Posts from 11/2012

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

Pines by A Fine Frenzy:
A Fine Frenzy's third album is an "imaginative fable about a pining tree who is given the unheard-of chance (for a conifer) to make a life of her own choosing", and the amount that that line intrigues you is probably directly proportional to the enjoyment you'll get out of it. Since she wrote one of my all-time favourite songs, I'm willing to cut her some slack, but I just can't get into this album at all -- I appreciate it without enjoying it. The music is mostly meterless, and sometimes almost ambient, and does kind of sound like tree music. However, there are no hooks or beautiful melodies this time around, and her voice is imbued with a really awkward tremolo that's done so much, it must be intentional. There's a difference between vibrato and being cold when you sing, and this sounds like the latter.

Final Grade: D+

Morning Glory (PG-13):
We sometimes slum it with the free movies on Amazon Prime, and the presence of Rachel McAdams was a small bonus (which reminds me that I never did fulfill my 2009 Resolution to star in a naked movie with her). This is a harmless, predictable comedy (of a minimally romantic strain) that's most notable for Harrison Ford as a grouchy, legendary news anchor. Worth a watch if it's free and there's nothing else on.

Final Grade: B-

Chuck, Season One:
This is a well-done, comedic take on the spy genre about a nerdy guy who works in a big box store and accidentally gets the entire CIA database downloaded into his brain. It's kind of like Alias from the point of view of Marshall Flinkman, with less crying and Sarah McLaughlin musical cues. The "lore" is cohesive with nice gotcha moments, but the series never strays too far over the line into a drama -- I laughed out loud several times, and enjoyed the first (13-episode) season enough to buy the complete series (5 seasons). Guest appearances by a variety of well known actors are very fun as well.

Final Grade: A

Avengers (PG-13):
I am not a comic book / superhero fan, which must be why I didn't like this movie as much as everyone else in the universe. To me, adding Norse gods to a pastiche of superheroes from different eras was one incredulous crossover genre too far, and the first hour of exposition was boring enough that I dozed off around the 50 minute mark. The last 2/3rds of the movie were redeeming and exciting, but the path to get there was made bearable only through the one liners of Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man. Just make an unending series of Iron Man films -- these other clowns don't bring enough to the table to interest me.

Final Grade: C

tagged as reviews | permalink | 4 comments
day in history

Friday, November 02, 2012

Random Chart Day: Ear Training Cheaters

Because of this post, the URI! Zone has jumped to the number one Google result for people in search of ways to cheat on their computer-assisted ear training assignments. As a sociology experiment, I decided to track and record the people who arrived at my website in search of cheats during the month of October. Since the experiment only lasted 1 month, it is not statistically significant in the least bit, but I'll continue in the future if there's interest. I received 32 prospective cheaters from all manner of universities and colleges (alphabetical, clockwise).

Pro-tip: If you are hiring music faculty in the next six to eight years, skip anyone who graduated from Ball State University. At first, I thought it was one really desperate cheater, until I noticed that most of the searches came from different combinations of web browser and operating system.

Over half of cheaters are using Macs, probably because their freshman orientation manual ordered them to buy a department-specified laptop. Of more interest is the fact that people using IE don't cheat. However, this can probably be attributed to the fact that IE defaults to Bing, where the URI! Zone is much lower in the list of search results.

  • View Raw Data (10KB XLSX)

tagged as data | permalink | 1 comment
day in history

Monday, November 05, 2012

List Day: 10 Ways to Recapture My Election Attention in the Next 24 Hours

  1. Hurricane Sandy is discovered to be a WMD. We invade the Caribbean and storm the beaches of Jamaica to control the world's rum supply.

  2. Each candidate posts a 5 minute campaign rap on YouTube, personally written and performed. Romney may not rhyme "sequestration" with "equestrian". Obama must rap in the style of Busta Rhymes.

  3. Candidates finally flesh out the fiscal cliff metaphor by clarifying whether we're driving off the top or crashing into the base.

  4. Hackers subvert all of the electronic voting machines in Virginia and give Virgil Goode 104% of the popular vote.

  5. A mysterious cabal of fast-food interests reveals that Michelle Obama and her healthy eating initiative are in the pocket of Big Cucumber. (That's what she said)

  6. Super PACs offer $1000 gift cards in exchange for your vote.

  7. Obama, Biden, Romney, and Ryan engage in a team deathmatch on top of a giant cornucopia. Stanley Tucci is involved in some significant way.

  8. Romney drops Paul Ryan as VP candidate and replaces him with Eugene Delgaudio.

  9. Obama pledges to abolish Christmas music in shopping malls. Romney one-ups by outsourcing the Mormon Tabernacle Choir to China.

  10. Nate Silver is revealed to be Ben Romney's twin brother, put up for adoption in 1978 and set on the path towards statistical significance in order to hide a Romney landslide. (also known as the Long, Long, Long Con)

tagged as lists, politics | permalink | 1 comment
day in history

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Music Tuesday: Anything Can Be Pep Band Music

When I was first getting started in composing in 1995, my bread and butter was pep band music. Each arrangement was fairly short, subtlety was less important than projection, and the style was usually more fun for high school kids to get into than wind band stuff.

This was especially noticeable at T.C. Williams in the mid 90s, as we were something of a special needs marching band. In the years before Bob Zazzara flooded the group with enthusiasm and its own zip code, the T.C. Marching Titans rarely peaked at 50 players, and couldn't afford much in the way of music (we had to wait for the quarter notes to go on sale for a dime). In this environment, where we alternated between a song called "Bread Man" and "The Wanderer" over and over, I thought it would be really neat to apply my newfound, inept skills to donate some additional music to the playbook. Plus, band girls like composers, right?

As a budding musician who expected to make millions selling his own sheet music, I wanted to do things the right way, and started writing to all sorts of music publishers for permission to arrange their music. (This was before I learned in college that a true arranger just writes songs in nearly the same style as the desired song and calls it artistic license). For the most part, music publishers treated me like any other arranger and sent me a form letter and a request for $50, which is about what the band as a whole spent on our trip to the Peach Bowl. I actually ended up paying for rights to the Darth Vader Theme and Cantina Band with Warner Brothers, but passed on most of the other songs. It didn't seem worth it to pay for the privilege of writing what could possibly be the most inexperienced arrangement of Louie Louie ever heard.

I also sent a similar letter to Nathan Wang, composer of the soundtrack to Return to Zork, a cutting-edge computer game that featured really bad actors in full-motion video, and a novel soundtrack that was actual recorded music on the CD, rather than tinny MIDI music. It was a long shot, and I never did hear back before pep band season ended.

However, the following Spring, I received this letter from Michael Schwartz at Activision:

I eventually did go on to arrange a couple fanfares and short cheers based on the music from Return to Zork, for completionist's sake, although they never ended up getting performed. Here's one of those arrangements in MIDI:

    Listen (0:14 MP3)

Still, I always thought it was very cool that someone took the time out of their day to reply to a random high school kid's letter and give them permission, for free, to try their hand at music arranging.

I would also hear from Michael a couple years later -- Activision needed a school band to do some kind of recording and he wanted to know if T.C. would be interested. Knowing that this would end horribly for all involved, I politely declined.

tagged as music | permalink | 1 comment
day in history

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Memory Day: Snapshots

Apparently in 1987, I stole my smile from a sock puppet and my pants from a jester.

tagged as memories, media | permalink | 4 comments
day in history

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

Parks and Recreation, Season One:
The first season of this show is only about six episodes long, and comes off as a poor man's money-grab for The Office popularity. Luckily, like The Office, it improves dramatically in the second season. This season is not worth watching unless you must watch every show for completionist's sake, or you're bored and looking at the free shows available on Amazon Prime. I fell into the latter category, and after watching it, I still can't tolerate Amy Poehler for more than a few minutes at a time.

Final Grade: D

I Suck At Girls by Justin Halpern:
This is the second book by the author of Shit My Dad Says, and it maintains the same mix of racy, yet heartwarming humor found in the original book. I enjoyed it almost as much, but finished it in about two hours. When I saw it in the airport bookstore for $16 in Canada over the summer, I dubbed it a rip-off, and even $7 on Amazon seems a little high. You will probably enjoy it, but it won't hurt to salvage it from a bargain bin.

Final Grade: B

Chuck, Season Two:
The second season of Chuck proves that it's a sustainable show idea, deepening the back story while maintaining the lighthearted mix of spy stuff and jokes about working retail. The guest stars continue to be very fun, and I was impressed by how tightly the story arc was written from the first episode to the last of the season.

Final Grade: A

tagged as reviews | permalink | 0 comments
day in history

Friday, November 09, 2012

2012 Election Recap

In case you missed my live-blogging of the 2012 Election on Facebook last Tuesday, here is a transcript. I tried to include a little something for everyone, regardless of their politics:

7:00 PM
Breaking News: Voter fraud suspected as irate Huntington / Hybla Valley residents insist that they live in Alexandria.
1 person likes this.
7:10 PM
Breaking News: Polling station at Bob and Edith's Diner refusing to close. "24/7 is 24/7", manager says.
1 person likes this.
7:20 PM
Breaking News: Obama moving a III army piece into Ohio so he can use more red attack dice.
7:30 PM
Breaking News: Exit Polls in Reston reporting that 98.4% of voters used a door, 1.1% left through a window, and 0.5% are still inside, refusing to leave.
3 people like this.
7:40 PM
Breaking News: Hipster riots reported at Manhattan polling station because touch screens don't allow swipe and pinch gestures.
3 people like this.
7:50 PM
Breaking News: Manassas polling stations reporting a massive wave of voters who are really, really, really bad at Daylight Saving Time.
5 people like this.
8:00 PM
Breaking News: In search of primetime relevance, Alaska is crossing out the dates on their 2008 returns and resubmitting momentarily.
1 person likes this.
8:10 PM
Breaking News: Early reports from New Jersey's e-voting initiative show a strong Nigerian turnout.
2 people like this.
8:20 PM
Breaking News: Widespread ballot misprints in Maryland mean that only same-sex couples are welcome at the new casinos.
3 people like this.
8:30 PM
Breaking News: National Arboretum reporting that Romney has won the poplar vote.
8:40 PM
Breaking News: Arkansas Exit Polls report a landslide. EMTs are on the way.
1 person likes this.
8:50 PM
Breaking News: Romney projected to win West Virginia (5), but offers to trade for Rhode Island (4) and a pack of smokes. Obama declines.
3 people like this.
9:00 PM
Breaking News: Multiple Austin, TX polling stations reporting problems closing on time because of the large number of voters stuck in doorways.
4 people like this.
9:10 PM
Breaking News: Obama wins Best Sound Mixing.
1 person likes this.
9:20 PM
Breaking News: Texas annoying federal officials by publishing its election returns in Helvetica 72pt to be bigger than California.
1 person likes this.
9:30 PM
Breaking News: Romney and Obama have agreed to cede Colorado to the first candidate who can draw it in Blind Pictionary and get their VP to guess it.
5 people like this.
9:40 PM
Breaking News: Voting irregularities reported in Grinnell, IA, where voters have ganged up at opposite ends of the room and tried to convince others to join them.
9:50 PM
Breaking News: Romney has collected 3 Dragon Coins and unlocked bonus electoral votes.
4 people like this.
10:00 PM
Breaking News: Alleged voter intimidation reported in Kansas turned out to be an Asian family, recently moved to Wichita and in line to vote.
1 person likes this.
10:10 PM
Breaking News: Exit Polls from Nevada indicate that Romney has won more popular votes than Windows 8.
1 person likes this.
10:20 PM
Breaking News: Rep. Frank Wolf chastised for offering unpaid congressional page positions to Kristin Cabral and Kevin Chisolm.
10:30 PM
Breaking News: Romney admits that he doesn't mind a loss, as long as the outline of his red states "looks like some kind of cool dinosaur, maybe a Biblebeltasaurus".
11 people like this.
8:00 AM
Breaking News: Republican strategists admit that they were relying on their Google Plus page to win the social media battle.
4 people like this.

tagged as mock mock, politics | permalink | 3 comments
day in history

Monday, November 12, 2012

Chad Darnell's 12 of 12

5:35 AM: Time to wake up!

5:48 AM: Showered and ready for work.

5:55 AM: Arrived at the office.

6:22 AM: Cats do not work from home.

7:21 AM: Reading about the cloud.

8:00 AM: Bagel for breakfast.

11:25 AM: Thawing steaks for Mike Catania.

12:33 PM: Leftovers for lunch.

2:45 PM: Amber reminds me that it's way past time for cat dinner.

4:03 PM: Fall Cleaning has come to the basement.

5:12 PM: 24 and treadmill time.

6:31 PM: Chicken bacon alfredo pizza for dinner.

tagged as 12 of 12 | permalink | 0 comments
day in history

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Composing Spotlight: Scarabus

I wrote Scarabus in the spring semester of my third year of undergrad, solely because of an offhand remark from a piano player.

All music majors at Virginia Tech had to perform once a semester at "Convocation", a weekly gathering with mandatory attendance (but no mandatory wakefulness). Because a composer is the final word in how to interpret his own works, I would sometimes play my own music on the trumpet: an end-run around having to perform the same Persichetti garbage as every trumpeter for ego-filled comparison. The first work I performed was the first movement of The Hero, a wind band trumpet concerto that I squished into a piano accompaniment without much skill or foresight.

As we came off the stage from the performance, another accompanist who did not know that I was the composer (the infamous Jimmy B.) commiserated with my accompanist, "That sounded like one of those orchestral transcriptions that no one ever wants to get stuck with!" He was completely right, and I decided that it was time to learn how to score for piano. I started by transcribing multiple existing accompaniments, such as the Kennan Trumpet Sonata, into MIDI to hear and feel how the lines flowed technically. As a result, impressions of Kennan harmonies ended up prominently in Scarabus.

Scarabus was a through-composed trumpet work in four sections. I had a feeling and style in mind, but no overarching thematic urges. I just wrote until I got bored and then switched styles. Through this piece, I practiced such valuable new techniques as "the trumpeter doesn't have to be playing the whole time", and "pianists like octave arpeggios".

Through this self-study, the difficulty of my piano accompaniments dropped from "digitally impossible" in 1998, to "unnecessarily impudent" by the time that Rob Kelley accompanied me at FSU in 2002.

    Listen to Scarabus, as performed by me at Convo, 9-28-99 (6:23 MP3)

tagged as music | permalink | 1 comment
day in history

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Stuff In My Drawers Day: ICQ Chat Logs

Not a lot happened on November 14 in any of my past logs to warrant an "X Years Ago Today" post, but I did stumble across these ICQ chat logs from the year I lived with Kelley in East Ambler Johnston. He was usually on the road representing his cult, so we mainly used ICQ to leave messages for each other. Apparently, I was home ALL OF THE TIME because I was a Computer Science major, which also made me his personal secretary.

     ICQ History Log For:    
           101330505  Kelley
 Started on Thu May 10 16:06:02 2001
BU 8/21/99 7:02 PM: Call Wythe
BU 8/22/99 9:38 PM: Melody called. Call back if you come home in the next hour; otherwise she'll talk to you later in the week.
BU 8/23/99 1:02 PM: msg from Formal Wear...your clothes are in
BU 8/23/99 7:14 PM: Melody called. Will call back later
BU 8/23/99 11:31 PM: Melody called
BU 8/24/99 8:00 PM: Jason called, is at War Memorial shootin' baskets and lookin' buff.
BU 8/25/99 1:16 PM: Dad called... loan paper - call back today
BU 8/25/99 1:26 PM: Melody called. No big deal; talk to you later.
BU 8/26/99 7:56 AM: dad called, check answering machine
BU 8/26/99 8:44 PM: Jason stopped by at 8...tired so he went home.
BU 8/26/99 10:08 PM: Scott called
BU 8/27/99 1:02 PM: Sally has your pants. Give her a call.
BU 8/30/99 12:50 PM: Call "Mel" at dorm room
BU 8/30/99 9:37 PM: Melody called right after you left
BU 9/1/99 4:14 PM: "Mel" called.
BU 9/1/99 11:38 PM: call Melody...doesn't matter what time
BU 9/2/99 11:45 PM: Melody called 5 seconds after you went to the shower. Call back, will be up
BU 9/3/99 8:54 PM: Mel called
BU 9/3/99 9:03 PM: Melody's all about some calling Kelley... Leave a message if she's not in, she'll check before she goes out tonight
BU 9/4/99 9:42 PM: Matt called
BU 9/5/99 11:56 PM: Mel called, call anyime
BU 9/6/99 6:48 PM: Msg from your tpt student's mom on phone
BU 9/7/99 7:03 PM: Mel called 7PM. Call back anytime, if not home, try Doug's
BU 9/12/99 9:51 PM: Mel called. "Call her back if you want. But if you don't, then don't call her back. Either way it's just dandy."
BU 9/13/99 8:04 PM: Mel called. Call anytime
BU 9/20/99 9:42 PM: Your dad just called. 9:40...will call back in 10 minutes
BU 9/22/99 4:06 PM: Melley called.
BU 9/23/99 1:05 PM: Nathan (from back home) and Andrew have called.
BU 9/23/99 6:14 PM: Call Andrew in Fairfax
BU 9/24/99 9:35 AM: Call George Lloyd
BU 9/24/99 1:23 PM: Melley called
BU 9/26/99 1:01 PM: Nathan from back home called...will call later in week
BU 9/28/99 8:10 AM: Dad called
BU 9/29/99 7:58 PM: Jim Campbell called
BU 9/30/99 1:09 PM: Jim Capbell called again.
BU 10/1/99 3:46 PM: Call Melley. Call Melley. Call Melley. Call Melley. Call Melley. Call Melley. Call Melley. Call Melley. Call Melley. Call Melley. Call Melley. Call Melley. Call Melley. Call Melley. Call Melley. Call Melley. Call Melley. Damnit.
BU 10/5/99 10:16 PM: Mel visited Squires. 10:09
BU 10/7/99 3:26 PM: Call mom... work til 4:30, home til 5:45, Gma's after
BU 10/8/99 6:32 PM: Mel called.
BU 10/14/99 4:35 PM: MEL CALLED
BU 10/15/99 12:39 PM: Mel back until 6
BU 10/18/99 7:03 PM: Mel called from Home Home... will try back later...not important
BU 10/19/99 8:18 PM: Message for ya
BU 10/21/99 11:51 AM: mel called. Call her at home home.
BU 10/25/99 11:38 PM: Shac called
BU 10/27/99 12:00 AM: Mel called
BU 10/29/99 6:14 PM: mel called
BU 11/2/99 6:59 PM: call shac
BU 11/3/99 4:39 PM: Mel called, call back
BU 11/3/99 8:28 PM: Shac called. Meet at Calc lab couches at 9
BU 11/5/99 11:37 AM: Daniel called at Noon...NORFOLK not NOVA tomorrow.
BU 11/7/99 6:06 PM: Nathan called
BU 11/9/99 11:31 PM: Howard Smith from DeMolay needs to know if you are flying on Saturday. Will call back from cell phone at midnight
BU 11/11/99 4:07 PM: Greg McLann from DeM called to see if everything was okay for Saturday (4pm)
BU 11/11/99 7:58 PM: Mel called also
BU 11/14/99 4:11 PM: Mel called
BU 11/15/99 9:42 PM: Call Shac 6:40pm. Call Mel 9:30pm
BU 11/17/99 11:46 PM: mel called
BU 11/30/99 2:33 PM: Mel called to say "Good luck"
BU 12/2/99 4:16 PM: Mel called
BU 12/7/99 8:13 PM: Call Mel bitchums.
BU 12/14/99 11:23 PM: Mel called.
BU 1/18/00 5:03 PM: Mel called 5pm
BU 1/21/00 4:50 PM: mel called 5pm. If you call before you come and she's not there, she'll be back soon so just come anyways
BU 1/24/00 9:19 PM: Mel called around 8:30ish
BU 1/26/00 3:08 PM: Message for you... the saved one on the phone
BU 1/26/00 4:45 PM: Call Mel
BU 1/27/00 10:58 PM: Mel called
BU 1/28/00 3:50 PM: Mel called (saved message)
BU 1/29/00 8:30 PM: Call mom to let her know you're not dead.
BU 2/3/00 2:11 PM: Call Mel
BU 2/10/00 3:11 PM: Msg from mom: If you get an email that says "photos from...[someone you know]" Don't open it.. b/c it's a virus that erases hard drives
BU 2/17/00 7:15 AM: Loud-ass joan campbell called
BU 2/19/00 10:20 PM: Mel called
BU 2/21/00 6:25 PM: call shac
BU 2/23/00 5:18 PM: Call mom tonight. re: recital
BU 2/24/00 10:48 PM: Call Shac
BU 2/24/00 10:49 PM: Call Mel
BU 2/26/00 12:41 AM: Melody called at 12:41... call her when you get in. She sounded like she was hyperventilating or something but said she was fine
BU 2/27/00 12:17 PM: call shac
BU 3/1/00 11:13 PM: Call Mel (She'll still be up at 2 - 3 when you get back)
BU 3/6/00 3:37 PM: call shac
BU 3/7/00 12:01 AM: Mel called at midnight. Call at home (she knows it'll be late) and she will call you back b/c she feels guilty about making you call long distance
BU 3/8/00 2:38 PM: call pip urgent
BU 4/9/00 9:41 PM: call wythe
BU 4/13/00 1:58 PM: Mom called... will be at concert on Friday
BU 4/16/00 5:58 PM: call shac when you're home
BU 4/20/00 10:10 PM: CALL MEL
BU 5/1/00 7:42 PM: Call Mel @ home

My memory is poor, but I'm pretty sure that Melody was the girlfriend and Shac was the friend, but the frequency of phone calls towards the spring semester suggests that both of them wanted a piece.

Bonus Transcript:

Kelley 9/4/99 12:12 AM: You are a son of a bitch. I am now a "floor rep" in east AJ. Whatever the hell that means.
BU 9/4/99 6:40 AM: Sorry man. Decline and say it was some asshole's prank. So that means people actually voted for you? This is a sad campus when the RA can't figure out a joke sign.
Kelley 9/4/99 9:48 AM: It's no big deal. I'm just not going to do anything, then put it on all my resumes.

tagged as memories | permalink | 5 comments
day in history

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Mike Day

Mike (of Mike and Chompy) says hi.

tagged as day-to-day | permalink | 4 comments
day in history

Friday, November 16, 2012

Training Day: Hadoop for Laymen

I've spent this past week in a company-provided training course, which has had a few decent nuggets of information (and free lunches) to balance out the otherwise slow pace of the course and the need to drive to Tysons Corner during rush hour. There are also people in the class from some of our "sister companies" that remind me of the CS majors from my undergrad: eager to showcase their knowledge, catch the instructor in a fallacy, or drive the discussion off a tangential cliff of irrelevant details. I learn best on my own, so I would usually read ahead in the slides, do the exercises, and then tune out the rest of the day on Reddit or doing my day job.

The material that we learned is based on the concept of MapReduce, which is how Google scales their infrastructure to query and analyze gigantic data sets. So you can avoid a three thousand dollar training course, here's how it works:

MapReduce is a way of solving problems in a distributed manner. Rather than buying a few incredibly expensive supercomputers to handle petabytes of data, you buy tons of crappy consumer computers, split the data across them all, and then break down the big job into smaller jobs that each crappy computer can handle. You assume that some of the crappy computers will break down or take too long and cover your ass by assigning the same work to multiple computers, and using the one that finishes first. This is kind of how outsourcing to foreign countries works as well.

Hadoop is the part that takes care of all the grunt work: mapping a job onto the computers, reducing their results into one master result, and handling failures, job scheduling, and data replication. With all of that out of the way, you can focus on coding the job itself, but it requires a slightly different mindset to think in MapReduce terms. You don't really see benefits of this until your data sets are larger than you could possibly imagine (e.g. analyzing the number of clicks your stupid high school friends have made in Farmville, or searching through your ridiculous collection of porn). A common example is to get a word count of the complete works of Shakespeare. You could do this by maintaining a master tally and walk through his works, word by word. Or, you could give a couple sentences to each computer and consolidate their results in the end.

Hadoop is supported by an "ecosystem" of related tools, including Hive, Pig, Sqoop, Flume, and Oozie, because it takes an embarassing name to get any money in Silicon Valley. And of course, the company offering the training just happens to sell support for their own version of Hadoop, as well as a certification exam which is probably worthless in the long run, but will allow me to show "career growth" on my next performance review.

tagged as programming, day-to-day | permalink | 1 comment
day in history

Monday, November 19, 2012

List Day: 15 Things That Outstay Their Welcomes

  1. Post-Cold Congestion

  2. Most Jazz Solos

  3. Road Construction

  4. El Nino

  5. Ryan Seacrest

  6. Epic Movies

  7. 3rd Movement of Symphonie Fantasique

  8. Interstate 81

  9. PETA

  10. Eugene Delgaudio

  11. U2

  12. Video Game Motion Controls

  13. Wikipedia Begging Ads

  14. Commuter Biking Fads

  15. Chigger Bites

tagged as lists | permalink | 2 comments
day in history

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Newsday Tuesday: Introducing the HOT Lanes

New Beltway express lanes lead to crashes and changes

The Capital Beltway's new lanes have been open to the public for just a few days, but it's already time for a bit of a makeover. A spate of accidents at the entrance to the northbound 495 express lanes, all stemming from last-minute maneuvers to avoid the new lanes, has transportation authorities scrambling to make changes.

A spokesman for VDOT argued that Northern Virginian drivers should be used to constant lane changes by now. "While the HOT lanes were under construction, we played a game where we shifted the southbound 495 lanes to the right an extra foot every day. No one complained until they realized that they were driving through Aldie."

The high-occupancy toll lanes represent a new way to manage traffic and build new highways at a time of increasing congestion and stagnant transportation funding. Tolls rise to control demand for the lanes and ensure a predictable trip over the 14-mile route.

A recent transportation study showed that drivers were overwhelmingly in favour of what is essentially a Tax on the Entitled Class and People Too Lazy to Wake Up Early Like the Rest of Us. Additionally, 100% of those polled did not identify themselves as part of this group.

On Sunday night, electronic signs were changed to warn drivers about the new pattern and extra colored reflectors were added to the barriers that separate the high-occupancy toll lanes from the regular lanes. Even after the changes, two crashes occurred Monday morning, raising the three-day total to six. So on Tuesday morning, drivers will wake up to newly extended lane markings intended to minimize unsafe lane changes.

Workers have also installed warning signs on the Blue Line Metro to alert commuters parked in Springfield, and pinned notes to the shirts of elementary school children who will be driving by 2020. AAA spokesman, Lon Anderson, criticized the additional signs. "You would have to be completely oblivious to miss the current batch of signs. If we erect too many warnings, we're going to have a Williamsburg problem, where every road purports to lead to Busch Gardens, but none of them actually do."

New legislation is also expected from the Virginia Assembly, requesting that the HOT lanes wear bright red vests, although Governor McDonnell stopped short of endorsing the construction of a new HOT Lane Lane to keep the HOT Lane safely separated from traffic.

Every crash has occurred near the entrance to the northbound express lanes between the Springfield interchange and Braddock Road on the inner loop of the Capital Beltway.

In all likelihood, drivers near Springfield are still gun shy from the introduction of the Mixing Bowl five years ago. Virginia State Police still found this surprising, since they had deployed their patrols near the American Legion Bridge where all of the Maryland drivers enter the state.

The new lanes opened Saturday at 2 a.m. after weeks of media attention and a ribbon-cutting and balloon drop presided over by Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R).

The Governor's office downplayed any connection between the increase in accidents and the four million balloons littering the highway.

The first crash came just before 7 a.m. Saturday. A 19-year-old driver approaching the express lane entrance swerved to the right to avoid it, overcorrected to the left and hit the Jersey wall. [...] An hour later, just as the first crash was being cleared from the road, two vehicles caught in the backup collided. The third accident came shortly after 2:15 p.m Saturday. A driver trying to avoid the lanes swerved, and the car spun out and came to a stop in the roadway. The fourth incident occurred on Sunday at 8:04 a.m., when another vehicle trying to avoid the toll swerved, spun and struck the Jersey wall.

In response to this surge in accidents, Urban Dictionary now defines "strike the Jersey wall" as "blowing a lane change out of proportion because you're not paying attention to the road". The previous definition was "being passed over for promotion because you come from New Jersey".

tagged as newsday, favourites | permalink | 2 comments
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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Memory Day: Wii U (and sometimes, Why?)

Growing up, our household was always a Nintendo household. We had a NES (two years after everyone else in the neighborhood did), followed by a Super NES, and I can still remember the innocent years when I thought a game was good because "Nintendo Power gave it a 5 out of 5!!".

My sister and I had matching Game Boys, which we used to play games that no one had ever heard of (like Dedalus Opus) until the "monochrome bars of death" covered up too much of the screen to be playable. We never owned any of the systems from Sega, Sony or Microsoft, and that embargo continues today for no particular good reason.

The Nintendo love decreased in college and beyond: I bought an N64 when I lived with Rosie and Anna, followed by a GameCube at Florida State (where every day was 2 hours of composing followed by 22 hours of nothing to do) but they were bargain bin purchases long after the hype had faded. I never had a GBA, but I did get a DS Lite and enjoyed it greatly, apart from that retarded Dogs game full of starving puppies. WAY TO MAKE ME FEEL GUILTY FOR NOT PLAYING, NINTENDO. Plus, "blowing on the mic" will always be creepy. I never bought a 3DS because I don't need to pay someone to give myself a migraine.

I had never really planned on buying a Wii, but ended up snatching one up in a pre-Christmas fire sale in December 2006. In the pre-Rebecca years, I was working about 80 hours a week, and spent way too much on a bundle consisting of a Wii, 2 fun games, and 4 games that no one should ever have to play, in order to justify the money I was earning in overtime.

I mostly enjoyed the Wii in spite of its ridiculously long loading screens, but for every great game like Rayman Origins or Wario Ware, there were other games that forced you to use the motion controls for gimmick's sake when it clearly detracted from the game. You need to sneeze? Well Mario's going to spin jump off a cliff then!

This brings us to the release of the latest console, the awfully named "Wii U", which came out last Sunday. I get that the similar name is intended to grab all of the casual gamers who bought a Wii, but now we get to see an endless string of "titles ending in U" as a form a branding just slightly worse than the kind used on a cattle ranch. Hopefully, games on the Wii U will not get any sequels, because then it will always look like Bono is somehow involved.

Being a former Nintendo fan, I looked desperately for a good reason to throw some money at this console, but I'm just not very clear on the point. I must not be the only one, because a trip through Target yesterday showed 3 consoles sitting forlornly under glass like Nintendogs at a shelter fair.

On paper, the Wii U just takes all of the worst parts of the Wii and puts Carmex on them to make them "shinier and more noticeable". Besides HD, the big gimmick is an iPad-like controller for player one, so they can see something different than everyone else. Sure, being "IT" while everyone chases you in a game of tag sounds kind of fun, and it probably will be in a novelty party setting, but is that really worth $350 for a console plus $60 for each game? The only possible outcome is a series of awful games that maximize the novelty of using a different kind of controller while minimizing the fun factor.

I may yet buy a Wii U, because I am a yuppy living in Northern Virginia and am incapable of passing up a deal, but I will probably be dragged into it kicking and screaming (because the new controller will require you to kick and scream). The simple truth of the matter is that console gaming will never be as cost-effective as PC gaming, but as a gamer, I can be illogically tempted to play the latest Mario game.

Not Zelda though. I am through with Zelda.

tagged as memories | permalink | 5 comments
day in history

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving Day

or "Thursday", according to Brianne

For the first time in nine years, I did not have a separate Thanksgiving Dinner every Sunday throughout the month. This year, we just had one quiet one with the Ahlbins on Veterans Day, to be followed up with two Family Thanksgivings during the rest of this week. Apologies to anyone who was desperate for cheese soup!

Happy Thanksgiving!

tagged as day-to-day | permalink | 0 comments
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Friday, November 23, 2012
Monday, November 26, 2012

Weekend Wrap-up

I took off Tuesday through Friday last week, after having looked at my leave pool for the annual leave sale at work and realizing that I had something like seven weeks saved up. We kicked off the Thanksgiving holiday with a free screening of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles on Amazon Prime, along with some chicken pot pies and the last dregs of leftover wine from our Halloween party.

On Thanksgiving Day itself, we went out to Edgewater, Maryland to visit my sister and her husband and drove around both halves of the Beltway in a single day. We did not take any HOT lanes, as the fluctuating fare was $1.60 and the main lanes were traffic-free.

We went bowling with Rebecca's parents on Friday afternoon, where I managed a high score of 139 with a ten pound ball. We then went to a reunion of the Yorktown High School theater department, which is apparently a big deal -- evidently, they were busy acting and stuff while T.C. was beating them in crew.

On Saturday, we went out to Taylorstown for a second Thanksgiving with Rebecca's mom's family. For this, we prepared our traditional asparagus dish with maple mustard sauce. Afterwards, we returned home and watched BIG, and resolved to spend Sunday as antisocially as possible.

How many Thanksgiving dinners did you eat?

tagged as day-to-day | permalink | 3 comments
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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Music Tuesday: Spectralism and Other Gimmicks

Mike (of Mike and Chompy) came out for a visit a couple weeks back and mentioned his interest in going back to school for a music composition Ph.D. When asked what sort of musical fads were getting all of the youngsters excited these days, he described spectralism, which is a compositional style based on sonographic representations and mathematical analysis of sound spectra, where timbre is the most important element.

In order to become an overnight expert in spectralism, I used Google to find a page with three or four songs embedded, including Lichtbogen by Saariaho, and listened to them multiple times without judgement. What I found was that I still probably wouldn't do very well in a doctoral composition program because I can't commit to taking music like this seriously.

My musical language is happily stuck in the early twentieth century with a little bit of jazz mixed in, and unlike my professor who listened to Schoenberg as dinner music, I will never set the mood with a fine bottle of wine and Ligeti's Continuum. My main issue is that most contemporary gimmicks of composition are self-serving and don't speak to the general populace. Music needs to be a dialog to be successful, and music like this is more of a one-way prepared speech in a foreign language (unless you mix it together with visual elements).

Composers will argue that the listener's experience needs to be broadened to increase the acceptable range of weirdness, which is true, but that's really just raising the barrier of entry. Yes, I might enjoy your song a little bit after hearing four others like it and understanding the structure of the piece, but life is short and I have no reason to do so when other composers can connect with me directly using my current limitations. Composers should be challenging the listener without leaving them behind.

Really, the only purpose that contemporary academic music should serve is to broaden the musical palette of composers. Young composers should be forced to write in all manner of weird styles to get the mechanics right and build the biggest compositional toolbox possible. Then, they should use the tools sparingly in their work, and only when it serves a purpose. An entire piece written with spectralism is just as bad as writing a TV drama with a plot twist every four minutes, or one where every scene starts with "Forty Eight Hours Ago..."

Unfortunately, you end up with a positive feedback loop where academics spend more time listening to weird music and build up a heroin-tolerance to weirdness. Then, their students feel like they have to write weird music to be successful academically, and you end up with a whole pile of music that becomes increasingly irrelevant to mainstream listeners. And let's be honest: most performers are not going to want to play this weird music either. All of these hopeful composers will fail at composing in the real world because their music doesn't connect with performers OR listeners, and they'll end up teaching composition at a university, perpetuating the cycle.

tagged as deep thoughts, music | permalink | 3 comments
day in history

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Stuff In My Drawers Day: Mail Edition

Sixteen years ago today, I was a freshman in college and heavily into online chatroom roleplaying. I frequented the "Inn of the Weary Traveler" on the Webchat Broadcasting System. A competing chatroom that got more publicity was "Glenshadow's Tavern", and this guy, _R_, was not a fan. In the email, he is proposing that the characters in IWT "travel" to the tavern and "kill" Jase, figuring that Jase is so invested in his character that he would refuse to die, thus being labeled a "zippy" by all of the serious roleplayers. I remember a time when my emails were dependent on *insert action or acronym here* for comprehension. Now, I can't even try to put asterisks in an email without cringing.

Ten years ago today, I was corresponding with an Aussie named Rachel, who I met while writing Warcraft 3 battle reports as ~CattleBruiser~. Two years later, we would still be in touch and she would go on to annoy Beavis in the comments section of the URI! Zone. I have not heard from her since 2010.

Nine years ago today, I had already spent five months bickering with Bank of America to recover $700 from the account I closed when I moved out of Florida. They chose to send the check to my old address and then gave me the runaround for another year (telling me that they could only talk to me through Online Banking, which could only be used with an open account). Life lessons learned: Manually empty the account out before closing it, and Bank of America can go blow themselves.

Eight years ago today, I heard from someone in my IWT days from out of the blue (IWT had died five years earlier). Although I barely remembered him at all, it was nice to know that he had gone on to being a functional member of society. More recently, I heard back from another friend who now works as a pharmacist, has two kids, and sells Apaloosa horses in Texas.

tagged as memories | permalink | 1 comment
day in history

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

Hot Cakes by The Darkness:
I was always disappointed by the fact that The Darkness imploded into cocaine after only two albums, so it was a pleasant surprise to learn that they'd recently gotten back together and released a third. This album is better than the first and almost as good as the second (One Way Ticket To Hell And Back), although there aren't any obvious hits in the mix. It's more of the same, which is great when that's exactly what you like.

Final Grade: B

Ben Affleck is definitely better behind the camera than in front of it, and this movie set during the Iran hostage crisis is great all the way through. I was surprised with how well they managed the suspense and tension -- you wouldn't expect a movie costarring John Goodman to be this taut and exciting.

Final Grade: A-

Chuck, Season Three:
The third season of Chuck remains strong, and the writers have a knack for mixing up the storylines as soon as they start to feel stale, rather than stretching things out to unbelievability. The plot line gets a little too needlessly complex around the 2/3rds mark, but it recovers nicely. I had to watch the last few episodes in a row, because they were too good to stop.

Final Grade: B+

Paige recommended this game to me several years ago, and I finally got it as a bargain bin birthday present for $20. You'd think a game drawn in watercolor style where you use gestures to paint things into the world would be a good fit for the Wii, but it really just shows how bad the Wii motion controls actually are, as your circles get interpreted as hashtags. The game managed to hold my interest for about a half hour of obtuse Japanese storytelling and annoying helper fairies before I stopped and ate a really big sandwich. It wasn't necessarily a bad game -- just not one that intrigued me enough to keep playing it. The sandwich was delicious and had ham, mayo, bacon bits, mustard, and red onions.

Final Grade: Not Graded

tagged as reviews | permalink | 2 comments
day in history

Friday, November 30, 2012

Accountability Day

Three years ago, I made a list of 30 Things I Want To Do and theorized that I would get around to doing three of them. How have I done?

  • Learn to play the violin: FAILURE
  • Resume my self-studies of jazz piano: FAILURE
  • Add song info to 13 years worth of MP3s: SUCCESS
  • Compose a new band piece: FAILURE
  • Learn how to use Photoshop CS4 in a structured, non-ad-hoc way: FAILURE
  • Take some random interest online classes through the free, yet poorly implemented, Skillsoft program at work: SUCCESS
  • Learn to program with Google Web Toolkit: FAILURE
  • Learn to program in Ruby: FAILURE
  • Write more reviews on Yelp: FAILURE
  • Review burgers with Rebecca: FAILURE
  • Learn enough to pass as a Database Administrator: FAILURE
  • Create maps for Half-Life 2: FAILURE
  • Learn video editing: FAILURE
  • Redo the cabinets and appliances in the kitchen: SUCCESS
  • Organize the closets: SUCCESS
  • Start an herb garden for cooking: FAILURE
  • Eradicate the creepy olive-sized spiders in the shed: FAILURE
  • Permanently mount my over-the-air HD antenna: SUCCESS
  • Hang out with more people in the vicinity who don't require a thirty minute drive to reach: SUCCESS
  • Host the sixth annual Month of Thanksgivings: SUCCESS, then FAILURE
  • Create new photo albums for all the unsorted pre-digital pictures scattered about: SUCCESS
  • Volunteer for something: FAILURE
  • Exercise at least three times a week: SUCCESS
  • Cook more: SUCCESS
  • Eat more disgusting foods, like fruits and vegetables: PYRRHIC VICTORY
  • Exercise Booty more: FAILURE
  • Learn Spanish: EL FAILURE
  • Relearn French: LE FAILURE
  • Work on the Paravia Wiki: FAILURE
  • Write more Interactive Fiction.: FAILURE

Summary: BU meets or exceeds expectations by over 300%!

tagged as lists | permalink | 5 comments
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