The URI! Zone turns 18 today (IT'S LEGAL!), and this is the 3266th blog post I've written since I switched from the "homepage" format to the "blog" format thirteen years ago. For the teenagers in the audience who are obnoxiously reading this on their smartphones in a movie theatre, a "homepage" was a self-published website where you posted your resume and your collection of animated "Under Construction" GIFs. The best websites relied on a broad swath of "HyperText Markup Language", but mostly the FRAME and TABLE tags.
Turning 18 can be an awkward and unprecedented evolution, even for an amazing website like this one. I, myself, became of voting age in the crisp Fall of 1997, and the photo on right shows what I looked like back then (with a Paige Poythress cameo in the upper left).
Although to laymen it might seem as if I'm about to take my pants off, I'm actually kicking off a complex dance routine known as "The Burro" during marching band practice. My hands are not on the burro's reins because it was cold outside and they're in my pockets. This dance party was, obviously, for MEMBERS ONLY.
My readership has remained pretty steady over the years -- there have been over 150,000 unique visits and 7359 reader comments since I left grad school in 2003. Those ridiculous numbers exist in spite of the fact that the vast majority of my content consists of throwaway posts like This Game of Scrabble I Played Last Night and List Day: Letters that Start with the Letter A. Seriously, look at the number of months in the OLD POSTS menu on the left -- not all of that could have been Pulitzer-worthy prose.
The only lesson I can learn from this situation is that quantity trumps quality on the Internet. If you force yourself to write creatively every day, you'll keep people coming back, and might even craft a couple gems amidst the dross (see also, LOST). In other words, posting (like pooping) must be regular to ensure a blog's long-term health. And (unlike pooping), what you get out of it doesn't necessarily match up with what you put into it.
I don't anticipate making many website changes over the coming year, as the current design is the result of millions of dollars worth of painstaking UX research across every known shade of blue. I'll just continue meeting minimal expectations by posting daily on the inexorable journey towards the 20 year milestone. Not many websites can boast such longevity. If Yahoo! implodes in the coming year, the URI! Zone will have officially outlasted one Internet giant, and will set its sights on the next one in line (AOL.com, of course).
Though I could plan a big blog bash in August 2016 (with strippers and ocean sounds), I'll probably just celebrate 20 years by posting a bunch of time comparison trivia in the format of "The time between Y and Z is now greater than the time between X and Y. OMG!", or maybe give out some free Amazon gift certificates to anyone that's still alive. I hesitate to give out more gift certificates though, because the URI! Zone has awarded exactly $222 through contests so far (proof), and that's a pretty sweet number to stop on forever!
If there is anything you would like me to devote some blog time to this year, you can always leave a comment or send me an email. Thank you for your continued readership and friendship!
On Friday night we stayed in, and I introduced Rebecca to the pop culture references of Zoolander, only about thirteen years too late to be useful. The movie has aged pretty well, although it's the overabundance of celebrity cameos that really keeps it fresh.
Following a Costco run in the morning, we took a pleasant stroll through Claude Moore Park, so Rebecca could measure the distance for future runs (3.04 miles on the outer hiking loop). This time around, we saw zero deer, but many humans at assorted family reunions, softball tournaments, and swim meets.
In the evening, we had another barbeque where the kids played three-way Connect Four while the parents shared secrets about the best brands of sippy cups. We ate grilled blackened chicken breasts, hamburgers, hot dogs, and Cheesy Garlic Bread potato chips -- the latest special flavour from Lays which was much better than the "Chicken and Waffles" flavour from last year.
Sunday was a blur of laundry, badminton, and Hearthstone, and I also started playing a Kickstarter-funded RPG, Divinity: Original Sin, which greatly reminds me of Ultima VII. In the afternoon, we went to see Wish I Was Here, Zach Braff's spiritual sequel to Garden State. Unfortunately, it wasn't showing at the Alamo (probably because it had too many indie songs), but we had a near private showing at the local crappy movie theater, followed by dinner at Los Toltecos. We closed the night out with True Detective, whose pilot episode we enjoyed.
How was your weekend?
or "How I Stumbled Upon the URI! Zone"
Here are a few snapshots of my house from August 2004, and the same angles today. Although I had moved in during the month of February, the entire first year was spent with minimal furniture, as I wanted to do many of the home improvement tasks that would normally require moving heavy furniture first as lazily as possible. The house probably didn't look lived in until the Fall.
Jim Barry dubbed this massive desk the "American Dream Desk", because it had space and cubbyholes for pretty much everything. Today, it is one Mineral VA earthquake away from collapsing, after many years of being dragged between rooms (depending on which room I wanted to be the office in any given year). The cabinets are full to the brim, and the musical keyboard has lost one octave, so I don't write as many high notes.
The original basement was subdivided into a warren of dwellings, and the pciture on the left was taken during my work to convert a bookshelf into a "bar". I mounted two wall lamps in the wood, flipped the shelves to face into the smaller area, and bought a pool table (and pool table light) off the Internet.
I still don't see the "purple" in the paint on the walls. The billiard clock was given to me by Evil Mike at my housewarming in 2004, and stopped working around 2007.
There are no major spoilers in these reviews.
Jericho, Season One:
Jericho is a 2006 disaster show about a small Kansas town in the aftermath of nuclear catastrophe. Because of its surface similarities, it took about five episodes to wash the nasty taste of Under the Dome out of my brain. However, this show turned out to be much better in every way, with likeable characters, steadily progressing plot lines, and enough intrigue to pique your interest. There is zero resolution in the season finale, but this is no longer a dealbreaker since the next season is already available online. Free on Amazon Prime.
Final Grade: B
Orphan Black, Season Two:
I was worried that this show would be unable to sustain its momentum, but the second season is just as good as the first. The plot develops organically, characters remain fun, and the ten episode run leaves you wanting more. The complexity of the plot starts to get a little too dense towards the middle, but gets pared back pretty quickly afterwards -- there is no need to rewatch anything, and you can just go along for the ride.
Final Grade: A
Wish I Was Here:
This movie was billed as the movie that Zach Braff would make if he had complete control over Garden State. It's a pleasant way to spend two hours, but doesn't do much to veer from the cookie-cutter template of indie movies about life. Though there's an overabundance of Scrubs actors in the cast, everyone turns in a nice non-distracting performance. Mandy Patinkin is especially good in his supporting role. Like all indie movies, there's an overreliance on a soundtrack of whiny guys hoping to be discovered by mainstream audiences, and sometimes the movie meanders more than it marches forward.
Final Grade: B
Wildstar (3rd and final review):
My thoughts from last month's review still stand, and I'll be letting my subscription expire next week. The developers are patching steadily, and it was a good time sink for about 90 hours of playtime, but it's still not as polished as I'd like it to be. Also, PvP just isn't fun when your team is consistently losing and there's nothing that you, as one player, can do to change the momentum. This is especially noticeable with the existence of PvP hackbots, that just run around the battleground gaining experience so their owners can reach the maximum level more quickly. When your team has a 50% chance of having 3 useless bots taking up slots, it's not even competitive anymore.
Final Grade: C+
With an overabundance of foods from our garden and the local Farmer's Market about to spoil, we had our first ever grilled dinner with zero meats. Here is an incredibly easy set of recipes you can use to grill pretty much anything you have laying around the kitchen (that was already edible to begin with).
Cut tomatoes in half horizontally and jam your pinky into all of the water-filled cavities ilke you're going for that deep, deep nose booger. Tap tomato halves against the cutting board to shake remaining juices out, then season with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Grill over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes per side, starting with flat side down. Add shredded cheese in the last couple minutes if desired.
Cut peppers into strips that are wide enough to act as a raft for a mouse, to ensure that they can easily be turned without falling into the grill. Rub both sides with olive oil and then season with salt and pepper. Grill over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes per side.
Grilled Portabello Mushrooms:
Wash mushrooms and scoop out as much of the black gill grossness as you can with a shallow spoon. Marinate in a freezer bag with a small amount of olive oil, 1/2 tablespoon of soy sauce, and 1/2 teaspoon of minced garlic. Keep the marinade in the fridge for a few hours, shaking flipping periodically. Grill over medium-high heat for 5 minutes per side.
With the help of induction and that mid-level math class that everyone failed because no numbers were involved, we can refactor these recipes into a generic one:
Cut X into grillable pieces. Add olive oil, salt, pepper, and Y, where Y is another spice that normally goes well with X. Grill over medium-high heat for 5 minutes per side.
It is left as an exercise to try this theoretical recipe on things in the kitchen like cucumbers, bananas, apples, and pot holders.
Friday marked the arrival of Rebecca's "new" laptop, an HP 15-g080nr, so I spent the afternoon uninstalling reams of HP shovelware (we really wanted a program to make custom labels for our burned CDs so thanks, 1994!) and prepping it for use. The word, "new", is in parentheses because this laptop actually came out a while back, but is one of the few remaining laptops on the market that comes bundled with Windows 7 -- according to operating system canon, Windows 7 is the last OS that Microsoft ever created.
On Saturday afternoon, we took a trip to Wolf Trap (which is inexplicably missing a stop on the Silver Line) to watch Jim Gaffigan with Marv and Annie. We arrived a half hour before the lawn opened and got a nice spot for picnicking, and then observed the social experiment where people arrived minutes before the show, huffed about the entire lawn being taken up, and tried to fit themselves into ever-shrinking patches of grass between blankets, to the irritation of everyone that got there early.
The opener, Ted Alexandro, was a success, funny in the same almost-family-friendly way as the headliner. Jim Gaffigan hooked the audience immediately with some local jokes about Dulles Airport and the distance from McLean to DC. Overall, his set was very funny and mostly about steak, although I was disappointed that he closed with an abbreviated version of his "Hot Pockets" routine. It felt obligatory -- there was nothing new for people who'd heard it before, and it was too rushed for new listeners to appreciate. After the show, it only took an hour to clear the parking lots, which did not trigger any Jiffy Lube Live PTSD.
On Sunday, I played Divinity: Original Sin for as much of the day as possible, finished True Detective, and started the fifth season of Community.
How was your weekend?
To celebrate my sister's birthday tomorrow, here is a video from her 12th birthday, way back in 1988.
There are no major spoilers in these reviews.
Part mismatched buddy movie and part serial killer hunt, this HBO show follows a murder investigation in Louisiana over the span of 20 years. The aging of the characters is done incredibly effectively, and the story makes no narrative missteps. Best of all, the 8 hour span has a definite story arc with complete resolution, and the ending is allowed the chance to breath without needlessly ending on an action shot or setting up a cliffhanger.
Final Grade: A
Fall to Grace by Paloma Faith:
Paloma's second album is good enough, but missing some features that made Do You Want the Truth... so much better. The orchestrations feel a little sparser, and her voice isn't as effective without a lush pad to support it. There are a few nondescript songs on the album that are forgettable enough that you don't notice them playing until a few minutes in, and then you're already tired of them -- Ingrid Michaelson has several of these types of songs across her albums.
Final Grade: C
Jericho, Season Two:
Although this season is only 7 episodes long, it at least had the chance to wrap up the main storyline before cancellation. Supporting characters fade into the background as mere plot progression ciphers, but that actually helps the flow of the narrative -- we already know the characters so we don't need to give them any LOST flashbacks. A few questionable plot points (like a townie being granted access to a Top Secret documents room) break the spell, but otherwise this season was great. I had to watch the last three episodes back-to-back because of the suspenseful writing. Free on Amazon Prime.
Final Grade: B+
Community, Season Five:
The fourth season of this show was so horrible without the fired show creator that NBC actually rehired him to steer the fifth season. Although it's only 13 episodes long, this turned out to be a very funny season, with a good balance between smart one-lines and parodies of other shows (which often fell flat in the earlier seasons by being too heavy-handed). Though Chevy Chase and Don Glover left the show, they're barely missed because of the return of John Oliver and the guest starring of Jonathan Banks (Mike Ehrmantraut on Breaking Bad). The latter fully embraces the ridiculous nature of the show and makes it twice as interesting because of it. My order of favorite seasons would probably go 1, 2/5, 3, 4.
Final Grade: B
Safeway Supreme Pizza on Pizzeria Crust paired with Devils Backbone Turbo Cougar Blonde Bock and our back porch, until the mosquitoes chased us inside.
First in line at Costco, followed by brunch at the home of Rebecca's coworker, complete with fancy quiches and bubbly champagne mixers. Topics of discussion included physical therapy, yoga, traffic, Chick-fila, and ghost tours.
Wegmans sushi paired with a Great Lakes Dortmunder Gold, again on the back porch.
Trips to our respective parents' homes, followed by paprika-rubbed steaks on the back porch, episodes of The Shield, and games of Hearthstone.
not necessarily in order of utility
This picture was taken in October 1995 as I conducted the T.C. Williams Marching Band. Conducting, like having a tea, is best done with pinky raised. I don't know what song the band was playing, but it probably wasn't the Fight Song since the team never scored.
Those saucers on my face were actually prescription glasses with transition lenses, and I'm definitely wearing musical note suspenders under my subtle, understated uniform. The sign behind me refers to the practice of playing random notes on your horn, not the practice of molestation -- both, however, are not optimal experiences.
Curse of Naxxramas is a single-player campaign for Hearthstone which allows you to battle against bosses from Warcraft lore (similar to the original tutorials) in exchange for new cards to add to your decks. The campaign came out in five "wings" over the last month, with each wing consisting of a few bosses and hero challenges.
The entire campaign could be bought for $20 or a comparable amount of in-game gold, or for a slightly more expensive price on a wing-by-wing basis. I used real money because, like a kid living next to a 7-11, all of my in-game gold gets used to buy new cards as soon as I have enough of it.
The main campaign is a pleasant diversion of puzzle-y action -- each boss has a particular gimmick hero power, but it never took me more than one or two tries to beat each one, and I never had to build a special deck to do so. After beating the campaign, each of the 9 heroes gets a special class challenge (where you must beat one of the bosses with a pre-crafted deck that's usually awful). Again, these challenges weren't particularly challenging at all -- the only one that could be considered unfair is the Warrior challenge, which relies heavily on getting just the right random cards throughout. This challenge took me about 8 tries to get through.
The final part of the campaign is "Heroic" mode, where you replay the bosses with obviously unfair restrictions put on the matches. I gave up on these pretty quickly, since they involve a lot of deck building and fine-tuning, which means waiting ten minutes between each game to get through all of the animated loading screens to the deck page. The only rewards for this mode are golden versions of existing cards.
At the end of the day, the real reason to care about this campaign is the introduction of new cards -- you might play against people with the new cards even if you haven't purchased the campaign. Since the lore behind this campaign deals with the Undead, most of the new cards have Deathrattle effects. All of the cards are interesting, but only two or three have found their way into my main playing decks. The rest are situationally fun, or require a brand new deck with the right synergies to exploit.
Overall, the content is polished and pleasant, but not quite worth the dollar value. I bought the entire set up-front and as new wings released each week, I found that it sometimes took less than 30 minutes to get through everything but the Heroic games. If you have a surplus of gold saved up or just want to support the development team, there's no reason you shouldn't get this.
Final Grade: B
On Friday evening, we went over to Joe & Katie's in the Burke area for a dinner of chicken cacciatore and board games. We didn't stay too late, as we wanted to wake up for hiking on Saturday.
In spite of ominous clouds and drizzle across the area on Saturday morning, we went to Harper's Ferry with Anna. Nature abounded, and included a turtle and several blue heron. We actually managed to get in about 6 miles of hiking before the obligatory drenching thunderstorm -- it's happened two out of the last three hikes now. Afterwards, we came home, dried out, and played Hearthstone.
On Sunday, I spent the morning evaluating my options for online certifications to "grow my career". In the afternoon, we booked plane tickets for a trip to the environs around Seattle in October. For dinner, we went to Taste of Burma for delicious, if oily, Malaysian noodles.
This morning, I arrived at work to find that the Metro Transit Authority had claimed our parking lot under eminent domain, which means that I had to park in the garage and walk an extra ten yards to the office. First world problems?
How was your weekend?
These themed chicken tender shapes are getting edgier every year.
I took this picture fourteen years ago, on August 27, 2000. It was just before the opener game against Georgia Tech, and the weather behaved just long enough to get everyone seated. Right at kickoff, a sudden downpour with lightning pursued the fans into the concrete underbelly of Lane Stadium, where we huddled through a game delay. It eventually became a cancellation as the fields had become too muddy to proceed, so the three of us returned to our Foxridge apartment for Totino's pizza and Woodchuck ciders.
There are no major spoilers in these reviews.
The Shield, Season One:
This FX cop show started out as a throwaway treadmill show, but I found it good enough to convert into a with-Rebecca-on-the-couch show. It has a strong overarching storyline, relies minimally on case-of-the-week, and features plenty of morally grey characters, while still being much lighter-hearted than similar shows like The Wire. Free on Amazon Prime.
Final Grade: A-
Alpha House, Season One:
You can't go wrong with a political comedy starring John Goodman as a senator. It mirrors many current events, but is always charming and funny. There's no resolution to any of the ongoing plots at the end of the season, but for a show of this style, that was only a minor disappointment. Free on Amazon Prime.
Final Grade: B+
Bojack Horseman, Pilot:
The concept of Will Arnett voice-acting a washed-up actor who also happens to be a horse was sufficient to get me to watch one episode, but the pilot didn't do enough to keep me interested. Like many "adult" cartoons, it relies too heavily on the shock value of "things you wouldn't normally see in a cartoon", without enough real substance. Free on Netflix.
Final Grade: D
Divinity: Original Sin:
This Kickstarter-funded role-playing game is old-school in every way. Billed as the spiritual sequel to Baldur's Gate / Neverwinter Nights (which I never actually played because games that automatically expect you to know D&D combat rules with 20-sided dice aren't compelling to me), it has the gameplay and storyline depth you might expect from an epic RPG, while being hampered by a fussy UI that makes simple things like repairing gear or trading a chore. I definitely got my money's worth out of this game (a solid 40 hours or so), but around the halfway point, I found myself spending equal amounts of time fighting the UI rather than progressing the story. Progress felt so slow-paced that I eventually just reached a point where I was done. I am now playing Skyrim again.
Final Grade: B-
New photos have been added to the Life, 2014 album.
August's Final Grade: B, time is flying!
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