Tuesday, December 01, 2015

List Day: 10 Things This Proposal Effort At Work Seems Longer Than

  1. Multi-language FBI warnings on DVDs.

  2. The section of I-81 between Exit 222 and 118.

  3. The 2016 election cycle.

  4. The wait for a table at every Cheesecake Factory.

  5. The nonsensical, unskippable cutscenes in Ocarina of Time.

  6. The endings of the third Lord of the Rings movie.

  7. The third movement of Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique.

  8. Eugene Delgaudio's (now vanquished) tenure in politics.

  9. Orange line trains out of DC after 10 PM.

  10. The opening credits on any David Simon show.

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Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Memory Day: Snapshots

This picture was taken around Christmas time 28 years ago, in 1987.

This was part of a holiday pageant put on by the after school day care program we were in (as if staying behind at school for three hours every day wasn't enough extra time spent in a "multipurpose room" that smelled of feet, we had to come back one evening to put this on). My sister is in the back, surrounded by her friends, Laura, Gabi, Eric, some unknown NPC, and Rikki.

Day care obviously couldn't afford real bows, so apparently we wore the plastic ties off of Hefty garbage bags around our necks. I was going for the windswept look.

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Thursday, December 03, 2015

Review Day: Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited (PC)

ESO is a Massively Multiplayer Online game set in the "Elder Scrolls" world (from games such as Daggerfall, Oblivion, and Skyrim). It originally launched with a monthly fee over a year ago and endured many a growing pain before being re-released in a "buy the box once for $40" form this past summer. It takes some great ideas from many recent WoW competitors (such as the telegraph system from Wildstar) and delivers a charming, yet non-addictive, gaming experience that will keep you enthralled for at least a little while.

Cost: In the absence of subscription fees, the game is supported by cosmetic and time-saving purchases in a real money store (special mounts, pets, etc.), but everything you MUST have in the game can be bought without real cash. Additionally, some traditional money sinks are missing -- for example, your mount is shared across all of your characters, and each character buys lessons to increase riding skill instead.

Graphics: The game locales look great across the board -- I could maintain a steady 30 - 40 FPS with Medium settings on an older graphics card, and can consistently hit 60 - 100 FPS on Ultra-High settings with the GTX 960. Character facial expressions have that "uncanny valley" Skyrim look to them, but make up for it with plenty of emotes and animations. Sadly, there is no /train emote.

Music & Sound: The music is pleasant, with the occasional Skyrim motive thrown in for nostalgia. Sound is passable, although you'll get tired of your character's combat yelps after a while. ESO differs from other MMOs by providing voice-acting for every single NPC and quest line in the game (probably why it took 6 hours to install), and this helps to give each quest more weight.

Questing & Leveling: Quests are multi-stage, well-polished affairs that build up the story over a particular locale, rather than the typical "kill 50 boars" WoW throwaway. I was impressed with the variety in the early going, but found that the themes of the quests started to repeat around level 20 or so. The quests also bring back many recurring characters, but by the time they reappear, you've probably forgotten why they were important.

Classes & Stats: With nine races across three factions, it's surprising that there's only 4 classes to choose from: Dragonknight, Nightblade, Sorcerer, Templar. However, I found this to be one of the game's strengths -- each class has great flexibility and there is no one "best" way to define your character. Every character can use every weapon, cast spells, or sneak and sprint, and the way you allocate your stats between magicka and stamina determine how much or little of each you can do. I currently have a Level 41 Magicka-based Templar which plays like a WoW Retribution Paladin, and a Level 12 Stamina-based Nightblade which plays like a Skyrim thief.

Abilities: Figuring out how to level up your abilities is not very intuitive, but it's not a big deal. I like that you can only have 5 abilities plus an Ultimate on your skillbar, but don't like that an ability must be on your bar to get better. Often times, I found myself with skills I didn't particularly like on the bar, simply so I could level them up in case I wanted to use them "someday". The abilities are fun to use, and combat is kept lively by real-time counterattack / dodge options, as well as the telegraph system which gives you a few seconds warning when an area spell is about to land somewhere.

Crafting: Is crafting ever fun? It's here, but not much more than the usual time sink you'd expect it to be.

Overall: This is a peaceful, pleasant MMO experience, full of helpful players (the world is bursting with activity) but without any pressure to group up. The journey up to level 50 is very fun and soloable, and I never feel pressure to hit the end-game. I find exploration to be very rewarding, with hidden chests or vistas all over. I play it like an MMO version of Skyrim (a game I've sunk over 300 hours into over the years), and though it's decidedly NOT an "open world" game, it's exactly what I'm in the mood for some days. It's not as addicting as Skyrim, but will tide me over until I'm in the mood for Rise of the Tomb Raider or Fallout 4.

Final Grade: B+

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Friday, December 04, 2015

Doe Day

These pesky deer keep getting in the house!

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Monday, December 07, 2015

Weekend Wrap-up

  • Installed Windows 10 on all of the laptops in the house, then turned off as much of the "phone home" nonsense as possible and got rid of all of the Live Tiles.

  • Upgraded the URI! Zone webserver to Apache 2.4 and PHP 5.6 (PHP used solely for the Wiki). This task was made more efficient by THE CLOUD, which allowed me to spin up a second copy of the webserver in an A/B configuration and make all of my mistakes without affecting availability for the low cost of $0.052.

  • Had Wegmans sushi for dinner on Friday.

  • Started watching The Man in the High Castle and am roughly 55% interested after 3 episodes.

  • Tried out the new Hearthstone adventure, League of Explorers.

  • Went to an office party of mostly old FGMers (where "old" denotes the last 10 years and "ancient" would have denoted earlier) at Praveena's house. Met Eric B's 1-year-old, Cruz.

  • Finished my Christmas shopping, all online.

  • Put up Christmas lights, inside and out, and fluffed the fake tree for eventual ornament hanging. The outdoor decorations look rather like a diorama for UFO-driven cattle abductions, rather than the staid monochromaticism of yore.

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Tuesday, December 08, 2015

2015 Favourites: Top 10 Songs First Heard in 2015

2015 was a great year in the "music that I enjoy" genre, which is the only important genre. In addition to multiple catchy singles, there were even a few solid albums proving that albums still have some relevance. Give a listen, and maybe you'll find something new to enjoy!

  1. B. Reith - Old School (2009):
    Nothing terribly special about this white rapper, but the song is a pleasantly blended orchestration of different styles.

  2. Whitton - Rare Bird (2011):
    I like the interesting timbres of Whitton's voice.

  3. Breakestra - Hiding (2008):
    Breakestra has done a nice job of recreating the spirit of funk, and this is a nice mellow song with understated horn parts to blast out the windows while driving through the suburbs of Fairfax County.

  4. Lab Rats - Devil's Train (2007):
    I wish there were more extended story-based hip-hop songs that remain as aurally interesting as this one throughout.

  5. Metric - Fortunes (2015):
    The album this song is on, Pagans in Vegas, continues to grow on me -- Metric successfully blends a necessary warmth into their electronica rock that keeps it from being too sterile. I like the pad that's injected during the chorus.

  6. Mika - Promiseland (2015):
    This song mixes the classic elements of Mika's repertoire into a catchy single.

  7. The Darkness - Mudslide (2015):
    I love this entire album (Last of Our Kind) as a fine example of "ridiculous rock". I especially love that this song is literally about a mudslide and features an off-interval homage to "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" in the middle.

  8. Elizabeth and the Catapult - Shoelaces (2014):
    This song is a good showcase of the lead singer's voice combined with a loose, driving beat. Elizabeth and the Catapult's recent music reminds me of KT Tunstall, before her music became too static and unmemorable.

  9. Muse - Reapers (2015):
    Drones completely redeemed Muse's previous disappointment, 2nd Law. "Reapers" is one of the best songs on the album, featuring an ABABCD through-composed form, crazy guitar licks, a great beat, and a laughably awful set of forgettable lyrics obsessed with world conspiracy theories.

  10. Hilltop Hoods - Cosby Sweater (2014):
    The consistency of this twenty-year-old Australian hip-hop group is impressive, and this is easily my favourite song of the year.

Previous Picks: 2006 | 2007 | 2008 | 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013 | 2014

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Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Memory Day: Reading Day

Sixteen years ago today, on December 9, 1999, it was Reading Day on the campus of Virginia Tech. This was the day just after the last day of classes, completely devoid of labs, homework, classes, or any other distractions, inserted into the calendar with the mistaken understanding that students would wisely devote it to studying for their upcoming exams. Of course this was a mistaken assumption, as most students just used the time to sleep off the effects the previous night's parties.

Although I had been at Philip's the previous night with Kelley, Shac, and Liz, I was not yet a drinker. As a result, I was up bright and early to lay claim to empty communal washing machines and work on the third movement to Jazz Suite for Brass Quintet. Midday, I headed to Squires Student Center to practice my trumpet, and then met Liz Benyo for lunch at Schultz Dining Hall, probably getting my standard fettucini alfredo and nachos with cheese.

In the evening, I went to dinner with a bunch of trumpeters and Dr. Bachelder, who was orchestrating a guest appearance / master class by trumpeter, Ryan Anthony, from Oberlin (Ryan would eventually go on to become a member of the Canadian Brass). Dr. Bachelder urged me to give him a copy of my recently finished trumpet work, Badinage. I did so, but I never got any feedback on it. For all I know, it was confiscated as being too avant-garde by airport security on Mr. Anthony's way back to Oberlin.

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Thursday, December 10, 2015

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

In Bruges (R):
This black comedy is an "odd couples" bromance about two hitmen laying low in Bruges after a hit gone awry. Colin Farrell is great as the restless partner who thinks Bruges is a shithole while his older partner just wants to sightsee. Fun and quotable.

Final Grade: B

Trainwreck (R):
I enjoyed this romantic comedy but didn't think it was as hilarious as advertised. Still, it was a notch above most.

Final Grade: B

Demetri Martin Live *at the time:
This standup special really didn't do anything for me. It felt like a less funny Mitch Hedberg special eliciting occasional smirks and rare chuckles. The closing segment backed by guitar felt like a gimmick to maintain the audience's attention and wasn't much funnier than the rest. Free on Netflix.

Final Grade: C-

Jessica Jones, Season One:
Super hero movies are uniformly stupid so I was surprised that I ended up liking this show that takes place in the same universe as the Avengers movie. It does a good job of minimizing the juvenile super power action sequences in favor of character development. David Tennant carries the show as a villain with the power of suggestion, and the plot is given the freedom to evolve as it needs, without any contrived setbacks or "case of the week" doldrums. Free on Netflix.

Final Grade: A-

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Friday, December 11, 2015

List Day: 4 Disappointing Albums

  • Stand Up by Dave Matthews: This was the album that made me stop buying Dave Matthews albums. At the time, I coined this mission statement for it: "Create a forgettable vamp that repeats every four bars and sing about something arhythmically while your band plays a fifth-grade arrangement as backup. Occasionally throw in a random mix of nonmelodic sounds on a separate track that has nothing to do with anything and call it an "Intro" track. Do not, under any circumstances, call this CD Busted Stuff because that name was already assigned to a CD with the exact same music on it."

  • Invisible Empire // Crescent Moon by KT Tunstall: This album was devoid of hooks and vitality, not unlike a wily catfish who has succumbed to oxygen-starving algae blooms. In mathematical terms, if you were to plot a function as music approaches infinite "mellow", it would rapidly approach the limit of "forgettable". I think the double title is supposed to suggest the presence of two albums (double the value!), but the whole thing is so imbued with sameness that it's like trying to find the dividing wall in a duplex only to realize you're in a single-family home.

  • The 2nd Law by Muse: This was the ultimate phoned-in album. Matt Bellamy sounded like he needed a good, long nap in every song he fronted, and another third of the album was devoted to breaking out the bassist as a singer (only to sound like Muse trying to be Coldplay or Finger Eleven trying to be Muse, both of which are the worst SAT analogies of all time). The last third could have been a movie soundtrack for any given student film on an undergraduate campus.

  • Uptown Special by Mark Ronson: I've been trying to convince people to listen to Mark Ronson for 5 years so I was thrilled that he finally hit mainstream success with (the now overplayed) "Uptown Funk". Unfortunately, this song was paired with an uninspiring, aurally repetitive album full of C-sides that even fans can't enjoy. It's like buying the post-Super Bowl TV slot and then using it to air a pilot for a reality show about accountants.

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Monday, December 14, 2015

Chad Darnell's 12 of 12

7:57 AM: Up and awake.
8:15 AM: Breakfast with Sydney.
10:08 AM: Back from Costco with fruit.
11:59 AM: Exercising and rewatching The Wire.
1:05 PM: Leftovers for lunch.
2:13 PM: Meatballs with barbeque sauce in the slow cooker.
3:19 PM: Decorating the fake tree.
5:37 PM: Time for a potluck!
7:12 PM: Potluck participants.
7:18 PM: Florida State friends.
7:45 PM: A change in soundtrack.
11:54 PM: Ending the evening with Telestrations.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Twelve 12 of 12s

January: Making shrimp alfredo.
February: Burgers and Booty.
March: Introducing Sydney.
April: Teaching about THE CLOUD.
May: Grey cat cloning.
June: Old shed demolition.
July: Bachelor grilling while Rebecca hikes.
August: Planning a D&D adventure.
September: Beers at Hopkins Ordinary.
October: Final mow and new shed.
November: Visiting my parents.
December: FSU, 14 years later.

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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Name That Tune: Christmas Edition

I'm on a whirlwind tour of Rhode Island today. While I'm away, try your hand at this Name That Tune contest from last weekend's Holiday Potluck. No prizes, because some of you have already heard the answers! The high score was 16 / 20.

Click on the number to hear a clip, and hover your mouse over the right column to reveal the answer.

1 Wonderful Christmastime - Paul McCartney
2 Nightmare Before Christmas (Oogie Boogie's Songs - Danny Elfman)
3 Jingle All The Way
4 All I Want For Christmas Is You - Mariah Carey
5 Bad Santa
6 Pretty Paper - Roy Orbison
7 Home Alone
8 A Christmas Story
9 Last Christmas - Wham!
10 Scrooged
11 Christmas Vacation
12 Ernest Saves Christmas
13 Die Hard
14 Good King Wenceslas - Mannheim Steamroller
15 RENT (Christmas Bells - Jonathan Larson)
16 Gremlins
17 Elf
18 Christmas at Ground Zero - Weird Al
19 Love, Actually
20 Charlie Brown Christmas

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Thursday, December 17, 2015

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

Master of None, Season One:
This generally light-hearted comedy by Aziz Ansari is a fun ride with the typical assortment of millenial topics and characters. It looses a little good will in the final episode, which offers no closure and feels more like a pilot than a finale. Still, if you like Aziz's other work and don't mind him occasionally looking like a live-action Muppet, you'll enjoy this show. Free on Netflix.

Final Grade: B

The Man in the High Castle, Season One:
This Amazon Original is based on the story by Philip K. Dick, and takes place in a United States taken over by German and Japanese forces after World War II. It has a few interesting ideas, but moves glacially slow. The amount of progression in each episode feels stretched to disintegration, and I gave up after five episodes.

Final Grade: C-

Gigabyte GTX 960 Graphics Card:
This is a solid graphics card that has recently slipped down to the under $250 price point. It can maintain a solid 60 - 100 FPS in Elder Scrolls Online without overclocking. The fan is a little noticeable, sometimes sounding like an old beater car trying to go up a hill, but the resulting performance is worth it.

Final Grade: B+

League of Explorers: A Hearthstone Adventure:
League of Explorers ($19.99) is a Hearthstone expansion with a small handful of new cards. It's actually quite fun, although over quickly, and injects a good amount of freshness into tired rounds of fighting Secret Paladins and Face Hunters all day long. I only had to make custom decks for two of the puzzles -- the rest I beat with my regular card decks.

Final Grade: B+

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Friday, December 18, 2015

Week Wrap-up

Saturday, 12/12

Had a Holiday Potluck with 11 friends and 4 children. Held a Name That Tune contest which was harder than I intended it to be.

Sunday, 12/13

Took a teacher-training yoga session with teacher-in-training, Rebecca, and then had tacos in the fair-to-decent quality range at Bar Taco in Reston.

Monday, 12/14

Took Rebecca's car in for the state inspection and stopped by Home Depot for a 2nd yard doe (but they were out of the specific variety we needed). Shredded a bunch of receipts and invoices, and packed for my trip out of town.

Tuesday, 12/15

Was dropped off at Dulles for a flight to Rhode Island, and left over an hour late because of "radar problems" that required a new plane to be towed out onto the tarmac. Visited my sister's family in North Kingstown and went on some treasure hunts with the kids.

Wednesday, 12/16

Toured the surrounding towns near North Kingstown and had a crabcake burger from a cafe in Wickford. Ate custom-made raviolis from a shop in Warwick for dinner and folded some laundry.

Thursday, 12/17

Got home safely and on time and spent the rainy afternoon relaxing and recovering from the intense jet lag (-0000 in time zone changes).

Friday, 12/18

No plans except to clean the house, go grocery shopping, and try out Fallout 4.

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Monday, December 21, 2015

Weekend Wrap-up

I picked up a bug somewhere between here and Rhode Island, which tragically forced me to lie around doing nothing for most of the weekend. Over the course of the weekend, I did the following:

  • Did grocery shopping, laundry, and housecleaning.

  • Started and finished the fantasy book, Dust and Light by Carol Berg. Started the next book.

  • Watched the complete first season of The Code. Started watching How to Get Away With Murder.

  • Made a ham and rice stew out of leftovers.

  • Watched Bad Santa with Rebecca until she fell asleep.

  • Watched the movies, Jurassic World and Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation.

  • Had burgers at The Counter and looked at Christmas lights in north Herndon.

How was your weekend?

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Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Stuff in My Drawers Day

I drew this picture in January 1987 as a third grader in Ms. Paul's art class. Judging from the limited color palette, there was either a paucity of crayons left in the bin, or I was emulating the EGA graphics cards of the era. I'm also not sure why there's a giant dwarf sun on the dying horizon, or a secondary one higher up in the sky.

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Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Memory Day: Snapshots

This picture was taken at Christmas time in 1992. I was a freshman in junior high school and still getting used to my GIANT glasses. Not pictured is the creepy animatronic angel on top of the tree that would have been perfectly at home in one of those "every day is Christmas" homes.

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Thursday, December 24, 2015

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

Terminator Genisys (PG-13):
In the first twenty minutes, it felt like this movie was going to be a self-indulgent rehash of scenes we'd already seen before from different perspectives. Thankfully, it breaks out of that cycle and gets better pretty quickly. The movie can't decide whether it wants to be a serious Terminator story or a parody of the series, so it has weird tonal shifts throughout. However, I enjoyed the performances of JK Simmons and thought Emilia Clarke did a good job channeling her own version of Linda Hamilton. Visually, the movie's a little too dark (thanks, blackout curtains in the living room!) and has too much reliance on CGI effects that look like a video game. A fun diversion, but not the best Terminator movie.

Final Grade: B

The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule:
This true crime book tells the tale of Ted Bundy from the perspective of someone who was a long-term friend of his in Washington. The tale is pretty interesting, although the narrative structure is hindered by too many endings, since the book was constantly revised over the thirty years since its original release.

Final Grade: B-

Daredevil, Season One:
In contrast to Jessica Jones, this super hero series had too much super hero nonsense. There are so many repetitive action scenes that they all run together, although the extended single cut shots are technically well done. However, the characters all feel shallow and cookie-cutter, and no one is as interesting as Jessica Jones' Kilgrave. By the 7th episode, I was just watching out of the corner of my eye as I did other things. Free on Netflix.

Final Grade: C

Dust and Light by Carol Berg:
This is the first in a two-book fantasy series about a magic-wielding artist. The world-building is intricate and the pacing kept me reading. I also like the fact that it's a two-book series with the second already published.

Final Grade: B+

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Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas Day

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Monday, December 28, 2015

2015 in Review, Part I of II

based on the New York Times' Year in Pictures

Old Pictures of the Year: 2005 | 2006 | 2007 | 2008 | 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013 | 2014

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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

2015 in Review, Part II of II

based on New York Times' Year in Pictures

Old Pictures of the Year: 2005 | 2006 | 2007 | 2008 | 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013 | 2014

tagged as media | permalink | 2 comments

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2015 Timeline

A smattering of events from 2015

January: C
  • Flu into the new year like a butterfly.
  • Had New Years parties for friends and Rebecca's coworkers.
  • Visited the Edwardses in Richmond.
February: B
  • Went to the American History museum for the company work party.
  • Florida Mike moved back to town and became Returned Mike.
  • Shoveled lots of snow.
March: C+
  • Discovered Hopkins Ordinary in Sperryville.
  • Picked up a 3rd cat temporarily.
  • Passed two AWS cloud certifications.
April: B
  • Started hike-training for Rebecca's trip.
  • Went to a Senior Composition Recital.
  • Moved the URI! Zone INTO THE CLOUD.
May: B+
  • Had a barbeque where Evil Mike smashed a pinata.
  • Taught classes on THE CLOUD at work.
  • Continued to hike all over the place.
June: B-
  • Saw Book of Mormon with Mike and Annie.
  • Built a shed with my dad.
  • Worked on proposal stuff while Rebecca hiked everywhere.
July: A
  • Watched fireworks at Lake Barcroft.
  • Went to Munich, Grindelwald, Montreux, and Geneva!
August: B+
  • Learned how to do indoor wall climbing.
  • Continued the D&D adventure into the town of Phandalin.
  • Briefly tried out game development.
September: A
  • Had a minimal meats barbeque for yoga people.
  • Turned 36 years old.
  • Read the Wool trilogy.
October: A
  • Went to Blacksburg for the MV Practice Center.
  • Went to Luke and Carolyn's wedding.
  • Transitioned and launched the new Paravia Wiki.
  • Rebecca started a new job.
November: C+
  • Resumed hiking before the cold set in.
  • Worked on proposal stuff all month long.
  • Had lots of Thanksgiving dinners.

How was 2015 for you?

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Thursday, December 31, 2015

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation (PG-13):
I've only seen the most recent 3 MI movies (starting from when JJ Abrams took over), and this is the best of those three. It has a strong collection of fun, tightly-orchestrated action sequences with minimal cuts and special effects getting in the way, and benefits from the comic relief of Simon Pegg.

Final Grade: B+

Jurassic World (PG-13):
Surprisingly, this Jurassic sequel is as good as the original. It's the perfect popcorn movie, with just the right number of callbacks, and a reasonably fresh plot. If every summer blockbuster were as good as this, I'd probably go to the theatre occasionally.

Final Grade: A

The Code, Season One:
This is a six episode Australian show with all the intensity of the movie, Prisoners. It's very bingeable, and tells the story of a government conspiracy in New South Wales. An Australian version of Jason Bateman stars as a journalist with an autistic hacker brother. The suspense never lets up, the hacking sequences are visually appealing and mostly based in truth, and everything resolves in a satisfying conclusion that doesn't need a 2nd season. Additionally, the workmanship and cinematography of the show feels fresh, just because it isn't another HBO or Showtime show. Free on Netflix.

Final Grade: A

Ash and Silver by Carol Berg:
The second (and final) book in the Sanctuary series is a logical continuation of the story and effectively builds upon the foundation of the first book without any unnecessary new invention. The story is a page-turner requiring continuously revised perspectives on the motivations of the characters, although it was occasionally too puzzle-like for its own good. The pacing of the reveals is well-done, and the main character doesn't suffer nearly as unnecessarily as in the author's Rai Kirah series. I enjoyed it over my Christmas break, in spite of the cover art which suggests that the man has a neck like a giraffe.

Final Grade: B

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