Posts from 08/2013

Thursday, August 01, 2013

New Edition Day

The URI! Zone turns 17 today with my 3010th blog post, accompanied by 6943 reader comments and over 140,000 unique visits in the last decade alone. Originally hosted out of my dorm room in 1996, the first site was the wasabi of the Internet: a dollop of spicy, zesty, static HTML that might destroy you like an academic ninja if you were to overdose on it.

Had you been involved in any incidental banging back then, you might now be going broke, putting your 17-year-old lovechild through Harvard (because he's obviously as smart as you), while trying to convince him to attend one of our many fine in-state schools, like Virginia Tech, JMU, William and Mary, VCU, ODU, GMU, NOVA, Longwood, Mary Washington, or Christopher Newport.

The nice thing about aging is that you attain levels of achievement simply by hanging around with minimal effort, not unlike most video game achievements today. Simply by continuing to pay hosting and domain name fees, my website keeps a firm grip on the achievement of being older than Google, Netflix, Slashdot, PayPal, DVD players, Diablo 1, the PNG image format, and Jaden Smith. Additionally, the URI! Zone has outlasted both Geocities and "Jeeves" of AskJeeves. Looking into the future, I predict that the URI! Zone might earn more Oscars than Jaden Smith (but will definitely earn more Oscars than Shia TheBeef).

Here are some of the refinements you will find in this new edition:

  • More responsive UI for Photos: Remember how nice Picasa was before Google rebranded it as Google+ Photos? This was the primary reason I wrote my own interface for the Picasa data stream of my photo albums. I've updated the UI to be more responsive to keyboard navigation (P and N for previous and next). This will allow you to stalk me at least 75% faster.

  • Sidebar on the Left, Content on the Right: The sidebar was on the right for the last six years, but the asymmetry was no longer appealing. It resembled a British highway or Metro escalators during tourist season, and no one likes either one of those things.

  • Play Augmented Fourth without Java: It always felt unnecessary to require a Java applet to play a text adventure game, and Java applets haven't been cool since the late 90s when every page had a rippling lake reflecting the title of the page in an applet. I don't even have a Java plugin installed in my browser anymore, and you shouldn't either. Instead, you can play Augmented Fourth with Parchment, using nothing but your web browser and your brain.

  • More sketches and captions: Because art is funniest when taken out of context.

  • Updated Bloglog: The date of a blog's last post is now listed next to the link, in order to shame authors into posting more (because online bullying is a legitimate mechanism for social change). Have a blog that I should be reading? Send me the link!

Thank you for your continued visits to this literary paradise over the last 17 years!

Date: Mon, 09 Sep 1996 15:12:04
From: Noel Uri (noeluri@MAILBOX.ECON.AG.GOV)
Subject: RE: Homepage

Great homepage. Am I getting my money's worth or what?

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Friday, August 02, 2013

How-to Day: Website Design

I took yesterday off, in solidarity with the noble furloughed federal worker (ignoring, for a moment, the fact that I have too much leave saved up and am tired of selling it all back at the end of the year). After an early morning exercise routine of 500 situps, 200 pushups, and 1 squat (toilet-themed), I launched the new edition of the URI! Zone, and then spent the rest of the day updating the website for the Ormond Stone Middle School Band, which has retained me as the webmaster for longer than Rebecca has had me for a husband. Both parties, however, are impressed with my web-scale skills.

While refreshing that site, it occurred to me that website design might be a topic that many readers might be interested in, purely for the sake of the incredible additional income. It also wouldn't hurt my advertising revenue* to become the next eHow, so I've decided to provide a step-by-step guide for website development. Hope it helps!

Step One: Sketch your design out on paper or a napkin
In the conceptual stage, web languages just get in the way.

Step Two: Implement the idea
Write the website and put it on the web!

Simply follow this how-to guide to the letter and you will soon be rolling in web development accolades!

Bonus How-to Guide! Here is how you draw Simba, from The Lion King. No artistic talent required!

*: The only entity I currently promote in my header graphic is the BU Wine Bar in Montreal. I receive $0.00 per year for this endorsement. However, they really should be paying ME money for being born.

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Monday, August 05, 2013

Weekend Wrap-up

This weekend, we went on our annual camping trip to Greenbrier State Park which remains a pleasant place to camp, in spite of the low reviews from welcoming Marylanders on Google. We drove up on Saturday morning, joining Rebecca's Loudoun-side family who had come up the night before, and increased the number of times our wedding-gifted tent has been pitched from four to five.

After a brief, turgid period of rain on Saturday afternoon, the weather was perfect for the remainder of the weekend -- low 80s with partly cloudy skies and a killer breeze. We hiked through the woods, waded along the beach, and ate many camping-related meats.

We got back on Sunday afternoon, having successfully offloaded ten of our homegrown tomatoes on the campers, and closed out the weekend with homemade buffalo chicken tacos and the final episodes of House of Cards.

How was your weekend?

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Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Cost of Living Day

I've measured the cost of being BU in previous years, but it was always based on a few choice metrics, and about as scientifically accurate as Windows progress bars. This time around, I've data mined all of my non-cash receipts from the year, 2012, to determine my actual expenses (down to the penny). Data is fun!

In 2012, it cost $43,855.76 to live in the manner I have become accustomed to, not including the one-time purchase of the new car last May. This amount is broken down into the following categories:

  • Bills / Taxes: $25,514.84 goes towards monthly bills, house insurance, car insurance, and Loudoun County taxes. None of this could be cut if I wanted to pursue an alternate career as a positive thinker while still living where I live.

  • Vacation: $5,074.65 went towards our Montreal trip and a few B&R R&R weekends at B&Bs. Worth it!

  • Repeat Shopping: $4,459.17 went towards repeat shopping at grocery stores like Safeway or Wegmans, or weekly Costco trips.

  • Entertainment: $3,571.33 covers movies, games, music, and the newspaper subscription.

  • Dining Out: $2,349.53 was spent on eating out, and not all at Popeyes. Apparently, in March 2012, we went to Pizzario's four times during the single month it was open before it went out of business.

  • Gas / Tolls: It cost me $1,401.56 to drive around our road-centric region.

  • Uncategorized Shopping: $824.91 went towards miscellaneous shopping, like trips to Target or CVS.

  • Computer / Web Hosting: $659.77 went towards buying toner cartridges so Rebecca could print 800 page PT briefs, as well as monthly web hosting so I could tell all of you clowns about my expenses.

Overall, the price of being me was about $120 per day. Were I to lose my job in the redneck apocalypse (because zombies are conceptually retarded, and also highly unlikely), I could easily trim that down to $86 per day without too much hardship. I generally don't stick to a budget proactively -- instead, I'll monitor my expenses on a monthly basis. If I feel like I overspent one month, I'll compensate in the following month!

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Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Memory Day: Snapshots

Rebecca skipping rocks on the beach in Collioure, France, on April 10, 2008.

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Thursday, August 08, 2013

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

Side Effects (R):
This was an interesting story, which started out as a look at how pervasive pharmaceutical drugs are, and turned into a different type of movie altogether by the halfway point. It takes a little while to get rolling, but the slow burn is worthwhile. Not life-changing, but enjoyable if you're in need of movie night fare.

Final Grade: B

Deleted Scenes from the Cutting Room Floor by Caro Emerald:
Pandora only recently started playing tracks from this album on my stations -- otherwise, I probably would have discovered it long ago. Caro Emerald is a Dutch jazz singer who fuses jazz vocals over a variety of different styles, and each song is as strong as the one that precedes it. Among my favorites are Back It Up, and A Night Like This.

Final Grade: A

House of Cards, Season One:
This Netflix original series (a remake of a British miniseries) stars Kevin Spacey as a senator who feels slighted and passed over, and spends the rest of his term plotting and backstabbing his way to the top. The series starts strong, drags a bit in the middle, and wraps up nicely. Your enjoyment of the series will be strongly influenced by how much you might enjoy Kevin Spacey chewing on the scenery and breaking the fourth wall to trade barbed, sarcastic words of wisdom with the audience. It was also nice to see that Mahershalalhashbaz Ali has gotten new work since his role on The 4400 where he shouted "Isabelle!" and chased after his daughter like a parallel universe version of Michael and Walt from LOST. He's shortened his name to Mahershala Ali, much to the relief of the guy editing the credits screens.

Final Grade: B+

Arrested Development, Season Four:
As much as I loved the original run of Arrested Development, there were a ton of flaws with this new Netflix-driven season.

  • Filming constraints kept most of the cast apart, resulting in a "one episode per character" format. However, most of the characters aren't interesting enough to support a whole episode, and only really shine when they can play off of the others.
  • All of the stories overlap and take place in the same temporal space, which supposedly means that future viewings will result in "AHA!" moments of increased hilarity, but all it does is muddle the storytelling. I suspect that if I were to rewatch with knowledge of the whole season, the stories might feel more fleshed out, but definitely not funnier.
  • Each episode felt full of deleted scenes, since there is no arbitrary cap on episode length for online shows. Some jokes are strung out far too long just because the time was available. Less is more. Everyone needs a good editor, even Mahler.
  • The show relied a lot more on Hollywood in-jokes that I'm not privy to, not unlike that season of The Guild that relied on nothing but gaming convention humor.
The bottom line is that there are still plenty of funny moments (and the Gob episodes are the definite high point), but it's far from perfect.

Final Grade: C

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Friday, August 09, 2013

The Daily Hour

Unnoticed by most, my Daily Hour experiment came to an ignoble close last month, not unlike US involvement in Iraq. Although I chose not to pursue the experiment for the entire year, it was definitely worth my time, and pointed me in several different directions that I might not otherwise have pursued.

What did I get out of the experiment? I can play scales, simple blues lines, and otherwise navigate my way around the electric bass. I learned the Python programming language, fixed a thirteen-year-old bug in my text adventure game, and started coding an open source issue tracker (which I took a break from during July, but plan to restart very soon) that introduced me to . I organized files full of junk and read about sciencey stuff, while playing 75% fewer video games. All for just an hour a day!

Ultimately, I reached a point where my brain was conditioned to naturally seek out enriching opportunities without needing to track it in a spreadsheet, so I stopped recording every ten minute increment like I used to. However, I'm still interested in new things to try for the last five months of 2013 -- suggest away!

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Monday, August 12, 2013

Weekend Wrap-up

On Friday night, post-thunderstorm, we rolled down to Herndon for their weekly free concert series. The opening band, Dr. FU, didn't really have much to offer, other than the arranger's ability to replay any popular song as frat rock, and the Thao Nguyen-esque ability to not quite hit the right pitch on any given note. Thankfully, Herr Metal was as good as they were two years ago, and had branched out beyond Guns n' Roses covers to Van Halen and Bon Jovi.

Saturday was a quiet day, in which we took full advantage of our free month of Netflix. We may or may not have watched "Odd Animal Couples", about different species of animals that have befriended each other. In the evening, Rebecca went off to yoga while I dry-vac'ed two years of cobwebs out of the backyard shed.

On Sunday, we drove down to Madison, VA for the wedding of Joe Ambrogne and Katie Augustine. Katie was one of Rebecca's classmates in PT school, and at one of the first social gatherings, I recognized Joe as someone that works at FGM on the far side of the building where I never tread. We drove back directly from the wedding because some crafts convention had booked all of the hotels in the area, and arrived home just before midnight.

I took today off because I wasn't sure how long return travel would take, and am now puttering around the house doing a little telecommuting and taking 12 of 12 pictures. How was your weekend?

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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Chad Darnell's 12 of 12

12:08 AM: Going to bed after post-wedding travel.

7:38 AM: Showered, but not shaved.

7:50 AM: Breakfast.

8:30 AM: Editing wedding photos and continuing the FGM tradition of post-wedding office nameplates.

10:08 AM: Measuring Booty's productivity.

11:49 AM: Early lunch.

1:15 PM: Cat lunch.

2:58 PM: Watching the fourth season of Community, which is trying way too hard to be quirky.

3:30 PM: Cat nap.

5:42 PM: Running and free Weeds on Netflix.

8:21 PM: Primo Italiano with extra tomatos and Italianos for dinner.

8:39 PM: A game of Lost Cities over dinner (Rebecca won by over 60 points).

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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Birth Day

To celebrate my sister's birthday today, here is a long lost video of the styles of the 80s, set against the backdrop of her 13th sleepover party. I must have been shipped off to a friend's for my own sleepover party since I am nowhere to be found on this video.

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Thursday, August 15, 2013

Review Day

Colin & Brad: Two Man Group:
This comedy special from two stars of Whose Line plays out like a very diluted version of Whose Line. It's good for some chuckles, but not amazing, aside from the price point (Free on Netflix)

Final Grade: C+

Electric Circus by Common:
I purchased this album on the strength of I Am Music. It's mainly rap set over a mix of electronica that might have been innovative back in 2002 when it was released, but which everyone is doing these days. A few catchy songs are mixed with a few songs that are too amorphous in structure to really remember.

Final Grade: B-

Community, Season Four:
I ended up liking Season Three slightly more on my second viewing, so I decided to give this new season a chance. This is the first season without the original creator at the helm, and the entire thirteen episode collection is really trying too hard, as if the new writers have to prove that they are just as zany. What little subtlety the show ever had goes out the window, to be replaced by character sketches that boil most characters down to their most annoying facet (not unlike "Ross" in the later seasons of Friends). I did like a couple episodes towards the end of the run where they calmed the eff down, but otherwise, it was cringeworthily bad.

Final Grade: D+

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Friday, August 16, 2013

Random Chart Day: Haircuts

On average, I give myself a new haircut every 23.778 days. Any longer and the hair starts retaining its shape after sleeping, or I can see the start of a mullet in the mirror. By cutting my own hair, I have saved $15 per haircut over the last seven years (for a savings of around $1700), and can frequent A Taste of Burma for dinner more often.

Date Days Since Last

I donate all of my locks to the toilet.

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Monday, August 19, 2013

Weekend Wrap-up

On Friday night, I mashed together multiple recipes in order to satisfy my invented criteria for that evening's dinner: 1) no new purchases required, 2) easy, and 3) involves the grill somehow. We ended up with a grilled blackened chicken breast paired with leftover fettucine alfredo that somehow turned out to be the best (and only) chicken I've ever grilled. I'll post the recipe tomorrow so you can partake in the tastiness while I appear cookwise on the Internet.

As we were leaving the house on Saturday night, we did some Sneakers-quality sound analysis out the open car window to determine that there was a screw in one of my back tires. Based on the angle of entry, I must have backed over it at some point, although it wasn't nearly as large as the hex bolt in my tire six years ago. I don't really know why my quiet dead end road is home to so many metallic fasteners, so I'll presume that one of the homeowners is building a secret dungeon and is surreptitiously discarding the waste building materials out of their pants leg as they take evening strolls.

We ended up taking Rebecca's car for our night out with Larry and Janice in Rockville, which also meant that I didn't have to drive in Maryland -- win-win all around (at least for me). We had dinner at a Thai place in the Rockville Town Center, which is smaller than the Reston Town Center, truer than the Dulles Town Center, and classier than the "Springfield Town Center" will ever be once they've demolished and rebranded the Mall there.

On Sunday, I took an unusual "on-hours" trip to Costco during its peak capacity in order to get my tire replaced. I'm really not sure whether you're more likely to get run over by a bad driver in the parking lot or a soccer mom with a cart in the store itself, but I did notice that the chance for hit-and-runs increases near the Bagel Bites sample stand. We closed out the evening with burgers at Red Robin, followed by the movie, Cedar Rapids.

How was your weekend? Did you wake up on Saturday and feel any disturbances in the force now that Brianne has moved out of the country and gone back to Canada?

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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Recipe Day: Grilled Blackened Chicken Breast


  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Brining Time: 1 hour
  • Grilling Time: 10 minutes


  • 2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
  • olive oil
  • 4 cups cold water
  • 1/8 cup table salt (non-iodized)
  • 1/8 cup sugar

  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper


  1. Detach all of the gross, muscley trimmings from the chicken breasts and mail to an enemy.

  2. Put breasts into freezer bags and use a rolling pin to flatten them out for even cooking (about 3/4" inch thick).

  3. Prepare a brine of cold water, table salt, and sugar (stirring until dissolved). Remove breasts from bags and brine them. Store in fridge for about an hour.

  4. Prepare the spice rub during fridge time.

  5. Discard brine and pat dry. Rub both sides of (chicken) breasts with olive oil and then coat with the spice rub. Set aside in fridge until grilling time.

  6. Clean and heat grill (medium-high heat). Grill breasts for 6.5 minutes per side directly over the heat.

  7. Remove and serve with pasta.

The brining is critical for keeping the meat extra juicy, and the spice rub ends up tasting a little like a healthy fried chicken crust. Enjoy!

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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Memory Day: Thirteen Years Ago Today

Monday, August 21, 2000 was the first day of classes in my fifth year of undergrad. Having spent the previous four years surging at 18 - 21 credits per semester for the double major, I coasted through this semester with just 16 credits (much of it made up of music ensembles and lessons).

Figuring that I would be green, I learned the bus route from Foxridge Apartments on day one. However, my bus riding days only lasted for about a week before I switched to driving -- the act of waiting for a bus at the age of 21 imbues you with alternating feelings of being in elementary school again or being urbanly poor.

My first class of the first day was Theory of Computation and, true to form, I slept through the last twenty minutes of it. To this day, my only recollection of that class is that we spent the entire time discussing P = NP and hoping that someone would come along and prove it someday.

At 11:15, I had my lunch of fettucine alfredo, extra bacon, and nachos with cheese at Schultz Dining Hall, and then wandered over to the slightly-haunted Henderson Hall for Symphonic Literature. This was the first semester that this building was used for music classes, having previously been the home of medical-related stuff, so I probably picked up a few types of cancer from all of the leftover X-rays bouncing around the asbestos-lined building.

At 2:30, I had "MIDI Data Structures", which was a crossover class between CS and MUSIC with only 2 students. Billed at 3 credits, it only met 2 days a week officially, and informally met whenever we felt like getting together. By the end of that class, I was able to write a Java Swing app that could playback standard MIDI files.

After marching band that day, we all went over to the New River hospital to see Shac, who had come down with some mystery malady over the weekend, but who was feeling much better by the time we arrived.

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Thursday, August 22, 2013

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

Aziz Ansari: Intimate Moments for a Sensual Evening:
This is an above-average stand-up show that you will enjoy if you like any of Aziz's TV roles. The last ten minutes is a weird, forgettable "in-character" sketch, but otherwise, I laughed throughout (Free on Netflix)

Final Grade: B

Invisible Empire / Crescent Moon by KT Tunstall:
Each of KT Tunstall's successive albums gets a little more mellow. I wasn't a big fan of Tiger Suit, but could appreciate the quality. The same applies here -- this album is great background music and the singing is still top-notch, but there's no catchy hooks or much energy at all.

Final Grade: C+

Pursuit of Nappyness by Nappy Roots:
I picked up this album because I liked the Nappy Roots contributions on Mark Ronson's albums. It immediately passes one of the BU-tests I was worried I would have to retire: there's more than 60 minutes of music involved. All of the songs are catchy and fun, and filled with surprisingly positive themes for hip-hop -- I don't recall any ho shooting at all.

Final Grade: B

Weeds, Season Seven:
I stopped watching and buying Weeds after season six, which involved the gang driving across the country in search of something -- anything -- interesting to latch the plot upon. During our Netflix trial month, I started watching again for free on the treadmill. The first half of this season is forgettable, but it gathers some momentum around the halfway point that made me think it might return to its original S1 - S3 high point. I'm finishing off the eighth and final season for completeness, but still probably wouldn't purchase this with real money.

Final Grade: C+

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Friday, August 23, 2013

Questions Day

I'm stuck in all-day training right now, so let's have another free-for-all. What would you like to know? Ask me some questions, serious or fantastical, and I'll reply to them next week.

If you can't think of any burning questions, then tell me what I should ask for for my upcoming birthday! Or go update your blog!

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Monday, August 26, 2013

Weekend Wrap-up

On Saturday, I did a few miscellaneous home maintenance tasks with my dad, and also received chocolate chip cookies from our new neighbours across the street (they baked enough for the entire court). Unlike six years ago, I, myself, did not make cookies for this new neighbour set, although we did give them an inexpensive bottle of wine as a welcome present.

The primary event of the weekend was a Game Night with Kathy, Chris, Anna, and Ben with Anita's dinner burritos for meals. We also did a sex-blind wine tasting (which is like a double-blind wine tasting but with three times the blindness), featuring three Pinot Noirs of varying price and quality from the same Oregon vineyard. As it turned out, Rebecca was the only taster whose favourite was the high-priced bottle, although I am already familiar with her expensive tastes (she buys her workout clothes at Target). Everyone else preferred the mid-price option or the cheapest one.

On Sunday, we watched the pilot episode of Downton Abbey, starring the love child of Colin Firth and Victor Garber, because everyone keeps hyping it up, in spite of its resemblance to every other show starring British people ever made. We also taught ourselves to play Cribbage, and had delicious fish tacos at Ford's Fish Shack.

How was your weekend?

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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Random Chart Day: Dining Out in 2012

The chart below shows all of the restaurants I ate at and paid for by debit card in 2012. The larger pie slices represent a higher amount spent, not necessarily more visits.

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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Stuff in My Drawers Day: Mail Edition

From: Michelle Cao
Subject: hello long lost friend of mine!
Date: Wed, 28 Aug 1996

well, mr. uri it's been a long time since we've even talked together, hasn't it? how do you like tech so far? i'm sure you're making a lot of new friends with that sparkling personality of yours. how has the first week of classes been? i'm so tired from my classes that, as you can see, i can't even bother to use the shift key. anyway, hope you're having a good time and let's try to keep in touch this time, brianna.

love always,

Remember back in freshman year of college when you actually worked hard to keep in touch with all of your high school friends? So charming.

From: BU
Subject: MUT1001: Friday Lesson
Date: Wed, 28 Aug 2002

Hi Julie,

On Friday, we'll be reviewing and doing drills in note identification. If you read Chapter One (all three pages!), you might even get a little ahead of the game. We'll also talk about a few mnemonic devices to help people memorize the order of letter names (such as FACE and Every Good Boy...).

I don't know how strong your note ID skills are, but you should try to become fluent in the quiz range as soon as possible (2 ledger lines below and above the staff for each of the four clefs). By fluent, I mean able to recognize and name pitches on any line or space at sight, without having to think hard.

This may sound like a lot, but don't get overwhelmed! I will have an "open-door" email policy this year. Feel free to contact me anytime if you need help, think the class is moving too fast or slow, have suggestions to improve the class, or just need to talk. Monday is a holiday, but I'll be available if you need any help before the next class on Wednesday.

I tried way too hard to be a good teacher to these little music fundamentalists, especially when they were already planning to miss a class during the FIRST WEEK OF SCHOOL. That is not an optimal strategy for passing when you've already failed the entrance exam and are in a remedial music class as a music major.

From: Joseph
Subject: RE: Site rollback (
Date: Sun, 28 Aug 2005

Dear Brian,

I transferred your web site, as well as 19 other web sites to a new server yesterday, which would be the cause of the rollback. That rollback however was not supposed to happen, and I am very sorry for the inconvenience. Now that your web site is running from the new server you will no longer have to worry about the performance issues that have been plaguing the old server.

This was the beginning of the end for my time with Futurepoint hosting although I gamely managed to struggle through Indian Tech Support for another two years out of apathy. I have been happy with my new host, Kattare, since 2008.

From: Rebecca
Subject: weekend plotting
Date: Tue, 28 Aug 2007

In addition to being everywhere, babies are also in Front Royal. Speaking of Front Royal, I talked to my cousin and she says that she would love for us to come out on Sunday.

SO here's a possible plan for your approval:
- we jaunt out to Front Royal mid-morning (10/11ish)
- hang out, socialize, gawk over baby, maybe play a few games of yatzee, eat lunch/dinner/lu-nner
- come back to sterling after we get bored / they get bored of us
- do whatever / make out

I hope you're having a good night and don't work too hard!

Later, I married this one.

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Thursday, August 29, 2013

Review Day: Far Cry 3

Having burned out on all of my web development and open source side projects over the summer, I decided to indulge in one final game to fill the pre-Labor Day doldrums of August. Even grown-ups deserve a summer vacation.

Far Cry 3 is a novel, if flawed, hybrid game that combines a first-person shooter with open world mechanics (meaning that you can run around ignoring the main storyline as much as you want, Skyrim-style). There are also very weak RPG elements, like a skill tree that you eventually get all of the skills from anyhow, and a tacked-on crafting system that adds nothing to game, other than annoying artificial limits on how much stuff you can carry before you hunt and skin a tiger.

Far Cry 3's strongest selling point is graphical. The tropical island setting is rendered beautifully and without framerate dips, even on my three-year-old graphics card. Simply wandering around the island exploring evoked the same feelings of awe that I felt playing Skyrim for the first time. Driving down twisty mountain roads reminded me of driving in Puerto Rico, and little touches like the island music playing on the radio station were pitch perfect.

Underneath the fancy paint job is a solid, fun core of an action game which spices up the exploration with both tactical and chaotic base takeovers, racing challenges, climbing puzzles, and a manageable variety of guns to play with. There's even a fully implemented Texas Hold'em minigame which is fun, but easy to bluff in. The in-game economy has far too much money available -- later in the game, I was regular taking small (King's Quest IV sized) leaps off of cliffs so I could use up some medicine and buy some more. I also purchased every single color of every gun I had, just because I got tired of the game's user interface telling me that my wallet was full (and because pink guns shoot fabulously).

Like all console-crossover games, the UI is more awful than it needs to be. You regularly spend more time exploring submenus than playing the game, because developers today forget that the PC has more than 6 buttons to press. The minimap is particularly annoying, as the HUD display is too zoomed in to be helpful for anything but enemy awareness, and the overland map is too zoomed out. I spent as much time switching between maps as I did exploring. Luckily, the UI problems are mere annoyances -- the actual game controls for jumping, shooting, and running around are tight and responsive.

The plot is forgettable: a pastiche of cliches, unsympathetic protagonists, and more dream sequences than later seasons of the Sopranos. It serviceably ties the big set pieces of the action together, but its unforgivably unskippable cutscenes kill the momentum more effectively than commercial breaks on Whose Line Is It Anyways. No doubt the unskippable cutscenes (and the small wallet) were copied from the Zelda series.

This game is not for completionists -- although the "open world" mechanic means that you could spend years exploring the island and collecting useless relics and achievements, all of the non-plot action eventually gets stale. I started out combing every square inch for secrets, but mostly stuck to the main plotline after about 20% of the island was cleared. It's best if you use the side activities as a mere vacation between main plot cutscenes. You can also only go on one quest at a time, which seems like a needless console limitation (and the game annoyingly and repeatedly reminds you about the main quest if you haven't made progress in a while).

My last nitpick (which doesn't affect the actual game) is UPlay, the social gaming application that Ubisoft requires you to make yet another account for. So, I purchase the game on Steam, which then opens up UPlay, which then loads the game while telling me to buy future games through UPlay. I don't need or want a social client for my gaming and never play with random people on the Internet anyways. Leave me alone.

This review contains more negative feedback than the Yelp review of any given small business owner who has refused to pay their Yelp bribes in full, so it might surprise you to learn that I would definitely recommend this game. The novelty of combining so many game styles onto a graphically impressive island full of natives, ruins, and abandoned Japanese bunkers buys plenty of goodwill. It plays like Skyrim Lite meets Dishonored meets my honeymoon in Kauai, and I probably squeezed a good twenty hours of enjoyment out before I stopped dilly-dallying and beat the game.

Final Grade: B

tagged as reviews, games | permalink | 2 comments
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Friday, August 30, 2013

Answers Day, Part I of II

the sequel to Questions Day

Do you have any concepts for a television show that I can steal and share with the industry? - Chompy (the dog)

You have my blessing to take full credit for any concept on this list.

  1. A mockumentary like The Office, but featuring TSA agents in a Bible Belt airport.
  2. An American remake of Downton Abbey set in a posh New York high rise after 9/11.
  3. A drama about filming a sitcom in front of a live studio audience that focuses on a different member of the audience each week and how they are all secretly connected to each other.
  4. An extended family lives close enough to get into hilarious hijinks, and they're all vampires. Bonus: It's called Penn-sylvania and has several Amish side characters.
  5. A series of workout videos led by the "Chilly Down" puppets from Labyrinth, called Work Out with the Wild Gang.
  6. A modern reboot of The X-Files where Mulder spends the whole show looking things up on Wikipedia with his smartphone.
  7. Comedians improvise skits based on suggestions from the audience, but the points DO matter because the comedians are in a rapidly flooding container and cannot get out until they get 1000 points.
  8. A TV writer creates brilliant pilots for shows that always go downhill after the first season because she's lost interest and moved on to the next great idea. Inspired by J.J. Abrams. Music by Michael Giacchino.
  9. A Survivor-like reality show is filming on a mysterious island where a smoke monster is killing the people who survive the Immunity Challenges.
  10. Bike Johnson, a bike messenger, has exactly one hour to deliver a different letter across DC each week. Events occur in real time. Starring Kiefer Sutherland.
  11. A black comedy that walks through the graft and corruption in the process of how a bill becomes a law, where the main character is the bill. Starring the voice of Morgan Freeman. Obligatory clarification: He is not the reason that this is a "black" comedy.
  12. A procedural show about a team of crime scene investigators like CSI, but they all work in Butte, Montana.
  13. A confusing, nonsensical show that must be watched in primetime with advertisements in order to find secret clues that will unlock each episode's ending on the Internet.
  14. A spy posing as a garbage man must get out of tight situations by building strange devices out of things he's picked up on his garbage route.
  15. A group of strangers discover that they each have a special superpower, but they spend the whole show sitting around a South Philadelphia bar saying misogynistic things and crafting elaborate plots to use their super powers for personal gain.
  16. An aged rock musician discovers that he has fathered four sons over his twenty years of touring and sets out to turn them into the next Monkees, if only he can survive single parenthood. Starring David Bowie.
  17. A remake of Weeds, with its suburbia-skewering humor, but set in inner city Baltimore and starring a 12-year-old heroin dealer.
  18. A dramedy set in a downtown ER, where the doctors whimsically break out into song to express their inner turmoil.
  19. A procedural show where the first half focuses on an undercover cop who infiltrates criminal organizations and the second half focuses on the SWAT team that raids the building based on the cop's spying (with a lot of gunfights and explosions). Working title: Cloak & Dagger. CHUNG CHUNG.
  20. A British remake of Roseanne with plenty of chavs. Starring Tim Curry and Maggie Smith.

I will answer the rest of my readers' questions on Monday!

tagged as lists, you speak | permalink | 3 comments
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