On Friday, I took the day off and burned through eight hours of coding to release DDMSence 2.3.0, with cats snoozing at various elevations around the computer and nearly an entire season of West Wing streaming into inanity in the background. This release adds support for automatic conversion into JSON, which means that if you haven't had any reason to use DDMSence in your daily life so far, you probably will not have a changed opinion today.
On Saturday afternoon, we took advantage of the pleasant weather and minimal mosquito population to have a barbeque. Plenty of badminton was played as well as cornhole, also known as the most effective way to cover your lawn in chalk dust in the shortest amount of time.
On Sunday, I learned about Scala collections in my online class, and did some laundry. In the afternoon, we started the first season of Derek, did a 3.9 miles run through Sugarland park and then ate barbeque leftovers for dinner.
How was your weekend?
Ten years ago, on June 1, 2004, the custom Warcraft III map, Footmen Frenzy v2.0 was released. Originally created by Fox^1, development eventually took on a very open-sourcey turn with multiple mapmakers, rapid releases, and community feedback. For a few months, I was heavily involved in development, although my more important role was to write documentation, battle reports, and keep track of all the random tweaks in order to write Patch Notes. My main technical contribution to the map was a trigger-based spell called "Call of the Gods", which never worked quite right and resulted in a neverending list of bugs to fix as the months went by.
I eventually did get better at mapmaking, and went on to create several maps that were more technically competent, if not widely played:
Onslaught was my magnum opus, replete with JASS-based programming for the complicated triggers, but it wasn't quite simple enough to teach public players on battle.net. Then, 14 days later, I purchased World of Warcraft and stopped making (and playing) Warcraft maps forever.
This photo was taken twenty years ago as a sophomore in 1994. Based on the distance from my belt line to my inseam, it was in that awkward period where I had grown out of boys' sizes but had not yet grown into adult sizes. Unfortunately, that awkward period remains in effect even today.
There are no major spoilers in these reviews.
West Wing, Season Three:
This season had the unenviable position of being released right after 9/11, and the writers obviously felt like they had to work terrorism into the storyline. Some episodes are overly preachy and self-righteous, while others feel like the weakest political scenes from 24. Free on Netflix.
Final Grade: C
West Wing, Season Four:
Season four regains some composure, and features an overarching storyline that culminates nicely with the guest appearance of John Goodman. The pleasant camaraderie of the main group of characters is hurt by Rob Lowe's departure midseason, but overall it's an improvement over the third season. Free on Netflix.
Final Grade: B-
Louis CK: Live at the Beacon Theater:
This was my first introduction to Louis CK's standup, having previously only seen him guest star on Parks and Rec. I found his jokes to be pretty funny, but his delivery was flawed by the constant "aw shucks I'm funny" smile after each one. I probably would have enjoyed it much more as an audio CD. Free on Netflix.
Final Grade: B-
Derek, Season One:
When you hear that the creator of The Office has written, directed, and starred in a sitcom about a simpleton who works in a nursing home, you wouldn't be blamed for expecting the worst in uncomfortable, cringeworthy humour at the expense of old people and simpletons. However, Derek completely subverts expectations by keeping all of the humour at the "laugh with them" level, and by being unexpectedly human and heartwarming. Watching this show is a good way to temporarily reduce your cynicism about the human race, although it is just British enough to occasionally require subtitles. Free on Netflix.
Final Grade: A
Trends and Observations
Our weekend began last Friday night with a trip to the weekly free concert in Herndon. This week's band was Gonzo's Nose, playing covers for the largest audience we've seen in our many years of attendance. Apparently, someone has given cover bands permission to finally leave the 80s, as much of the last half of the set featured a bunch of music that no one over 20 cares about -- Carly Rae Jepsen followed by Miley Cyrus?
On Saturday, we went out to Harper's Ferry for an afternoon hike up to Split Rock. The parking lot was jam-packed with tourists, but luckily they all went to the quaint downtown, leaving the trails pretty quiet. We did a 7.72 mile hike up the mountain in less than four hours (including our rest time at the top) according to Rebecca's FitBit, which is currently in competition with Mike's FitBit -- either he's Forrest Gumping all over the United States, or he's overinflating his numbers by self-reporting at the end of each day.
After the hike, we went back to The Dish in Charles Town for some slightly pricey, locally-grown dinner. Rebecca got a pork chop the size of her head, and I had the scallops with bacon mushrooms.
On Sunday morning, Rebecca's church had a joint service with the Lutherans in Claude Moore Park. No battles broke out between the congregations -- it turned out that the true conflict for the ages was not between religions, but between the sun and really pale, white people. We spent the rest of the day relaxing, and ended with some grilled hamburgers and Hearthstone.
How was your weekend?
A non-scientific grouping by taste, eating logistics, and pairing potential
Four Worst Cheeses
Four Middle-of-the-Road Cheeses
Four Best Cheeses
Twenty-one years ago today, on June 11, 1993, I had the Court of Honor for my Eagle Scout award. As the movie below shows (starring Assistant Scoutmaster Keith Vanderbrink and myself), I had some trouble getting through the Eagle Pledge, so I may not actually be an Eagle Scout today.
I had no good reason for screwing up, other than the fact that I was overwhelmed by the absurdity of all of the pomp, speeches, and visiting dignitaries, and was not taking it nearly serious enough.
With DC humidity levels plateauing near 120% (the point at which you can swipe a bottle through the air and capture enough water to drink, and possibly, a heart faerie), we braved the multiple bands of thunderstorms to attend the Taste of Reston festival (a Restival) with Kathy in tow. Among the foods we sampled were scallop sandwiches, foie gras, burgers, and multiple scoops of ice cream. A storm did end up coming through towards the end, but it was short-lived enough that we just ducked and covered under an awning outside of an overpriced clothing store.
On Saturday morning, I played meat bingo at Costco and restocked supplies of steak, chicken, and pork. Since the humidity had broken like an opium fever, we went for a run through Sugarland in the afternoon, and enjoyed the surprisingly cool weather. In the evening, we drove out to Rosslyn for a pops concert by the Symphony Orchestra of NOVA (SONOVA, or as I prefer to pronounce it, "SONuva"). Arlington has changed very little in the past few years -- its major roadways continue to twist and turn like a level out of Marble Madness, with occasional hazards in the road like the oblivious girl opening her car door into a traffic lane, and guys in pink shirts and backwards hats.
Sunday, as usual, was our enforced relaxation day. Rebecca went to church and took a two hour bike ride, while I stayed home doing nothing of note. We had an early dinner at Delmarva's, baking on the sun-drenched patio with just enough awning to protect the pale and keep our beers cool.
How was your weekend?
Today is the twentieth anniversary of the Ninth Annual End-of-the-Year Party! (better known as NAEOTYP!) After a half day at the end of my sophomore year on June 17, 1994, during which I aced exams in Algebra 2 With Trig and Biology BSCS, I was dropped off at home by Jack (sporting his newly minted driving privileges), and set to work preparing for the party.
Above is the sign from the front door, complete with anagrams of every guest's name. As usual, this party also featured a three-team treasure hunt (the Fourth Annual Trezur Hunt, or FATH) which culiminated in a prize of 12 giant TWIX bars. From there, the party executed like clockwork, with badminton and volleyball, 2 Liter bottles of Pepsi, and several large Pizza Hut Pan pizzas (because my friends were all nerds, we were indoctrinated into the cult of Pizza Hut early, through the BOOK IT! program).
The event closed out with half the group watching Aliens 3 in the living room, and the other half playing computer games on my hard-charging Pentium 5 60MHz computer (purchased from Gateway when they still had all of those cow ads).
Thirteen years ago today, on June 18, 2001, I was on a trip through the Florida panhandle with my dad. This was in the time before Internet shopping, so none of my clothes ever fit properly.
We toured a few apartment complexes near the campus of Florida State, where I would be attending grad school for the following two years, and made the easy choice to sign a lease with the cleanest of the bunch (Parkwood Apartments). The alternatives were a studio apartment where the hallways smelled like urine, and a complex right next to a homeless shelter.
After touring the campus and signing a lease, we took a road trip through points west, including Panama City and Pensacola, so my dad could look for Civil War battlegrounds. The sites were unimpressive, which is probably why you'd never want to leave Virginia to look for a Civil War battleground.
To wrap up the trip, we ate dinner at the Applebee's on Apalachee Parkway and then drove back to Jacksonville for the flight home, since the Tallahassee Airport was little more than a Slip-n-Slide and a hang glider.
There are no major spoilers in these reviews.
Much Ado About Nothing (PG-13):
I have minimal appreciation for Shakespeare, as anytime it popped up in English class, it just meant that the teacher had run out of lesson plans and wanted to waste a week reading plays out loud. Obviously, I'm not in the target audience for Joss Whedon's remake of this play (in modern times but with the original text), but we put it on a few weekends ago to give it a try. The contrast between the setting and the dialogue is a jarring dissonance that my brain could never quite get over, and it felt more like a drama club's self-indulgence than a real movie. The only impact it had on me was seeing all of the familiar Whedonverse actors and wishing that Dollhouse hadn't been cancelled so quickly. We turned it off after fifteen minutes. Free on Amazon Prime.
Final Grade: Not Graded
Orange is the New Black, Season One:
I originally dismissed this as a Not Graded last Fall, but finally caught up on the entire season so I could potentially watch the second one with Rebecca. However, my original opinion stands. The show is tonally and emotionally inconsistent, failing to mix drama and comedy together with any skill, the main character is consistently unappealing, and most of the flashback sequences are of the "Jack's LOST tattoos" variety. Free on Netflix.
Final Grade: C
West Wing, Season Five, Six, and Seven:
I burned through the last three seasons (written after the departure of the show's creator) during recent bouts of coding. Season five is boring and low on continuity. What was set up at the end of season four as a juicy political situation is resolved almost immediately, and John Goodman is wasted. Season six improves somewhat. Season seven focuses heavily on a Presidential campaign. While this gives the show some needed urgency, the final season spends too much time with guest characters (although Jimmy Smits and Alan Alda are both great). The series ends pleasantly and as expected. Free on Netflix.
Final Grade: C-, B-, B
Awake, Season One:
This high-brow show is about a police detective who ends up living in two realities after a car accident -- in one, his wife has survived, and in the other, his son has survived. He sees a psychiatrist in each reality who tries to convince him that the other reality is just a coping mechanism to deal with his grief. Hints and clues from each reality bleed together to help him remember the accident and solve his police work. Each reality is filmed in a red or green tint to help the viewer understand which is in play, a fact that I was oblivious to for several episodes because of colour-blindness. However, after printing out a cheat sheet of which characters appear where, I was thoroughly engrossed.
The show is fairly slow when it uses the two realities as a serendipity device to do procedural cop work, but really spins up to potential in the final four episodes of the thirteen episode run. The final episode goes a little too far off the rails for my taste, but manages to function well as both a season and series finale. (It was cancelled after a single season). Free on Netflix.
Final Grade: B+
This year's All-Met spread of the area's best high school athletes is pretty awful. I don't really understand the artistic decision to put the athletes under a rain machine. Does it show their perseverance? Are they mailmen?
My hunch is that the Washington Post has had such awful luck getting the macho male athletes to smile in the past, that they gave up and forced a reason to frown upon the proceedings.
This picture was taken on a dreary, overcast day on the campus of the University of Rhode Island. Although I don't have an exact date for this trip, I would peg it around early 1990, based on Ellen's baggy clothes (which were the style when she was in 7th grade), my Egghead T-shirt, lack of glasses or British Knights, and giant waterproof wrist watch that could tell time in every world time zone.
Update from my Dad: "Your photo of the day dates to August 1989. The highlight of the trip, you might recall, was our visit to Lexington and Concord."
There are no major spoilers in this review. However, if you have no interest in video games, you will hate this post, and should probably skip it.
I played World of Warcraft from launch back in December 2004, cancelling and resubscribing a surprising amount of times. However, each re-up was a lengthier amount of time from the last and shorter in duration, like a Massively Multiplayer Online stone being skipped across a Massively Multiplayer Online river, but falling prey to the inevitability of Massively Multiplayer Online gravity. I actually logged in once during the recent expansion full of pandas (purely from the nostalgia of playing Hearthstone), but so much had changed that I quickly became frightened, dropped the mic, and never logged in again.
Other than WoW and 18 levels of Everquest in 1999 (as a wisp-kiting bard named Squiggy), my only MMO experience has been Guild Wars 2, which lasted approximately 13 hours, and still ranks among my least cost-effective retail game purchases. All of these ancient history details guide my first impressions of Wildstar (made by some of the original WoW guys), which I recently purchased on impulse after too much Diablo 3, and which I've spent about 15 hours playing so far. I'm currently a Level 16 Exile Medic named Plinky on the PvE server, Orias.
It's pricey: $60 for the game and a first month, followed by $15 per month afterwards. However, it's good enough that I've played it more than some Steam Sale games I've bought in the past.
My first impressions were a mixed bag -- I don't know how a starting area can simultaneously be both too chaotic and too on-rails, but Wildstar nails this dichotomy. Too much complexity is available too soon, and the environments are too vibrant and loud, with distractions everywhere (not unlike the first 10 minutes of Moulin Rouge), but it calms down quickly after level 5. I like to browse the Options menus of games when I first start out, but the level of customization available (with minimal explanation in the tooltips) is very off-putting. My advice here would be to just get through the starting missions first, and then figure out how you want to customize your play experience.
Questing is comparable to WoW, with a few streamlined features like turning in a quest from the field. I encountered nothing innovative, but what is there is polished and well-done.
NCSoft has the uphill battle of staging an MMO in a world without pre-existing lore, but the backstory is available in optional dialogue choices and books, if you want to indulge. However, I usually start out reading these religiously for about 10 minutes before getting bored and just clicking through them at Carpal-Tunnel-inducing speeds to get to the next objective. Generally, lore is wasted on me.
The big difference added to Wildstar is the use of "telegraphs", which shows geometric shapes on the battleground where an enemy is about to attack. Gone is the auto-targeting and guaranteed casting of a spell from WoW -- now you need to cast your spell while running and keep your telegraph on the enemy, while dodging other telegraphs. This definitely makes combat more engaging, but also makes it harder to manage your movement and hotkeys at the same time. During my first battleground, there were so many overlapping telegraphs on the ground that I felt like I was freebasing a ninth grade Geometry class taught by a My Little Pony, but I'm slowly getting the hang of it.
The UI is also a mixed bag. There are millions of options to customize the look and feel, but the options that you end up needing are often missing. Also, tooltips and tutorials are splattered all over everything, except on important concepts that you'd really like to know about. Leveling up and the associated ability / AMP system could use a lot more tooltips and tutorials, but I was able to find enough information on the official forum and Reddit.
One of the things I hated about WoW was the constant need to fix broken Add-ons when new patches were released. So, I'm trying hard to NOT rely on add-ons in this game. I have only downloaded one, BijiPlates, which is a nameplate add-on that removes a lot of the artistic complexity and shading from health and cast bars. This was a necessity from a healer's perspective, because it was impossible to figure out who to heal with the default UI.
Graphics and Music
The graphics are even more cartoony than WoW, but pleasant enough. I have settings at Ultra High and get 40-60 FPS with a year-old graphics card, but don't really see anything that would need much processing power. The music is great, favouring orchestrated, melodic music over ambient themes.
The tone of the game is tongue-in-cheek, with over-the-top humour. It's not grating enough to be annoying, but may not be everyone's cup of tea. You will not care about the fate of any character and you won't laugh out loud, but you may smirk and gently exhale some air every so often.
With questing being only marginally new, I dove into Player vs. Player combat as soon as it was available (Level 6) and have been leveling up through battlegrounds since then. PvP is very familiar for any WoW player, but the insane overlap of telegraphs really makes it hard to figure out what's going on at first. I've been playing as a healer, but even with add-ons, it's sometimes too hard to heal the group with any expertise other than button spamming. However, the playstyle itself is very fun, and the first battleground feels like a pleasant variant of Warsong Gulch. Teams are pretty evenly matched, but the graveyard respawn time feels a little long. Perhaps, I'm just not used to dying so much.
I haven't tried Adventures or Dungeons yet, and "RAID" is a four-letter word to me, so those aspects don't factor into my initial grade. Also, WoW has always had the built-in benefit of being full of old friends with shared history. It's too hard to make new friends in new MMOs, so I usually just do my solo thing.
B: Has its flaws but definitely shows promise!
I am away camping today, so here is a video of the wild heat lightning in Sterling (from Wednesday night) to tide you over until my return.
New photos have been added to the Life, 2014 album.
June's Final Grade: A, thumbs up for June!
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