07/2013

Monday, July 01, 2013

Weekend Wrap-up

This weekend, we finally met and her brood at the Folklife Festival in DC. It was a good time in spite of the delayed single-track Orange Line train that smelled of rotten fruit in a dumpster full of feces.

Brianne has been visiting the URI! Zone for around nine years and is about to return to Canada from Virginia Beach, since she is competing with Paige in a game of World Residence Bingo. She first came out of lurking to agree with my post about bratty kids in 2005, when people still communicated through blogs because Facebook was not yet a big deal.

From: "Brianne Archer"
Date: Thu, 04 Aug 2005 13:03:39 -0600

Mr. Uri,

I completely agree with your take on today's children. [...]

I like your site. i check in every once in a while. i can't say that i find it enlightening (mostly because i come up with the same opinions on my own) but it can be quite hilarious. good job.

B

After meeting the family and her friend, Jim, who traveled all of the way from Edmonton to play Hungarian tunes for DC tourists, we had a belated graduation dinner with my parents, and then spent all of Sunday pretending that it was really hot and humid outside so we could stay indoors without any hint of guilt. For dinner, we had lamb burgers without any lamb in them.

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Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Security Awareness Day

While the 3D cutscenes and minigames definitely make the annual security training easier to stomach, there were probably more effective ways to have spent that development money.

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Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Interactive Fiction Day

I've put out a new bugfix release of Augmented Fourth, which is still alive and kicking after 13 years. You might have fun playing it if you're nostalgic for the classic Infocom games, know how to read, and enjoy using ducks as paperweights.

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Thursday, July 04, 2013

Photoshop Request Day

I suppose that I could have dragged this out and made three separate pictures, one mocking YOLO, one showing us all attending the same party, and one showing the Mars Curiosity Rover bumping into something unexpected. However, it was more efficient to combine everyone's requests into a single picture with a patriotic theme.

This is an image captured by NASA of my annual Independence Day party on Mars, where there is nothing to eat but bacon. Regular bacon at that, not turkey bacon, because you only live once. And yes, before the conspiracy theorists start conjecturing over whether or not this is a fake, the fireworks are specially crafted to burn on carbon dioxide, not oxygen, so they would be totally plausible in the Martian atmosphere.

Happy Fourth of July!

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Friday, July 05, 2013

Fourth Wrap-up

Last night, we went to the Lake Barcroft fireworks with Rebecca's aunt and uncle, who were visiting from Santa Cruz. The forty minute show was decent, although it suffered the same affliction as the third Lord of the Rings movie, where every climactic display was followed by yet another ending five minutes later.

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Monday, July 08, 2013

Back to Work Day

I return to the land of regularly scheduled worker bees today after a leisurely, relaxing vacation week that included a trip to DC, the Olive Garden in Alexandria, Falls Church, and Purcellville.

I did very little this past week other than watching a lot of DVDs, and reading. Other than a couple days spent on my rereleased game, I didn't even do any side programming or website junk. However, I realized that it was time to get back to work once my dreams each night consisted of me, waiting around in real time for stuff to happen. On Saturday night, I dreamt that I was in a hotel lounge with several coworkers waiting for a tech convention to start -- this dream probably lasted a good three hours before I woke up.

Rebecca's aunt and uncle were visiting from California this week (we last saw them on our San Francisco trip in 2010), so we took them out to our wedding winery, Sunset Hills Vineyard, for a tasting on Sunday. Overall, I feel like the winery has succumbed to the lure of tourism money. There are so many newly constructed barns around the main barn that it feels like a farm for barns. The tasting room is loud and assembly-line-like, and the wines (while decent) are not worth a $10 tasting. A comparable tasting at an equally good winery might run $5-7. Sadly, it seems like the nice outdoor setting is the main reason I'd want to return anymore.

Looking ahead into July, Rebecca's super-tough exam finally happens on Wednesday, after which we have an assortment of mini trips and out-of-town visitors planned through the end of the month. Maybe I'll even convince people to get together for a poker game or something nostalgic.

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Tuesday, July 09, 2013

List Day: 7 Nicknames People Have Called Me (In Real Life)

in chronological order

  • Bub

  • Brian the Bestest

  • Briguy

  • Mr. Fuzzhead

  • The URINATOR

  • URI!

  • BU

What are some of your own memorable nicknames?

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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Memory Day: Coin Collecting

I don't really understand the draw of collection-based hobbies, like stamp collecting or Beanie Babies. To me, a collection only makes sense if:

  1. You can use it regularly: Who doesn't want to build and play with the entire Lego Pirates ecosystem at the same time?
  2. The collection is finite: Oh look, five hundred new types of Beanie Baby were released this year.

This is also why I long ago gave up on any video game goal requiring 100% completion that was really just a useless prolonging of the original game. I was too old to ever play any "Pokemon" games, but I'm sure I would have hated them. DON'T TELL ME WHAT I GOTTA CATCH.

For a brief time in junior high school, I decided that collecting pennies would be a valuable use of my time and money. This is proof that child brains are poorly developed, and was also around the time that I decided that wearing the biggest, most unattractive glasses possible would let me see more in focus without having to move my head.

Penny collections are very near to stamp collections on the useless scale, as you spend money on something that just sits on the shelf (touching them reduces their condition from "Fine" to "Good") while new pennies come out every year. Additionally, most pennies are worth... a penny, and always will be.

On some Saturday mornings, as part of the weekly trip to The Price Club for groceries, we would stop at the coin store in Springfield and I would look through the pennies. The crown jewel of my collection was an "Uncirculated" penny from the 60s that cost $4.00 and isn't even shown in the collection here because it had to stay in a special sealed sleeve to prevent oxidation. That penny is now worth a maximum of $1.

It was around this time that I realized there were other potential purchases that would actually be FUN to play with, like computer games and Lego sets, and redistributed my wealth accordingly.

What did you collect as a kid?

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Thursday, July 11, 2013

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

Wonderfalls, The Complete Series:
Wonderfalls is another quirky milestone on the Bryan Fuller timeline, after Dead Like Me and before Heroes, Pushing Daisies, and Hannibal. It tells the tale of a lowly retail clerk working in a gift shop at Niagara Falls who suddenly starts hearing cryptic advice from stuffed animals and figurines. This was another one of those poorly managed FOX series that was axed before it had a chance to take root, but the 13 existing episodes create enough of a completed story arc to make them worth watching. Overall, the show is fun and far better than the hugely disappointing Dead Like Me, but nowhere near as good as Pushing Daisies. To maximize your DVD watching time, skip everything else that Bryan Fuller has ever written and just watch Pushing Daises repeatedly.

Final Grade: C+

Twisty Little Passages: An Approach to Interactive Fiction by Nick Montfort:
With this Kindle purchase, I was hoping for a light, nostalgic look at the evolution from text adventure games to modern interactive fiction. Unfortunately, the book is written like a dissertation, with the driest possible language that eliminates any sense of fun or excitement from the prose. Struggling to appreciate the material in spite of the language, ironically, felt similar to struggling to find the right command to type in an early text adventure parser. I only made it through one chapter.

Final Grade: Not Graded

Here Comes the Fuzz by Mark Ronson:
This is another successful album from Mark Ronson, who has an unerring knack for mashing together all sorts of styles while abandoning anything that doesn't work, resulting in catchy, unique songs like "Bluegrass Stain'd". I didn't like this quite as much as Record Collection, but there's only a couple weak songs in the mix.

Final Grade: B+

Burn Notice, Season Six:
Burn Notice just kind of chugs along now, with a few fun scenes but not much energy. A few chances to mix up the formula a bit are wasted, and the season ends with yet another meaningless, poorly explained scene that just sets up another season. A side storyline featuring Fiona in prison felt like a poor man's Prison Break. I mostly watched this while doing other things on the computer.

Final Grade: C

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Friday, July 12, 2013

Chad Darnell's 12 of 12


6:04 AM: Showered and awake.

6:14 AM: Light breakfast of yogurt, because I forgot to buy bagels yesterday.

6:30 AM: Working from home in my whiplash protection chair.

7:45 AM: Outsourcing the ontology work.

9:12 AM: Outsourcing the management work.

11:04 AM: Picking up lunch on the way to the office.

1:13 PM: Continuing to work.

2:45 PM: Overcast over Reston.

4:24 PM: Rewarding 10 years of service, not including 3 summers of manual intern labour.

4:42 PM: Paused in traffic.

6:00 PM: Leftover steak sandwich and cherry tomatoes for dinner.

7:31 PM: Trying out Bioshock Infinite, from today's Steam Summer Sale.

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Monday, July 15, 2013

Weekend Wrap-up

We took the opportunity to flee the oppressive humidity of Virginia this past weekend by traveling to the equally oppressive humidity of Maryland, specifically Solomons Island, which we last visited four years ago.

This time around, we somehow managed to avoid all of the thunderstorms, although Saturday afternoon was heavily overcast and perfect beach weather for the white person I was traveling with. We started at Calvert Cliffs State Park, where I once discovered a one-inch shark's tooth that I wore around my neck in sixth grade until it shattered. The hike to the beach was pleasant, although the beach is nearly gone, probably because of natural erosion and / or Maryland drivers.

At dinnertime, we wandered along the boardwalk to the melodic parade of souped up diesel pick-up trucks and motorcycles, and then had rare ahi tuna and crabcakes at Kingfisher's.

We stayed in a Hilton rather than a B&B this time, because of the silly "high season" rules requiring a minimum of two nights, but this was perfect for us, since it was half the price of a B&B, gave us pool privileges, and did not require us to make small talk with strangers over breakfast. Before turning in for the night, we went to the Ruddy Duck Bar & Grill across the parking lot from the hotel, and tried a nice flight of local beers. I also made the astute observation there that the average Maryland male seemed to be unusually tall, oddly proportioned, slightly douchey, and possibly on meth.

On Sunday, we went to Flag Ponds Nature Park for more beach and hiking time, but the humidity kept us from hanging around for too long. After subs and shakes at Wawa around 3 PM, we returned home to feed Booty and eat homegrown tomatoes.

How was your weekend?

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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Heat Day

According to the weather forecast, we are now entering the annual week where the intensity of the heat and humid swirl together like a melted morass of soft-serve, indiscriminately killing urban old people and providing everyone else a guilt-free reason to stay indoors in front of the computer. Since I regularly spend all of my time there anyhow, this week won't be much different than any other week, although the leather seats in my Accord increase the likelihood of "sweat-back" on any given commute.

Incidentally, the Weather Channel website is 550% less annoying if you visit the mobile version (m.weather.com) rather than the regular version (www.weather.com). The parts of the forecast that one might actually care about are highlighted, while the autoplaying videos and social media entreaties to "see what your friends think about the weather" are eliminated like married people with children in San Francisco.

In the history of BU, I can only recall two times where I was ever vanquished by Virginia heat -- normally I go willingly into the darkness without a fight, watching DVDs with the sound turned up high enough to hear over the A/C:

  • In the late 80s, I was enrolled in a Summer Day Camp at Patrick Henry Elementary School, for kids whose parents didn't trust them to stay home alone without burning the house down. On one particularly hot afternoon, the highly skilled camp workers decided to trek the entire gaggle of kids on a mile-long walk up a steep hill to the Burke Library to watch films. I do not recall what films were put into the projector, because I (and several other kids) spent the entire library visit pressed against the cool, unsanitary floor of the library, recovering from heat exhaustion while the camp workers discussed amongst themselves whether they would get fired.

  • During a homecoming football performance at Virginia Tech, sometime around 1997, the halftime show consisted of multiple scatter drills and run-ons in a marching band uniform made from leftover canvas from the flag of Qatar. This was followed by a twenty minute "stand at attention" phase while they honored a bunch of old athletes that no one cared about. I succumbed to the heat and keeled over onto one knee for about ten minutes, but managed to recover and stumble dizzily off of the field at the end. This was ironic, because the rest of the band was also stumbling dizzily off of the field, but I was probably the only one that hadn't been drinking.

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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Time-lapsed Blogography Day

Twenty years ago today, on July 17, 1993, I went on a group bowling "date" with a girl from the other junior high school that I had met through Crew. Unfortunately, she spent more time talking to my wingman than to me.

Nineteen years ago today, on July 17, 1994, I arrived at Longwood College for a Virginia Music Educators Association (VMEA) music camp. I had a roommate from Newport News, Richard Miles, who said he'd been robbed and shot at the age of 7 and told me not to do drugs. For the final talent show, we played a brass quintet arrangement of the Pachelbel Canon, but the horn player broke the strings on his horn so we played with only four of the five parts. This was also the camp where I tried to play tennis and tripped over myself immediately, scarring my shoulder for life.

Eighteen years ago today, on July 17, 1995, I was at Governor's School, doing a puppet show called Journey to Jotunheim, for my required humanities class.

Seventeen years ago today, on July 17, 1996, I was arriving at Virginia Tech for my overnight freshman orientation session. The event was unmemorable, according to my journal, other than the fact that my parents kept wanting to take pictures of me in front of various college landmarks.

Eight years ago today, on July 17, 2005, I spent the entire day finishing Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince which had just been released the day before.

One year ago today, on July 17, 2012, we were in Montreal, overwhelmed by free rock concerts and violas launched into space.

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Thursday, July 18, 2013

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

Whose Line Is It Anyway?, Season Premiere:
Whose Line returned from the dead on Tuesday, this time on CW. With Ryan, Colin, and Wayne as the primary performers, the show felt very familiar, in spite of a few new games and far too many celebrity guest appearances. However, the show has the same problem as it did in the past: once you take out the long introductions of how each game is played and the insane number of commercial breaks, you're left with about 10 minutes of content, and about 5 minutes of hilarity. Whose Line is a show best watched as a YouTube highlights clip or DVD.

Final Grade: C-

In the Music by Trashcan Sinatras:
This album was great for my afternoon naps. Beyond that, I cannot recall a single memorable song on it.

Final Grade: C

GIRLS, Season One:
(guest review by Rebecca, because I wasn't planning on watching this girly noise)
This vivid, honest portrayal of 20-something liberal arts graduates living in New York City is entertaining, cringeworthy, and will make you appreciate the fact that you survived your early 20s. A smattering of Judd Apatow's influence is apparent -- in some ways these characters are like the kids from Freaks and Geeks as young adults. The "Girls" are like me and my friends in our early 20s, except that they don't make as many reasonable decisions as we did and they are having A LOT MORE SEX. Details are done well, and will make you knowingly exclaim, "She thinks THAT outfit looks professional for an interview... riiight."

Female liberal arts grads in their early 20s are truly a strange breed. Overall the show is very well done, and I will absolutely try to track down the 2nd season if it's not too difficult. However, did I mention there are WAY TOO MANY SEX SCENES? It is HBO. But it's no Game of Thrones, if you know what I mean.

Final Grade: B

Breaking Bad, Season Five, Part One:
First off, this DVD set is falsely advertised as the complete Season Five, even though there are still 8 more episodes to go. Luckily, I steal most DVDs from my parents when they're done watching them so the cost is amortized over multiple Uris. Eight episodes is a much better length than thirteen for a story arc in this show, because the interminable drag at the beginning of the roller coaster ride is removed. The season starts strong and never lets up, continuing to deepen the setting we already know, rather than introducing new contrivances (unlike LOST). The more familiar you are with the previous seasons, the more you will appreciate this one.

Final Grade: B+

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Friday, July 19, 2013

Concert Day

At last night's free summer concert series in Frying Pan Park, featuring bluegrass music by The Special Consensus. Admission was Anna's other two kids.

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Monday, July 22, 2013

Weekend Wrap-up

Rebecca's friend, Elisa, was in town from Columbus this weekend, and on Friday evening, we took her to happy hour at Delmarva's, where the service has improved by at least a factor of 2 since our last visit in the spring.

On Saturday, we went to the Willowcroft Vineyard for an "ice cream and wine pairing" tasting. It was a nice enough setting, but I felt like the pairing was something of a gimmick -- you could probably pair any given flavour of ice cream with any other wine and come up with something reasonably tasty. After the tasting, we sat outside admiring the view of Loudoun Valley while eating a picnic lunch of cheese. We also met Flint, the winery cat who has more thumbs than you do. From Willowcroft, we drove to Casanel Vineyards, which was more touristy, but gave me a free water for being willing to drive the other two around.

On Sunday, Elisa had to return early to Columbus, so Rebecca and I lounged around the house eating cheese and cheese-themed meals while watching Arrested Development, Season Four. In the evening, we went to Taste of Burma for a quiet meal to close out the weekend.

Sidenote: Early Saturday morning, a family of bats decided to move into the wall next to our bed, via a piece of loose siding. It is rather difficult to sleep with cats on your head chasing inaccessible bats all night long. Plans for this evening include a visit to the attic to (hopefully) confirm that the bats haven't migrated into the attic yet.

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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Bat Day

BATS AREN'T BUGS!!

Early Saturday morning, around 0430, I heard scratching and squeaking sounds in the walls near our bed. It was not an illusion, as the cats were agitated as well, and it sounded sufficiently different from the ghost raccoons that visit on a very erratic schedule.

Because it is the job of the man of the house to investigate strange noises and stab burglars, I cracked the window and peered into the early dawn to see if any errant Cirque du Soleil performers were maliciously climbing the drainpipe. (Meanwhile, Rebecca thought I had opened the window to fart without bothering her, which shows her interpreation of man of the house duties).

I immediately saw several bats fly past the window, highlighted against the sky, and closed the window before any came inside. Later on, in the brightness of daylight, I could easily see where a piece of siding had come loose, providing refuge for a family of what sounded like at least 5 bats. Bat habitats (or "babitats") are kind of like halfway houses for recently released criminals: they're necessary and beneficial for society, but no one wants to live next door to one.

The Reston area around my place of work lost power again on Monday (the second time this month). Rather than sit at a desk listening to the dubstep beats of multiple battery backup systems beeping underneath desks, I decided to take the afternoon and deal with the bats.

I started by scouting the perimeter of the house, looking for additional points of egress. Luckily, the bat activity was localized to a single corner, where the guano streaked down the wall like so much majestic diarrhea. Next, I went up into the attic to check for infestation, and immediately lost ten pounds through sweating in the 130 degree heat. Thankfully, the bats had not migrated into the attic space, and it looked like they were still limited to the area outside of the house, between the siding and the walls.

I first attempted to scare the bats out with various drumline rhythms on the inner walls, but the family seemed strangely immune to marching bands. Next, I used the garden hose to shoot short, directed bursts of water under the broken siding, and was immediately rewarded by the flight of a single bat. Then a second, and a third. By the time it was over, thirteen bats had flown out of the siding and into the nearby forest, not unlike a Sesame Street counting exercise. A fourteenth escaped when I went up to wash down the siding and seal up the holes.

After peering into the recessed woodwork for more bats, and half expecting for one to fly at my eyeball and knock me off the ladder, I deemed the crevice empty, and temporarily secured the siding in place with duct tape. Our bat problems were over.

Or were they?

To Be Continued...

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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Bat Day, Part II

After the events depicted in yesterday's documentary, we were getting ready for bed on Monday night when we heard the scratching and squeaking of even more bats behind the wall. Like college students in a fire drill, a subset of the bat family had stayed hidden in the babitat during the siding repair, and were now trapped behind the securely duct taped panel.

On Tuesday morning, I got up near dawn to find a fat bat that sat trapped like a rat, half in and half out of a space that was obviously too small to fit through. Through Internet research, I learned that a one-way exit was needed to allow the remaining bats to leave without returning (and also that bat baby season in this area ends around July 15, so you shouldn't try this at home before then unless you plan to start a bat orphanage). I joined the early morning regulars at Home Depot to acquire some fine mesh netting and got to work.

First, I did another quick rinse of the siding to reduce my chances of catching any crazy bat diseases. Next, I unsecured the siding, flushing surprise bat #15 out of the space -- there were still at least two more hidden out of sight. Finally, I donned some heavy duty gloves and held back the tight siding while tapping Fat Bat #16 on the nose until he was able to wriggle backwards and disappear.

I then used the netting (originally sold as "cicada netting" and in abundant stock because we were never invaded in Sterling) to create a bat exclusion filter, which is loose at the top, but then tighter towards the bottom. Apparently, bats fly out joyously, smash into the netting, and fall down to the bottom before successfully flying away. Upon their return, they try to enter at their old entrance near the top, but the netting blocks their entry. And, for some reason, they are unable to come in through the bottom because their flight patterns don't work that way.

Now that there is a Reverse Hotel California on the back of my house, we will continue to monitor for more bats before sealing the siding up again. The bats were definitely hanging out and playing poker last night, but I didn't hear any movement this morning. Either they have left for good, or have taken a vow of silence. Only time will tell.

To be continued?

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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Review Day: Bioshock Infinite

There are no major spoilers in this review.

I only played the original Bioshock for a few hours -- it had a great, creepy setting although it was starting to reach Doom 3 levels of darkness overuse by the time I lost interest. I recently picked up Bioshock Infinite for $10 in a Steam sale, based on its overwhelmingly positive reviews.

Once again, the setting and backstory are meticulously well-done. The story takes place in a floating cloud city in the early 1900s, and features a population living in a patriotic, almost cult-like society that has seceded from the US. Exploring the town for the little details is always rewarding, although a few zones are vast just for the sake of being vast.

At its heart, the game is a first-person shooter, but it also features an incredibly ambitious plot that succeeds more often than it fails. You're dropped into the action with very little explanation, but the plot eventually broadens into a finale as layered as the movie, Inception. There are a few gaps in the story, and sometimes the game goes the Half-Life route, requiring you to stand still to observe parts of the narrative -- a few times I missed plot points because I was already running away while my companion stopped out of earshot to talk about something.

Other than this annoyance, the companion that stays with you for most of the game is perfectly implemented. Unlike every single other game before this one, the companion is not annoying, helps you out occasionally by finding gear or money, can survive on her own, and never blocks you into a tight corner idiotically. Playing Skyrim as a fireball mage with a melee companion always ended in disaster.

The underlying shooter portion of the game is fun enough, and sufficiently holds together the more interesting parts of the package. There is a decent mix of old-style guns and "magic" abilities, although I ended up getting comfortable with a small subset early on and never needing to experiment with others later on. Controls are tight, and zipping around skylines throughout the town is a nice touch.

Overall, I had a fun time playing this game (it took about 13 hours), and appreciate the enormity of the story that the writers tried to tackle. I wasn't blown away by its resolution, but would definitely play this game again next year when I'm bored.

Final Grade: B+, enjoyable shooter with an ambitious plot and interesting setting

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Friday, July 26, 2013

End-of-the-Month Media Day

New photos have been added to the Life, 2013 album.

Also, we're only 5 days away from the 17th birthday of the URI! Zone. Are there any new features you would like to see? Any new blogs I should link to? New requests for your comment avatars?

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Monday, July 29, 2013

Weekend Wrap-up

Friday night was Steak Night, with my already perfect New York recipe augmented by a thin layer of brown sugar. We sat on the back porch and listened to the pleasant sounds of "no bats in the walls of the house" until the mosquitoes ravaged our skin like juice-crazed toddlers in a ball pit full of tator tots.

I spent most of Saturday working on the URI! Zone and cleaning out years of coding cruft -- if you are still in the 0.4% of my visitors using IE 6 or 7, you will no longer be getting special treatment. The look and feel of the URI! Zone has not changed dramatically in several years, and this year's update will be more of a blue refinement than overhaul. I also updated my web server to eliminate the rule that prevents people from hotlinking my images for their Myspace profiles (circa 2005) and added a new rule to get rid of the Chinese Baidu searchbot that is obviously searching for defense secrets amidst all of my posts about Alias.

We had dinner out with friends at Page & Brian's on Saturday night, and Rebecca started the "everyone else is pregnant!" phase of life which I passed through a few years ago while she was in her "everyone else is getting married!" phase.

On Sunday morning, my dad helped to reseal the side of the house, where 18 vampire bats had taken up residence earlier in the week. My bat exclusion filter had worked wonders, as no bats had been on the premises for several days. He also brought over the first season of House of Cards, which Rebecca and I spent most of the evening devouring, in addition to wings from Joe's Pizzaria.

How was your weekend?

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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Composing Spotlight: Duet of Dillamàro

As an undergraduate composer, the standard M.O. for accepting commissions is to accept every serious request you get (where the seriousness scale bottoms out with the drunk guy at a party in a beanbag chair slurring, "Dude, write me a song.") At this point in your composing career, publicity is more important than money, so you usually commit to writing a song in exchange for a performance or recording, rather than hard cash. The main reason to set a cash price is to deter the less serious requests, or the ones that you simply lack the time to do because you're too busy playing Starcraft in your dorm room all day long.

In my fourth year at Tech, I was approached to write a duet for string bass and horn. The performer didn't really have a specific idea in mind -- he just wanted a piece that "sounds like a piece written when a 20th century composer arranges a Bach fugue or prelude". I was not particularly interested in this commission because most duet writing is about hitting enough notes in succession to imply a harmony. Why waste time scrimping and pinching notes when you can just write for a larger ensemble with a bigger palette, unless you care more about challenging yourself technically than making good music?

For this reason, I set a price of $25 on the commission, hoping that it would go away. Unfortunately, it did not deter him.

The resulting piece, Duet of Dillamàro, was completed in record time (probably about a week), and employed time-stretching devices like "rubato", and "DC al Coda" (which is Italian for "this piece will be one minute longer if you restart it from the beginning for a while"). The title may have been an anagram. Normally, I liked to give the performer a few chances to play the draft piece to smooth out any rough fingerings or obvious technical issues. In this case though, the performer handed me $25, said it was perfect, and then I never heard from him again.

I would later learn that the performer was majorly in love with a specific horn player who did not reciprocate, and he commissioned the piece solely to invent time that they could spend together in the practice rooms, so the relative quality of the music was irrelevant to his aims. "Will you perform on my recital, look, I commissioned this duet for us" seems to be at an almost creepy level of adoration, but people do weird things for love. Tragically, the horn player shut that down pretty quickly, and it's likely that this piece was never even practiced more than once.

I most likely spent the $25 on two haircuts at the military barber shop across the street from campus.

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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Pet Day: Amber

Amber the cat was adopted in March 2005, along with her sister, Sydney. Because the powerhouse of Sterling, consisting of my ex-roommate, Anna, myself, Booty, and Kitty, was going to be split up after Anna's wedding, we had decided to get two kittens so each of our cats would have a miniature friend to abuse after the separation. The resultant object graph showed Anna, Ben, Sydney, and Kitty on the left, with BU, Booty, and Amber on the right. If this assortment of names confuses you, you should probably stay away from the Game of Thrones books.

We first tried to adopt kittens through the Hart adoption agency at the local Petsmart until we realized that they were a special sort of crazy. Going in as two roommates with work schedules that only overlapped by three hours, and with one of us working from home multiple days per week, we thought we'd be shoo-ins for the kitten care poster family. Unfortunately, we were denied because OMG KITTENS NEED SOMEONE HOME 24 HOURS A DAY IM CALLING PETA.

Since doing it the right way had failed, we then went through the Casual Encounters section of Craigslist, full of less reputable kitties and kitties with daddy issues. We arranged for a meeting with a lady that used complete English sentences in her emails and were heartened that it was in a fairly rich section of Fairfax County.

We arrived at a typical Fairfax mansion and were immediately overwhelmed by the stench of millions of cats. Amber and Sydney were definitely good picks, and we ended up paying far more than we should have just to get them out of that environment (Sydney came away with feral food issues, competing with so many adult cats for dinner each day). As we fled to the car with the cats, the cat lady ran after us with a run-of-the-mill plastic toy, stating that it was "the kittens' favorite toy". We thanked her, but apparently misinterpreted her largesse, since she was actually trying to sell us this crappy toy for $20.

Amber adapted quickly to the Sterling house. We learned very quickly that wet food was a bad idea, and consistently resulted in explosive vomiting, akin to jumping into the air and landing on a hot dog. She only gets riled up for food when Booty does, but otherwise couldn't care any less.

When she plays with Booty, she generally gets beat up, so she prefers to play on her own, inventing only-child games involving furry balls and imagination. She will run 10 yards away from any sudden movements, loud noises, or normal breathing, but then immediately return 9 of those yards to observe.

Unlike Booty, who gets up in your business for affection, Amber would rather just be nearby but not touched. She might sleep all day long out of sight, only to show up to shed hair all over your keyboard like a feline dandelion.

Because Amber's actual birthday was unknown, we estimated to be on the same day as Booty's (October 25), but two years later (2004). As such, she is currently 8.5 years old.

tagged as memories, cats | permalink | 3 comments

 

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