Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Memory Day: Snapshots

This picture was taken 20 years ago, at my 15th Birthday Party. From left to right, you can see Jack, Ben, Kwan, Ada, me, and my love of primary colours. On the table in front of me are bound copies of my recently finished murder mystery, Maverin, free for all of my guests. It was never published, which was a shame, as it probably could have triggered a pre-Internet movie craze like Twilight.

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Thursday, October 02, 2014

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe:
This book (based on the web feature of the same name) takes random questions posed by the Internet and attempts to provide answers with real science. I thought a book like this would be right up my alley, but it didn't really work for me. Each silly question gets lost in the number of assumptions required to "do the math" and the result isn't quite as interesting as the original question. I ended up skimming through the pleasant cartoons more than I read the science. Better as a coffee table book than a cover-to-cover book.

Final Grade: B-

South Park: The Stick of Truth:
If you are a fan of South Park, this game is a perfect way to experience being in an actual episode. The game was made with the direct participation of the creators, and the easter eggs and attention to detail are amazing. The gameplay that holds it all together, however, is not quite as interesting -- it's really just a framework that pushes you through the game to see all the funny bits, with poorly explained hotkeys and a minimal translation of the turn-based combat from Paper Mario. There are plenty of funny bits, but I'm not enough of a South Park fan that I wanted to battle yet another Nazi zombie rat to get to the end -- I'm about 7 hours in right now.

Final Grade: A- for fans, C+ for everyone else.

Sons of Anarchy, Season Three:
The third season of this show got bogged down in an unnecessarily convoluted plotline that was essentially the Irish version of "They took my boy!" from LOST. The best and worst part of the season is towards the middle, when the action road trips to Belfast and the show's theme song becomes an awful Irish rock remix featuring every pan flute patch from a General MIDI keyboard, pressed at the exact same time. The season ends well with a return to the original setting, but would have been much more interesting without the Irish diversion.

Final Grade: C+

Life in a Bubble by Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band:
I enjoyed this modern big band CD, although it's much more subdued than Act Your Age. Composition and orchestration are king over improvisation here, and the charts are tight throughout.

Final Grade: B

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Friday, October 03, 2014

Fifth Anniversary Day

As anniversaries pass, and senility robs us of our wedding memories, we'll always have the photographic evidence to fall back on.

Other posts in this series: 2013 | 2014 | 2015 | 2016 | 2017 | 2018 | 2019

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Monday, October 06, 2014

Weekend Wrap-up

Friday: Closed out the week with Wegmans sushi, cabernet franc, and an epsiode of Person of Interest.

Saturday: Took an anniversary trip to Harper's Ferry. Hiked all over the mountains and town. Had dinner at Dish in Charles Town, where Rebecca went 3 for 3 in ordering the best meal on the menu (always choose the pork). Caught the sunset on the Shenandoah River and had ice cream at Scoops. Walked over 30,000 steps that day and then promptly lost my birthday-gifted Fitbit in the dark, somewhere between the river, the town, and the parking lot. (Four years ago this month, I lost another pedometer on Piper Mountain in New Hampshire, while celebrating Mike's birthday).

Sunday: Dodged the hungover guests from two separate weddings for the hotel's free hot breakfast. Returned home by way of scenic Route 9 and lazed about for the rest of the day. Ate a mixed leftovers meal of pork chops, baked salmon, cheesy grits, potato-bacon hash, and mashed potatoes for dinner.

How was your weekend?

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Tuesday, October 07, 2014

List Day: 10 Failed Yankee Candle Fragrances

  • Apple Bottoms

  • Autumn Seduction

  • Baby Surprise

  • Exotic Hash Browns

  • Mountain Dew Jacuzzi

  • Newark Breeze

  • Okra Memories

  • Rustic Lumberjack

  • Sulfur & Damnation

  • Velvet Risotto

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Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Memory Day: Snapshots

This picture was taken five years ago today, on October 8, 2009. We are on the porch of our giant room at an all-inclusive resort on the south shore of Kauai. It was only the day before that Rebecca had gotten me to the island doctor who intensified my prognosis from sore throat to strep throat, so I spent most of this day drugged with alternating doses of antibiotics and pain pills -- unable to taste any food or sample any all-inclusive beverages.

To while away the day, we reserved a private cabana on the beach and spent nearly the entire day in the shade. For lunch, Rebecca had a funny drink at the pool bar and some fish tacos, while I had some more drugs.

We did a couples massage in the afternoon which was pleasant, if a little weird. They set up a giant white Ebola tent right on the sidewalk to the beach, so we were isolated from prying eyes but still heard ambient walking all around us. And that night, we returned to one of the onsite restaurants for the most delicious ahi nacho platter of all time, other than the fact that nachos interact with strep throat like Wolverine's claws on a wall made of garden slugs.

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Thursday, October 09, 2014

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

Philips Norelco BT5275/41 5100 Beard Trimmer:
I got this as a replacement for the trimmer with the awful battery life last month and so far it works well. The original charge has persisted all month long and the motor always seems like it has a maximum charge, eliminating worries that the cut will be uneven. There are a few nice touch-up /detailing features as well.

Final Grade: B+

FitBit One:
This little device tracks the number of steps and distance you travel in a day. (It also tracks sleep patterns, but I never used that). I got Rebecca one for Christmas last year, and she returned the favour for my birthday. For the first month, it definitely got me more interested in walking, and the dashboard of daily activity was fun if awkward to navigate. I was taking about 8000 to 12000 steps per day until last weekend when I lost it in the woods. I'll probably wait a bit on the slim possibility that it turns up in a bag or in the car and then get a new one as a replacement. One negative: The rubber tab that clips the case to your clothes eventually fell off of Rebecca's, and online reviews show that this is a very common occurrence -- replacement cases are needlessly expensive too.

Final Grade: B

This storytelling card game has you inventing morose tales about your own fictional family while trying to brighten the days of your opponents' families, with the goal of ending with the most depressed, deceased family on the board. The storytelling aspect is incorporated as much or as little as you'd like, but the games get more interesting when everyone gets a little creative. Overall, this is a fun game for 2-4 players, and the artistic style of the see-through cards and whimsical card texts add to the ambience. Games can run a little long with more players, so I would recommend cutting family sizes down to 4 (from 5) if you play with many indecisive people.

Final Grade: B+

Raven Locks Act 2 by Dirt Poor Robins:
This new album acts as a sequel to Raven Locks Act 1, with a third act to follow in the future. It stands alone well, but also deepens my appreciation for the first album, with shared motivic material and a similar style. The quality of the songs here actually bleeds more towards musical theater than alternative rock, with upbeat tongue-in-cheek songs like Anthem of the Seaward Suffragettes.

Final Grade: A-

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Friday, October 10, 2014

Questions Day

It's proposal season at work, and I only have a finite number of interesting, complete sentences that I can type in a single day (not unlike composing). So, the ball is in your court to ask me questions in the Comments section, and I'll reply to them next week.

Happy Friday!

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Monday, October 13, 2014

Chad Darnell's 12 of 12

7:08 AM: Up early, after Game Night at the Smith's.
7:21 AM: Bagel for breakfast.
7:42 AM: Working on a proposal with cat #2.
8:59 AM: Still working on a proposal with cat #1.
11:45 AM: Hearthstone break.
12:01 PM: Fried chicken for lunch.
1:15 PM: Making diagrams about the biggest data you've ever seen.
3:21 PM: Catnap.
4:30 PM: Exercising with Parks and Rec, Season 6.
6:48 PM: Grilling up some steaks.
7:10 PM: Dinner time for kitties.
8:34 PM: Booty lap time and Person of Interest.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Truth in Advertising

According to the guidebooks, this is what we will see when we visit the Pacific Northwest.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Memory Day: Snapshots

This picture was taken twenty years ago today, on October 15, 1994. My dad had recently rediscovered his love of playing instruments in the tuba family and, as the official band photographer, got permission to join the band in the Homecoming / Alumni Day band parade (despite not being an alumnus). As a high school sophomore, my body language is the physical manifestation of parental embarrassment.

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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

Sons of Anarchy, Season Four:
This was the best season yet, and made the Irish slog in the third season worth suffering through. Plot progression is a tense swirl of dangerous chaos, with the long-term survival of any main character or the motorcycle club itself in jeopardy. Free on Amazon Prime.

Final Grade: A

The Shield, Season Two:
This was a fun season with similarities to The Wire. There's a good blend of procedural cases mixed in with the overarching storyline. The only misstep was the abrupt resolution of a storyline involving one of the more interesting villains -- it seemed like finale material but happened barely halfway through the season. Free on Amazon Prime.

Final Grade: B

Parks and Recreation, Season Six:
This might be the best season yet, despite the departure of some regular characters midseason. The season finale was amazing and pitch-perfect, and could easily have worked as a series finale. I'm almost disappointed that there's still one more season being filmed, because I can't see how they could end it any better. Free on Netflix.

Final Grade: A

Idlewild by Outkast:
This album is almost a decade old now, but I picked it up based on the song, "Call the Law". Apparently there's a movie by this same name. There are lots of catchy songs with classic Outkast stylings here, although a few too many "talky" segues between songs. I also appreciate the fact that the CD is nice and long, although it loses points for the boring 8 minute soundtrack vamp it uses as a final track.

Final Grade: B

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Friday, October 17, 2014

Answers Day

the sequel to Questions Day

Do you see yourselves in Sterling for an infinite time and if not, do you already have a future location picked out in which to live? - Mike (and Ghost Chompy)

Jumping on Mike's question, if you had no jobs, no family, no commitments, etc...and could live anywhere in the whole world, where would it be? - Ex-Roomie

I have lived in Sterling for over a decade now, and while Rebecca was once eager to consider other places to live, she now often mentions how much of a hassle the actual process of moving is. So, we aren't looking, but that doesn't mean we're here forever.

The place I would move without limitations is the same as the place I would retire (as discussed in a previous Answers Day): somewhere with beach access, high-speed Internet, and many stores or fast delivery services.

What book should I read for fun next? - Ex-Roomie

Complete and Utter Failure by Neil Steinberg. URI! Zone grade: A

Why do developers keep telling me their stuff is ready to test, when it clearly doesn't work? - Groovymarlin

From direct experience, it's because your development team has not formally defined the word "done". Most developers have a half-baked concept of "done" meaning that "the work satisfies my understanding of the intended design", or "it's functionally complete and I'll polish it later". I actually created some definitions for a situation where this was occurring last year. Steal or refine at will.

For major features, "done" means that:

  • Work has passed through a formal code review by the dev team, or an informal code review by the technical lead.
  • Developer has confirmed that all documented use cases in the design doc are supported.
  • Developer has confirmed that all documented test cases in the design doc pass.
  • Developer has met the coding and UI standards of the team.

For minor features and bug fixes, "done" means that:

  • Developer has confirmed that reported issue is resolved.
  • Developer has considered potential cases where this fix might break something else.
  • Developer has met the coding and UI standards of the team.

Testers need to have test cases done earlier than normal, developers need to be on board with the definitions, and management needs to understand that the predicted test schedule can only be met if the work is truly "done" when passed over the fence.

Are you keeping your blog so that you can refer to it years from now to write a multi-volume work akin to Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past? - Mom

The blog itself is already a multi-volume work. In this new age of web publishing where you get a book deal just for having a blog, all you have to do is convert your old content into shovelware, printing it all out and wrapping a binding around it.

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Monday, October 20, 2014

Seattle Day

Rebecca dances with Rainier Beers on Pike Street.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Seattle Day

We contribute our screams to the Horror exhibit at the EMP Museum.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Seattle Day

Visiting Emily on our way to the Olympic Peninsula.

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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Lake Crescent Day

Going up the death-defying rope lines to conquer MOUNT STORM KING (4534 ft).

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Friday, October 24, 2014

Beach Day

Creating a Zen garden over a mysterious spring geyser on Kalaloch Beach, shortly before seeing a bald eagle.

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Monday, October 27, 2014

Lake Day

Sunset over Lake Quinault.

Regular updates to resume tomorrow.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Washington Travelogue, Part I of IV

Apart from the non-alcoholic beverage service on our United flight, everything else was behind a paywall -- from the snacks and meals to the movie options and even the real-time map of where the plane was at any given time. Luckily, we were blessed by the newfangled "TSA Pre" lines where you don't have to remove any clothing or deconstruct your luggage to get through, followed by an uneventful, direct flight and a majestic view of Mount Rainier looming above the cloudline.

We arrived in Seattle to a mild rain and, after getting a free rental upgrade from a Toyota Yaris (or Yaris-like alternative) to a Corolla S, we drove to the nearby suburb of Des Moines for lunch with Rebecca's grandmother. Later, we experienced Seattle traffic (which didn't seem nearly as bad as any given day on I-66) and arrived at the 11th Avenue Bed and Breakfast in Capitol Hill. The owner, on his way to a charity event, quickly circled several nearby neighbourhoods that "got wild at night" on our map and then showed us to the comfortable Ruby Room. Intent on beating jet lag as quickly as possible, we spent the next few hours roaming the streets of Capitol Hill amidst a sea of facial hair and horn-rimmed glasses.

This area of Seattle was typical of a big city, with pedestrian traffic at all hours and scores of the mentally unwell souls who had slipped through the cracks talking to themselves in doorways or swirling through a Venn diagram of students, clubbers, and panhandlers. It was very walkable, and never felt unsafe.

We ended up at the Elysian Brewery for our first night's dinner, where Rebecca had a flight of pumpkin beers and an organic-sounding dish that she decided was 95% unnecessary carbs, mostly from cous-cous overload. Having stayed awake until 10 PM Pacific, we deemed the night a success and quickly fell asleep.

The next morning, we got up at 5 AM, and then again later at a less retarded time. After a breakfast of French toast with the other B&B patrons, we walked the 1.5 miles to Downtown Seattle for a typical touristy jaunt through Pike's Market. I mostly moved through the crowds people-watching while Rebecca took pictures of flower arrangements and smelled every item in the lavender stall (spoiler: they all smelled like lavender). From there, we hit the Space Needle by way of the Olympic Sculpture Park.

For most of the week, the weather was surprisingly accommodating. This day, in spite of the dread calls for rain, it was sunny with highs in the low 70s. We got good views of every mountain (the Cascades, Mt. Rainier, and the Olympians) from the top of the Needle.

After a quick lunch at Marcina Bakery, we also visited the Chihuly Glass and Garden exhibit. I had low expectations, since all I knew of Chihuly was the awful balloon animal chandeliers in the foyers of many museums and art galleries, and my expectations were just barely met. The museum was small, sparse, and not worth the admission fee. Apparently, Chihuly branched out from glassblowing on occasion, as evinced by the wall of third-grader-quality paintings in a poorly-lit exhibit near the restrooms.

We walked back to the B&B after Chihuly, straight up the infinite hill on Denny Way, and then drove out to visit Mollie and Hillel in Fremont, who we'd last seen at their Spokane wedding in July, 2010.

After the navigational challenge of learning that there was a second street directly under the main highway that did not show up properly on Google Maps, we posed for the obligatory tourist pictures with the Fremont Troll, a giant concrete sculpture under Highway 99 that was only mildly tattooed with obligatory big city graffiti.

We had drinks at the Fremont Brewery, and then walked to a nearby Turkish restaurant for dinner before finally visiting our hosts' temporary home in west Fremont, packed with a pug and three friendly cats. We learned from Hillel, who works in real estate, that a modest single-family home in the nearby Ballard neighborhood started around $600k, crushing Mike's dream of having us as next-door neighbours sometime in the future.

To be continued...

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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Washington Travelogue, Part II of IV

Rain on the third morning in Seattle was a gentle tease, not unlike an interrupted cadence after a dominant pedal that fades out on the Top 40s Classical Music station before it can resolve to tonic. After huevos rancheros for breakfast, we walked back downtown and took Bill Spiedel's Underground Tour -- a lightweight historical tour of Seattle told from the tunnels beneath the city with extra emphasis on brothels, toilets, and puns. The tour was based around his history book (a typical self-published affair with overuse of ellipses, sentence fragments, and exclamation points), and provided a nice, succinct overview of Seattle's progression without the boring minutia. In a nutshell, they built too close to the water, pooped everywhere, and then took the opportunity to rebuild everything one level higher after a large fire.

From there, we toured a small, free gallery filled with modern art for sale in the thousands, an artisanal glassblower's shop where they were making Christmas ornaments, and the Grand Central Bakery for a chance to warm up with hippie sandwiches. We then walked to the Monorail station by way of the Seattle Public Library, an impressive homage to literacy in spite of the overbearing signs warning against being homeless whilst in a bathroom stall. The Monorail only had two stops and barely travelled half a mile, but it was quick, cheap, and worth the shoe leather.

My favourite part of the Seattle leg was the EMP Museum (Experience Music Project). At the time of our visit, it housed exhibits on Fantasy Worlds, Sci-Fi Icons, Horror Movies, Jimi Hendrix, the Evolution of the Guitar, Nirvana, and the History of Music Videos. Each exhibit balanced interest and interactivity well, without being too comprehensive (unlike The Spy Museum). We had reserved about 3 hours for this, but ended up wishing for another hour or so when they shooed everyone out at closing time (of course, the gift shop remained open for another hour).

In the evening, I caught up on my online coursework while Rebecca took advantage of a local yoga class. The rain finally hit in earnest this evening, with a downpour just as we went out to Pike Street for dinner. We had a warm, dry dinner at Bimbo's Cantina, a college-esque Mexican restaurant with bland, cheap food. Afterwards, I was bowled over on the sidewalk by a mumbling man clutching a bundle of blankets, and then defended by a trio of drunk, indignant stoners.

On Tuesday, we finally left Seattle and visited Anna's sister, Emily, south of Tacoma. With my knowledge of alien abductions, I was able to simply wave my ID to get on base, although Rebecca's driver's license was scrutinized heavily. We stayed for a couple hours, catching up on old times and older children, and then drove out to scenic Highway 101 for our trip up the Olympic Peninsula (a word which I always initially spell with too many Ns).

We stopped for lunch at the 101 Brewery, a modest roadhouse with surprisingly good burgers and beers for a place where you pay at the counter and the restroom is only for customers. It's definitely a good place to stop on any trip around the coast in spite of its poor sign kerning.

Lake Crescent Lodge is very much off the beaten trail, buried in the rain forest, and twenty miles from any semblance of a town. We arrived there in the late afternoon in moderate rain, and got a comfy, spartan room (no TVs or phones) looking directly onto the lake. Each room had a parking lot door and a lake door, which definitely complicated the posted Fire Emergency instructions: "In case of fire, exit via the front door, OR exit via the back door. Meet outside."

Although it was too late and drippy for serious hiking, we did the short Moments in Time Loop hike near the Lodge. The trees were weighed down with more green mosses than the set of Fraggle Rock, and we kept getting startled by black-tailed deer who would lurk just around the corner until we arrived.

That night, we ate in the informal warmth of the main lodge near the giant stone fireplace, where we had smoked salmon and clam chowder. With strains of 1930s four-beat jazz softly piped into the room and an Elysian stout in hand next to the Scrabble board, Rebecca remarked that we were like renegades lost out of time, braving the thunder and rain to enjoy the companionship of like-minded souls around the lake and its environs.

To be continued next Tuesday...

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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

Armed and Dangerous by William Queen and Douglas Century:
In the midst of Sons of Anarchy viewing, I reread William Queen's book, Under and Alone about going undercover with a biker gang, and then picked up this book to pass the time on the plane home. This companion book details his attempts to catch a mountain man criminal in the hills of San Bernadino. The main case isn't particularly exciting, and the author seems to realize this, as he spends more time on tangential cases before reaching a rather ho-hum climax. I finished it in about two hours on the plane and had to start reading Ender's Game again to finish the flight.

Final Grade: D+

How I Met Your Mother, Season Nine:
From a technical viewpoint, this season already had two strikes against it -- the entire season takes place over a single weekend (drawing out the already overlong story), and one of the cast was off filming a movie (requiring contrived green screens and a solo storyline to keep him involved). This show is at its best with its quick one-off flashback jokes and at its worst when it tries to be serious or tease at the main storyline. Once the season finally starts wrapping up, it gets pretty good. Unfortunately, the season finale, while properly set up within the context of this season (so it's not really a twist ending), is illogical and useless against the character development set up in the last four seasons of the show. Had the show lasted only 2 seasons, it might have made sense, but after 9, it just felt like a slap in the face.

Final Grade: C-

Sons of Anarchy, Season Five:
Each season of SoA gets grimmer and more intense, becoming more of a stylized, violent family soap opera. This season isn't as good as the fourth, but kept me watching in spite of the occasionally unnecessarily long run-times of episodes.

Final Grade: B-

Tah-Dah by Scissor Sisters:
There's a number of good songs on this album, but nothing particularly different than their other albums. In this case, that's just fine.

Final Grade: B+

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Friday, October 31, 2014

End-of-the-Month Highlights Day

New photos have been added to the Life, 2014 and Seattle, 2014 albums.

  • Events
    • Celebrated a 5th Wedding Anniversary in Harper's Ferry and lost a FitBit in the Shenandoah on 10/4.

    • Had Game Night with Mexican food and weird German board games at the Smiths on 10/11.

    • Went on a week-long vacation in Washington State from 10/18 - 10/25, missing Anna's 33rd birthday, Booty's 12th birthday, and Amber's 10th birthday.

    • Planning to spend Halloween night quietly with the Ambrognes in Fairfax.

  • Projects
    • Worked on a proposal about big data and clouds.

    • Mercifully finished a weak Coursera course on Usable Security, and started a much better one on Software Security.

  • Consumerism
    • Enjoyed the new album by the Dirt Poor Robins.

    • Tore through multiple seasons of The Shield and Sons of Anarchy, and Parks and Recreation, Season Six. Still enjoying Person of Interest, Season Three.

    • Played Hearthstone and some classic Warcraft III.

October's Final Grade: A

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