinner.

7:59 PM: Steak Night!

P.S. You can't tell from these pictures but apparently I wore the same shirt today as I did on September 12 last year.

tagged as 12 of 12 | permalink | 0 comments

Thursday, September 13, 2012

First Impressions: Guild Wars 2

There are no spoilers in this review.

Between 2004 and 2011, I played World of Warcraft off and on for nearly five years. A badge that could be worn with either honor or shame, or an awkward marble cake swirl of both, I probably devoted more time to playing this game than I did to getting through grad school, practicing my trumpet, or wooing potential wives combined. I always had a great time, but eventually reached the point where all of the fun had been squeezed out of it, crushed like grapes at a winery with a costly monthly fee.

It's from this perspective that I picked up Guild Wars 2 last week, since every reviewer was messianically proclaiming that it was like WoW, but with Higgs bosons and chocolate chips mixed in. It was definitely an impulse purchase -- the last game I played was Diablo 3, and like above-ground pools, two months is the maximum amount of time you can picture yourself having fun playing D3.

Coming from WoW, GW2 is more evolution than revolution. I've liked many aspects of the game so far:

  • After the upfront cost, there is no monthly fee. I won't feel like I have to play to justify the cost.
  • There are numerous refinements to the WoW formula that reduce the tedium and grindiness of combat, traveling, and crafting. Every professional review out there covers these bits, if you want more detail.
  • The graphics manage to be quite attractive while still maintaining a reasonable frame rate (think Skyrim, but with a cartoonish art style and fewer colors from the Quake palette).
  • The game is less about loot and more about combat. I see hints of a deep combat system that values movement and strategy over rote skill-chaining or standing in fires, but haven't tried out any PvP yet.

After about ten hours of playtime, however, the game still hasn't hooked me. The environment is very pretty, but somehow manages to feel sterile and obligatory at the same time. The biggest flaw so far is that the game doesn't do a good job of helping you manage the chaos. The user interface is great at effectively enabling complexity, but the game offers very little in the way of tutorials or a deeper understanding of the underlying systems beyond tool tips.

As an example, combat skills unlock as you level up, and it was easy enough to use these skills in a logical way, but it wasn't until I scoured many third-party forums and wikis that I realized that the obvious way isn't necessarily the correct way. The official manual and wiki are great as reference material, but awful for understanding, strategy, or depth. I think this is even worse for people who have played this type of game before and show up with all sorts of MMO bad habits. Sure, you can continue playing the way you always have, but you won't last long, and the game never lets you know that there might be another way to play. If WoW was your hammer, you're going to jump into GW2 looking for people to nail, and other analogies that don't quite translate.

The social aspect is flimsy too. Regardless of how many retarded pandas and microtransactions are added to WoW every iteration, it was always friendly and familiar (like that Cracker Barrel on I-81) because I had years to meet people and establish friendships. Unless your guild moves to GW2 with you, you'll be back to square one on meeting new players. This isn't helped by the questing structure, which emphasizes wandering around until something happens (also known as the "any given Friday night in my high school years" approach to questing). Because it's so easy to collaborate on these chaotic random events without any grouping or strategy, each one felt like a big crowd of solo players rather than a community.

Right now, Guild Wars 2 is a solid B- in my book of reviews. It's no cure for cancer, but it's not half bad either. The game is not immediately accessible or captivating, but does enough stuff right that I'm willing give it some more time to win me over. Torchlight 2 comes out next Friday -- that will be the defacto deadline for convincing me to keep playing!

tagged as reviews, games | permalink | 2 comments

Friday, September 14, 2012

Birth Day

Actually, my 33rd birthday isn't until tomorrow, but it would be virtually criminal for me to post on a Saturday.

tagged as day-to-day | permalink | 6 comments

Monday, September 17, 2012

Weekend Wrap-up

My weekend encompassed drunken noodles from Pattaya Thai, a trip to Costco for some Sam Adams Hazel Brown beer, games of Guild Wars 2, Skyrim, and Okami, sushi at Yamazato, chocolate marble birthday cake from scratch, a screening of Kick-Ass, 40 minutes on the treadmill, hot dogs grilled on the stove, and a trip to Edgewater, Maryland for my nephew's 2nd birthday party.

Now that I'm 33, it's time to take up more age-appropriate hobbies, such as:

  • landscaping
  • driving a Volvo
  • flag football
  • managing bone density
  • brewing my own beer
  • buying things at Brookstone
  • growing hair unexpectedly
  • buying a riding mower
  • nurturing a pot belly
  • putting a movie theatre in the basement
  • setting my browser home page to something sports-related
  • eating at Applebee's

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

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Composing Spotlight: Labyrinth

Movement VI. Abeyance

Continuing the walkthrough of my Master's Thesis...

It's all downhill from here. Everything through the fifth movement was the inexorable, but meandering churn up a roller coaster hill, and the remaining movements zip along to a conclusion. The sixth movement is the "SQUIRREL!" movement, where the protagonist who had gotten emo about his chances to solve the labyrinth is temporarily distracted by flighty, stutter-stepping melodic material.

For the first time, the flutes get to do something more interesting than playing minor seconds together. Their melody banters with the soprano sax, and gradually gets more out of control and whirling dervish-ish. Each attempt to reinstate an existing melody winnows away to distraction, until the abeyance is shattered by the reappearance of the adversary's theme. This snaps the protagonist back in to focus for the final three movements.

    Listen to the sixth movement (2:18 MP3)

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

tagged as music | permalink | 0 comments

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Weird Search Day

or "How I Stumbled Upon the URI! Zone"

Can you believe that it's been over half a year since the last time I posted the strange Google searches that arrive at my website?

  • is camping possible in the jiffy lube live parking lot
    At the venue formerly (and less embarrassingly) known as Nissan Pavilion, camping is about all you can do, since the design of this site and its surrounding roads are the urban planning equivalent of driving spermicide.

    It can take hours to clear the lot after a concert, since the site's only two points of egress vomit cars onto the same two-lane country road, with no direct access to the highway. Motions to rename the neighbouring Balls Ford Road as "Balls Deep In Tail Lights Road" are currently wending their way through the local courts.

  • fox news using the term refugee during hurricane katrina inappropriately
    Recent investigations into this allegation have triggered clarifications from FOX News brass, who said that the term "refugee" was not elegantly stated, and actually referred to the upcoming European reunion tour of the Fugees (November 2005), who had not appeared together since 1997.

  • remote control shock testicles s&m

  • suppose the equilibrium price in the desk lamp market is $50. how many table lamps should edward purchase
    There are so many qualifiers missing from this question, rendering it impossible to answer correctly. Is a table lamp the same as a desk lamp? Since when has there been a market for desk lamps? How much money does Edward have? Is Edward a reseller or a connoisseur of fabulous lamps? How big is Edward's table? Is the lamp unfairly hyped and nearing a bubble burst or are there extra features on the lamp that warrant $50?

  • pat sajak shower
    Pat Sajak is currently registered at Amazon.com. Currently, there is only one item left for you to buy.

  • optical illusion +brests

    It's a giant rooster head looking east! It's a tyrannosaurus rex turning west! It's both! It's BREST!

  • tagged as website, searches | permalink | 2 comments

    Thursday, September 20, 2012

    Review Day

    There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

    Weirdo by Donald Glover:
    This is an hour-long stand-up routine by the Community star with the fun Twitter handle of "donglover". He has an engaging, storytelling style of humor, and definitely had enough material for the full hour. His act sometimes struck me as a far raunchier version of Bill Cosby, though nowhere near as raunchy as Dave Attell.

    Final Grade: B

    Breaking Bad, Season Two:
    My Season One review of this show can be summarized as "great, intense, and very grim". Season Two is "great, intense, and not quite as grim", but it's still not going to be on any lists of "relaxing shows to watch after a long day of work". Everything about the show is high-quality, evinced by the framing of camera shots, believability of the actors, and continuity of the storyline. In spite of the overwhelming intensity (or maybe because of it), episodes sometimes feel a little too long, and I occasionally found myself watching with one eye on the TV and one eye on my laptop. I will probably watch another season, but am in no hurry to do so.

    Final Grade: B

    Beverly Hills Cop:
    I somehow managed to make it through my entire childhood without watching this movie. Since it's free on Amazon Prime, and since I used to think that Eddie Murphy was funny, I decided to rectify the situation with a quick screening. Even when intentionally viewed through my "this is how 80s movies are structured" rose-colored glasses, this movie isn't particularly funny or good. All of those 5-star reviews on Amazon must be flavoured with a tablespoon of nostalgia.

    Final Grade: D+

    Pushing Daises, Season Two Soundtrack:
    A pleasant, thematically cohesive soundtrack album from one of my "must-watch" shows. The first season soundtrack is more inviting, but the music on this one is more interesting.

    Final Grade: B

    tagged as reviews | permalink | 3 comments

    Friday, September 21, 2012

    BU's Theorem of Pandora

    After creating a fresh, new Pandora station, no matter how eclectic your tastes might be, attempting to tailor the station's music with Thumbs Up and Thumbs Down choices will ultimately crash-land the station into one of three end-states:

    tagged as random | permalink | 0 comments

    Monday, September 24, 2012

    12 of 12 Fallout

    My weekend did not meet the minimum threshold of interest to devote a whole post to -- I learned some Ruby, started playing Torchlight 2, started watching Homeland, and grilled burgers with a distant cousin of Rebecca's who was passing through town on the way to the airport.

    Instead, today's post will draw back on six years of 12 of 12 participation to show how I've evolved in that time. Because today is the 24th (which is twice 12), and because sequences are the easiest questions on the SATs, here is a selection of 36 pictures of me getting ready for work. My evolution in physical appearance is readily apparent.

    It's not every day that you can discover a picture montage of BU hanging out in the bathroom. This is probably why the Internet was invented. It should also be noted that there were a total of 48 pictures taken in this locale to choose from, but I had to discard 12 because they had a different aspect ratio than 4:3 and did not fit into the montage well. BU looks better in fullscreen anyhow.

    tagged as 12 of 12 | permalink | 4 comments

    Tuesday, September 25, 2012

    Composing Spotlight: Labyrinth

    Movement VII. Flight

    Continuing the walkthrough of my Master's Thesis...

    This is the shortest of the nine movements, weighing in at just over thirty seconds. After the adversary motive breaks the suspended abeyance of the sixth movement, this movement is a purely visceral escape with no goal in mind.

    To emphasize the lack of planning, there are no real melodies in this movement -- all of the material is grabbed from rhythms and counterpoints of previous movements and mashed together. The feeling I was trying to get, especially with the oboe line, is that you are hearing a counter-line to an unheard melody -- a melody that you could probably identify by filling in the gaps, if only there were time to do so.

    I love writing things in fast 3/4 time, but hate how quickly the score fills up with barlines when I do. Because it seems wasteful to devote so many paper pages to something under a minute long, I decided to wrap up quickly and move on to the next section.

      Listen to the seventh movement (0:40 MP3)

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

    tagged as music | permalink | 0 comments

    Wednesday, September 26, 2012

    Memory Day: Fourteen Years Ago Today

    September 26, 1998 was a Saturday in my third year at Virginia Tech. I was living with the messiest of my college roommates, Nathan Egge, in East AJ and regularly wore a hand-me-down Members Only jacket to embellish my intentional wardrobe of clothing that didn't quite fit.

    This Saturday was Band Parents Day, which meant that my parents were in town to watch the band spell DAD and WOW on the field, and my dad was tailing everyone in my band rank, trying to get them to look at him for picture-taking purposes (candid shots were rarely a part of his photographic palette).

    The VT football team was doing rather well, with Al Clark leading them to a 27-7 victory over Pitt, but I cared about football only slightly more than I cared about the Multivariable Calculus class I was apparently enrolled in but had attended only twice since the start of the year. I would ultimately go on to earn a C for this negative quantity of effort, and have never used my multivar skills in the real world since then.

    I didn't have to worry about being embarassed by my parents after the game, since they tended to leave Blacksburg without a word sometime after halftime, to beat the inevitable traffic back to I-81 (in the days before Blacksburg had its own super-highways enveloping its campus like a very rural Mario Kart track). Instead, I was invited over to Dave McGarry's townhouse for a post-game barbeque with his brother, Marc. I assume that Doobie was there too, but cannot recall for sure. All I remember of the evening was that Dave-o had recently discovered that putting CDs in the microwave made cool patterns (accompanied by a demo), and that he and his brother had decided that "diadem" was a cool word, and they were going to put up a website at diadems.com. Apparently, that plan never came to fruition.

    tagged as memories | permalink | 4 comments

    Thursday, September 27, 2012

    Review Day

    There are no spoilers in these reviews.

    Mr. Universe, Jim Gaffigan:
    This is the newest stand-up routine from Jim Gaffigan. I enjoyed it and laughed throughout, but didn't enjoy it as much as the original "Beyond the Pale" routine featuring hot pockets. I felt like the topics he chose for this one just weren't quite as interesting.

    Final Grade: B-

    The Robert F. Kennedy Assassination by Philip H. Melanson, Ph.D:
    One of my favorite coffee table books is It's a Conspiracy!, which contains Bathroom-Reader-styled summaries of major conspiracy theories in US history. This RFK book was referenced, and I chose to read it since I wasn't very familiar with RFK. The book is engaging and obviously well-researched, but it really uses the RFK assassination as a backdrop for showing how the LAPD majorly screwed up throughout the investigation -- there's a plethora of evidence to show how the official cover story is impossible, but nearly zero space devoted to suggesting what the real story might be. For the type of book that this is, it's a good writing choice, but it won't be as interesting if you care more about what really happened. Occasionally, the weight of evidence gets pedantic.

    Final Grade: B-

    Wallis Bird by Wallis Bird:
    Self-titled albums bug me slightly more than albums and artists with names taken from common nouns. Apparently, most musicians need a course in SEO. This third album from Wallis Bird is not quite as good as the previous ones. There are a couple upbeat, catchy songs like Heartbeating City, but the rest of the CD is filled with sleepy songs from the permanent fermata department -- not bad in the least bit, but not good for car listening.

    Final Grade: B-

    tagged as reviews | permalink | 0 comments

    Friday, September 28, 2012

    End-of-the-Month Media Day

    New photos have been added to the Life, 2012 album. Have a good weekend!

    tagged as media | permalink | 1 comment


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