Monday, February 03, 2014

Weekend Wrap-up

On Friday evening, we went to a game and pizza night in Centreville, where we played an 8 person game of Phase 10. Sadly, we only made it through 4 phases before attention started to wane. Our sleep that night was also interrupted twice by Amber throwing up all over the bedroom.

On Saturday, we met Chris & Kathy for an adult date at the Ice House Cafe. We caught up on life events, backed up by oysters, ostrich steak, and the mellow sounds of live jazz, and tried to convince them to move to Loudoun County. Our sleeping was once again interrupted by cats throwing up, this time in the living room.

On Sunday, Booty was under the weather to the point where she didn't even want to eat anything. She did empty her bowl under cover of darkness later on though, so hopefully she's on the mend. I worked for part of the day, and then we went to a Super Bowl party at David & Sabrina's in Manassas. We were underwhelmed by the game and the commercials (although the Radio Shack commercial was fun), and ended up leaving during the third quarter.

Are you ready for more snow?

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Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Random Photo Day

I was busy working on a proposal last night, so for today's update, you get to enjoy this vintage photo of Rebecca in Paris taken 6 years ago in April.

Because restaurants were super expensive, we had fresh bread, cheese, and wine for almost every meal. On the windowsill, you can see the crappy corkscrew that broke immediately on our first bottle of wine. Just below that, on the radiator, you can see a block of butter we were trying to warm up, since April in Paris was less about "chestnuts in bloom" and more about snow falling everywhere.

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Wednesday, February 05, 2014

More from Paris

To follow on with yesterday's picture of Rebecca in Paris, here is what we watched on TV while we ate our giant block of cheese.

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Thursday, February 06, 2014

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

her (R):
This science fiction movie tells of a time in the reasonably-near future where computers have gained enough artificial intelligence to forge human relationships. What I most enjoyed was how well-done the world-building was -- the movie didn't focus on initial shock or disbelief, but simply accepted itself as how things might naturally progress if everyone today were to stay buried in their smartphones. Everything is pleasantly understated, and Joaquin turns in a nice, believable performance. Initially, I wasn't completely satisfied with the final conflict, but after several days to mull it over, I appreciate it as the only way the story could have gone.

Final Grade: B+

The Raven Locks Act I by Dirt Poor Robins:
I liked this album a little more than Last Days of the Leviathan, although I was disappointed that the male lead singer had little solo space here. My favourite track on the album is "We Forgot We Were Human", which passes my litmus tests for being both a well-constructed song and a catchy one. The main problem with the album is that it's barely 27 minutes long. I've heard Chip McNeill solo for longer than that.

Final Grade: B

Treme, Season Three:
I really enjoyed the first season of Treme, which tells of life and music in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Story-wise, I thought that season two was pretty dull, albeit with better music (with more of a focus on funk over Dixieland). Season Three just meanders around several uninteresting storylines with occasional five minute breaks for complete performances. Few characters see any growth (and they remain the interesting ones), and we sometimes wished that they would end some of the weaker storylines to make space for the better ones. Unfortunately, the creators just compounded the issue by adding MORE uninteresting characters without sending off the old. I do enjoy the small detail of having the actors know enough about brass instruments to seem like they're actually playing though.

Final Grade: C

Mario and Luigi: Dream Team:
This is the latest game in the Mario RPG series, which contains two of my all-time favourites (Thousand-Year Door and Mario and Luigi: Partners In Time) and one of my least favourite (Super Paper Mario). Sadly, this sequel feels as obligatory as New Super Mario Brothers 2 did. Everything is competently and consistently constructed, but at the end of the day, the game is pretty boring. The experience is chopped up by tutorials, transition scenes, and unnecessary narration, to the point where it's hard to maintain a "zone" that would keep you excited to continue playing. I'm about 20 hours into it now and am finding it harder to justify playing, in spite of the appeal I find in completing everything. The character quirkiness introduced in Thousand-Year Door has devolved into weirdness for the sake of weirdness, and the main plot relies too much on cascading, inconsequential adventure game side tasks. For example, you have to get to the top of a mountain, but a locked door is in the way, so you need to find 3 bananas to trade to a monkey for a key but the bananas are hidden throughout the land. Every tangent that steers you from the main plotline reduces the urgency of the story and reveals the invisible strings that needlessly delay the ending (like the last half of Back to the Future II).

Final Grade: C-

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Friday, February 07, 2014

Facebook is 10 Day

Because Facebook turned 10 years old this week, they added a feature that converts your timeline highlights into a moving montage. Unfortunately, I don't have enough material on my timeline to get a free movie (I delete posts on a monthly basis so I can someday run for governor), and I had to come up with my own instead.

This movie was made with Windows Live Movie Maker in about an hour, because I've been meaning to learn Adobe Premiere for months but have not yet gotten around to installing it.

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Monday, February 10, 2014

Weekend Wrap-up

I worked on a proposal this weekend (as I did all of last week), so the weekend wasn't very interesting. However, we did get a lot of conversational snow that temporarily made Sterling just a little bit whiter.

On Friday afternoon, I picked up Rebecca's parents from the airport, freshly returned from their three weeks in South Africa and its environs. We watched the Olympic opening ceremonies and were mostly underwhelmed. It would seem that Russia cannot out-Cirque Cirque du Soleil, even with their funny little alphabet.

On Saturday morning, Rebecca set up her new iPhone, which means that her overall technology quotient is probably slightly higher than mine now -- I win the computer department, and she wins the phone, tablet, and music player departments.

On Saturday night, we met my sister and her husband for dinner at Mokomandy (which we learned means "Modern Korean" plus the name of the owner's mom). The place was Fairfax-levels of crowded and reservations were defintely handy. Dinner had a very high deliciousness factor coupled with a very poor deliciousness-to-cost ratio. Thankfully, we had a gift card to fall back upon.

Sunday was quiet. I alternated between proposal editing and playing the new Hearthstone beta when waiting for documents to edit. In the evening, we watched more of the Winter Olympics and decided upon a new rule: companies should only be allowed to run the same commercial for two days in a row during future broadcasts, and then they have to show a new one.

How was your weekend?

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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Changes Day

as traced through historic February 12 of 12s

February 12, 2007: My couch is no longer weirdly positioned against this wall, resulting in the 48" TV being directly over the front window.

February 12, 2008: Ella is no longer this small.

February 12, 2009: Mike no longer lives in DC and can no longer pop by for Steak Night with Booty.

February 12, 2010: We no longer have this much snow in front of our house, though I am greatly anticipating Thursday's winter storm watch.

February 12, 2011: We no longer play poker because everyone is having kids, INCLUDING THESE PEOPLE!

February 12, 2012: Rebecca no longer sits in my office all day long memorizing bones.

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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Chad Darnell's 12 of 12

5:43 AM: Showered and ready for work.

5:48 AM: Waiting for the seat warmers to kick in.

6:10 AM: Getting my single serving of hot chocolate in the freezing office.

6:52 AM: Finishing off this proposal.

12:57 PM: Gathering the snow war supplies out of the shed for tomorrow.

1:06 PM: Leftover pizza for lunch.

1:40 PM: Playing Hearthstone.

2:22 PM: Time for a lovey catnap.

4:00 PM: Exercising with My Name is Earl.

6:58 PM: Rebecca is home!

8:00 PM: Cornish Game Hen for dinner, paired with more Olympics.

9:00 PM: Commence the snow.

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Thursday, February 13, 2014

Snow Day!

Today's post is cancelled because I cannot get to my computer through all of the snow.

Update: 13.5" as of 9 AM!

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Friday, February 14, 2014

Ups and Downs: Snow Day Recap

  • Up: Celebrated Rebecca's day off with three soft-boiled eggs and toast.

  • Down: Burned my hand while absentmindedly brushing cat hair off of the stove, oblivious to burner I had just removed a pot of boiling eggs from.

  • Up: Got to use the giant bandaids that I never have any use for.

  • Up: Got in a morning workout of shoveling 1 of 2 cars out, in 13.5 inches of snow.

  • Up: Had Shells and Cheese for lunch while watching Betas.

  • Down: Had to thaw my heat pump with a hair dryer get the high pressure switch to kick back on.

  • Up: Won three games of Hearthstone with an unfamiliar class.

  • Down: Lost eight other games of Hearthstone.

  • Up: Shoveled more in the evening, and was surprised to see that our street (normally plowed once, three days after a storm) was plowed 4 times in 2 hours by 4 different trucks.

  • Up: Managed to get partial reception on the Olympics over my HD antenna even with a foot of snow on the roof (my antenna is mounted in the attic).

  • Down: Had to watch speed skating, and endure "Weak or No Signal" errors throughout the events (but surprisingly, never during a commercial).

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Monday, February 17, 2014

Weekend Wrap-up

Though I work today, I actually had Thursday and Friday off because of proposal overtime. It was just a bonus that the snow storm came through at the same time.

On Friday, I spent two hours shoveling out our street parking. With the cousin living in the basement, we are a three-car family trying to fit into a two-car bag. For dinner that night, we had broiled scallops on a bed of pasta with Alfredo sauce, and watched the first episode of Season Two of House of Cards.

I did my usual Costco run on Saturday, primarily to pick up Rebecca's work lunch supplies: Greek yogurts and sandwich bread so fancy and grainy that it tastes like a meadow. In the evening, the Ahlbins and the Miricks came over for a 222 Party which, because of responsible adult commitments and childrens' birthday parties, couldn't actually occur on 2/22. We let the five kids break up into separate fiefdoms, generally ruled by the girls, and discussed how much better the crust on Domino's Pizza has gotten over the years.

On Sunday, I went grocery shopping, relaxed around the house, and went 8-15 in five rounds of Hearthstone Arena.

How was your weekend? Do you have today off?

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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

First Impressions: Hearthstone

Hearthstone is a new turn-based card game based on the setting and characters of World of Warcraft. It's currently in free open beta (downloadable from battle.net), and has a lot of promise. The game has a simple set of rules that frames a reasonable strategic depth, and a shallow learning curve that eliminates the need for taking an academic semester just to enjoy your first game.

Warcraft fans will appreciate the amount of lore worked into the game, but there's still a fun card game under the hood for casual gamers -- it would be just as fun with any other intellectual property as a theme. Maybe not LOST though, because you'd just play the card to send your opponent skipping through time and then win with regret in your heart for having invested so much time with so little payoff.

Hearthstone apparently has a lot of similarities with Magic: The Gathering, another card game that I never got into for two good reasons:

  1. It seemed financially irresponsible to play a game where you buy new decks of cards every few months because the old ones expired.

  2. I went to high school before the Internet. If you were a geek, you didn't go to a convention -- you just kept that noise under wraps.

The goal of the game is to play cards that ultimately reduce your opponent's health to 0. Cards are a mix of one-use magic spells and minions that will do your fighting for you. Each card has a mana cost, and each round gives you a little more mana to play your more powerful cards. Rounds feel very logic puzzle-y as you try to eliminate your opponent's minions while keeping as many of yours alive as possible, and the fact that the game is online means that you aren't wasting momentum checking simple arithmetic (was bowling fun before computers?). Unlike Monopoly, there's a good balance between real strategy and random chance, so even an amateur has a fighting chance in every encounter.

There are 3 options for playing: Practice mode against the computer, Play mode where you construct your own card deck from the best cards you have earned, and then use it against a random player (earning gold so you can buy more cards), and Arena mode where both opponents pay gold to challenge each other with equally random decks for gold and bragging rights. The game is free-to-play, although you can elect to pay real money to buy card decks faster, or jump into the Arena more often.

Based on about a week of play time, I'm enjoying Hearthstone. It requires minimal commitment, maybe 10 minutes per game, and the turn-based approach means that I don't automatically lose due to my aging reflexes. The whole package playfully captures the Warcraft vibe well -- unlike other recent Blizzard games, it has not been irrevocably polished into boredom. The smaller development team has crafted a game that's slightly unpolished, but obviously built with love, and the game runs equally well on my desktop and game-crippled laptop. The UI is really the only annoyance -- there's a little too much clicking in the menu screens, and the chatting interface is supremely awful. Blizzard regularly fails at anything social, though. The only way that could be worse would be if it required you to login with a Google+ account.

Initial Grade: B+, worth a try!

tagged as reviews, games | permalink | 1 comment

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Memory Day: Snapshots

This is a photo of my Mom attending my housewarming party 10 years ago (I am now a Sterling decader, which isn't as cool a title as Decatur decader, but results in a much nicer place to live). Apparently I lived in an arboretum. Rest assured that 80% of those plants were ultimately ripped from the ground and replaced with sidewalks.

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Thursday, February 20, 2014

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

Parks and Recreation, Season Five:
Parks and Rec has managed to hit and maintain a consistent level of funny since it's awful first season, built on the strength of the supporting characters and the different permutations they can be mixed up in to stay fresh. There's not necessarily a lot of plot progression in this season, but for this show, that's just fine.

Final Grade: B+

Betas, Season One:
This is an Amazon original series that's free with Prime, consisting of 11 episodes about the West Coast start-up culture. It occasionally veers too far into tech jargon and venture capitalism, but can mostly be enjoyed without that knowledge through the fun set of socially awkward characters (betas) trying to release the next big social app (a beta).

Final Grade: B

The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon by Brad Stone:
This book had the infamy of being given a one star review by Jeff Bezos' wife. While I can't judge the accuracy of the personal stories within, they do make for a compelling, and generally balanced story. What I found more interesting than the Bezos biography though was the evolution of the company itself, from books to distribution to web services and beyond. Amazon has tried everything at least once, and this book gives a nice orderly look at how each area was tackled, even the failures like the now defunct diamond selector that I used to get Rebecca's engagement ring for under 50% of the assessed value. To a techie like me, these parts of the book would have been just as compelling without the personal people stories wrapped around the edges.

Final Grade: B+

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Friday, February 21, 2014

List Day: 10 Ways To Increase Winter Olympics Viewership

  1. All of the figure skating routines must occur simultaneously, with a new technical scoring category for collision avoidance.

  2. Each day of coverage must have a completely fresh set of commercials.

  3. During speedskating, a wildcard polar bear must be set loose on the ice.

  4. In biathlon, the rifle shooting range must revolve. It points at the slower competitors until half of the racers have shot, and then revolves 180 degrees up the course so that surviving slowpokes can wing the people in the lead.

  5. In a similar vein, all events in which people race simultaneously must include Mario Kart turtle shells to be thrown at competitors. Red and green only -- blue shells are retarded.

  6. Olympic interviews must follow the format of the game, "Whose Line?" from the show, Whose Line Is It Anyways?, in which the athlete answers questions by reading innuendo-laced lines off of pieces of paper in their pockets, written before the event by the spectators.

  7. In events with complex mathematical scoring systems, judges must show their work or risk not being counted. There is no partial credit.

  8. The Skeleton event must be rebranded with a more exciting name that more aptly describes what goes on, like "Quadriplegic Bullet". Bonus points if the new name can be used as a the name of a band.

  9. All halfpipe events must begin with double the starting velocity, by ejecting the athletes out of a pneumatic slingshot.

  10. Summer Olympians, especially Michael Phelps, must participate in an exhibition round of figure skating.

tagged as lists, favourites | permalink | 5 comments

Monday, February 24, 2014

Weekend Wrap-up

On Friday, we had steaks for dinner, since the grill had finally revealed itself underneath the rapidly melting snow.

On Saturday, Rebecca went hiking in the highlands of Loudoun County, while I stayed home and did homework for an online Coursera course about information security strategies. We regrouped in the afternoon and had pulled pork for dinner with my parents, to celebrate my Dad's upcoming birthday. In the evening, we watched the movie, World's End, which, though it was the ending of a trilogy, should not be confused with the unnecessary Pirates of the Caribbean sequel.

On Sunday, I did a little work to short-circuit the week a bit, and watched the movie, Elysium. We then had a whirlwind session of planning out our social calendars for the next two months before taking a nature walk in the melted bogs of Claude Moore Park. For dinner, we ate at The V again, and then returned home for an episode of House of Cards.

How was your weekend?

tagged as day-to-day | permalink | 2 comments

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Quiz Day: Me Me Me!

See how much you know about me by answering the questions below. Hover your mouse over the right column to see the correct answers.

1 Where was I born?
  1. Alexandria, VA
  2. Seoul, South Korea
  3. Arlington, VA
  4. Busan, South Korea
2 Which sport would I most like to play?
  1. Badminton
  2. Bowling
  3. Starcraft
  4. Cornhole
3 What do I hate most in commercials?
  1. Hipsters
  2. Listing drug side effects
  3. Babies talking like adults
  4. Vampire Weekend songs
4 How many print magazine subscriptions do I have?
  1. 0
  2. 1
  3. 2
  4. 3
5 What is the guiding principle of my daily routine?
  1. Minimizing risk
  2. Maximizing efficiency
  3. Maximizing knowledge gain
  4. Minimizing driving
6 What do I most dislike seeing in movies and shows?
  1. Realistically painful-looking violence
  2. Gratuitous sex
  3. Excessive swearing
  4. Stereotypes
7 What is the most likely to irritate me while driving?
  1. Cell phone users
  2. Bicyclers
  3. Erratic drivers
  4. Hypermilers
8 What do I think is the worst sitcom device?
  1. Ross' pet monkey
  2. Jason Segel making up a song
  3. Laugh tracks
  4. Sitcoms parodizing older sitcoms
9 What do I think is the most important facet of music?
  1. Melody
  2. Rhythm
  3. Timbre / Color
  4. Harmony
10 How would I teach a board game to others?
  1. Walk through the rule sheet from top to bottom
  2. Summarize the rules and cover the details as the game goes
  3. Dive in and immediately start playing
  4. Let someone else do it

I got 10 out of 10. How'd you do?

tagged as random | permalink | 4 comments

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Sick Day

I am on Day 3 of a flu-like stomach virus, which is why there was no post yesterday. Apologies to the stalwart few that kept coming back every few hours and then checking the calendar to make sure that it wasn't 12 of 12. On the plus side, you now know what my website would look like on the first day after my death, or alternately, every Saturday since August 2004.

I first sensed that something was amiss around 3 AM on Tuesday. That entire day was spent at flu-driven extremes -- having a fever with chills, being exhausted but not being able to sleep, and incapable of getting comfortable in any position. Events came to  a  the head in the afternoon, in a Jackson Pollack meets the Exorcist meets my bathroom moment. Incidentally, the body triggers an effective physiological warning when you need to honk, but about 5 to 6 more seconds of alert time would be nicer, to get your affairs in order.

Tuesday night was the worst, scrunched up in uncomfortable positions across pillows and blankets next to a space heater, in the delirious throes of an opium dream to rival Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique. When not fighting cats for blanket rights, I was demonstrating the dual discharge of detritus from a dysfunctional digestion. The meals recorded in my weight loss journal for that day included 8 grapes and a saltine cracker. (Side note: get a wife, because they will go to the store and buy you grapes when you are sick).

Every day since Tuesday has been the aftermath of a tornado -- I am longer probably dying, but still not working quite right and not able to do much besides sleep all day long and eat grapes. This morning, I felt well enough to start a laundry with all of my artifacts of sick, and then promptly had to lie down for a nap before writing this post.

I feel like this stomach flu should have come and gone in a single day. It's definitely passé now and has outstayed its welcome. This is probably why they invented the word, "antedifluvian".

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Friday, February 28, 2014

End-of-the-Month Highlights Day

New photos have been added to the Life, 2014 album.

  • Events
    • Had an adult date with Kathy and Chris at Ice House Cafe.

    • Booty got sick and didn't want to eat for two days (FORESHADOWING).

    • Went to a Super Bowl party at David & Sabrina's in Manassas.

    • Watched a lot of Winter Olympics.

    • Had an adult date with Ellen and Dan at Mokomandy.

    • It snowed a butt-ton and I burned my hand.

    • Reunited old college roommates at a 222 Party invaded by children.

    • Rebecca finally experienced the ghost raccoon phenomenon.

    • I went in for my obligatory dentist visit where they took a bunch of unnecessary X-rays and told me my teeth were fine.

    • Had my parents over for the yearly birthday dinner.

    • I got sick and didn't want to eat for two days.

  • Projects
    • My free time projects were shoved aside by various proposals for work this month.

    • I did start a free online course on Information Security Strategies through Coursera, so we'll see how that goes.

  • Consumerism
    • Rebecca got an iPhone!

    • We've been slowly savoring the second season of House of Cards and are only about 5/13ths of the way through it because of the Olympics.

    • Game-wise, I've only been playing Hearthstone.

Depending on whether or not I can recuperate sufficiently, we plan on leaving for Oklahoma City this evening for a long weekend!

February's Final Grade: C+

tagged as media, day-to-day | permalink | 1 comment


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