Thursday, January 01, 2015

New Year's Resolutions

Happy New Year! To kick off this inchoate year of eternal bliss, here are the things I plan to accomplish this year. I should have slightly better luck with these than the resolutions I've made in the past:

  1. Eat a bagel.

  2. Publish a new version of DDMSence.

  3. Kill a basilisk.

  4. Steam clean the carpet so the ghostly clean Oxi-clean memorials to cat vomit aren't discernable.

  5. Listen to a hiphop band from Australia.

  6. Wrestle a lion.

  7. Play a high C on the trumpet (left dormant since the flu took over).

  8. Sustain a 10 MPH pace for one minute.

  9. Get 1000 wins in Hearthstone.

  10. Go on a date with my wife.

What are yours?

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Friday, January 02, 2015

Resolutions Status Update

  1. Eat a bagel.

    Completed on 1/1/2015 at 7:00 AM.

  2. Publish a new version of DDMSence.

    Completed on 1/1/2015 at 6:42 AM.

  3. Kill a basilisk.

    Completed on 1/1/2015 at 10:50 AM.

  4. Steam clean the carpet.

    Completed on 1/1/2015 at 9:30 AM.

  5. Listen to a hiphop band from Australia.

    Completed on 1/1/2015 at 8:08 AM.

  6. Wrestle a lion.

    Completed on 1/1/2015 at 1:30 PM.

  7. Play a high C on the trumpet.

    Completed on 1/1/2015 at 2:45 PM.

  8. Sustain a 10 MPH pace for one minute.

    Completed on 1/1/2015 at 12:01 PM.

  9. Get 1000 wins in Hearthstone.

    Completed on 1/1/2015 at 4:17 PM.

  10. Go on a date with my wife.

    Completed on 1/1/2015 at 8:00 PM (with FSU's ignominy on display on the TV screens to boot).

Looks like I'm all done until 2016! How are you progressing?

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Monday, January 05, 2015

Weekend Wrap-up

To make up for the fact that Rebecca had to work on real New Year's, we had a Fake New Year's party on Saturday night, replete with Telestrations, a table full of snacks, and a New Years cake. Beyond this social event, I didn't do much of anything, as I was trying hard to recuperate from last week's flu.

We did go to Mellow Mushroom on Sunday night for dinner, and I ate half of a delicious Mushroom Club. Eating the whole one would have been out of my weight class.

I am back at work starting today. How was your weekend / vacation?

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Tuesday, January 06, 2015

2014 Treadmill Stats

With three full years of treadmill ownership under my belt, here's how much I used it last year:

  • Total Exercise Sessions: 221 sessions in 365 days

  • Total Time on Treadmill: 149 hours 40 minutes (The complete Friends series is 83 hours 40 minutes)

  • Total Distance Traveled: 593.5 miles (Like walking from my house to Savannah, GA)

  • Average Speed: 3.96 mph

  • Active Days (Most - Least): Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Sunday, Friday, Saturday

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Wednesday, January 07, 2015


We got a pleasant couple inches of snow yesterday. I was already in the office by 5:30 before it wreaked havoc on traffic, with pictures of dive-bombing school buses and angry parents swarming the Internet. Meanwhile, Google Maps was doing its best to confuse colorblind commuters by making the "traffic stopped" and "traffic moving at the speed of light" colors super close together.

I was mostly unaffected by the snow, although I did drive 2 MPH slower on the way home than I normally would. I also had to jump-start Rebecca's car at work, since she has the first world problem of having a one mile commute that is not conducive to retaining a battery charge in cold weather. All worked out in the end, since we made it home and ate corned beef for dinner.

As snows go though, it was only so-s(n)o. For comparison's sake, we had over a foot and a half of snow nineteen years ago today, on January 7, 1996, during my senior year of high school. It snowed so much on that Sunday, that Alexandria City Public Schools preemptively closed school for the next three days, and would ultimately shut down for the entire week. Among the things I did to pass the time that week:

  • Built two igloos, both of which collapsed.

  • Went up to the elementary school playground at night for a snow fight, where three of my friends smoked pot while I "stood guard", amazed that people actually smoked pot outside of Degrassi Junior High.

  • Woke up each morning hoping that the federal government would be open so my parents would go to work, leaving us at home in solitude. Sadly, the government shut down all week too, so my dad played his tuba for five straight days (in the room with the computer and all of the games), while my mom watched the Weather Channel nonstop at full volume.

  • Played DOOM every day with Jack.

  • Gave multiple trumpet lessons to Ryan, the kid up the street, who had nothing better to do himself.

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Thursday, January 08, 2015

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

Lie to Me, Season One:
This is a show about a group of investigators skilled at knowing when people are lying based on their reactions and facial tics. There may be a germ of truth to the underlying science, but the show overdramaticizes it for entertainment's sake. It's more procedural than serial, but is fun enough to watch while running my treadmill into the ground. Free on Amazon Prime.

Final Grade: B

In a World... (R):
Although the premise seems a little too targeted for widespread appeal, this movie about movie trailer narrators competing for voiceover gigs in Hollywood was a short, pleasant diversion with enough fun jokes and cameos to keep things moving. Free on Amazon Prime.

Final Grade: B+

Homeland, Season Three:
No season of Homeland has been as good as the original, and I was mostly checked out for this one. The writers run a few plot points into the ground this season, especially involving Brody's teenage daughter, who I was already sick off after her first episode. The season wraps up nicely, but you may lose interest along the way.

Final Grade: C+

Choose Your Own Autobiography by Neil Patrick Harris:
The gimmick of writing an autobiography in second person tense gets old pretty quickly, but luckily the book also works as a series of related vignettes that can be read cover to cover instead of skipping around like a Choose Your Own Adventure book. There are no big surprises, and NPH comes off about as likeable as you could imagine, but this might be a good book for an airplane ride or a dentist's waiting room.

Final Grade: B-

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Friday, January 09, 2015

Now and Later Quiz

Catch me up on the life changes you predict will occur in 2015! Leave your responses in the comments section.

  1. How many kids do you have today? How many will you have on Dec. 31, 2015?

  2. Where do you live today? As of Dec. 31, 2015?

  3. What is something you don't understand or can't do right now, that you will have learned by the end of the year?

  4. What is something you don't own now, but intend to purchase by year's end?

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Monday, January 12, 2015

Weekend Wrap-up

  • Friday
    • Ate burgers off the grill with smoky chipotle cheese for Rebecca and colby jack cheese for myself. Caught up on episodes of Black Mirror and played Hearthstone.

  • Saturday
    • Early morning Costco run for sandwich fixings and kitty litter. Stayed indoors for most of the day rereading Transformation by Carol Berg. Met up with the Lowrys at Sweetwater in Merrifield for dinner, followed by the movie, Bad Grandpa, at their house.

  • Sunday
    • Stayed indoors until the temperature got above freezing, and then took a nature hike through the snow and iced-over creeks of Sugarland Run. Had more burgers for dinner and started the movie, Extract, until Rebecca fell asleep.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Chad Darnell's 12 of 12

5:08 AM: Ready to go.
5:31 AM: Arriving in my office.
7:00 AM: Basking in the warm glow of an SSH terminal window.
12:04 PM: Pulling up behind this wonderful parking job.
12:15 PM: Fried chicken for lunch.
12:34 PM: Lunch for kitties.
12:45 PM: Back to work.
3:54 PM: Doing Hearthstone quests.
4:15 PM: Running and watching Lilyhammer.
6:45 PM: Preparing some shrimp for dinner.
7:03 PM: Shrimp alfredo on a bed of pasta with a side salad and a Belgian quad.
7:45 PM: Booty itches.

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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Memory Day: Snapshots

This picture was taken fourteen years ago, in early January 2001. I was home for Christmas during my fifth year of college, and taking care of Kitty, the apartment cat. My sister's cat, Leia, is shy in the background.

This was back when my hair was violently parted like the Red Sea. The shirt was a 1996 Christmas gift from my freshman roommate, Andy Norton, who was trying to get me to look cooler. I believe that I wore this same shirt for every Christmas picture for the next seven years or so, until it frayed into nothingness.

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Thursday, January 15, 2015

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

Newsroom, Season Two:
The second season of this HBO show is less preachy than the first (Aaron Sorkin's shows always seem to feel a little preachy), and has a few interesting storylines giving momentum to an overall story arc. It's over quickly and won't change your life, but has a sharp sense of witty repartee that's enjoyable to watch.

Final Grade: B

Mozart in the Jungle, Season One:
This is the show about classical musicians in the New York Symphony that was picked up from Amazon's Pilot Season. Even though the dramaticized representation of musician life isn't always true to real life, it has just enough music nerd references to keep musicians interested. It's also refreshing to see a show focus on something other than cops, spies, or the usual procedural tropes, and the eccentric conductor character is played to perfection. Free on Amazon Prime.

Final Grade: B+

I don't understand the appeal of this movie one bit, possibly due to my Y chromosome. The introductory setup is too disjunct and too long, the songs are forgettable and choppily inserted into the story, and the moral of the story is poorly communicated. It's not an unpleasant movie but it's no Finding Nemo -- I don't understand how kids today could watch a second-tier movie like this ad nauseum. Also, Idina Menzel's voice just doesn't fit with the other singers.

Final Grade: C-

Walking Under the Stars by Hilltop Hoods:
The Hilltop Hoods are an Australian hip-hop group that's been around for over twenty years now, and the experience and polish really shows in their music. This is their most recent album and is filled with fun, catchy tunes like Cosby Sweater. They sometimes go a little overboard with repetitive samples, but the beats are smooth and listenable, even without the lyrics.

Final Grade: A

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Friday, January 16, 2015

Stuff in My Drawers Day

As I'm hairline-deep in proposals and deliverables today, enjoy this "mood essay" I wrote twenty years ago for 12th Grade English class. I got an A, because my teacher was an easier grader than I ever was.

It was a worthless space of cracked pavement. The angry orange sun glared defiantly through the smog-ridden skies, casting harsh shadows behind prickly weeds that prodded their way through potholes in the disjunct concrete. A mangy grey alley cat with half an ear evaded the afternoon heat by squatting beneath the black and rust-crusted garbage bin. The warped lid hung by a single aged hinge, dragging across the ground. The stench of rotting meat and four-month-old vegetables permeated the air and hung like a bloated cadaver in the stifling suffocation of summer weather.

It was a worthless space of cracked pavement next to a peeling, wooden door with two broken locks. Above the door hung a sign with "GROCERY" stenciled on it in faded careless lettering. A cobwebbed assortment of metal scraps trailed from a sunburnt hook, created to jangle like a banshee in the wind (if there had been wind). The grimy brick walls and rough concrete ledges were the home to random splotches of graffiti and rodent excrement.

The day passed in monotony. Dirty buses and cars drove by, leaving their marks with cigarette butts, wasted newspapers, and styrofoam cups filled with tepid coffee. The stray cat made half-hearted attempts to maul the rodents which hung from some animal's entrails in the garbage bin. The squealing door never opened; the wind chimes were flaccid. The day passed in monotony.

At seven o' clock, an unshaven man drove up in a protesting, cumbersome vehicle. "WASTE MANAGEMENT" was scrawled across the dented side panels and scraps of breakfast and soft drink containers dominated the cramped darkness in the back. As the man in dingy red coveralls came to a stop, his tires jarred in a pothole and a half-torn black garbage bag was catapulted out of his truck and scattered across the cracked pavement. The man, who reeked of beer and pork rinds, flipped a ground cigarette butt out the window and his eyes indolently took in the overflowing garbage bin.

And when the light turned green, he drove on.

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Monday, January 19, 2015

MLK Jr. Day

Happy MLK Jr. Day!

The MLK, or "Mustard Lettuce Ketchup", is a variant of the hamburger invented by entrepreneur, Chuck Wheezy, who says he gained inspiration by making different permutations with his son's plastic hamburger toy in hopes of finding a mix that would outsell the BLT. It became a regional hit selling as a vegetarian alternative to the Bacon in a BLT, although strangely, no one seemed to notice that it still contained a meat patty underneath the 3 advertised garnishes.

Wheezy's sandwich would have remained a regional oddity had the Burger King corporation not expressed interest in making a smaller version of it, selling for one dollar. Once the MLK Jr. began selling in franchises across the country, Wheezy's long-term financial well-being was ensured[citation needed].

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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Weekend Wrap-up

On Friday night, West Coast Mike returned to the area, obviously drawn by the low cost of living. With Rebecca and Annie in tow, we had a late dinner at Mellow Mushroom after which Mike and Annie resumed their journey east to DC. Meanwhile Anna and Ben had child #4, Isaac Benjamin Ahlbin. Congratulations!

On Saturday night, we drove out to northern Loudoun to celebrate the birthday of Rebecca's Uncle Dave. We had wine at the new Creek's Edge Winery, a lavish, out-of-place winery-in-a-barn in downtown Taylorstown. The winery was packed with two competing events, but we still managed to snag a nice warm spot with table and chairs in the loft.

On Sunday, I studied for my Amazon Web Services certification, learning about cloudy and partly cloudy architectures while watching the official tutorial videos which used correct grammar about half the time.

I worked from home Monday, starting on a brand new R&D project with new technologies to learn or refresh. Of course, my previous project's end was delayed by a couple weeks, so I'll probably be working on two or three different things over the next few weeks. We closed the weekend out with homemade burgers and Hearthstone. I've gotten pretty lucky in new card decks recently, having just opened Vol'jin and Blingtron 3000.

How was your weekend?

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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Memory Day: Fifteen Years Ago

Fifteen years ago today, on January 21, 2000, I was in my fourth year at Virginia Tech, at the end of the first week of the semester.

Because the high school Honor Band was being hosted at Virginia Tech, all of my music classes had been cancelled for the day. Of course, it also snowed heavily the night before, and Honor Band ended up getting cancelled. It was also too early in the semester for my Physics lab, so the only class I had to worry about was Computer Graphics: an entire semester spent drawing 3D shapes with OpenGL and answering arcane word problems about cameras and viewports.

I took a quick trip down to Squires to see the results of my various auditions in the morning. That year, I was 1st chair in the Symphony Band and 4th chair in the Brass Ensemble (which probably meant I had to show up to every rehearsal in order to play on one song). I probably auditioned for Jazz Ensemble too, but I think this was the semester that Peter got in over me and I lost hope in humanity, never to audition again.

I spent the rest of my day holed up in my dorm room (shared with Kelley Corbett), eating Ramen noodles cooked in a hot plate, and trading emails with Jack and Filippo to set up an interview for my first internship at FGM. Later, I decided to dust off one of my incomplete projects, a text adventure game that I'd started back in 1998 but never gotten around to finishing. This time, I was more successful and released it into the world a short two months later.

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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

Lilyhammer, Season One:
Starring Steven Van Zandt from The Sopranos as mobster in witness protection in Norway, this show focuses less on the Mafia, and more on English-Norwegian culture clashes. Subtitles abound -- there are equal parts of both languages at play, and the humor is very understated and deadpan. Free on Netflix.

Final Grade: A-

This movie by the creator of Office Space and Idiocracy starts strong with a promising cast of actors, but never really goes anywhere. Unlike the other movies, it has no bigger agenda. The plot simply meanders in funny directions until it doesn't anymore. Free on Amazon Prime.

Final Grade: C+

Modern Family, Season One:
We used to occasionally catch this show on TV while on our way to other shows and it recently dropped under the $10 price point on Amazon. It's consistently funny without being mean spirited, has made Rebecca break down laughing on two occasions, and is thankfully laugh-track-free.

Final Grade: B+

Optimus U-31001 1.5-Gallon Cool Mist Ultrasonic Humidifier:
This is humidifier number 3 for me, and easily the best one so far. It's small enough that it can be filled in the bathtub in one hand, but lasts for 2 - 3 nights. There is a small motor noise, but it's a consistent white noise without timbre modulations, and there's a faint but not blue light at the bottom of the tank. Highly recommended if you want a sleeping humidifier.

Final Grade: A

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Friday, January 23, 2015

List Day: This Day In Emails

  • January 23, 1997: I get an email from a Canadian girl in the Role-Playing Games chatroom that I help run. "Hiya Bweeeeenie.. *huggs* aw.. so howjsa doin'?"

  • January 23, 1998: John Ross, the professorial understudy for History and Analysis of Musical Styles (HAMS) sends out class notes about Bach's Vocal Music. "Most striking is noting how despite things change, things stay the same."

  • January 23, 2001: The School of Music at University of Kentucky confirms that they have received my graduate application. "Your credentials thus far look impressive."

  • January 23, 2003: I remind my ear training students to do their Practica Musica homework. "Please remember that Sanghee Lee is not obligated to help you with PM problems outside the lab."

  • January 23, 2004: I communicate with my mortgage company, now that I've submitted a contract for my Sterling mansion.

  • January 23, 2008: The Metadata Registry is down for 5 hours. "Walt Powell said that a symbolic link to an OS library became lost around 1 AM this morning, and it was easy to repair once they tracked down the BIOS password to the machines."

  • January 23, 2011: My dad tells me what to look for when shopping for new kitchen cabinets.

  • January 23, 2013: I inform Evil Mike that I have acquired my tux for his upcoming wedding. "The 2nd shirt is identical to the 1st one, so it must be for grass stain emergencies, following the Red Rover pictures at the Carlyle House."

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Monday, January 26, 2015

Weekend Wrap-up

On Friday night, Rebecca hosted a winter potluck event for all of her coworkers, a surprising number (nearly 15) of whom showed up. We reoriented the basement for darts, eating, and pool and ate everyone else's food.

On Saturday morning, we got new tires put onto the 2010 Civic, and then laid around for the rest of the day. Rebecca went out for Amanda's birthday party in the evening, while I stayed home and played The Talos Principle -- I have been on antibiotics since Thursday to get rid of this lingering flu cough and would not have been much social fun.

On Sunday, we finally took down our Christmas tree and then took an afternoon jaunt up to Leesburg, where we had a pint at Crooked Run Brewery, and then ate Mexican food at Los Tios. We decided that it's very hard to objectively assess non-seafood-based Mexican food -- it's either good enough or really bad, but after a certain low threshold of "good", it all tastes the same.

How was your weekend?

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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Snow Day

I had hoped to get a nice time lapse of a historically proportioned blizzard, but alas, it was not to be. Even our neighbour's car displayed more signs of activity than this weather system.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Memory Day: Snapshots

This picture was taken twenty-two years ago in June of 1993, after the yearly school awards ceremony at Hammond Jr. High. At the end of my freshman year, I had just won the award for outstanding band member, along with other white noise awards in every other subject offered at the school. This was a completely expected outcome, based on the pretentious, cocky smirk on my face -- a bold statement for someone wearing giant glasses, a clip-on tie, and white socks with black shoes.

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Thursday, January 29, 2015

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

Down Dog:
This new comedy pilot about a dumb, hot guy running a yoga studio (from Amazon's Pilot Season) is uniformly awful. The tone is uneven, the jokes are broad, easy targets, and it brings nothing new to the mocking of LA lifestyle. Free on Amazon Prime, but they should pay you to watch it.

Final Grade: F

Black Mirror:
This is a short (6 episode) British anthology of sci-fi tales. They're not quite dystopian or fantastic, but are told in a near future that is just believable enough to sell as real. Occasionally unpleasant and always unsettling, they'll really make you think more about the effect of technology on daily life. The first episode is definitely the weakest of the bunch, but I enjoyed them all. Free on Netflix.

Final Grade: A

The Sting by Gabriella Cilmi:
This third album from Cilmi is more understated and mature than the previous two. I didn't like it at first, but now I find that the mellow timbres and unexciting arrangements make it good for background music.

Final Grade: C+

21 Jump Street (R):
This movie remake of the old TV show comes across more as parody than homage, but is pleasantly funny. Jonah Hill plays (pre-Wolf of Wall Street) Jonah Hill, and Channing Tatum has no personality.

Final Grade: C

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Friday, January 30, 2015

End-of-the-Month Highlights Day

New photos have been added to the Life, 2015 album.

  • Events
    • Entered the year sick with the flu, like Rebecca (We are The Floo Fighters).

    • Had a Fake New Year's Party for all of the people who work normal weekday schedules on 1/3.

    • Had dinner with Amanda and Frank on 1/10.

    • On 1/16, had dinner with West Coast Mike, who is imminently moving back to DC (so it's kind of like his Recapitulation).

    • Celebrated Uncle Dave's birthday at Creek's Edge Winery on 1/17.

    • Went to the doctor for my lingering cold on 1/22 and got antibiotics and an asthma inhaler.

    • Had Rebecca's work folks over for a party on 1/23, just before the wimpy snow.

    • Returned to Crooked Run Brewery on 1/25.

    • Went to Mellow Mushroom for dinner three separate times this month because we are addicted.

    • Planning to go to Richmond to see Sam and Kristen this weekend.

  • Projects
    • Released DDMSence v2.5.0 on 1/1.

    • Started studying for an AWS Certification, but lost focus during flu fighting.

    • Transitioned to a new R&D project at work, while still supporting proposals, only to find that the old project still needs me for a bit longer. Now multitasking.

  • Consumerism
    • Enjoyed seasons of Lilyhammer, Modern Family, and Black Mirror.

    • Listened to the Hilltop Hoods ad nauseum.

    • Got bored with World of Warcraft again at level 80, and letting my account lapse. Playing The Talos Principle and Hearthston in the meantime until something better goes on a Steam Sale.

January's Final Grade: C, too much cold air and coughing muted the high points

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