Posts from 01/2014

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

2014 Day

I slept straight through the local fireworks and gun-firing, but do remember my first dream of 2014:

I was in a kitchen and passed by an open-faced cupboard. In the cupboard were two sandwiches, of the variety that you might find at a really bad work luncheon -- American cheese and some ham smushed between two globs of hamburger bun bread. I decided to close the cupboard to keep the sandwiches fresh, and pulled the cover shut, like a garage door or an old rolltop desk. At this point, a wasp flew out of the cupboard and started stinging me on the face. This is when I woke up.

Happy New Year.

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Thursday, January 02, 2014

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

Hunger Games 2: Catching Fire (PG-13):
The second movie in the trilogy had a different director, and 100% less shaky-cam than the first -- this gets bonus points from me. The movie follows closely with the book, and although the second half is a little too contrived, it works to tie things together. I felt like the story fell apart in the third book, but enjoyed the second movie in spite of that foreshadowing.

Final Grade: B+

Alamo Drafthouse:
The Alamo is the "no talking / no texting" movie theatre with reserved seats and food and drink service during films. Our first experience there was great, although the cost adds up enough that you wouldn't want to come here every time. For people like us that only get to one or two movies a year though, it was worth the added cost. There is a decent selection of craft beers, and the food (including burgers and pizzas) is "overpriced but not bad". You can show up thirty minutes before the screening, and catch fun interviews and SNL skits related to the upcoming film. The only downside was that the servers bring you your check about thirty minutes before the film's end, which was distracting from the movie's climax. It would be better if you could just open a tab at the beginning.

Final Grade: A-

Humdinger by Nappy Roots:
As one of Nappy Roots' middle albums, this had a few good songs amidst decent but unmemorable ones. The hooks, as always, are catchy and will get stuck in your head.

Final Grade: B-

Fire Emblem: Awakening:
The Fire Emblem is a turn-based combat series, where surviving units grow stronger and gain experience between battles, but cannot be revived if they die during battle. I stumbled across this series back in the GameCube days, and got unexpectedly addicted to it. The learning curve is a little lower this time around, with plenty of tutorials and instruction screens, although some of the inner calculations still only make sense after experimentation. I enjoyed this game just as much as the others in the series, although if you spend too much time fighting optional battles, the ending levels are ridiculously easy with your overpowered army.

Final Grade: B+

Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds:
Somewhere between the classic Zelda games (like A Link to the Past and Minish Cap) and today, the series lost its way -- it focused less on puzzling fun and more on artistic cinematography of idiotic storylines that reused the same puzzle tropes every single time. The newest 3DS game is penance for all previous gaming woes. The game is closest in DNA to Link to the Past, but eliminates every single annoyance the series has ever had. For example:

  • All cutscenes longer than a few seconds can be skipped.
  • Puzzles give you space to experiment and don't get immediately spoiled with unnecessary hints.
  • There is a "collect 100 thingies" sidequest, but your map gives you the number of remaining thingies in each zone, and the thingies make noise as you get near them.
  • You don't earn items one at a time in dungeons. Instead, you can rent them all for a nominal fee near the beginning. I didn't have to rent the stupid boomerang at all.
  • 3D is intelligently incorporated so as not to be a frsutrating gimmick (with the exception of a single unnecessary mineshaft sequence).
Additionally, I enjoyed the fact that the musical score changes, adding more orchestration as you grow stronger and progress through the (passably interesting, and well localized) storyline. To be honest, I have nothing bad to say about the game. If you want to re-experience the familiar gameplay of Link to the Past with modern amenities, this is a must-play.

Final Grade: A+

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Friday, January 03, 2014

Auricle Day

Today, I have released v0.1.0 of Auricle, a free, open-source resource for mastering music fundamentals and ear training skills. Weighing in at 86 hours of development effort, the initial release is pretty bare bones: you can login, and practice with a single fundamentals topic (Basic Notation). However, laying out the frameworks and infrastructure is the hardest part, so I should be able to make faster progress on future exercises.

The first exercise is a "see" exercise, which is essentially a multiple-choice quiz. Future exercises will also include "hear" exercises, for pitch and interval recognition, and "play" exercises, for keyboard input.

You can give it a try with these instructions:

  1. Login at the Auricle website (username: demo / password: auricledemo).
  2. When the map of Basics Bayou appears, click on the Basic Notation exercise.
  3. Click on Review to quickly refresh your memory on everything that might be in the test: clefs, note durations, etc.
  4. When you are ready, go back and click on Begin.
  5. Answer a series of 25 randomized questions to see how much you've retained or forgotten about music fundamentals.

In future releases, I plan on adding more exercises along with all sorts of score / history visualizations, metrics, social badges, and gamification featuers. Feedback is welcomed!

tagged as music, programming | permalink | 1 comment
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Monday, January 06, 2014

Weekend Wrap-up

On Friday, we got a decent amount of sticky snow. After finishing up my vacation-y programming project, I did some car thawing, grocery shopping, and shoveling. Dinner was broiled scallops on top of a bed of fettuccine alfredo.

On Saturday, we had Rebecca's extended family over for a late holiday dinner, smashing previous "Month of Thanksgiving" records for "most people served dinner at our house", and bringing the new record up to 15. As that third of the family is super-musical, there was some Christmas carol jamming, followed by their weird Unsolitaire tradition, where everyone plays Solitaire but all of the aces go in the center to be speed-played on by everyone.

Sunday was an indoor day, as the weather was uncooperative. I maximized my relaxing since it was my last vacation day before returning to work. I had 17 days off, but that's still nowhere near as long as most college students. In the evening, we went to The V for dinner, although patronage was sparse because of the coming ice storm.

Today, I am back at work and ready for the new year!

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Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Game Day: This Morning's Temperature

Guess if the value in the left column is less than, equal to, or greater than this morning's temperature in Sterling, VA. Hover your mouse over the right column to see the correct answer.

1The age of Anna's oldest daughter, Ella greater than (6)
2The number of years since Mike (of Mike and Chompy) lived in New Hampshire.less than (2.5)
3The number of Starbucks in a 2-mile radius of my houseequal (3)
4The number of 3DS games I currently owngreater than (6)
5The number of weeks since I had Popeyes for lunchequal (21 days = 3.0 weeks)
6The number of times I played the trumpet over Christmas breakless than (2)
7The number of offices I've had in my Reston work locationgreater than (4)
8The number of times I've gone to DC this yearless than (0)
9The number of football games involving Virginia Tech or FSU I watched in the past seasonless than (1)
10The number of operational desktop computers in my houseequal (3)

How'd you do?

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Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Time-Lapsed Blogography Day

  • 19 years ago today, in 1994, I ran in an indoor track meet (the 55 and the non-scoring 300), and then worked on my science project about the composition of regional groundwater for four hours. A couple days later, I would learn that the project was just supposed to be oral, nullifying the utility of my 32 pages. My dad would then make me finish the paper on principle.

  • 17 years ago today, in 1996, school was cancelled because of the foot and a half of snow that fell on Alexandria. I finished composing Benality, my eighth composition in my first seven months as a composer.

  • 15 years ago today, in 1998, I was home from college on break and went to TOWER RECORDS to buy new CDs.

  • 11 years ago today, in 2002, I prepped for the classical music listening exam with Mike, Kathy, and Mark in my Parkwood apartment.

  • 10 years ago today, in 2003, the FSU Music Theory basketball team, "Diminished Five", lost to "Craven Moorehead and Associates", 47-15. I always hated our team name (picked by a professor) because it made us sound mentally challenged.

  • 9 years ago today, in 2004, Anna and I had dinner at Ruby Tuesday, where I was obsessed with their chicken fingers cooked in buffalo wing sauce (pouring it on afterwards was unacceptable).

  • 4 years ago today, in 2010, we discovered our favorite cheap, unpretentious sushi place, Aoba, on Route 7.

  • 3 years ago today, in 2011, we won second place in a Christmas Trivia contest at Page and Brian's Holiday Party.

  • 2 years ago today, in 2012, I spent the day writing briefs about UNIVERSAL CORE, which stole the first half of my year, Alias-Covenant-style. Last year we learned that the entire effort had officially been killed via policy memos.

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Thursday, January 09, 2014

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

Person of Interest, Season Two:
For the most part, season one was built out of standalone episodes with hints about the larger story methodically established throughout. Season One's finale spun all of the plot lines together into a plot smoothie, and Season Two maintains that intensity and momentum as a serialized show for the entire season. The characterizations were deepened to the point where I no longer think of Michael Emerson as Benjamin Linus anymore. In fact, the only complaint I had was that the plot got too dense in the last two episodes, and could have been stretched out a little more -- kind of like an anti-LOST.

Final Grade: A-

The Top Part by John Mulaney:
This is a pleasant stand-up comedy set, only mildly raunchy, in which the comic has a storytelling-style.

Final Grade: B

Burn Notice, Season Seven:
I enjoyed Burn Notice the most in its first few seasons. When the formula started to get stale, it had to switch up to survive. The decision to make things more serious was necessary to prolong the show, but by the time this season rolls around, it's too serious, and loses most of the fun that was integral to my enjoyment. Season Seven ends things about as well as it could, although I would have preferred it to go out on top around Season Four or so. Additionally a prime guest star was pretty weak, with a Russian accent that seemed to come and go every other episode.

Final Grade: C+

Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon:
This 3DS game is a puzzle-y, adventure-y game, in which Luigi must explore a haunted house sucking up ghosts with his souped-up vacuum cleaner. It's a sequel to a GameCube version that was pleasant, but only worth a rental, since it barely lasted three hours. The same charm and attention to detail can be found in this new game. Multiple levels take place in the same mansion with minor modifications, which makes some playthroughs feel repetitive, and you can inadvertently solve a level before you've explored the whole area, which annoyingly sends you back to the hub. Overall, I enjoy playing it in small doses, but don't have the impetus to beat the game yet.

Final Grade: B-

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Friday, January 10, 2014

Of Course Day

Amazon wants me to sell back my used textbooks:

Of course, they used Gamestop as a model for how much something should be worth.

Tomorrow, it's supposed to get up near 60 degrees with buckets of rain:

Of course, that's the day we'd planned to go snow tubing at Wintergreen for a friend's birthday.

Facebook wants me to reminisce about the highlights of 2013:

Of course, it was really just a ploy to dub me the boring-est of all of my friends.

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Monday, January 13, 2014

Chad Darnell's 12 of 12

8:15 AM: Late breakfast, after the previous evening's birthday party.

8:46 AM: Morning exercise.

9:23 AM: Finally awake and showered.

10:13 AM: The outdoor Christmas lights finally come down.

11:04 AM: Tearing down the Christmas tree.

12:00 PM: Back from a Safeway run.

12:27 PM: Pot pie for lunch.

1:45 PM: Learning about the Java Persistence API.

2:32 PM: Starting the fourth season of Justified.

4:31 PM: Rebecca, returned home from her yoga workshop, knits with Booty.

6:21 PM: Dinner at A Taste of Burma.

7:08 PM: In search of the healthiest unhealthy snack.

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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

List Day: My Pandora Stations

My standard operation procedure for Pandora is to start with a single artist and tailor it with ratings until the algorithm goes awry and I'm forced to delete the station. I once had a Henry Mancini station which had a pleasant mix of dinner music like Pink Martini before the Pandora robot short circuited and played nothing but the dystopian accordion tangos of The Gotan Project.

  • Scissor Sisters: Flamboyantly upbeat music with strong dance beats, like Mika, Paloma Faith, or La Roux.

  • Gangstagrass: A mix of twangy bluegrass and hip hop, including groups like Nappy Roots and Rehab.

  • Mark Ronson: An eclectic mix of hip hop, electronica, funk, and disco mixed into contemporary songs, including groups like The Roots and Plan B.

  • Funk Jazz: My only genre-based station, this has a great mix of late 70s funk. For a while, it was overpopulated by Earth, Wind, and Fire, but it looks like they haven't paid their Pandora dues in a while.

  • Sammy Nestico: Pure orchestrated big-ensemble jazz, like the various US service bands, Gordon Goodwin, and some Stan Kenton.

  • The Bird and the Bee: My "chicks who sing" station that focuses more on a fine balance between voice and accompaniment, usually with an electronica basis, like Lily Allen, Bitter:Sweet, and Metric.

  • Lenka: My "chicks who sing" station which focuses on the best voices, like A Fine Frenzy, Wallis Bird, and Regina Spektor. Too much sweetness and light for most listeners, and sometimes Jack Johnson attempts to invade.

  • Sergey Prokofiev: An orchestral station, with shades of Gershwin, Shostakovich, and Sibelius.

Rebecca also sometimes does workouts to a Shuffle mix of the first four stations.

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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Stuff In My Drawers Day: Mail Edition

Ten years ago today, on January 15, 2004, I was...

...fighting with WebLogic Portal Server

Subject: Analysis of Partial Search
Date: Thu, 15 Jan 2004 07:40:43

Joe and Tammy,

The constant "*" which is defined in weblogic to represent "Match all search terms" is actually just a standard wildcard. So we can get partial search functionality by throwing one at the beginning and end of the search term.

The only caveat is that you cannot have two next to each other or WebLogic will crash.

BU hunting with my realtor

Subject: House information
Date: Thu, 15 Jan 2004 14:45:30

Hello Marion,

Here are some more particulars concerning the type of house I am interested in:

A house in the triangle of Herndon-Reston-Chantilly preferred, or as close as possible
Northern border: as far south towards the Dulles Toll Road as possible (definitely south of Rte 7)
Eastern border: west of Hunter Mill Rd strongly preferred (definitely outside Beltway)
Southern border: north of I-66 preferred
Western border: east of Rte 28 preferred, but I'm willing to look in Centreville too

S-F detached: required
basement: required
bedrooms: 3-4, bathrooms: 1.5+
garage: not required (carport might be nice but not required)
stories: 2 floors nice, but 1 is fine. split level is also fine

Cost: under $310,000 (or as close as possible)
HOA: not preferred, but would like low HOA fees if necessary
Quality: I don't mind a fixer-upper, as long as it's structurally sound

Of the houses we printed out on Tuesday, I am interested in seeing the following next Tuesday at 2:30:
MLS# FX4708378, Carlbern Dr, Centreville, VA
MLS# FX4715354, Dulles Ct, Herndon, VA
MLS# FX4718350, Shadbush Ct, Reston, VA
MLS# LO4657272, Hanford Ct, Sterling, VA

...saying no to pyramid schemes from former classmates

Subject: Re: Quixtar
Date: Thu, 15 Jan 2004 23:13:31 -0600


Good morning, thanks for your message. I apologize for the delay in getting back to you...ironically, I was in a weekend seminar with about 5,000 IBOs with Quixtar.

Your a computer guy, I respect that...unfortunately, the "quixtarsucks" genre of tried-to-be-ibos and their pontification got you. I realize most tech people do all of their research online...I prefer real relationships and first hand in the field research. When I saw this business, I read what all the people who put those sites up had to say...but I had a relationship, a friendship with Greg and I trusted his experience. Additionally, I never really looked for advice on anything in my life from people who werent successful...I always wanted to be on the winning team...not the whining team. That said, you are correct, people can use "logical arguments" to mislead people who dont really understand how it fact, they can be down right convincing. Funny thing is that 95% of it is bunk...our (my wife & I)incomes with this business prove that. The quixtarsucks generation would right that off to me having gotten started early, and Im sure hard work and integrity would not be mentioned. Not trying to be curt, I respect your opinion and Im just sharing mine.

You definitely seem like a great guy and I enjoyed meeting you. From the outset, if you recall, I didnt really feel like there would be a good fit from a business standpoint seemed happy with your current level of achievment and not looking to change that and I respect that. So, no big deal...perhaps we can connect in the future if our paths cross again. In the meantime, best of luck with what your doing and to all of your future plans. I enjoyed taking the time to meet with you.

Best regards,

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Thursday, January 16, 2014

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

Camp by Childish Gambino:
Childish Gambino is the rap name for actor/comedian, Donald Glover. He gets a few clever lines into his rhymes, but overall, I found his comedy more enjoyable than his rapping. The album is musically all over the place without much cohesion, and I found it hard to divorce his Community / stand-up persona from the sound of his voice.

Final Grade: C-

Dexter, Season Eight:
I'd heard a lot of doom and gloom surrounding this season beforehand, but it wasn't as bad as expected. Sure, it had the usual batch of go-nowhere side plots, unnecessary narration, new characters we don't care about taking screen time from old characters, character actions that don't make sense for the character, and things that happened only to drive the plot (the stupid treadmill scene, and the fact that a wanted fugitive never thinks to dye her hair, or maybe wear sunglasses) but these have been visible warts of the series for several seasons now. This final season trucked along, maintaining my interest, but never reaching any of the broodingly intense high points of early seasons. And when the screen faded to black, I turned to Rebecca and said something along the lines of, "Well that wasn't amazing, but it was about as good as they could have ended it with what they had to work with."

Then, of course, the show went all Lord of the Rings and faded back in to give us ANOTHER ending -- a nonsensical, illogical, silent montage that negated any emotional payoff from the previous ending. Worthless. Do yourself a favor and stop the DVD at the fade-out.

Final Grade: B-

Dexter, The Series:
My favourite seasons in no particular order were 1, 2, 4, and 7. 5 and 6 could have been compressed into a single forgettable season, and 8 just allowed the series to muddle into mediocrity.

Final Grade: A for the highs and D for the lows, averaging out to about a B-

Borderlands 2 DLC:
I greatly enjoyed the original Borderlands 2 last year and picked up its various add-on packs (DownLoadable Content) in a Steam Sale before Christmas. These expansions add extra maps and storylines to the game, offering a few extra hours of entertainment in each case. Ultimately, the success of each expansion depends completely on the writing -- if you are already tired of the core mechanics, you'll have to decide whether its worth slogging through them for the stellar writing:

  • Captain Scarlett and Her Pirate's Booty is a pleasant, brief excursion that feels very similar to the main game. It ends with good loot but lacks any resolution for the main antagonist.

    Final Grade: B-

  • Mister Torgue's Campaign of Carnage has a cookie-cutter plotline, but maintains your interest through an over-the-top narrator and fun mix of activities and locales. A few maps drag a little.

    Final Grade: B+

  • I burned out on Sir Hammerlock's Big Game Hunt pretty quickly because the first half hour didn't grab me, and because some of the quest lines seem to rely on randomly-occurring events.

    Final Grade: D

  • Tiny Tina's Assault on Dragon Keep is perfect, and worth playing to the end, even if a few later levels drag. The writing and humour sparkle, and the plotline is made fresher by the fact that it brings back multiple original characters rather than just one or two. The conceit of the expansion pack is that the main characters happen to be playing a D&D campaign, but the dungeon master, Tiny Tina, is not very good at balancing the encounters. Watch the Launch Trailer to get a feel for the setting. The conclusion of the DLC is pitch perfect, and more heartfelt than one might expect.

    Final Grade: A

    tagged as reviews | permalink | 2 comments
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Friday, January 17, 2014

List Day: 5 Brief Childhood Memories

  • My dad would sometimes get frustrated during home improvement projects. My favourite exclamation to hear was always, "Shitbird on Tuesday!"

  • Plain potato chips were the go-to ingredients for covering every type of casserole. It was a little weird, but allowed me to skip the casserole part by mostly serving myself potato chips.

  • We were not allowed to put our stuffed animals in the back window of the family car because, "When you brake suddenly or get into an accident, every single thing in the car that's not nailed down becomes a deadly projectile".

  • My parents always used fake butter spreads that were impossible to spread. It would either fall off the knife immediately or punch a giant hole in the toast.

  • I once brought home a puzzle worksheet full of abbreviated phrases like "54 C in a D" (which becomes "54 cards in a deck"). The whole family was stumped for a while on "3 BM (SHTR)", and my dad suggested that the answer was "3 bowel movements on the shitter".

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Monday, January 20, 2014

Weekend Wrap-up

Happy MLK Day! Today is also the fifth anniversary of Rebecca abandoning a hip, chic Falls Church lifestyle for Sterling.

This weekend was absolutely low-key. Although we did discover a new pizza place in Herndon called "Mellow Mushroom" on Thursday with Rebecca's coworkers, it would be a stretch to consider that part of the weekend (unless you're a Virginia Tech student elongating the Thanksgiving vacation week). We had cheap Wegmans sushi on Friday night, and I mainly did housework on Saturday.

I also kickstarted the process of renting an Outer Banks beach house for a week in late summer. It only took a decade, but researching beach houses online has finally caught up to the Internet age, with most of the relevant info immediately available. I only spent about 10% of my time zoomed in on Google Maps trying to calculate beach walking distances or figuring out if the tan blob was a pool or a pup tent.

Tomorrow will be marked with 4-6 inches of snow, and the chance to replace a state senator with one of three equally weak candidates in District 33. This is probably why the Hunger Games only had 13 districts -- no one cares as you get farther from the Capital.

How was your weekend?

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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Election Day

If you're in District 33, make sure to vote for your favourite tribute today!

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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Time-lapsed Blogography Day

  • Twenty years ago today, on January 22, 1994, we updated the family car to a 1994 Dodge Spirit for fourteen thousand dollars. This would later become the car I learned to drive in and drove to college. It had all sorts of problems, and left me stranded more than once.

  • Fifteen years ago today, on January 22, 1999, I got 2nd chair in the Symphony Band, right behind Kelley Corbett. In the evening, we all went over to Radford for an Arturo Sandoval concert, and then convinced Arturo and his drummer to hang out with us in Blacksburg at The Cellar (picture courtesy of Doobie).

  • Ten years ago today, on January 22, 2004, I had just put an offer on my house.

  • Five years ago today, on January 22, 2009, was pretty uneventful. LOST had just started its fifth season and had not yet gotten to the ridiculous flash-sideways plot device. I paid my $43 Internet bill (now $63) and my $68 water bill (now $101 with women in the house).

  • Today is January 22, 2014. I am a 34-year-old software engineer working from home in the aftermath of our snowy weather and awaiting the delivery of a new vacuum cleaner.

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Thursday, January 23, 2014

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

Built To Last by Jim Collins:
This was the latest reading for my work book club, and was not as good as last time's Good to Great. It felt like a 10-page pamphlet padded out to a full-sized book in search of a publisher. The anecdotes are less interesting and more repetitive, and most of the observations in the book aren't very actionable.

Final Grade: C-

Justified, Season Four:
This turned out to be my favourite season of the show. Although the long-term plot is obviously just a skeleton to hang the fun dialogue and characterization on, the characters remain complex and well-acted, and have grown organically over the series. I especially enjoyed Patton Oswald as "Constable Bob".

Final Grade: A-

Under the Microscope by Ripplegroove:
This is a fun mix of jazz fusion charts that reminds me of Chick Corea and Return to Forever.

Final Grade: B+

New Super Mario Brothers 2:
This might the laziest Mario game of all time. It's like there was a mandate that only the World or Galaxy series were allowed to do anything interesting or innovative anymore. The entire game is obligatory and expected, with ghost houses, a grass world followed by a desert world, and stupidly numbered levels on a pointless overland map. It's polished and fun enough, but you'll only have fun with it if this is exactly what you're expecting -- it's like the McDonald's in Paris of video games.

To instill some excitement, there is a meta game requiring you to collect one million coins to get a special prize. Since I was only at 3% of that after a complete run-through, I looked online to find that the epic prize was (hover for spoiler) that Mario turns gold on the demo screen when the game first starts up. I would have been pissed if I had actually tried to complete that challenge.

Final Grade: C-

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Friday, January 24, 2014

Questions Day

It's time for another interview with the author. What would you like to know? Leave me some questions in the Comments section, serious or fantastical, and I'll reply to them next week.

If you can't think of any questions, then give me a recommendation for a show, movie, restaurant, or album!

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Monday, January 27, 2014

Weekend Wrap-up

This weekend, we reserved a house in Nags Head for Beach Week, which is now 222 days away. Now that Rebecca is no longer a student, we can take advantage of the September discounts. The ocean is still warm from a summer full of tourist pee, and all of the families with children have packed up and left for the year (except for the homeschooled, who are probably running around telling everyone that they're on their "jellyfish" lesson plan).

On Saturday night, we went down to Oakton for a small birthday party, where we ate a lot of cheese and red velvet cake. Since the back way may have been icy, we took the perpetual traffic jam that is I-66 part of the way in -- even at 7 PM, top speeds hovered around 30 MPH.

On Sunday, we went back to the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema to watch the Joaquin Phoenix film, her. The pizza was a little better than the burger I'd ordered last time, although you get a little more than you can probably finish in a single movie that isn't Harry Potter related.

How was your weekend?

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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

List Day: 5 Brand Names Better Than Their Generic Counterpart

  • Eggo Waffles: When I bit into the store brand waffle, I encountered a bland sandiness that suggested mussels as the top ingredient.

  • Thomas' Original English Muffins: There's something about the higher quality nooks and crannies. Also, no English muffin is truly fork-splittable, but Thomas' are the least likely to frustrate you with a single torn chunk of muffin on a fork, or result in forking injuries.

  • Philadelphia Cream Cheese: Store brand cream cheese tends to taste like flavorless albino butter. This is in reference to the color of the butter, not what it was made from.

  • Kikkoman's Soy Sauce: Anytime generic soy sauce packets end up in our sushi bags, they go straight into the trash. They're essentially composed of black salt water, probably from the beaches of New Jersey.

  • Oreo cookies: Our elementary school lunches were filled with the generic cookie, probably on sale for 50% off (limit 6 please) and probably dubbed with a name like "Black and White Cookie Sandwich!".

What brand names are you willing to spend more money on?

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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Memory Day: A Band Trip to Disney World

Nineteen years ago today, on January 29, 1995, I was a fifteen-year-old junior and right in the middle of the annual band trip. Fundraising that year must have been particularly worthwhile, as we scored four days in the assorted Disney parks of Florida. We probably had to sell something unsellable, like different varieties of sausages, but I managed to sell a grand total of 0 sausages by abusing my middle-class roots and flexing my dad's checkbook. This was fine with him, because I already milked my neighbourhood dry several times a year for Boy Scouts (tangelos and wreaths), and there's only so many times you can abuse the city councilman up the block for a guaranteed sale during election years. Sorry, Councilman Donley!

The trip involved multiple performances by the marching, concert, and jazz bands. Since everyone in the concert band was also in the marching band, a rudimentary understanding of Venn diagrams would suggest that you would do the least amount of work if you were in the jazz band and played an instrument that wasn't in the concert band -- this is why we all envied Isaac, the string bass guy. I must not have understood the concept because I was in all three bands and spent 50% of the trip putting on and taking off uniforms. (I took this lesson to heart, and would later get out of school to go on multiple Crew trips in the super important role of "backup coxswain").

We left Alexandria after school on Friday afternoon and arrived in Orlando at 7 AM the next morning, forcefully reinforcing the band trip motif by staying at the All-Star Music Resort in the JAZZ wing next to a guitar-shaped pool. After a lunch at El Pirata (which has since been renamed as "Tortuga Tavern" to milk the pirate movie series that went on for 4 too many sequels), we marched through the park alternating between Military Escort and Freedom Finale. It was a decent performance, apart from the thirty seconds in the middle where everyone lost the beat and simply stopped playing for a bit -- we were the direct inspiration behind "dropping the beat". (You're welcome, Skrillex). At the end of this parade, we basked in the success of our first Disney experience until the logistics guys shooed us backstage again "to make way for the REAL parade".

The next day (January 29th), we rode Space Mountain continuously until it was time for more performances. We did back-to-back concert and jazz band performances in "Fantasyland" which, as far as I know, was not a summary judgement of our greatness. The jazz band was better received than the concert band, playing such classic high school hits as Fudge Said The Judge and The Rufus Shuffle. In the evening, we had a private barbeque at the Wilderness Lodge and then returned to the motel to watch the Super Bowl (49ers beat the Chargers, 42-18). Actually though, none of us band nerds really cared about the Super Bowl as much as we cared about getting away from the chaperones, most of whom stayed in the park.

My three roomates, Dutton Hauhart and the Mikes, Stafford and Schoen, spent the evening throwing water balloons off of the balcony while hiding from hotel security, while I opted for the less risky activity of playing air hockey with Chris Sharp. A pick-up air hockey tournament formed soon afterwards, but it stopped being a game of skill after a flutist in a low-cut shirt decided to play. For unknown reasons, everyone wanted to play against her, but no one wanted to eliminate her from the competition. Also, everyone's shots got mysteriously weaker, barely crossing the center line, and requiring her to reach very far across the table.

Day three was Epcot day. We spent the morning in a workshop conducted by the Walt Disney World band director who was autographing photographs of himself like he was Bono. The afternoon passed with us searching for Epcot attractions where we didn't have to learn anything, and we dubbed the "Honey, I Shrunk The Kids" 3D show as the best ride in the park. After a terrible Polynesian Luau for dinner, we returned to the All-Star Music Resort for our final night. Somehow, our hotel room became the party room, although everyone was paranoid about getting caught. I fell into my standard awkward high school party role of "the lookout", and turned down the music every time a chaperone patrol passed our door.

Day four was the final day of the trip, and the only day without any band activities interfering with our serious ride plans. It was Mike Stafford's lucky day: he got a kiss from (the real) Snow White, and was randomly picked to ride the virtual reality machine in the Imagineering Labs. We left by bus late in the evening, and inhaled secondhand smoke all of the way home, from the bus driver who was apparently allowed to smoke on his bus in 1995.

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Thursday, January 30, 2014

Answers Day

the sequel to Questions Day

Shouldn't there be a better toothpaste tube by now? It seems to me that the squeezing and dispensing both have room for improvement. - Doobie

The serious answer would probably be that toothpaste is so close to commodity status that there's no money in further improvements to the tube (ever since they introduced the giant "old person" cap in the 90s). This is also why Comet Cleanser cans still release a mushroom cloud of powder when you ever-so-gently set the can on the counter -- they could have fixed that, but everyone's still going to buy the old one, so what's the point?

Should this situation ever change, here are some alternatives that might work.

PEZ Dispenser: Pull back the head of your favourite cartoon character and a single serving of toothpaste squirts out onto your toothbrush.

Push Pop: Merge the head of a toothbrush with a push pop dispenser. As you push up, toothpaste flows through the hollow stem of the toothbrush and directly into the bristles.

Chap Stick: A twist-bottom tube of nearly-solid toothpaste (with a texture more like spread butter than squishy poo) can be applied directly to the teeth, and then brushed away.

Rattlesnake Bionics: Alter human genetics to add tiny sacs which generate toothpaste and an abrasive in the roof of your mouth. When you are ready to clean, fire the toothpaste into your mouth and swish it around, like a dishwasher or self-cleaning oven, and then spit. No brushing need!

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Friday, January 31, 2014

End-of-the-Month Highlights Day

New in 2014, I'll be recording my major and not-so-major events at the end of every month, so future archaeologists can reconstruct my life for the movie version. I'm still irritated that there are two Thanksgivings in recent memory which I cannot remember (even with an assist from the family), and it's possible that I was abducted by aliens in one or both of those years.

  • Events
    • We had a late Christmas dinner with Rebecca's family on the 4th.

    • We planned to go snow tubing on the 11th but rain and colds all around led to cancellation, and we just attended the birthday party portion (for Katie A.) instead. I played the game, Anomia.

    • I went to two of Rebecca's work happy hours, at American Tap Room on the 9th and Mellow Mushroom on the 16th.

    • We finally got real snow on the 21st, coinciding with a special election handily won by Democrats.

    • We went to Amanda's birthday party on the 25th.

    • We booked a snazzy beach house to look forward to on the 26th (pool, hot tub, and Wifi -- check!). And for the first time in beach history, Evil Mike and his wife will be joining us on the adventure.

    • The fan motor on my outdoor heat pump died again, essentially giving up on life after continuous weeks of alternating ice, rain, and snow. Cascades Comfort Services fixed it up quickly as always on the 29th.

    • Tonight, we're going to a game night in Centreville at Erin's house.

  • Projects
    • At work, I'm doing the exact same thing I did in 2006 (replacing WebLogic with Tomcat) but on a different project. There's also some proposal work on the side.

    • In side projects, I finished an annual purge of the file cabinet, released a version of Auricle (and then promptly did nothing with it for the rest of the month), and averaged about 12 miles per week on the treadmill.

  • Consumerism
    • Game-wise, I have been playing a lot of Borderlands 2, Mario and Luigi: Dream Team, and New Super Mario Brothers 2.

    • I also watched Person of Interest, Dexter, Treme, Burn Notice, and Justified. Only one movie this month: her.

    • I have not listened to much new music yet, although I did just pick up the new Dirt Poor Robins album.

    • This month, I switched to an electric toothbrush and boxer-briefs, and bought a new Hoover vacuum cleaner. I also purchased a wall calendar with pictures of goats standing in trees and reupped my Wired subscription.

January's Final Grade: B

Did I miss anything?

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