01/2016

Friday, January 01, 2016

2015 Wrap-up

Happy New Year!

December 2015 was a particularly relaxing month for me, especially since I've been off of work since Friday the 11th. Because Thanksgiving was hectic with proposal stuff at work, I took an extended Christmas break to get under the "use or lose" cap on leave. Of course within my tech career, I have the first world problem of still having 3.75 weeks of leave in the bank as 2016 rolls in.

After kicking things off in high gear with a Holiday Potluck and a fun trip up to Rhode Island, I still had two weeks of leave left. The first week, I spent recovering from a Rhode Island bug, pre-writing most of my blog posts, and reading and viewing lots of decent-to-great books, movies, and shows.

On Christmas Eve, I picked up two growlers of a Belgian Specialty Ale from Old Ox Brewery and we toured the local, famous Christmas lights on Juniper Avenue. The experience was a little incongruous, as the temperature was up around 70 degrees (I wore short sleeves), and most people were opting for a drive-by experience with air conditioners operating at full force. We then did an annual watching of Love Actually (which is about the only Christmas movie I can tolerate anymore) and Rebecca made it two full hours in before falling asleep!

We had two Christmases, one with Rebecca's mom's family out in Linden, and the other on the following day with Rebecca's dad and stepmom in Falls Church. My parents were up north making their own pilgrimage to Rhode Island, so they missed out on our company and the small stack of presents still under our tree.

For the final week of my vacation, I did absolutely nothing beyond playing Fallout 4 and watching Better Call Saul. We rang in the New Year at a party thrown by one of Rebecca's yoga friends, Michelle, near Lake Anne and are now off to our favourite B&B in Sperryville for a quick overnight trip.

So all in all, it was a successful end to the year 2015. I am now at the point where I have lost most of my programming skills, although I did check work email three times and did two code reviews on GitHub. Of particular note, this is the first year in decades where I didn't have a single migraine headache -- though root causes are difficult to pinpoint, the main delta in my life is an increase in craft beer consumption since 2012.

A final batch of new photos have been added to the Life, 2015 album.

December's Final Grade: A

2015's Final Grade: B+

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Monday, January 04, 2016

Weekend Wrap-up (1 of 52)

To kick off 2016, we took a trip out to Sperryville and Shenandoah National Park. On Friday night, we sampled new beers at the Hopkins Ale Works and found two smash hits -- a Belgian Trippel and a Winter Ale which were each good in a different way. We then ate a satisfying dinner at the Headmaster's Pub around the corner. Although it was just pub food, it was better than first impressions of the restaurant might indicate. We stayed in the "Thyme" room that night, and it was easily the warmest, winter-friendly room of the lot.

On Saturday, after a breakfast of Eggs Hopkins (eggs with fresh arugula on broiled toast), we did an 8.9 mile hike near Skyline Drive, starting from Panorama and going past Mary's Rock. The views were spectacular since all of the greenery was gone, but the temperature reached a high of just 43 F. It was cold enough that we had to make life-altering decisions at lunchtime as to whether we should eat our Subway sandwiches with frozen bare hands or get mayonnaise on our gloves.

On Sunday, Rebecca did some yoga things while I got ready to dive back into the world of software engineering. We did a few errands like exchanging an empty propane tank and buying me a new suit to replace the suit with giant gold buttons I've worn since high school, and then made fresh tacos for dinner.

Overall, it was a solid start to the new year. The jury is still out on whether frontloading your year with out-of-the-ordinary events is the right move -- either you keep raising the bar throughout the year as you seek the next high and have a fantastic year, or you eventually run out of things to do and start walking under the bar (or fall asleep at the bar).

Next weekend is my company party and, in a ridiculous race to top themselves each year, they have rented out an entire club in downtown DC. To maintain a linear increase in January weekend enjoyment, I'm going to need to win a self-driving car in a lottery I didn't enter on the third weekend, and discover a cache of pirate doubloons that allows me to permanently retire from work on the fourth.

How was your weekend?

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Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Recipe Day: Meatless Stuffed Mushrooms

Timing

  • Prep Time: 20 minutes
  • Cooking Time: 25 minutes

Ingredients

  • 20 white mushrooms
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 8 ounces cream cheese (block rather than spread)
  • 6 ounces finely grated parmesan cheese (as fine as possible)
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano

Instructions

  1. Make friends with people who have an aversion to meats, otherwise this recipe is a useless travesty.

  2. Preheat the oven to 350 and start warming the cream cheese (perhaps on the "warming area" on your yuppy stove) so it's easier to melt later on.

  3. Use a damp cloth to remove visible dirt from mushrooms. Rock the stems back and forth like an Atari 2600 joystick until they are detached. Discard any unusually hard, dried portions of the stems, and then finely chop the remaining stems.

  4. Saute the chopped stems in garlic and oil in a large skillet over high heat for 8 minutes. Turn heat to low and stir in cream cheese, parmesan cheese, pepper, and oregano. Mixture will become pasty and sticky.

  1. Add heaping spoonfuls of the cheese mixture into each mushroom and place on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake for 20 - 25 minutes, until the mushrooms are browned, and serve fresh from the oven.

  2. Depending on the useable volume inside of your mushrooms, you may end up with far more cheese mixture than you need. Throw it at the ceiling and try to get it to stick, or buy a bunch of crackers.

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Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Time-lapsed Blogography Day: 20 Years Ago

January 6, 1996 was a musically enriched day in my senior year of high school. In the morning, Mike Stafford and I carpooled to West Potomac High School for All-District Band tryouts. For the uninformed, All-District Band is a three day weekend event where you sit in all-day rehearsals with area high school musicians who all think they deserve to play the solos, while a guest conductor trying to earn a little extra cash on the side of their meager symphony day job paycheck berates you for your mistakes and rants about how much better they are than you because their name is Gene Corcoran.

I was not big on All-District Band, even though it allowed me to skip a day of school. However, trying out for the band was just something everyone assumed you would do if you took private lessons, not unlike assuming that any given episode of LOST involving a submarine is bound to suck. My apathy at the audition led to these less-than-stellar scores, which were just high enough to get last chair:

(Going to any all-day band rehearsal as a last chair player is a special kind of pain, so I later conspired with winter to cancel the '96 District X All-District Band weekend with record snowfall).

Later that afternoon, I finished writing my 8th composition, Benality, a stupidly-titled concert band overture from the early days of composing when you think that modal lines are more fun than functional harmony.

  • Listen to Benality (4.7MB MP3)

The piece's primary fault is that it spends too much time adding flurries above a repeating rhythmic vamp and not enough time developing new ideas -- too much Swearingen and not enough swearing for my modern ears. I also apparently thought that it would be trivial to roll 6 or 7 separate timpani onstage, so it's probably good for percussionists that this piece was never performed.

Once I had forcefully expressed music out of every orifice that day, I met up with Jack Wilmer and saw 12 Monkeys in the theater at Bailey's Crossroad (long since replaced by a Target). Movie Night with Jack was a regular occurrence in high school, but I didn't make it to the theatre a single time in 2015. Perhaps I need an Alamo outing in the near future.

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Thursday, January 07, 2016

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

Recreational Love by Bird and the Bee:
It's been five years since the last Bird and the Bee album, and this is a slick, catchy collection of new songs that are just as strong as anything previous. The songs feel a bit more mainstream here, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Jenny is a good representative of the rest of the album.

Final Grade: B+

Circus in the Sky by Bliss n Eso:
Continuing my tour of Australian hip-hop groups, Bliss n Eso is a Pandora-recommended group from my Hilltop Hoods station. There's a few really good songs on the album, balanced out for a few too many "transition" tracks that aren't actually songs. Reservoir Dogs and Act Your Age (neither of which are safe for work) are among my favourites.

Final Grade: B

How to Get Away With Murder, Season One:
This ABC show has a neat narrative structure, with simultaneous stories told on 3 separate timelines that ultimately tie together. There are some good twists, although a few are too clever for the sake of being clever (kind of like the first season of Damages). The show is held back by a bit too much reshowing of scenes already seen before, and the network "case of the week" structure really slows the pace down. These one-off cases are pointless and don't do anything to further the main mystery, but that mystery is just good enough to tolerate the downtime. Free on Netflix.

Final Grade: B-

John Mulaney: The Comeback Kid:
John Mulaney's latest stand-up special is very strong, in spite of an unnecessary scripted intro. He's one of the better story-based comedians out there today and seeing his physicality as he jokes is much better than just listening to a CD. Free on Netflix.

Final Grade: B

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Friday, January 08, 2016

Data Day: The Age of Things in My Living Room

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Monday, January 11, 2016

Weekend Wrap-up

This weekend was the annual holiday party at work. Not content with taking over the American History museum last year, they rented out an entire night club this time around. Each floor was a different set of attractions, including a live band, a dance DJ, a casino floor, and door prizes (of which we won zero). Food was tapas style and plentiful, although the lack of many tables probably contributed to the fact that I didn't eat much.

There were also some flourishes of questionable fiscal responsibility, like the 3D animation of "typical Novetta engineers working in a night club" looping on TV screens, or the actors hired as Lady Gaga and George Clooney lookalikes. We had a good time overall, although the company is now large enough that I barely know a quarter of the people that showed up.

The venue started forcibly pushing us out the door around 10:45 to make room for the paying customers to follow. Rather than walk four blocks in the rain to an after party, we simply returned to the hotel across the street and crashed for the evening.

On Sunday morning, we had a quiet hotel breakfast that included a giant buffet bar of applewood bacon, and then returned to Sterling to feed hungry cats. I spent the rest of the day lying around with cats while Rebecca continued her yoga teacher training odyssey.

How was your weekend?

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Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Chad Darnell's 12 of 12

5:22 AM: Showered and unimpressed with this image quality.
5:43 AM: Arrived at the office.
9:30 AM: Working on a new proposal.
11:03 AM: A Metro station rises into the heavens.
11:27 AM: Quick grocery run on the way home.
11:30 AM: Fried chicken and Sydney for lunch.
11:50 AM: Back to work, but hindered by hind parts.
1:23 PM: Booty likes space heaters.
3:31 PM: "Dialing in" to a standup meeting.
4:02 PM: Running three miles while watching Run.
7:31 PM: Post-proposal relaxation with Fallout 4.
8:58 PM: Prepping for a late Taco Night with entertainment by Obama.

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Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Memory Day: Snapshots

This photo was taken 26 years ago, in the spring of 1990. The T-shirt came from a promotional event where Arnold Schwarzenegger led local students in some calisthenics on the White House lawn.

I wasn't particularly fit (other than some impressive Sit N' Reach scores) but I was Asian, and that was good enough for the press. The stylish socks and British Knights were typical of that era, and I remembered that one sock in the pair always refused to stay up due to the cheap elastic around the top.

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Thursday, January 14, 2016

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

Person of Interest, Season Four:
Person of Interest slipped heavily in quality after three stellar seasons. It felt like the creators were possessed by aliens who tried to continue creating the show but ended up creating a weird non-human facsimile of the show instead. The pacing is weird and the exposition is wooden. The introduction of The Brotherhood as a new crime organization is weak when compared to past bad guys and the main plot moves along in fits and spurts. The whole season feels emotionally flat, to the point where big plot twists and character changes just feel contrived. They try to hide the problems by covering the entire season with music, which becomes aurally irritating and unnecessary (like later seasons of LOST or anything by John Williams). I wanted to like it more, but now I'm just glad that the next season is probably the last.

Final Grade: C-

Our Own House by Misterwives:
Rebecca introduced me to this band that performs modern pop music with an 80s power ballad DNA. It's full of bubbly, catchy charts like the title track. I was almost certain that the lead singer was Whitton, based on the timbre, but it just happens to be another equally interesting voice.

Final Grade: B+

Better Call Saul, Season One:
I'm torn on this Breaking Bad spin-off. It's not strictly necessary and probably isn't as good if you haven't already watched the original show. However, the creator has put together a pretty decent standalone entity full of cinematographic camera angles and deeply thematic flourishes that TV buffs will probably interpret for hours. Like Breaking Bad, there are episodes where not much happens. The pace is pretty slow, but you can tell that the ultimate product (however many seasons away it is) will be worth it. If you're on the fence, just wait a few years so you can watch it all together.

Final Grade: B

Quality Control by Jurassic 5:
This is a decent hip-hop album that's now 16 years old. It has occasional gems, but most of the songs are just the 90s style of rapping over a beat vamp. It needs way more hooks, not unlike a bass championship tackle box.

Final Grade: C+

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Friday, January 15, 2016

Data Day: 2015 Treadmill Stats

We've owned a treadmill for four years now, and it's my preferred and only form of exercise. I can get healthy in the comfort of my basement, and don't feel like I've wasted my life if I watch a TV show that turns out to be less than stellar. Here are some stats on how much I ran last year (compared to 2014).

  • Total Exercise Sessions: 218 sessions in 365 days

  • Total Time on Treadmill: 143 hours (The complete Friends series is 83 hours 40 minutes)

  • Total Distance Travled: 595 miles (like walking from my house to Bangor, Maine in a straight line)

  • Speed Range: 3 MPH - 10 MPH

  • Average Speed: 4.16 MPH

  • Incline Range: 1% - 10%

  • My Weight Range: 128 - 132 pounds

  • Total Treadmill Oilings: 4

  • Total Accidents: 0

  • Number of Days Since Last Accident: 540

  • Shows Consumed: Black Mirror, Lilyhammer, Lie to Me, Justified, Bosch, IT Crowd, The 100, Bloodline, The Shield, Sons of Anarchy, The Office, Orphan Black, Suits, Sense8, Newsroom, Narcos, The Knick, Luther, iZombie, Serhlock, The Wire, Jessica Jones, Man in the High Castle, Daredevil, How to Get Away With Murder, Person of Interest, Better Call Saul

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Monday, January 18, 2016

Weekend Wrap-up

There were no alpine hikes or red carpet parties this weekend, but we still managed to get away. On Saturday, we headed down to Fredericksburg to have lunch with the two Catherine Hickses (elder and junior). We ate at Capital Ale House, a Virginia-only chain that extended for an entire city block with a very narrow storefront, ensuring that their waiters would beat Mike Catania in any Fitbit challenge while walking from the kitchen in the back.

In the evening, we drove on to Colonial Beach. We arrived at the dregs end of a 1-year-old's birthday party and spent the evening with the Ahlbins and Spellerbergs. They had just received a new party game from Vu, Game for Fame, which was pretty fun and required Rebecca to gargle Christmas tunes like a drunk dove.

On Sunday morning, we had breakfast while enjoying the snow falling on the Potomac and then headed out. We stopped in Port Royal to catch a sermon by Catherine Hicks at a little Episcopal church barely large enough for one of my Halloween parties, and then had a surprisingly traffic-light trip back up I-95. Lunch consisted of hot Wawa sandwiches and a pint of pesto spilled down the front of Rebecca's jacket while she tried to drive one-handed.

We made grilled glazed salmon for dinner and watched about a half hour of the Democratic debate, during which it seemed that O'Malley had gotten more polite, Clinton had gotten more overconfident, and Sanders had gotten less angry since their previous outing.

Today is Martin Luther King Day, so I'll be in the office a bit in the morning catching up on work without distractions and then working from home for the rest of the day.

How was your weekend?

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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

List Day: 5 Exciting and Not-So-Exciting Technologies

  • Self-driving Cars: I can't wait until self-driving cars are both affordable and completely autonomous. Extended road trips are the worst part of any vacation, and the trip to Virginia Tech down I-81 is probably much more enjoyable while sleeping (and microsleep doesn't count). I might even go shopping in ridiculously crowded places, because then I can just tell the car to drive around the block for 20 minutes and pick me up later.

  • Hoverboards: Fire hazards aside, the first generation of hoverboards is a huge disappointment, because having wheels involved seems to be directly incompatible with the prefix, "hover". However, a real hoverboard doesn't interest me in the least bit, unless the technology can also levitate high enough to safely cross busy roads without waiting for the walk signal.

  • Teleportation: I don't want to teleport because I could never be sure that the version of me on the other side was actually me and not an exact replica (old movie spoilers!). Just focus on getting me somewhere incredibly fast in my self-driving car instead.

  • Internet of Things: The Internet of Things is stupid and insecure. I don't want my fridge to be able to send email, and Amazon Echo can barely understand me when I ask it to play a song. Wiring everything in your house and dumping it onto an unsecured Internet connection just sounds like a horrible idea all around.

  • Virtual Reality: With the Occulus Rift about to come out, I feel like we're in the exact same place we were in the early nineties, when there were lines around kiosks at Springfield Mall to pay ridiculous prices for the privilege of walking around a monochrome line art world. I'll be excited to try it out, but don't think it's going to be world-changing for quite some time to come. My biggest fear is that game designers will use VR as an excuse to add more jumping platform puzzles to video games, and these are intrinsically awful any time the number of dimensions is greater than 2.

What future technologies excite you?

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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

List Day: This Day in Emails

Nineteen years ago: Catching up with a high school friend in his freshman year at Cornell.

From: Michael S.
Subject: Re: Date: Mon, 20 Jan 1997 21:11:31

Uri,

Look, I'm just sitting here eating my dinner, And as you know that can take awhile, I won't be here forever cause I have a 10:30pm intertube water polo game. Hell Yeah.

Seventeen years ago: Overachieving for marching band.

To: Jay C.
Subject: MV Trumpet Music
Date: Wed, 20 Jan 1999 14:28:25

Jay,

In preparation for next marching season, I have transcribed all three trumpet parts for the entire marching folio into MIDI files for use by incoming freshman. While doing so, I've come across several typos or notes that need clarification. I was wondering if you could answer the few questions below concerning the parts so I can make a note of the correct pitches, etc. Of course, there is plenty of time before next season; so please do not give this a high priority if you are currently busy.

Thirteen years ago: Teaching remedial sightsinging.

To: MUT 1241 ListServ
Subject: MUT 1241: Sightsinging II emails
Date: Mon, 20 Jan 2003 10:47:17 -0500

Hi class,

I have taken the liberty of removing you from the departmental Sightsinging II listserv. If you received an e-mail this morning from Dr. Shaftel discussing alternatives to Practica Musica, this e-mail does NOT apply to our class. If you continue to get e-mails and announcements from a class you're not in, please let me know.

Finally, Theresa and Jimin, you do not see to be registered on the Blackboard site. This is because you do not have a valid garnet e-mail account set up with the university. Please do this soon so you can do all of the fun homework that gets assigned.

Twelve years ago: Arranging for my dad to do a home inspection before placing a contract on a house.

To: Dad
Subject: House Location
Date: Tue, 20 Jan 2004 17:15:54

Get on Rte 28 heading north past the airport. Cross Rte 606 where my job is. The next light is a T-intersection for Sterling Blvd. Turn right onto Sterling Blvd. About two miles up you will hit Beech Rd (no light). Turn right on Beech Rd. On Beech, pass Fillmore Rd and then take the next left onto Lillard Rd. Take the next left into the cul-de-sac at Hanford Ct. The house is vacant, so you can park in the driveway.

Also twelve years ago: Troubleshooting a bug on a dead-end project where updating a file upload occasionally replaced the file with 0 bytes.

From: Mary G
To: Brian Uri!, Tammy H, Joe C
Subject: RE: Overwrite Issue
Date: Tue, 20 Jan 2004 10:56:44 -0500

Odd...I keep getting that overwrite problem. Sorry I wasn't able to try this earlier.

I'm using small text files, and when I add a new entry, I change most of the fields in the submission form, but try to add an existing file. And it keeps giving me that error and creating the 0kb file. Check out "Test 2 01202004" in the "Testing" category for an example.

Six years ago: Doing social things.

Date: Wed, 20 Jan 2010 21:32:25 -0500
From: Kristy and Jack W
Subject: Evite invitation from Kristy and Jack W

You are invited to "Super Bowl Party" by Kristy and Jack W

One year ago: Doing more social things.

From: Brian C
Subject: Super Bowl
Date: Tue, 20 Jan 2015 21:49:35 -0500

Wanted to invite everyone over to watch the Super Bowl on Sunday February 1. Game starts at 6:30 but feel free to come around six or a little earlier. Not a huge party just a few couples but we'll have good food. Must root for team handsome aka Tom Brady's team. Let us know!

Sent from my iPhone

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Thursday, January 21, 2016

Review Day: Fallout 4

Fallout 4 is a highly entertaining game that provides a massive amount of addicting content held back by a frustrating user interface. It takes the emergent gameplay and open world engine of Skyrim (in which I invested over 300 hours and multiple playthroughs before it finally got tiresome) and pairs it with the responsive first-person shooter action and loot gathering of Borderlands 2 (over 100 hours), resulting in a satisfying exploration of what Boston might look like after nuclear war.

The appeal of "open world" games is that you can go anywhere and do anything without being constrained to an on-the-rails main storyline. And in fact, I've barely made any progress in the main story, opting instead to strike out in a random direction and take in the abundance of sidequests and self-contained mini-stories. There's never a lack of things to do, from questing, to exploring just for the heck of it, to building your own settlements in a lightweight SimCity-ish minigame.

Graphics are evocative, and the music is brooding and effective (though sometimes it sounds a little too much like Skyrim). The game captures suspense and creepiness quite well, especially when you're exploring an abandoned building and get overrun by (surprisingly nimble) ghouls. For players without great reflexes, the game's "VATS" system allows you to greatly slow down time during combat, almost to the point where it's turn-based. This system works to make combat a little more strategic, and I employ both real-time and VATS as I play.

There are a few minor issues. Load times are on the long side, but that's a given for any game in this age. One of the main voice actors (for the Preston Garvey character) is incredibly bad and phones in his (numerous) lines like he's a seventh grader in a class readthrough of a Shakespeare play. However, the biggest flaw in the game is the inconsistent and poorly-explained UI, which suffers from being a console port and having too many tacked on systems. Players seem to be in universal agreement that the UI is awful, and the context-sensitive overloading of certain keys will ensure that you spend a lot of time accidentally opening menus or cancelling actions.

There are also many features that just aren't properly explained, like the fact that you have a built-in flashlight that turns on by holding down the Tab key, or how to get the most out of the settlement building UI. The latter makes the system feel tacked on -- I enjoyed building settlements as a diversion but never felt like I could manage them properly. Late game, none of the settlements can take care of themselves without your intervention, so I ultimately scrapped them all and killed all the settlers so they would stop complaining about a lack of beds.

The exploration side of the game is definitely worth it if you can face the moderate learning curve of the interface (and many "Tips" articles on the web will fill in the gaps nicely). This is a game with tons of replayability (as a serial restarter, I've already theorycrafted, started, and abandoned three different characters). The game is at its best when you're traveling and randomly discover a hidden cave or a scripted event, so it's good to minimize your use of the "Fast Travel" option, which allows you to jump to previously visited sites immediately. I try to stick to self-made rules where I just fast travel to and from my own settlements, which helps immensely with immersion.

Final Grade: B in its current state, A- in a few months once mods and patches correct the worst flaws in the UI

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Friday, January 22, 2016

Data Day: 7 Years of Monthly Finances

  • The chart does not include the billions that Rebecca makes as a Physical Therapist Assistant, nor the trillions she spends on yoga and yogurt pops.
  • Of the money I've taken home over the past 7 years, 40% has gone into savings, 20% has gone towards the fixed mortgage (which now has about 5 - 7 years left on it), and 40% has been spent on bills, taxes, Netflix, and computer games.
  • Come year's end, there has never been a year where I spent more than I took home.
  • Although my salary has gone up every year, take-home pay just barely has a positive slope, thanks to those wonderful tax bracket thresholds.
  • Data is fun!

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Monday, January 25, 2016

Weekend Wrap-up

With plenty of advance warning, we lived through the most recent blizzard (dubbed with the awful name, Snowzilla, which sounds like a white theme for Firefox) in relative luxury. On Friday, I worked from home on proposal stuff while Rebecca went to work on a pre-determined half day with a company party at Texas de Brazil at midday. Snow was already coming down by 2 PM here, and I had a big pot of 3-bean chili going in the slow cooker for dinner. We watched Empire Strikes Back and then devoured our chili.

On Saturday we did a preemptive shoveling attempt, but it had minimal effect. The picture above was taking around 3 PM, just before the storm amped up yet again to drop another foot. Saturday dinner was more chili, a giant batch of chocolate-walnut cookies we had baked, and the movie, The Martian which didn't suck.

By Sunday morning, we had gotten up to about 29 inches. We, and the rest of our neighborhood, dug out in the morning, although a portion of the cross street that we use to exit the court had been designated as a dumping ground for snow from the main road. We haven't seen a plow yet, although a neighbor further down the court did an obligatory drive through that barely helped. We chatted with our neighbors (annual effort) and learned that the house two doors down from us had become an addiction halfway house several months back, which is why we see an ambulance there every other week.

In the evening, we went for a walk around the neighborhood. Main streets within a quarter mile looked somewhat good, but getting there would be a huge problem. Luckily, Rebecca's job cancelled today, and my own can be done from anywhere with Wi-Fi (thanks, technology career!) We finished the night off with buffalo-infused meatballs, and Everest, which also did not suck.

Are you alive?

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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Game Day: 10 Beginner Tips for Fallout 4

  1. Hold down TAB to turn on a flashlight. It's the color of your PIP-Boy text, so make your PIP-Boy bright white in the settings to get the brightest flashlight.

  2. I only have 4 must-have game mods right now: Better Item Sorting and Better Weapon / Armor Sorting (which add some prefix / suffix logic to the atrocious inventory pages), Better Map with Visible Roads (to increase the overland map usefulness from 20% to about 24%), and No Dot Dot Dot (which stops truncating item names in the UI and shrinks the font so you can see the whole name at once). I use the Nexus Mod Manager (also used in Skyrim) to download and keep them updated.

  3. If you need a scrap component to craft something, you can use the "Tag for Search" feature. This will make a little magnifying glass icon appear next to anything in the world with that component. I tend to keep copper, oil, screws, gears, and circuitry tagged all of the time.

  4. Tapping your action key will skip through the long typing introduction on Hacking terminals.

  5. When trying to get walls and floors to line up in Settlement Building mode, scrolling the mouse wheel will move the item further or closer to you.

  6. You can equip your followers and settlers with items by trading with them. An extra option will appear for equipping vs. just carrying.

  7. The Armorer and Gun Nut perks aren't critical, even if you want to improve your gear. Instead, find armor in the wild that has the right mods and remove them at your Workshop. Then, you can re-attach them to your own gear without needing the perks.

  8. The Local Leader perk is really only worth it if you are obsessed with settlement building. If you don't mind having just one settlement, put those extra Charisma points elsewhere -- settlements are fun but get tedious within the limitations of the system, and the game's dialogue options aren't good enough to warrant a high Charisma value.

  9. Here is a printable checklist of collectible magazines and bobbleheads I modified from other Internet sources to eliminate spoilers. While I don't actively use it to seek out collectibles, I do like to double-check the list after I've cleared a location to make sure I don't have to come back later. Some items require progress in main story quests, so if you haven't found the items yet, check if there's a non-functioning elevator or door that suggests that you need to return later during a quest.

  10. Here is my current build, set up for a more shoot-y experience. I travel without companions, sneak around sniping things with a legendary hunting rifle that has a fast reload rate, and then use my plasma-infused 10mm with VATS for up-close combat.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Time-lapsed Blogography Day: 20 Years Ago

Twenty years ago today, on January 27, 1996, I was down at Virginia Tech for my music major audition. Here's my journal entry from that date:

Today was the Tech audition. We got there at about 11:30 and walked around for a while. At about 1, two students took us on a tour of the music facility (myself and some piano girl). I think the audition went well. I played Concert Etude and the first part of Slavische Fantasie before 9 music faculty. Then they interviewed me about my compositions and various other musical topics. At the end, the trumpet guy took me to his office and interviewed me some more. I like the music program and I think the faculty was impressed with me but I don't think I'll end up going there.

The reason I didn't think I'd end up going there was the fact that it was such a long drive from home (in spite of the fact that my dad always insisted on doing the round-trip in a day to save on motel costs). Traveling to Tech from northern Virginia is like reaching into Mary Poppins' bag and finding more highways. At the time of writing, my plan was to go to William and Mary, a school that was just slightly closer, but ultimately turned out to have neither one of the programs I was interested in in any worthwhile capacity. Looking back, it turned out to be a good choice to end up at Tech taking lessons with "the trumpet guy".

Right around this time, as the snows were melting, my dad took this picture of me, for submission to the "New Students" yearbook of incoming freshman at various schools. I wore the anorak solely to look 100% more sporty than I actually was. Of course, the Tech yearbook cropped it so tightly that the black and white result just made me look like I worked on a race car pit crew.

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Thursday, January 28, 2016

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

Zoom Cable Model Model 5370:
I picked up this modem after getting tired of Comcast bugging me about upgrading my "old" modem from less than 5 years ago. Instructions are clear and easy-to-follow, and the best part is that I didn't have to contact Comcast to get it registered on their network. Afterwards, my download speed consistently jumped from 25 to 28 MBps and my upload speed remained the same. Unfortunately, this didn't help in the blizzard when everyone in the neighbourhood was watching Netflix.

Final Grade: B+

Run, Season One:
This is a very well-acted but unrelentingly grim British show about people living in council estates. There are only four episodes, and all the stories are minimally tied together like a subdued version of Crash. It's a short commitment, but probably not worth watching unless you want to see some good performances and feel depressed about life. Free on Netflix.

Final Grade: B-

Werewolves and Lollipops by Patton Oswalt:
This older standup routine accompanied us on our Fredericksburg trip a couple weeks ago. It's sporadically laugh-worthy but mostly chuckles, and is probably better with video involved. We enjoyed his bit about growing up in Sterling, VA.

Final Grade: B-

The Martian (PG-13):
This isolation-driven movie about being stranded on Mars is better than Castaway and Gravity combined, probably because there are other characters to play off of, and the tone is allowed to remain light-hearted for the most part. Even Rebecca liked it (she fell asleep in the other two movies).

Final Grade: B+

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Friday, January 29, 2016

End-of-the-Month Highlights Day

New photos have been added to the Life, 2016 album.

  • Events
    • Rang in the New Year with a Yoga Friends party, followed by a weekend away in Sperryville on F 1/1.

    • Went clubbing in DC, solely for a company party, on S 1/9. Spent the night in a posh hotel.

    • Met up with friends in Fredericksburg and Colonial Beach on S 1/16.

    • Snowbound in the big blizzard, F 1/22 - W 1/27.

    • Planning to have delayed Christmas with my parents on S 1/30.

  • Projects
    • Worked on the first proposal effort of 2016.

    • Did lots of snow shoveling.

    • Continued updating the Paravia Wiki on a regular basis.

  • Consumerism
    • Bought a new, expensive suit for suit-y occasions.

    • Bought a new camera (Canon Powershot SX270) to replace the potato camera.

    • Finally upgraded to a smartphone (Samsung Galaxy S5) from my slide-out keyboard phone. Yes, I upgraded from a 2010 model to a 2014 model in 2016.

    • Not much in the way of amazing TV or music this month.

    • Played lots of Fallout 4.

January's Final Grade: B+, a relatively empty month punctuated by loud, flashy events and a nice blizzard.

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