Friday, March 01, 2013

Vocabulary Friday

Images from our most recent bouts of Scrabble.

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Monday, March 04, 2013

Weekend Wrap-up

I had a pretty quiet weekend, during which I put in some overtime, had a parent dinner for my Dad's birthday, and finished the second season of Justified. Looking ahead, I'm excited about this potential snowfall we're expecting on Wednesday. However, I dislike this habit we've gotten into of naming our snowstorms before they even arrive, and picking crappy names at that.

I'm sure that it took all of two minutes to invent "Snowquester", but the official rules of the science of "mashing words together" require that the two words share a first syllable sound (snow + mobile = snobile). You can't just replace random syllables in the word, which is why the annual "Howl-O-Scream" event at Busch Gardens is not worth attending. Plus, "Snowquester" sounds like a failed Apogee game from the early 90s -- fifty years from now, when we're telling grandkids about the snowstorms of yore, we'll need temporal names like "Blizzard of '09".

How much snow do you think we'll get in Sterling? Vote in the Poll on the sidebar. Winners get an envelope of locally harvested snow hand-delivered to my trash can.

How much snow will Sterling get in the Blizzard of '13?

None (1 vote, 20.0%)

0.01" - 2" (1 vote, 20.0%)

2.01" - 48" (2 votes, 40.0%)

More than 48" (1 vote, 20.0%)

An earthquake (0 votes, 0.0%)

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Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Composing Spotlight: Unfinished Works

Here are more unfinished fragments from long-abandoned Finale folders. The first is the introduction from a samba, which I started in my senior year of high school:

Unfinished Samba (0:43 MP3)

This piece never got further than the introduction for one likely reason: I was too inexperienced to actually write a samba. Sure, it's easy to write a chord while the trumpet player pretends to be Rafael Mendez, and it's also easy to copy the piano part out of a Victor Lopez samba chart. After that, some compositional skill may be required.

Next up was a trombone-euphonium duet from undergrad:

Unfinished Fragment (0:16 MP3)

This was the first stab at a piece for Dave Day and Dave Ball, which I ultimately deemed to be "pretty lame" and eventually morphed into Clown Facades.

The third fragment was the introduction to a Chick Corea-eque brass ensemble piece that I had planned to include in my fifth year recital:

Unfinished Fragment (0:18 MP3)

I think the reason that this one died on the vine was that it's more fun to listen to music where chords include all off the white keys on the piano than it is to write that type of music. I ditched it pretty quickly, and started on a more Stan Kenton-esque piece, Vanishing Point, which was far more fun.

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Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Snow Day

This snowstorm is out of control. Hide your kids and hide your wife.

EDIT: I spoke too soon.

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Thursday, March 07, 2013

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

Obviously I'm not the target market for James Bond movies, because the only other one I've seen in its entirety was Goldeneye. If you're invested in the Bond mythology, there's a lot to like here. If not, you've got two hours and twenty-two minutes of meandering plot stitching together a few great action sequences and explosions.

Final Grade: C

Justified, Season Two:
The second season of this Kentucky hillbilly show improves upon the first. It replaces some of its quaint charm with more gritty action, but still keeps a fine balance of humor and drama. A midseason episode about a courtroom evacuation is very well-written and suspenseful, and there are some great guest roles by additional LOST alumni, who appearently ended up in Harlan County after the island started jumping through time.

Final Grade: B+

Breaking Bad, Season Three:
This was another season that was more intense than good, and built up to a nice conclusion even though the pacing of its "slow burn" could use some work. Something about this series feels sterile, and I usually watch with a detached interest rather than an eagerness to see what happens next. There's also a horrible episode, "The Fly", that tries way too hard to be artistic, and which the collective Internet believes is the best episode ever written. Since I measure "best" by whether or not I fall asleep during my first viewing, I politely disagree with the Internet. (See also, the game LIMBO).

Final Grade: B-

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Friday, March 08, 2013

Rorschach Day

We will be driving to a town somewhere in Virginia this afternoon. This is an aerial map of the area, with main roads in blurry black. The name of the town has 3 syllables, but is much funnier when pronounced with 4. We had planned to do a very specific activity nearby, but it is closed today and will probably still be closed tomorrow.

What town are we visiting?

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Monday, March 11, 2013

Weekend Wrap-up

We continued our tradition of going out of town for a relaxing weekend on the same weekend as Daylight Savings Time, because apparently we have not learned that staying in a Bed and Breakfast when you spring ahead is one hour less cost effective than a normal weekend.

Our original plan was to head to Waynesboro, VA (correctly guessed by Kathy last Friday) and then do some hiking on the Appalachian Trail. The 15 inches of snow in and around town changed our plans just a bit. After a stop at the Pollak Winery on Friday afternoon, we checked into the Belle Hearth B&B (complete with 2 inn cats), and had an excellent dinner at the Green Leaf Grill in town.

On Saturday, we parked near the entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway and hiked up the road itself, since the trails were invisible under the snow. We went two miles up and two back down, although it felt more like six miles with the wet, melting snow underfoot. We followed the hike up with trips to Afton Mountain Winery (forgettable and expensive), Cardinal Point Winery (decent and laid back), Veritas (so filled to the brim with swell-dressed UVa weekenders in buses that we immediately left), and Flying Fox Winery (also decent). None of Saturday's wines compared with Pollak, though.

We tried to hit a Greek restaurant for dinner, but after wandering around town (on foot) for several blocks and not discovering the location it had moved to, we ended up back at Green Leaf for a second delicious dinner. This is definitely the place to eat for all of your Waynesboro vacations. The breakfast portions of the B&B were also great, and almost too filling. Overall, a definite thumbs up!

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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Chad Darnell's 12 of 12

12:30 AM: One cat is ejected from the room for bad behaviour.

5:17 AM: Time to get up!

5:31 AM: This is what I would look like with Lasik surgery.

6:24 AM: Working in the office.

7:48 AM: A puffin bay grey day.

11:25 AM: Stopping off for lunch on the way home.

12:11 PM: Back to work (from home) after lunch.

1:14 PM: The new Starcraft game arrives by mail.

3:28 PM: Doing builds.

3:59 PM: Running and Community.

8:00 PM: Taco Night!

8:39 PM: Tax Night!

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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Memory Day: Snapshots

This photo was taken in 1984 in our backyard. The tree in the background was the backdrop for a large percentage of pictures, probably because of contrast, pattern uniformity, and other thing a photographer used to have to care about before Photoshop.

On the far left is my sister at age 8. Next is Gina, my kindergarten girlfriend, me at age 5 in Kangaroos and my sister's hand-me-down jacket, my kindergarten best friend, Yunus, and his sister, whose name I don't recall.

Having skipped preschool, kindergarten was my first structured school experience. I went to William Ramsey Elementary because it was the closest school to our babysitter, Rosa. My Dad would drop us off there really early in the morning, and then Rosa would make us sleep for another hour before getting us ready for school. In the afternoon, we would run with the neighbourhood kids of North Armistead Street (in the days when it was only half of a ghetto) until my Dad picked us up.

After kindergarten, I moved to James K. Polk for the remainder of my elementary school career. Yunus moved back to Turkey and I never saw Gina again either. My sister, however, stuck around for another ten years.

tagged as memories | permalink | 1 comment

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

Playing at the World by Jon Peterson:
When the subtitle of a book is "A History of Simulating Wars, People, and Fantastic Adventure From Chess to Role Playing Games", you should probably know what you're getting into. I asked for this book for Christmas, because I still have never played a game of Dungeons and Dragons, and thought it would be an interesting historical survey. Unfortunately, this history of simulating is not a history of stimulating. It's not so much a survey as it is an exhaustive detailed record of every single thing that has ever happened. It's taken me three months to get through the first two hundred pages and I think that Gary Gygax is going to be born soon. As a well-researched scholarly treatise, it deserves praise, but as pleasure reading, it rolls a one-sided die into tedium.

Final Grade: C-

The Office, Season Eight:
The first post-Michael-Scott season of The Office seemed to be universally reviled by the world, but it's actually not that bad. I expected a season matching the low points of the fifth, sixth, and seventh seasons, but was pleasantly surprised. Without Steve Carell, the rest of the cast has more time to shine, and several episodes seemed to bring back the heart of early seasons. Yes, there are some stupidly contrived situations and several dropped subplots, but it's entertaining overall.

Final Grade: B-

Origin of Love by Mika:
Mika's third album refines his over-the-top bombastic pop gimmick down to highly polished marble. Every song is enjoyable and catchy, but the edges have been smoothed down so much that it doesn't feel quite as fun as previous albums. Slightly overproduced, but still worth a listen.

Final Grade: B

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Friday, March 15, 2013

Fix-it Friday

quick fixes for the world's overrated problems

The Problem: US hospitals report an alarming increase in superbugs, which are highly resistant or even immune to antibiotics. After the tipping point, it may become more dangerous to check into a hospital than it would be to stay home with some Robitussin.

The Solution: Rezone and colocate hospitals onto shared campuses with Chuck E. Cheese restaurants.

The Justification:

  • The mucous-like layer of food coating every surface of the restaurant will prove irresistible to superbugs currently residing in the sterile halls of a hospital. Once enticed, superbugs will be overwhelmed by the nearly visible fog of germs from children of all creeds and colors, hanging in the air like damp laundry.

  • Superbugs may have twelve-stepped their way past the siren call of drugs, but they are no match for the wildly variable bacteria carefully cultured in the ball pit. Kid bacteria is triply reinforced by the repeatable circuit of a kid's hand between their nose, their mouth, and their butts, sometimes in alternate orders. The bacteria of a nose-mouth-butt hand has found safe haven in the restaurant, and crossbred with bacteria from mouth-nose-butt hands and, in rare cases, butt-butt-butt hands.

  • There is already 1 Chuck E. Cheese restaurant for every 10 registered hospitals in the US, so new construction costs would be palatable.

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Monday, March 18, 2013

Weekend Wrap-up

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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Newsday Tuesday

Metro Silver Line likely to get a $5 million haircut

Metro's new Silver Line could suffer nearly $5 million in cuts in federal funding. The money comes from the Federal Transit Administration's roughly $2 billion program called New Starts, which could take at least a 5 percent across-the-board haircut because of the federal sequestration.

Chris Paolino, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA), said the agency "hasn't heard anything so we don't know what's going to happen" in terms of its fiscal 2013 funding from New Starts.

When asked why the Washington Post had written what is essentially a non-story with no tangible information, reporters noted that stories about the Metro always bring an increase of traffic to the Post website, as conspiracy theorists from both ends of the political spectrum blame the other side for overbudgeting. Said one reporter, "We earned about twelve cents in advertising from those commenters. Coupled with the firing of our ombusdman, this means that your print subscriptions will only go up by ten dollars this year. We can also hire more reporters who think it is clever to compare budget cuts and haircuts."

Already, the first phase of the Silver Line is overbudget. It has $77 million left in a $162 million contingency fund, according to Pat Nowakowsi, the lead overseer for MWAA on the project. The cuts come after the Federal Transit Administration said it has tried to streamline the funding process for the New Starts program, which funds heavy rail and light rail projects, along with plans to add bus rapid transit lanes across the country.

The New Starts program has also faced criticism from balloon enthusiasts who feel that their "lighter-than-air" rail ideas are getting ignored, and pragmatists who don't believe that "bus" and "rapid" can ever truthfully belong in the same phrase.

FTA's administrator Peter Rogoff told attendees last week at a transportation conference that the cuts will mean "higher borrowing costs that will make these things more expensive for the taxpayer." New funding agreements, he said, "that could be on the horizon could be in danger."

The FTA is currently in talks with Christopher Nolan on a sequel to Inception where things that might exist in the future might not exist in the future. Mr. Rogoff also stated that hurricanes that could happen next year could also not happen, although the National Weather Service, facing sequestration woes of its own, could not confirm or could deny this assertion.

Independent analysis by the URI! Zone has identified several potential areas where $5 million might be saved at this stage in the project:

  • Eliminate tracks between the Reston Parkway station and the Wiehle Avenue station: If going above ground in Tyson's Corner is cheaper than digging a tunnel, then by (mass) transitivity, building no tracks at all would be cheaper than going above ground. Instead, riders could take a mythical "rapid bus" between locations.

  • Replace the station managers in kiosks with confiscated HOV mannequins dressed in uniform: The level of service would be identical.

  • Eliminate Blue Line stops at Arlington Cemetery: A scientific study of people who get off at this stop showed that 100% of them experience instant regret after mistakenly thinking that they had reached the Pentagon.

  • Rebrand the line as the Grey Line: Two fewer letters and one fewer syllable results in cost savings on printed maps and station announcements. Besides, grey is the silver of the poor.

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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Stuff In My Drawers Day

This picture and accompanying story were created in Mrs. McClung's first grade class in the first half of 1986.

I'm Brian Uri.

Check out my contractions. That's some Mystery Sneakers-level grammar.

My freinds are Tony C, Micheal B, Josh R, and Micheal R. I like my things.

Typical American. Has all of these friends but likes his things.

I won the Halley Comet Trivia (I got a T-Shirt). This summer, my sister and I are going to our Grandma's house. (Our parents won't be there). Our parents will be going to Wisconsin, Texas, Canada, Niagra Falls, and Ontario.

Parentheses and a correctly spelled Wisconsin? Obviously I would go far in life.

Grandpa's cat is about 20 lbs.

Just in case you were wondering.

We're going to stay there for 4 or 5 weeks.

Five weeks is a long time to take some kids off their parents' hands. How did they survive?

tagged as memories | permalink | 0 comments

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Review Day: Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm

Starcraft II has become the Hobbit of video gaming, strung out into an unnecessary trilogy to net a few extra bucks for Activision Blizzard. I reviewed the first part two years ago and still agree with my review: a fun single-player campaign with an awful multiplayer interface and forgettable storyline.

Starcraft II Part 2: The Serpent Isle Heart of the Swarm was released last Tuesday, surrounded by buzz equating it to Empire Strikes Back. This tells me nothing since I found the entire Star Wars trilogy to be rather dull, but apparently the comparison means that it's a little darker in tone than the first game (and will be followed by some dancing Muppets in part 3). The bottom line up front is that I'm underwhelmed by this $40 expansion pack. And shouldn't the saying be "bottom line at the top", since bottoms and fronts are orthagonal?

For what is essentially a mission pack built upon the original game engine, there's not a lot to show for two years of development. There are over twenty missions ranging from short to moderately short in length, and a handful of overly-hyped Evolution Missions which are really just boring tutorials that let you try out different skills before committing to them. In fact, much of the game felt like a tutorial -- after beating the game in under 20 hours, I felt no inclination to go back and replay anything on a harder difficulty level or to try for one of million achievements.

The biggest obstacle to enjoying this game is the overabundance of loading screens. Everything has a loading screen with stock images of spaceships and a progress bar that churns more slowly than a Snoopy Sno Cone machine. I have a reasonably speedy computer, and loading screens averaged around thirty seconds. Just as you've gained some momentum and are enjoying a mission, you beat it and hit a loading screen for a cinematic, followed by a loading screen for the menu where you start the next mission. There's a loading screen before the leaderboard that shows how you did on a mission, and another loading screen immediately afterwards. Common sense would dictate that if we're going to be looking at a screen for a minute or two, you could take the initiative to start loading things in the background, but apparently the company is now so big that the loading screen guy works in a different country from the leaderboard guy.

This dispersal of responsibility makes the whole experience very sterile. The individual production values are top-notch: the graphics are amazing, and the storyline shows minor improvement from its previous position at "net negative literary value", but the parts don't make a unified, satisfying whole. The only heart in the game is in the title. I had the same feeling about Diablo III, and now it's apparent that it's a shortcoming of having a huge gaming company and throwing millions of dollars at things without any vision beyond earnings for the fiscal year.

I don't have any thoughts on the multiplayer side of the house because I will never reach a competitive skill level, but I do think that it's ridiculous that basic features like "Exit Game Without Exiting Through Ten Layers of Menus" and "Go Invisible on battle.net" still aren't present after so many years of requests. Blizzard is as naive about their social strategy as Google Plus was. They probably still think that we're in that idyllic age of social media around 2006, when we added hundreds of friends on Facebook simply because we might have seen them in the hall one time in fifth grade.

Save your money and read my old battle reports instead for free entertainment.

Final Grade: C at $40, but up to a B if you find it in a bargain bin

tagged as reviews, games | permalink | 1 comment

Friday, March 22, 2013

The Daily Hour

I've been working more these past few months, which makes me more likely to choose exercise over other activities when I get home at night. However, I've also been doing a fair amount of research for the next version of DDMSence and exploring other open source ideas. I kind of want to write an open source bug tracking system (because JIRA is a bloated nightmare and TestTrack costs zillions of dollars) but that seems like a daunting task that I would lose interest in pretty quickly. How can it be so hard to write a good one?

On the electric bass side of the house (having converted the guest bedroom into a rock palace), I'm working on my muting technique and learning moveable pattern shortcuts for various blues and rock bass lines.

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Monday, March 25, 2013

Weekend Wrap-up

Friday night is always yoga night for Rebecca, which means that it's always video game night for me. After her return, we had a Safeway pizza and watched the movie, This is 40, starring Paul Rudd as Paul Rudd. Stay tuned for the review on Thursday!

I worked on a side coding project for much of Saturday, in the grey area between being useful at work and not billed to work (archiving JIRA projects). On Saturday evening, we went out to Ben & Anna's for dinner and a round of the caption game. Ella is turning 6 in a couple weeks, which should now make you feel old if you've been reading the URI! Zone since her birth.

On Sunday, I drove out to my parents' for the first oil change in the new Accord, which I've only driven for 5600 miles since last May. In the afternoon, we watched Rain Man because Rebecca had never seen it, and then close out the night with a delicious meal at Ford's Fish Shack in Ashburn. We are now 2 for 2 on satisfying dining experiences there.

How was your weekend?

tagged as day-to-day | permalink | 3 comments

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Caption Day

recent highlights from rounds of The New Yorker Cartoon Caption Game

"Well, I guess we know where the wild things AREN'T..." - Anna

Billy's attempt to sneak out by blending into the night failed when the lights were on in the living room. - Rebecca

poopie on the head - Rosie

"At least I get our 14 kids!" - BU

"But judge, my client did not inhale!" -Ben

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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Memory Day: Twelve Years Ago Today

March 27, 2001 was a Tuesday in my final semester at Virginia Tech, a semester with a grueling 13-credit courseload that accurately reflected my public school abilities. With an 8 AM math class which I reguarly missed by virtue that it was at 8 AM, in a different room 33% of the time, and had no parking spaces within a one mile radius, my days mainly consisted of dicking around with music. That being said, March 27 was one of busiest days of the semester.

This particular Tuesday opened with a private lesson at 11:00, in which Dave McKee gave me conducting tips for my recital, followed by a fettucini alfredo lunch at Shultz Dining Hall. I spent the next hour at the music major couches where Liz was introducing her friend, Katherine, who was transferring into the music department, if I recall correctly.

I took to the loading dock at 1:30 PM (this was in the years before I used military time) and annoyed random passerby by warming up for my Convocation performance. At 2:00 PM, I played the third movement of the Ewazen trumpet sonata, which is the musical equivalent of a Ritalin withdrawal, and then turned pages for the accompanists during the rest of the performances.

Ewazen III excerpt (2:26 MP3)

After Convo, I could have attended my useless Design of Information class, where we learned that "converging lines on a sign will draw the eye to the convergence point", but wisely chose to head to River Mill for fries and darts with Jason, Rosie, and Anna instead.

I ended up skipping Symphony Band that day as well, but for a legitimate reason: I was the official page-turner on Shac and Nikki's junior recital and had to turn pages on their dress rehearsal. I also arranged their final piece, Amazing Grace, which continued to prove that you never want brass instruments playing at the same time as sopranos. I was also the poster designer for this musical rave, and to this day, cannot believe that they chose the staid poster on the left over the cheerful poster on the right.

I came home to the apartment I shared with Rosie and Anna for a dinner (probably one of those 75 cent bags of Lipton noodles) and then drove Anna back to campus around 9:30. Apparently she had found her way onto some intramural softball team with the music department. I closed out the night with my habitual late night trumpet hour, because when you practice late at night, you can use all of the big rehearsal rooms, and the echoes cover up how awful your tone quality is. While leaving the practice area, I bumped into Nikki, and got us some late night ice cream from the Baskin Robbins off Main Street.

I was in bed by midnight, because I had a lot of sleep to catch up on if I was to be successful at skipping my Wednesday 8 AM class.

tagged as memories | permalink | 1 comment

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

This is 40 (R):
This Judd Apatow movie is a quasi-sequel, in that it takes some side characters from the movie, Knocked Up and continues their story, but none of the other characters from the original movie make an appearance. There are a few humorous scenes and some well-deserved trash-talking about LOST, but the 2 1/4 hour running time feels more like 3 hours. It kind of feels like they left all of the deleted scenes in from the get-go.

Final Grade: C-

Jeff who lives at home (R):
This indie film starring Jason Segal and Ed Helms as two dysfunctional brothers is actually a bit more low-key and charming than you might expect. It will not change your life, and you probably won't remember it after a couple weeks, but it's free on Amazon Prime.

Final Grade: C+

Oh Myyy! by George Takei:
This incredibly short (completable in a couple hours) Kindle-only book tells about George Takei's transition from aged actor to social media star on Facebook and Twitter. It's a pleasant read, but sometimes has an identity crisis between biography, humor essay collection, or how-to manual for growing your online presence as a famous person. The humor is hindered by relying on incredibly small screenshots from the Internet, surrounded by enough margins to resemble a high school book report with a page requirement. Since you can't get this as a print book, the fact that you can't read half of the jokes gets old pretty quickly.

Final Grade: C-

The Cuckoo's Egg by Cliff Stoll:
This is the true tale of a hapless system administrator who started out tracking down a 75-cent discrepancy in a university computer and ended up on an obsessive pursuit of hackers. The build in suspense is very well-done, and his occasional tangents into too much technical detail are minimal enough that even a non-computer-oriented reader could probably follow along. It peters out towards the end (because catching a hacker in real life is nothing like the movies), but was definitely worth a read.

Final Grade: B+

tagged as reviews | permalink | 2 comments

Friday, March 29, 2013

End-of-the-Month Media Day

I've taken the day off to work on the next version of DDMSence and celebrate the first quarter of 2013. In the meantime, enjoy a few new pictures in my Life, 2013 album!

tagged as media | permalink | 0 comments


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