04/2016

Friday, April 01, 2016

April Fool's Day

I'm busy traveling around the world today convincing foreigners that I have a pregnant identical twin. Blog updates will resume on Monday.

Happy 16th birthday to Augmented Fourth and 6th birthday to DDMSence!

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Monday, April 04, 2016

Weekend Wrap-up

This weekend, we drove up to Pittsburgh, the city of bridges, that functioned as a nice halfway point between us and our Columbus friends, Elisa and Sayak. Pittsburgh is the same distance away as Blacksburg, but infinitely more interesting of a drive.

We stayed at the Priory Hotel, a well-run, pleasant location with a free continental breakfast full of European-style cold meats. The staff was personable and the location convenient, although the immediate vicinity was a little run-down (we were across from a "Giant Eagle" grocery store and a row of abandoned stoops.

After arriving in town on Friday morning, we had lunch at the Modern Cafe and then took a tour of the National Aviary, where a bird ate a grub out of my hand. We then hit the half-priced Andy Warhol museum and had dinner at the Proper Taproom, where we had pizza and a flight of top-notch Pennsylvania beers.

On Saturday, we took a ride up the Duquesne Incline which offered a great view of the city but not much else (allot 15 minutes for it, and not the 3 hours we pre-paid for parking). The weather held stable as we walked the Strip District and ate sandwiches with embedded fries at Primanti Bros, but it got progressively colder and windier as the day went on. After a walk along the Allegheny River, we drove to Church Brew Works for the novelty of tasting beers in a former church. The beers were schizophrenic and forgettable, but the ambience was very cool.

It started raining shortly after, so we spent the evening back at the hotel with delivery food and the World Figure Skating Championship, which (to my untrained observation) just seemed like a bunch of unhappy skaters always about to fall over in time to butchered arrangements of classical music.

We arrived back home around 3 PM to a fecal funhouse. The lesson learned here is that it's okay to leave 2 cats at home for two nights, but with 3, you should probably get someone to stop by and change the litter box.

How was your weekend?

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Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Stuff in My Drawers Day

Sixteen years ago today was the Spring Concert of the VT Symphony Band, the second-tier band of musicians who liked playing music but didn't necessarily care enough to compete for FIRST CHAIR or practice more than an hour a day (if that).

This set list was completely unmemorable other than the fact that none of the woodwinds could play any of the runs in the Tschaikowsky, so that piece was fewer HIGHS and more lows.

This was in my fourth year at Tech, so Anna was still majoring in keeping fish alive, and I was still majoring in everything.

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Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Memory Day: Snapshots

This picture was taken 8 years ago today, on April 6, 2008.

As part of our first European tour, we were in Paris and touring the Rodin Museum. We also walked through the smelly, subterranean Sewer Museum earlier in the day, although the Catacombs were closed for repairs. The weather was surprisingly frigid for April, and we even ducked into a McDonald's near the Arc de Triomphe solely to warm up and use the bathroom at the cost of 1 order of small fries. We were also pretty stingy about food in general, so our meals mainly consisted of bread, cheese, fruit, and wine bought a la carte in the various bakeries.

Later in the afternoon, we pondered what sort of vehicle would be powered by Assouline. Probably one with an explosive acceleration.

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Thursday, April 07, 2016

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

Dope (R):
This movie is about a nerdy group of friends obsessed with 90s hip-hop culture who inadvertently get caught up in a drug deal. Hilarity ensues although the movie teeters on the edge of being too serious sometimes. Free on Netflix.

Final Grade: B

Imitation Game (PG-13):
I enjoyed this movie about World War II codebreakers although it wasn't rigorously factual. It does a good job of explaining the encryption problem in simple terms and keeps the plot moving. Benedict Cumberbatch does a good job being an asshole, while Keira Knightley has a mostly empty role designed to keep the movie from being a sausagefest.

Final Grade: B

The Big Short (R):
I didn't care much for this movie, maybe because I watched it too close to Margin Call. The movie is stylish and I understand the framing device of using distracting cinematography to compare to how everyone was distracted when the mortgage crises was actually happening, but no amount of talking down to the audience will ever make the dry details of the underlying scam interesting.

Final Grade: C+

Self-Explanatory by Classified:
This is a fun CD by a Canadian hip-hop artist with 3-4 catchy tunes on it. The album is hindered by the fact that it's supposedly a Choose Your Own Adventure story where you skip to different tracks at certain decision points. However, this just pads out the CD with unnecessary dialogue, and I'll probably never listen to the songs in album order once it's on a USB drive.

Final Grade: B-

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Friday, April 08, 2016

Porch Day

It's time to enlarge the usable space of the front porch to accommodate our ever-expanding girths!

Pictures to follow on Monday!

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Monday, April 11, 2016

Weekend Wrap-up

On Friday, I took the day off from work and my dad and I enlarged the front stoop by 9 square feet. The stoop was always so big, but for some reason, the original porch left dead, unusable space on either end. Now we can put chairs out there and pretend we are urban dwellers with a row house.

We spent Saturday's Polar Vortex inside like this:

On Sunday, which also happened to be my mom's 74th birthday, we hiked around the Bull Run - Occoquan Trail to see the bluebells, which are apparently a big deal down there, judging from the many directional signs and large packs of slow-moving cell phone photographers.

In the evening, Anna came by to collect Sydney to move into their new house in Fredericksburg. Sydney lived in relative luxury here for the past 399 days and now gets to enjoy captivity in a house with 4 small children, 2 ferrets, and 1 other cat. Booty is once again "head cat" in the household.

How was your weekend?

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Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Chad Darnell's 12 of 12

5:55 AM: Showered and ready for work.
6:48 AM: Arriving at my parents' house in the rain.
8:48 AM: Working remotely out of my old dining room before heading to Maryland for a meeting.
10:50 AM: You can tell my commute is short, based on the total mileage I've driven in 4 years.
11:55 AM: Picking up groceries on the way home.
12:00 PM: Fried chicken for lunch.
12:20 PM: Making three-bean chili for dinner.
1:12 PM: Back to work with Queen Booty.
1:56 PM: "Dialing in" to a work meeting.
3:58 PM: Done with work.
5:15 PM: Running on the treadmill and rewatching Breaking Bad.
8:51 PM: Chili for dinner.

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Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Memory Day: Seventeen Years Ago

April 13, 1999 was a Tuesday, which meant that all music majors were in the Recital Salon for a weekly Convocation of required performances. Convo was scheduled conveniently after lunch, so it could double as a siesta if you sat in one of the chairs with a metal rail behind it serving as a headrest. Because every music major had to perform once per semester, there was an established bag of tricks to rely on to minimize the pain of your performance. For example, really artistic pieces with no accompaniment got a lot of playtime because then you wouldn't have to pay a pianist.

The trick I employed in my junior year was to find the absolute shortest song possible that still counted as a serious musical endeavour -- Scherzo for Trumpet and Piano by Ilia E. Shakhov. Coming in at just under two minutes, this piece fulfilled Convocation requirements to the letter of the law, like writing an essay in English that's three pages long, but with 1.01" margins and 1.2 line spacing.

What follows is one of the lowest quality musical performances since the marching band tried to play the finale of Shostakovich's 5th Symphony while running across a football field. This was no surprise -- I knew that I was not good enough to be a performance major and just wanted to get the Convocation over with so I could go back to writing music that no one would ever play.

  • Tolerate the Scherzo (2 MB MP3)

In the aftermath of this revulsion, a couple trumpet players who actually WERE performance majors (on the middling-to-poor scale) discreetly approached me as if I were their pot dealer and asked where they could "buy the sheet music to that really short song".

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Thursday, April 14, 2016

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

Sicario (R):
I really liked the intensity of Denis Villeneuve's last movie, Prisoners, which made me give this one a try. The movie does a great job of building a specific mood of dread and is well acted throughout with good shades of grey in the main characters. The plot and overall resolution is less effectiveness, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

Final Grade: B-

Brothers Grimm by Drapht:
This album from yet another Australian hip-hop artist has a few catchy songs like Jimmy Recard. The problem is that his voice starts to turn into white noise if you listen to more than a couple songs in a row. Better in isolation than as an hour-long playlist.

Final Grade: B-

The Cactus Eaters by Dan White:
Rebecca recommended this book to me because she likes travelogues, depressed middle-aged men with internal monologues, and hiking. I enjoyed the writing style and the descriptions of the Pacific Crest Trail, but often got frustrated by the narrator's penchant for doing stupid things or messing up his relationships.

Final Grade: C+

Bosch, Season Two:
If you liked the first season of this show, you'll like the second as well, as it's cut in the exact same mold. It's generally pleasant, but spends a lot of time on transitional scenes and mundane details that don't do much to further the plot. Not much happens for the first four episodes, but the last six are reasonably compelling. Additionally, the balance between the "case of the season" and the long-term mystery behind the murder of Bosch's mother is handled poorly, and it feels jarring every time the plot changes gears to focus on one or the other. Free on Amazon Prime.

Final Grade: B-

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Friday, April 15, 2016

Accomplishments Day: This Week in Review

  • Mounted a collapsible hanger over the dehumidifier for Rebecca's clothes that are too good for the common dryer.
  • Reported a potential water main break on our street which didn't get checked out for 18 hours, after which they fixed it loudly all night long.

  • Played Overwatch and captured these fun Plays of the Game as Mei:


  • Wrote 2 new Sparkour recipes, one on setting up VPC Endpoints in AWS, and another on using broadcast variables to determine how many Costcos are in each region of the US.

  • Heard from Anna that Sydney is doing well in the new house, although Kitty looks like a POW in this picture:

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Monday, April 18, 2016

Weekend Wrap-up

On Saturday morning, we did an 8 mile hike from Snickers Gap to Tomlin Hill on the Appalachian Trail. Dubbed "the roller coaster" because of its ups and downs, this hike mostly destroyed me. However, the weather was nice and the mountains haven't yet been overrun by poison ivy and view-blocking leafiness.

In the afternoon, we passed through Leesburg to find an unexpected Flower and Garden Festival. We stopped by our favourite Leesburg haunt, Crooked Run Brewery, and then browsed the endless booths selling unnecessary crafts and landscaping services. We had a delicious pizza from Fireworks and then drove home to recover overnight from the crazy hike.

On Sunday, we went over to Rebecca's parents' house for her dad's Retirement / 65th Birthday Party. We reduced the average age of invitees by about 50 and ate plenty of things on skewers.

How was your weekend?

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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Your Day

I normally do all of the talking around here. So, catch me up on your life! What are you doing now that you weren't doing a year ago? Post some pictures of your new kids or pets. Where are you going on vacation this year? What gets you excited these days?

Answer any or all of the above, or just tell me something I didn't already know about you in the comments section so everyone else here can stalk you. This is called "crowdsourcing" in "the biz".

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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Memory Day: Snapshots

This picture was taken 33 years ago, back in 1983. I'm holding a yo-yo -- there always seemed to be at least two on the shelves of our home, but I could never do a single trick with them.

Unbeknownst to most historians and social media analysts, I invented the "duck face" pose.

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Thursday, April 21, 2016

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

Drinking from the Sun / Walking Under Stars Restrung by Hilltop Hoods:
This is a two album collection of Australian hip-hop resampled with orchestral arrangements. There's a wide variety and some are more successful than others. A few don't add anything new, while others introduce unnecessary harmonic changes like a high school composer who doesn't truly understand chord progressions. The good ones, though, give the songs a different perspective and soften the accompaniment enough to let the great lyrics surface a bit better.

Final Grade: B

Love, Season One:
Judd Apatow's latest production is a comedy-drama of broken or horrible people who might end up in a relationship. We only got through about 4 episodes before giving up on it. The plot doesn't move quickly enough to retain interest, and the Apatow formula of witty young people swearing is very tired now. It might have been edgy in 1997 when I was 17, but I've lived through my 20s now and I'm sure that none of my friends, even Kelley, ever swore as much as these people do. Free on Netflix.

Final Grade: Not Graded

Mr. Robot, Season One:
This show featuring an unreliable narrator and hackers started out with great promise, but very quickly turned into a different kind of show with a muddy midsection, not unlike most french horn accompaniments in choral music. It's expertly shot for cinephiles, but goes off the rails with extended dream sequences and erratically driven characters. Don't believe the hype that's it's the next great show -- if you don't like it by episode 4, you won't like it much at all.

Final Grade: C-

Sadnecessary by Milky Chance:
This is an album of German pop songs, some of which are in radio rotation right now. The songs as a collective are pleasant, catchy, and good for background music, but the singers' voices might irritate your auricles almost immediately.

Final Grade: B-

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Friday, April 22, 2016

Overwatch Day

I'm busy working on proposals today, so here are some short movies of my Overwatch Plays of the Game in lieu of a real update.





Also, here's a video on the history of Blizzard's failed game, Titan and how it morphed into Overwatch, which should be interesting to anyone who's played any Blizzard games over the years.

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Monday, April 25, 2016

Weekend Wrap-up

This was a relatively unstructured weekend, mostly spent on writing a proposal response for work and enjoying the final weekend of the closed beta for Overwatch. On Saturday night, we went to Cheng's Oriental Restaurant for the very first time to relive the traditional 80s Chinese dining experience. It's much harder to find good Americanized Chinese food these days as all of the hipsters have pushed the needle towards Thai and Vietnamese food.

On Sunday, we went for a run in Claude Moore which had exploded in green like an accident at the leprechaun factory and saw up to 8 deer at various points on the trail. For dinner, we ate grilled glazed salmon and had a classic rewatching of The Princess Bride, which I hadn't seen in 20 years and which stands up very well to the test of time.

How was your weekend?

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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Sparkour Day

It's now been almost two months since I released Sparkour, the open-source collection of programming recipes for Apache Spark. Unlike DDMSence, which remained a niche oddity for its whole six year lifespan, Sparkour began to get traffic from Google almost immediately. Publishing DDMSence was like cornering the market on ergonomic attachments for a pasta maker -- only 10 people actually own a pasta maker in the world, and only 2 of them care enough about repetitive pasta injuries to buy your product.

There have been 442 unique visits to Sparkour since it was released, from a mix of countries, not all of which you would expect to have a thriving data science scene:

More interesting than the location is the corporation. Besides the usual assortment of universities, I've gotten hits from sources as varied as DuPont, ESPN, NOAA, Capital One, Ancestry.com, and all manner of health insurance companies. All of these companies have too much customer data and need something like Apache Spark to crunch the numbers so they can figure out what you ate for breakfast.

Here are the most popular articles that people read:

As for intrinsic satisfaction, I'm still enjoying the Sparkour experience. Unlike DDMSence, where there was nothing left to implement after a while, I have a nice backlog of potential articles that interest me. It usually takes about 4 hours to experiment with the concepts and write the source code (I start in Python, then convert into R, Scala, and finally, Java) and then another 3 hours to write the recipe prose. All of this costs me $0.12 an hour for servers, which I then shut down afterwards. Any given recipe is a low time commitment and I can release early and often!

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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Memory Day: Snapshots

This picture was taken 20 years ago today, on April 27, 1996.

It was just after a mid-season, untitled crew race on the Occoquan Reservoir. The day started out unfortuitously when the school bus went off the road and skidded into a ditch, stranding us in Lorton long enough to prevent any pre-race practicing. In the lightweight race, we came in second by 7 seconds behind TJ but handily beat Woodbridge, Robinson, and Yorktown.

I haven't talked to any of these clowns in years, with the exception of that brief two-week period around 2007 when everyone was adding everyone else on Facebook to pretend that they still had things in common.

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Thursday, April 28, 2016

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

Lars and the Real Girl (PG-13):
This indie movie about a closed off man who starts a relationship with a blow-up doll had the potential to be very mishandled and shot for easy laughs, but turned out to be pleasant and poignant. It's one of those movies where the ad copy calls it hilarious, but instead it's mostly just charming. Free on Amazon Prime.

Final Grade: B+

Patton Oswalt: Talking for Clapping:
Patton Oswalt's latest comedy special is in the same vein as his previous work -- mainly storytelling through disjointed fragments of thoughts. It's moderately funny but loses momentum once he starts talking about his kids. The kids of stand-up comics are never as interesting as the comic thinks they are. Free on Netflix.

Final Grade: C+

Dreamland, Season Two:
The second season of this Australian "The Office-like" show delivers more laughs, but pretty much covers the exact same ground as before. There's no overarching plot and each episode feels about the same. This is the type of show you'd want to watch an episode of in isolation when you need a laugh, rather than binging. Free on Netflix.

Final Grade: B

Cheng's Oriental Restaurant:
Cheng's in Sterling captures the decline of Americanized Chinese food perfectly, right down to the indoor koi pond with no fish in it. The food was inexpensive and solidly tasty, although Rebecca was disappointed by how much of the menu was deep-fried. All in all, it was a pleasant dining experience. Though the place is not hipster-flashy or a brewery, sometimes you just want to eat some comfortable lo mein while surrounded by old white people.

Final Grade: B

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Friday, April 29, 2016

End-of-the-Month Highlights Day

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

  • Events
    • Spent a weekend in Pittsburgh with Elisa and Sayak, F 4/1 - S 4/3.

    • Had a midweek pizza dinner with the Cranes on W 4/6.

    • Enlarged the front porch with my dad on F 4/8.

    • Hiked the Bull Run Bluebell Loop and returned Sydney back to the Ahlbins to live in their new Fredericksburg home on S 4/10.

    • Reported a water main leak after noticing the street sweating on M 4/11.

    • Rebecca cut back her work hours a little on M 4/11.

    • Hiked the Roller Coaster and died, then and ate pizza on S 4/16.

    • Went to Rebecca's dad's Retirement Party on S 4/17.

    • Had lo mein at Cheng's on S 4/23.

    • Jogged through deer in Claude Moore on S 4/24.

    • Grazed a deer outside the Reston Target on the way to work on T 4/26.

    • Planning to go to a work-friend's game party on S 4/30.

  • Projects
    • Busy at work with 2 simultaneous proposals.

    • Continued work on Sparkour.

  • Consumerism
    • Watching less TV overall. Stalled in House of Cards and catching more quickie comedy entries like Outsourced.

    • No amazing new music this month, although I did just learn that The Hoosiers had a new album released last October.

    • Got to level 138 in Overwatch before the Closed Beta ended, and looking forward to the Open Beta that starts next week.

April's Final Grade: B, Healthy blend of indoor and outdoor activities with warming temperatures, though a little heavy on work.

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