Tuesday, January 01, 2013

2012 Wrap-Up

  • F 12/21: Took off work a day early for good behaviour. Made steaks for dinner and watched Love Actually with women (and Marc). The steaks made it more manly.

  • S 12/22: Rebecca went out with Elizabeth for a pedicure and returned with a deer sausage.

  • S 12/23: Went in to D.C. with Annie and Marc to see various Christmas trees and eat beef (with extra Moist) at Hill Country.

  • M 12/24: Watched Anna Karenininina with Rebecca's parents, ate an early Eve dinner at Applebee's, and went to a Presby service in the evening.

  • T 12/25: Put on "Fireplace Classics starring Fireplace" from Amazon Prime and had a Christmas at home with Rebecca. Chased Booty around the house with a horse head and made Cornish Game Hen for dinner.

  • W 12/26: Played several games of Settlers of Catan and listened to Christmas CDs.

  • H 12/27: Went to my parents house to have another Christmas, along with my sister's family. Played LASER CHESS and ate cheeses.

  • F 12/28: Tried hiking in West Virginia but were thwarted by a snowy parking lot. Had a mini hike at Algonquian and then had Brian and Emily over for more stuffed peppers.

  • S 12/29: Played a lot of video games while Rebecca was social.

  • S 12/30: Puttered around the house.

  • M 12/31: Washed the floors, and learned the C major scale on the electric bass. Watched Liberal Arts and went to bed at 11:16.

tagged as lists, day-to-day | permalink | 4 comments

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

New in 2013: The Daily Hour

It's been several years since I was so productive that I elicited this guest post by Mike (of Mike and Chompy). In an effort to add a little more structure to my days this year, I'm going to start something called "The Daily Hour" (to be followed by "The New Daily Hour" in 2014, and "The New Daily Hour WiiU" in 2015).

The Daily Hour is a reserved period of each day with a thrust towards learning something new, volunteering my time, or keeping myself and the homefront in order. It is merely a structured timeslot, and not a set of tangible goals. Rather than come up with a list of specific resolutions that I have to follow through with, this approach just gives me the structure I need to explore many different opportunities for growth. I can spend longer on things that interest me, or quickly drop activities that are boring.

This will take place on any day when I'm home and not on a crazy trip to New Zealand. I'm shooting for five days a week (after work), but hope to do it on the weekends as well. The Daily Hour is broken down into six 10 minute slots. The first slot will be devoted to reading the featured Wikipedia article of the day (learning something new), and following any interesting links from said article. The second slot will be a small organizational task, like cleaning out one file in the file cabinet, or organizing one messy shelf in the closet (improving the homefront).

In the remaining 40 minutes, I can do one or two other activities of my choosing. Some of the ideas I have in mind so far:

  • Practicing a musical instrument, like the trumpet, electric bass, or some jazz piano
  • Reading a textbook in an unfamiliar topic area
  • Composing
  • Contributing to the Paravia Wiki
  • Improving the Stone Middle School Band website
  • Improving my Photoshop and Audition skills
  • Learning video editing
  • Open source software development
  • Learning new computer languages

20 to 40 minutes is a nice accessible amount of time -- long enough to make some progress on any activity, but not so long that I get bored. The pie chart shows what I did for my first Daily Hour yesterday.

Last year's goal of running or walking for at least 2 hours every week still stands (and was a success in 2012), so I'm allowed to do my normal 40 minute workout as part of the Daily Hour. On the days where nothing on the list seems enticing, I can just jump on the treadmill and get some exercise (improving myself physically).

I'm tracking my activities in a very simple spreadsheet. I'll be posting my progress and successes from the Daily Hour throughout the year, probably on Fridays. If you have suggestions I might want to consider, or would like to play along at home, please chime in!

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Thursday, January 03, 2013

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel:
This movie about seven elderly Brits choosing to spend their retirement in India was better than expected, but it also might be because my expectations for any movie set in India are so negatively low after The Darjeeling Limited. Great performances from well-known actors, a predictable plot, and a light-hearted feeling make this a movie I enjoyed watching, but will probably have no recollection of in two years time.

Final Grade: B-

Chuck, Season Five:
The final season of Chuck is only 13 episodes long, and (with nothing to lose) the writers push the plot forward faster than ever before (almost Homeland-fast). In my opinion though, it went too fast, and the last handful of episodes felt more like filler than a culmination of the story. I was definitely not sold on the slightly ambiguous finale, but "at least it was better than LOST". I also just learned that there is an extended cut of the finale that might solve some problems which I'll have to check out when Rebecca gets this far in the show. Regardless and irregardless, I recommend the entire five-season set, as it manages to satisfy without any character assassinations, awful twists, or faked drama (see Alias, season 3, 4, and 5).

Final Grade: B

Anna Karenina:
We saw this movie on Christmas Eve, as it was the only movie in theatres that Rebecca's parents hadn't seen yet. I have never read a single work of Russian literature (although I did read the unabridged Les Mis twice), but the plot is easy enough to follow, in spite of the legions of unnamed white actors that all look alike. The movie is artistically filmed as a stage play, sometimes breaking the fourth wall or having actors change settings by walking through backstage props or raising curtains. This is very cute, but needlessly muddles plot comprehension. Overall, this is a downer of a movie with an unsympathetic main character that you could probably pass on. Also, Keira doesn't close her mouth.

Final Grade: C-

Act Your Age by Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band:
I heard some of Gordon Goodwin's big band arrangements on my Sammy Nestico Pandora station, and asked for any one of his CDs for Christmas. This is a solid, tight mix of swing, fusion, and funk which is eminently listenable, except for one flute song that seems to go on forever. The CD also comes with a bonus DVD of live concert footage and full transcriptions of improvised solos.

Final Grade: A-

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Friday, January 04, 2013

Random Chart Day: Ear Training Cheaters, Part II

Back in October, I started keeping track of people trying to cheat on their ear training homework and came away with about thirty cheaters in a month. I kept monitoring through the end of the year, because as every music professor knows, most cheaters don't start cheating on their ear training until the night before a semester's worth of work is due.

Sure enough, I had over 120 cheaters by the end of the year. The "Other" wedge of the pie consists of single hits from various universities, including Florida State and Wake Forest. Any named wedge had at least 2 distinct users trying to look for cheats. In the meantime, Ball State University continued to be the number one place where students try to cheat on their ear training assignments. Perhaps they should put that on the brochure for new freshmen.

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Monday, January 07, 2013

Weekend Wrap-up

To celebrate the upcoming nuptials of Evil Mike, a subset of his groomsmen threw him in the trunk on Saturday and drove him to MagFest at the National Harbor. Contrary to his initial guess, "Mag" stands for "Music and Gaming" -- we were not taking him to a magazine show.

MagFest was apparently a much bigger deal than I thought it was, with teeming masses of unwashed gamers flowing viscously through the massive hangar underneath the Gaylord Hotel. The convention center was packed with free arcade machines, consoles of every era, PCs, and even a wall full of Settlers of Catan and other nerd games with plenty of tabletop space available. This was my first "CON" experience outside of pictures on the Internet, and it was about what I expected.

The only differences where that there were more women (about 20% of the attendees) and fewer costumes (only about 10% of the attendees). I saw the expected assortment of Zeldas and Marios, a bunch of anime characters that may have been popular (but I wouldn't know about because anime is lame), and a pretty cool group effort of the characters from Borderlands.

After dinner at a pub that happened to have run out of every single lamb dish before our arrival, we dove back into the fray to hear some loud metal bands play video game music and some Skrillex clones dropping some beats through the synthesizer chips from the original Game Boy. We also spied on the LARP room to see if anyone was throwing Lightning Bolts, but it was unfortunately empty.

Postscript: The Gaylord Hotel is a ridiculous behemoth, but I really hope that those inner-courtyard-facing windows are soundproofed, especially after 11 PM when that trumpet player dressed as Link was playing the first 8 bars of the Zelda theme over and over again.

Post-Postscript: On the way home, I was pulled over on the Toll Road for going 65. Hide your wife and kids, lest I recklessly hit them. Luckily, it was a warning situation only.

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Tuesday, January 08, 2013

List Day: Pragmatic Musical Instrument Selection

  • In elementary school, I chose to play the trumpet because it was easy to carry, had all of the melodies, and didn't involve depletable accessories like reeds. Plus, it had a smaller section: does anyone really want to compete with 20 other kids just to play a clarinet or violin solo?

  • I stopped playing the trumpet because you lose your tone quality every time you go for more than a week without practice, which means that there's always a rebuilding period when you want to start again.

  • I briefly tried playing the guitar around 2005, but stopped after it exacerbated the typing pain in my left hand, which originally stemmed from writing code at $10 per line and/or mashing WASD in computer games.

  • I briefly practiced jazz piano because I am incapable of playing separate rhythms with the right and left hand simultaneously, and jazz harmonizing is more of a cerebral chord-tracing activity than a need to perform a fugue.

  • I would never be a drummer because there are too many bits to pack up and transport everywhere. Seasonal church timpanists must hate life -- all of that bulk for one pitch, and there's no way they could rewrite the Honda Fit commercial to fit a timpani next to that surfboard.

  • I considered learning the accordion, but they're too expensive for a hobby that would likely last two months.

  • I also thought about violin, but it seems like one of those instruments where I would permanently pick up a bunch of bad habits without starting from the beginning under the watchful eye of a teacher.

  • Based upon all of these lessons, I am currently learning the bass guitar. My dad had a spare, it involves playing a single note at a time, I can learn it on my own, at my own pace, and a plucked string will still sound the same if I don't practice for a week.

Question Time: What was your "primary" instrument throughout the years, and why did you chose it or stay with it?

tagged as lists, music | permalink | 6 comments

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Memory Day: Ten Years Ago Today

On January 9, 2003, I was in my final semester at Florida State. I had no classes other than composition lessons, and my sole responsibilities involved teaching two sections of Sightsinging and Ear Training (MUT 1241) while proofreading my Master's Thesis.

My two classes embodied the life-long struggle between haves and have-nots. One was taught in a giant echo-y clsasroom with a single (unstaved) blackboard and a tape deck. The other was taught in the state-of-the-art music dormitory, in a classroom with full audio capabilities and whiteboards. On this particular Thursday, I had just given out the first official homework assignment for the classes:

  • Login to the lame, but school-required, Blackboard site.
  • Reply to the email from my private course listserv.
  • Obtain a "Practica Musica" student file to enjoy a semester full of meaningful ear-training homework assignments.

I was also a member of the Music Theory Grad Student basketball team, whose winning record that season (in the Tallahassee Rec League) was only outmatched by the winning record of every single other team of every other sport in history. We rarely scored more than 20 points in a game, so I mainly used it as an excuse to sprint around the court and call it exercise. In one game, I sprinted so hard that I got loopy, and actually thought we were winning for about four minutes before oxygen returned to my brain.

Other than these activities, life was pretty slow. There was no Booty yet (she was still "Athena" and living in a dog rescue agency) but I had not yet gotten so bored that I bought a bargain bin GameCube (that happened a couple weeks later).

tagged as memories | permalink | 1 comment

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Review Day: Borderlands 2

There are no major spoilers in this review.

Borderlands 2 is a hybrid game which manages to successfully inject action RPG elements and loot-whoring into a first-person shooter playstyle. I picked up the PC version in a half-price sale over Thanksgiving without any previous knowledge of its prequel or what it was about. As of last night, I had devoted about 90 hours to this game (which is more than Terraria but less than Skyrim) and have not lost interest.

There are four classes to start with, each with three possible skill trees (similar to WoW), and points are assigned in the "skill shelf" way of Torchlight 2 (where you need 5 points to pick a skill on the next level, but they can be from any particular skill on the previous tier). Each class has a special action skill that defines their playstyle, such as stealth, deploying a turret, or firing two guns at the same time.

The loot addiction part of the game comes in the form of millions of guns -- different types from sniper rifles to pistols, different manufacturers who add special features to their guns, and various trade-offs between accuracy, reload time, and magazine size. Choosing the best gun is more about trying them all out and finding one that fits your playstyle, rather than taking the one with the biggest damage number.

To be honest, Borderlands 2 didn't immediately grab me in the first couple hours of play. The interface is very console-centric and gets in the way of looting or comparing guns, and loot is scattered across the world in billions of little boxes requiring you to Open, then Pick Up items. Your playthrough will be greatly rewarded if you immediately remap the "Use" action to a spare mouse button rather than the default keyboard key, because you'll be pressing that button more than John Locke.

The other irritant is the breadth of the massive world. There's a fair amount of traveling and backtracking, and not enough secrets to make completionist exploring worthwhile (You will also outlevel some content if you try). If you can get in the mindset where you don't need to search every single locker or visit every single corner of the map, the game becomes much more fun and, eventually, addicting.

Where Borderlands 2 really shines is in its setting and style. The writing and voice-acting are top-notch, and it's one of the few recent games to really do humour well (reminding me sometimes of Portal and Portal 2). The plot is just slightly better than average, but the dialogue and characterizations are worth the price of admission. Here's a representative clip from fairly early on in the game.

Final Grade: B+

tagged as reviews, games | permalink | 2 comments

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Daily Hour

So far, my Daily Hour experiment has been a success, with 9 out of 10 days fulfilled. The one day I missed was reserved for Evil Mike's convention hijinks. I'm really liking the emphasis on structure over goals, because I get to the reserved hour and have to come up with fun ways to fill it. This leads me to rotate through different types of activities and gives me an out when I've done something too often.

The chart on the right shows how I spent my time in the first nine hours of the year. In clockwise order I've done the following:

Anyone playing along at home?

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Monday, January 14, 2013

Chad Darnell's 12 of 12

8:10 AM: Booty is annoyed at our wake-up time.

8:51 AM: Self-cleaning.

9:06 AM: Enroute to Costco.

10:00 AM: Flatbagging the next six months' supply of ground beef.

11:35 AM: Playing games.

12:22 PM: Amber likes when we wash the sheets.

1:22 PM: Rebecca eats gross non-meat stuff for lunch.

2:29 PM: Learning how to boogie on the high Cs.

5:22 PM: Working out with Gordon Korman.

6:54 PM: Rebecca makes healthy snacks for Game Night.

10:32 PM: Game Night, featuring bad Asian drivers.

11:54 AM: Wheatley (or perhaps, Hamilton) learns how to play Telestrations. What's a good English name for a horse?

tagged as 12 of 12 | permalink | 3 comments

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Chompy Day

In memory of Mike's dog, Chompy, who passed away on Saturday, here are a few brief recollections...

  • Mike got Chompy on March 3, 2002 from a rescue agency. Her original name was Ginger which, at the time, had not yet morphed from the secret codename for a Segway to a redhead in Britain.
  • Chompy made chomping noises with her jaw as a form of communication, not unlike the Xhosa language. For about a day, she was called Chompsalottapuss.
  • Chompy mainly liked me because I was willing to chase her around the pool table for longer than five minutes at a time. She played games of keep-away alternating between a hard hunk of plastic almost resembling a dinosaur, a piece of comically large rope, or a floppy stuffed animal with an unfortunate bacterial complexion.
  • In the early days, Chompy was a fan of eating everything and then converting everything into liquid form for reapplication to the carpet via the pooper.
  • Chompy could not be left alone for more than a minute, or else she would eat Kathy's seatbelt.
  • In Super Smash Brothers Melee, there was a Pokemon ball that turned into some kind of weird hippo-turtle and said something that sounded like "CHOMPY!!! (THE DOG)" before stomping on the ground. This is why Mike's comment name on the URI! Zone is "Chompy (the dog)".
  • One time, Chompy came over to visit Booty. Booty was not a fan.
  • Another time, Mike took Chompy to the dog park, but forgot the dog at home. This dog park was several miles from home.
  • Another favourite game of Chompy's was "Run as fast as possible away from everyone". I once chased her at a sprint-pace for a quarter of a mile to the side of a busy highway.
  • After leaving Tallahassee in 2003, I only saw Chompy a couple more times: Once on a nostalgic trip back to Tallahassee in 2005, once when Mike lived in DC and we went to his apartment to watch a show about Thunderdogs, and once in New Hampshire, where we went for Mike's birthday in 2010.

Rest in peace, Chompy. You were a good pup. Hopefully you are allowed to lick the insides of other dogs' mouths with impunity in dog heaven!

tagged as lists, memories | permalink | 2 comments

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Memory Day: Eleven Years Ago Today

On January 16, 2002, I had just started my second semester at FSU, and spent much of my time noting how disorganized our Pedagogy of Music Theory II class was, especially in comparison to the first semester. I was in the middle of writing the second movement to my string quartet, Outlooks, called "The Optimist". I had plenty of free time, because my graduate assistantship involved proctoring an electroacoustic music lab that was never actually built because of 9/11 budget cuts. Meanwhile, Kathy was noticing a scope increase in her own assistantship:

When not complaining about Pedagogy class, where we did undergraduate ear training exercises and ultimately learned that "teachers teach the way they were taught", I was playing Return to Wolfenstein and Wizardry 8. The latter was a game so boring that the only thing I can remember about it eleven years later is that I could replace the game's MP3 soundtrack with my own MP3s. I was also listening to a lot of Dave Matthews, especially that one song where he gets Tourette's and starts repeating CAT! over and over. Incidentally, that would be a great soundtrack for a cat video.

In the evening on the 16th, I met Kathy at school and we went to Mike's Florida Towers apartment to measure his living room. He then bought a pool table (to arrive in two weeks) which was easily the most incongruous piece of furniture you could find in a tiny third-floor apartment. Afterwards, we sat around the apartment indulging in the latest Mike fad, which was painting. I still have the complete set of awful paintings from those years saved on my hard drive, but none of them have dates.

Several of my recent Memory Day posts have been from the Florida era, mainly because most of the Virginia Tech years have blurred together like an Instagrammed JPEG at 30% compression. The Florida years are on the cusp of the memory waterfall, so I figured it would be good to get them down before they are lost forever.

tagged as memories | permalink | 2 comments

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

The Anthology by Return to Forever:
This is a "best of" 2-CD set featuring hits from Chick Corea's jazz fusion group in the late 70s. I enjoy a lot of Corea's earlier work, and this is a fun, slightly cerebral, set of fusion tunes for the car. None of them are weird enough to dislike, but none of them are funky enough for mainstream enjoyment. Worth it for jazz history's sake only.

Final Grade: B-

Liberal Arts (PG-13):
This is an indie film from the HIMYM actor who plays Ted Mosby, about a 35-year-old who returns to his college campus. The main character is essentially Ted Mosby, and there were a few occasions where I expected one of his HIMYM costars to jump out from behind a tree. Overall, the movie is light, not quite as deep as it wants to be, and pleasant.

Final Grade: B-

Boardwalk Empire, Season One:
I only ended up watching three episodes of this HBO show, and could never really get into it. To me, it was just a bunch of lookalike white guys in period dress doing crime-y things. The pace of episodes felt very slow, and I ultimately decided that it wasn't worth my time. Instead, I'm about to start up the third season of Breaking Bad and the first season of House of Lies. Also, everyone is telling us to watch Downton Abbey, but it seems to me like an extended miniseries version of Gosford Park, and thus, a suitable replacement for waterboarding.

Final Grade: Not Graded

Hope Springs (PG-13):
This was a well-acted movie about an old married couple, but it was mostly an uncomfortable downer. I would not recommend it unless you're a big fan of one of the stars pictured on the box. Steve Carrell's role is replaceable.

Final Grade: C-

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Friday, January 18, 2013

The Problem With Amazon's Movie Player

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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Weekend Wrap-up

On Friday evening, we went to a local Pizzaria (Joe's) for the 18th birthday of Rebecca's cousin. We followed this up with a swing dance event at the Dulles Hilton, which was pretty far outside of my comfort zone. Given that the only previous swing dance experiences I've had include a horribly failed attempt to get the Marching Virginians to swing dance during "Zoot Suit Riot" in 1997 and a Knights of Columbus event with Anna's family in Colonial Beach, I maxed out my abilities with "rock-stepping" by the end of the evening. Who puts a six beat dance move in a four beat measure anyhow?

On Saturday, I worked on and released DDMSence v2.1.0, and the site was promptly swarmed by visitors from China in search of US secrets. For dinner, we had delicious noodles at Taste of Burma, which becomes surprisingly crowded after 8 PM.

Sunday was a low-key day -- Rebecca continued to do all of her PT homework, and I did some uselessly technical activities with Maven and DDMSence. I also got further into the third season of Breaking Bad, which is much better than the first two seasons so far. We then went out for dinner a third time in as many days, this time for burgers at Red Robin. To be pedantic, we really only went out twice, because the middle dinner was paid for with a gift card I got at work for my reputation for excellence.

I worked from home on Monday and found time midday to watch the Inauguration activities from the toasty warmth and comfort of my giant blue couch.

How was your extended weekend?

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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Memory Day: Snapshots

This picture was taken in the Spring of 1992 at the Alexandria City Science Fair. With a dad who was an economist, our science projects always had to involve statistical significance and run for about 18 pages longer than the teacher was actually expecting. This year's experiment was a survey of students to see if they would buy the larger bag of chips or the smaller single-serve bag of chips, and why. The overall conclusion was that kids will buy the cheaper one and don't care about the environment.

The worst part about this science fair backboard is the clash between the 2D construction paper border around the title and the 3D construction paper effect on the rest of the boxes. This is probably why I didn't not make it as a commercial artist, besides that whole colour-blind thing.

tagged as memories | permalink | 1 comment

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

Rango (PG):
This is a non-Pixar animated movie about a lizard in the desert. It's a bleeding heart homage to Westerns, but isn't quite as good when evaluated as its own movie. The animation is top-notch, but unfortunately that is a given for any good animated movie these days. If I were a younger kid, I'd be bored almost immediately. As a kid in a man's body, I was nearly bored on a few occasions.

Final Grade: C

Limitless (PG-13):
Limitless is a quick thriller about a man who discovers a drug that maximizes the potential of his brain. It holds together nicely and is forgettably entertaining, with a satisfying ending. There are probably a few plot holes if you think too hard, but this is a movie that doesn't require much thinking to enjoy. I'm glad that Bradley Cooper made it big after Alias -- he holds his own nicely against DeNiro here.

Final Grade: B

House of Lies, Season One:
House of Lies is the new Showtime show starring Don Cheadle as a management consultant, lying and conniving his way to millions of dollars. It's highly entertaining, if you don't mind lots of nudity and swearing, and is a little less shallow than the pilot might make you expect. It's obvious that Don Cheadle is having a great time, and his supporting cast is decent as well. I was torn on Post-Veronica-Mars Kristen Bell -- I thought she was a little distracting but Rebecca thought she sold the part.

This DVD set has twelve 28 minute episodes, so it's over quickly. Worth waiting for the price to drop just a bit.

Final Grade: B

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Friday, January 25, 2013

Wedding Day

I'm busy grooming Evil Mike for marriage all day!

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Monday, January 28, 2013

Weekend Wrap-up

The weekend started off on Friday with unsustainable excitement (not unlike the Matrix trilogy), front-loaded with the wedding of Married Evil Mike and Taje in Arlington. It coincided with an overhyped snow event that saw less than an inch of snow fall on the area and forced NOVA Community College to close early.

Being in the wedding, I was unable to take my usual assortment of wedding photos, since there was no place to stick my camera that was not inappropriate. However, Rebecca subbed in and got some nice shots (most of which are on Facebook at the moment) while I did wedding party stuff and ate dinner from the paella station.

On Saturday, I returned the rental suit and its five thousand accessories to Mens Wearhouse and then restocked the fridge, which had gotten dangerously low on Coke Zero and tater tots. I then spent the rest of the day playing Dishonored, which gets a weak thumbs up (review on Thursday). We ate steaks on Saturday night and continued the David Fincher odyssey with The Game, which I had seen years ago and Rebecca didn't particularly care for.

On Sunday, I practiced my 7th chord fingerings on the bass, and started the FX show, Justified. Dinner was gnocchi from Cantina d'Italia in Herndon -- we've decided that it's easily the most delicious item you can order for a reasonable cost.

Tell me something embarassing about your own weekend!

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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Music Archaeology Day

Charting the evolution of my musical tastes through 13 years of representative Amazon sales

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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Time-lapsed Blogography Day

On January 30, 1995, I was in the midst of a five-day Band Trip to Disney World (as a junior). We spent this day in Epcot Center, starting with a workshop where we played music from Aladdin like we were a studio orchestra, and then wandered around the park for the rest of the day. I felt that the 3D "Honey, I Shrunk The Kids" ride was the best. After a really awful Polynesian Luau, we returned to the Disney hotel and partied late into the night. Actually, everyone else partied and I took it upon myself to be the chaperone-lookout so no one would get caught. What a nice guy!

On January 30, 1999, I went with Shac and Philip to the movies in Christiansburg. For some reason, we always let Shac pick the movie, and this was the fateful night where he chose The Thin Red Line. We spent the entire movie waffling between walking out or getting our money's worth. All I can remember of this movie now is that there were a ton of poetry voiceovers and slow motion shots of people looking across a field while blinking.

On January 30, 2000, I completed coding on Augmented Fourth, and had just put out a call on the newsgroups (rec.arts.int-fiction) for beta testers. Remember newsgroups?

On January 30, 2001, I turned pages at the music Convocation, and then skipped CS 4634: Design of Information. Instead, Anna and I went out to the New River to walk around a bit before Symphony Band. It must have been unseasonably warm.

On January 30, 2003, the FSU Music Theory basketball team lost to "Capitol Coin and Diamond", 49-37.

On January 30, 2004, my realtor wrote an addendum to the contract for this house, demanding that the old owners replace the heat pump. The home inspection the day before had revealed that it didn't actually work at all.

On January 30, 2008, I caught the flu.

On January 30, 2011, Kathy and Chris came over for games and pizza while potential townhouse buyers wandered through their old house.

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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Review Day: Dishonored

There are no major spoilers in this review.

The fact that Dishonored tops so many 2012 Game of the Year lists leaves me mildly incredulous, not unlike the year that Lost in Translation was up for Best Picture. The game is not bad by any stretch of the definition: I appreciate that it's not an assembly line sequel, and that it squeezes five pounds of potential into a three pound bag. Ultimately though, it's just kind of boring.

Dishonored is a revival of the first-person stealth genre, in which you spend 10 minutes hiding behind a crate waiting for a guard to change positions, only to reload your last save game when another guard somehow manages to see you through an opaque brick wall. The mechanics have improved over the past fourteen years, and this game is much more forgiving in many regards. Apparently no one in the city of Dunwall ever looks up higher than their top shelf.

The graphics and soundtrack are unmemorable, but good enough to support the shell of a story, which is also unmemorable. You play the game as the Empress' bodyguard, falsely accused of murder, and set loose in a city that's half Industrial Revolution and half zombie movie. You are a silent protagonist, which might have saved ten bucks on voiceovers, but really just makes you seem kind of douchey. It feels like there are scads of backstory and history just underneath the surface, but the plot never does a good job of tying it all together, or making you care. The tone of the (somewhat abrupt) ending also changes based upon the choices you make during the game, but the unforgivably large number of unskippable cutscenes and dialogue options deterred me from a second playthrough almost immediately. Sure, you can skip every scene featuring zombie James Franco, but you still have to listen to the shopkeeper's 15 second dialog every time you want to buy something.

The game's biggest selling point is its open-ended gameplay mechanic. As you stalk through the city, hellbent on either revenge or justice, there are always multiple solutions to every situation, from lethal to nonlethal, and from stealthy to guns blazing. If a door is guarded by a swarthy thug, you might scale the rooftops to get around it. Or, throw a bottle down the alley to distract him. Or, sneak up behind him and knock him out. Or, sneak up behind him and slit his throat. Or, shoot him with a sleep-laced crossbow bolt. Or, use your loud pistol and get through before reinforcements arrive. Or, (WAIT, THERE'S MORE) summon a swarm of magical rats to devour him (!). Or, possess a rat and squeak around him. (Or, type IDDQD and walk through the nearest wall). The sheer number of options available leads to indecision apathy and reduces the excitement of the choice you finally do make -- I don't even do well at restaurants where the menu is more than three pages long.

As you play, you'll find that certain solutions are always the easiest and have the least amount of risk, partly because the enemies are dumb as bricks and have multiple astigmatisms, and partly because magic makes everything easier (unless you're Harry Potter and in search of an arbitrary number of magical doohickeys to stretch out your storyline into a seventh book). There's never a good reason to try the harder alternatives unless you're playing the game solely to challenge yourself, so I often felt like I was playing by rote. It doesn't help that upgrades to your weapons and skills make you nearly invincible long before the final mission.

Dishonored as a sandbox framework for emergent gaming is much better than Dishonored as a game. There are all sorts of informal challenges you can restrict yourself with (speed runs, never using magic, never being detected, or never killing anyone are popular choices). While I didn't enjoy this game as much as I'd hoped, you might enjoy it if you treat it more like a steampunk Grand Theft Auto.

Final Grade: C+

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