Welcome to May, the month where Facebook feeds are overrun with overused memes telling you what day of the month it is!
This weekend was an indoors weekend due to the continuous rain. On Friday evening, I ate Domino's Pizza and watched V for Vendetta while Rebecca spent the day with the visiting Emily Gillis. On Saturday afternoon, I went over to a work-friend's place for some board games and homemade mac and cheese, followed up with Wegmans sushi and Spotlight with Rebecca.
I spent Sunday morning working on Sparkour. For dinner, we tried a brand new Mexican restaurant, Chuy's, just up Route 7. I don't know how it managed to fill up so quickly or how it expects to survive with three other Mexican restaurants in a 1 mile radius, but our first meal was promising and we'll definitely go back.
How was your weekend?
To note the passing of 15 years since my undergraduate composition recital last week, I put together these two videos of performances synced up with their sheet music.
Some of the notation might be a little off, as I'm now several hundred versions of Finale behind, and I find it amazing that these old files even open anymore, much less render properly.
This picture was taken back in 1980.
The setting is our backyard, and the fact that I was brought out in a stroller suggests that I was still at the age where I was unable to do a single thing on my own, and could just sit there like a lichen or Kuato from Total Recall.
My sister has on a jumper with the positive motto, "Girls Can Do Anything!", while my mom is wearing the Romanian flag, but with pizza toppings as the official seal.
There are no major spoilers in these reviews.
This is one of those movies that I will not even remember having watched in about six months. Harrison Ford stars as the network security manager at a bank, in the crosshairs of a team of thieves who want to steal money. The soundtrack is noticeably awful, and Harrison Ford puts on a strong game face in spite of the fact that the role was written for someone twenty years younger. Also, there were no firewalls playing a role in the plot, so the title is rather nonsensical. Free on Netflix.
Final Grade: C-
The Secret Service by The Hoosiers:
The latest album from The Hoosiers falls somewhere between Bumpy Ride / Illusion of Safety and News from Nowhere on the bombastic energy scale. It has better beats than News, and seems more exciting, although there are no stand out single tracks. This will probably be an album that grows on me over time, not unlike this mushroom on my ankle.
Final Grade: B
This movie about investigative newspaper reporters and the Catholic Church child abuse scandal is a very slow build. The first forty minutes are almost too slow, but you'll be heavily invested by the end. The characters and even the scandal itself are secondary to the process of investigating. It's well-made but you need to be in the mood for a picture with heavy talking and too many old white guys that look similar (Rebecca's words, not mine).
Final Grade: B-
V for Vendetta (R):
I watched this movie because Rebecca was out of the house and it seemed like one she wouldn't be interested in. It's set in a near future dystopia and is full of big ideas, but doesn't really add up to much in the end. Free on Netflix.
Final Grade: C+
My car turned 4 years old on Wednesday (counting from the day I purchased it in 2012, because no one cares about the car's life before I was its master).
Much to the disappointment of insurance companies everywhere, it's only been driven about 6500 miles per year. This is thanks to my 7 mile one-way commute to work, a healthy amount of telecommuting, and the fact that most of my adventures occur inside my house.
In those four years, the car has driven to Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, North Carolina, and DC. It has never had an accident or a broken part, although the gas release latch doesn't pop open when the temperature falls below about 20 degrees. It has two small thumb-sized dents, possibly from heavy birds that fell asleep in the sky.
Likes and Dislikes
What are you driving these days?
This was another quiet weekend, most of which I spent working on open-source stuff and playing Overwatch while waiting for the rain to stop.
Once the sun finally came out, we went on a domestic errand spree, buying chairs for our newly expanded front porch, planting tomatoes in our side garden, and touring the apocalypse that was the going-out-of-business Sports Authority on Route 7, where merchandise was strewn across the floors like any given Walmart, and you could "fill a shopping cart with hangers and buy them for $25 (cart not included)". We also skipped the fitting room, which we could have bought for a cool $750.
In the evening, we had dinner at Mellow Mushroom and then started planning our summer vacation.
How was your weekend?
It's time for another Questions Day as I'm back in proposal writing season again and didn't have time to come up with original content. Want to get a second opinion on something? Ask anything you want, be it about myself, chickens, politics, or something you don't understand. Need some recommendations? I'll answer all of your questions next Tuesday!
This is a picture of me at the age of 12 back in 1992.
In the days before digital cameras, my dad had a dark room where he developed his own film. As a result, us kids spent countless hours standing in various light situations and holding these grey palettes for dark room calibration. This was also back when we owned a rusty shed with classy fake 3D effects, which was replaced within the next two years by a homemade shed identical to the one in my current back yard.
Here are some mildly interesting statistics about gasoline, drawn from the 90 times I've filled up my gas tank since I purchased my car in May 2012.
The average gas mileage for my 2012 Honda Accord is 21.71 MPG. The worst was 15.87 (during the winter) and the best was 30.1 (on a trip to Blacksburg for the MV Practice Field opening). Honda advertises 20 city / 30 highway for this model so I'm normal.
The price of gas has ranged from $1.80/gallon to $3.87/gallon with the average at $3.11.
I generally go 285 miles or 16 days between fill-ups. Once, I made it 39 whole days without filling up, but that's because we were in Canada and then we drove Rebecca's car to the beach for another week with the Smiths.
The most I've ever spent on gas in a single fill-up was $65.40. The most gas I've ever purchased at once was 17.0 gallons.
Data is fun!
On Friday, I capped off a long week of proposals with the impulse-purchase of the new DOOM reboot. I didn't get too far into it, but the early parts seemed pretty fun if not amazing. In the evening, we went to O'Faolains for dinner -- our go-to place for nice outdoor eating ambiance at the expense of any exciting food or drink choices.
On Saturday, we met up with Catherine the elder for lunch in Fredericksburg (at the Virginia Deli) and then arrived at Anna's new house just in time for a round of thunderstorms. Luckily, they ended quickly so Rebecca could flex her skills at "bucket ball". We spent the night in Anna & Ben's new guest room, sharing the bed with Sydney the cat.
On Sunday, we picked up my mom for a belated birthday brunch at Clydes in Alexandria. The food was good but the waitress decided to stop visiting our table for about 20 minutes at the end, similar to our service experience at Clydes in Tysons. Afterwards, we waded through traffic to get home, where we relaxed and got ready for the week to come.
How was your weekend?
The sequel to Questions Day
"Are you deliberately posting more cat photos to Facebook? If so, is it because you're sad about Sydney's departure? " - Mike, Mango, and Ghost Chompy
It's not intentional. I've just discovered this cutting edge app called Instagram that's going to be the next big thing and I want to make sure I'm there on the upsurge. I think you should post more pictures of Mango to counterbalance the excess of cats.
"who do you think you are?" - Doobie
Depending on which band you ask and during which era, I'm either some kind of superstar (Spice Girls, 1997), I am the one that you've been waiting for (Tower of Power, 1991), or I'm running around leaving scars (Christina Perri, 2011).
"What is the relationship among you, chickens, and politics? Or to express it more accurately, the relationship between you and chickens, you and politics, and chickens and politics?" - Mom
"What are the specs on your PC, and how well does Doom run? I'm hearing certain good things about it, but unfortunately I don't think my system could handle it." - Evil Mike
I'm running Win 10 on i7 870, 8 GB RAM with an NVIDIA GTX 960. DOOM is incredibly optimized and holds steady on Ultra quality at 60fps. I've never had the framerate drop at all, which is even more impressive since you never stop sprinting in this game.
Overwatch is less optimized but still reasonable. I get 70fps at High and 48fps at Ultra. I prefer playing at High anyways because it makes it easier to see important things and not be distracted by chrome and shadows.
This picture was taken 18 years ago on May 17, 1998.
It was graduation day on the campus of UVa, and my sister was matriculating with a high quality bachelor's degree. My uncle and grandfather came down for the ceremony as well, and we all (except my sister) piled into the Dodge Spirit to make the cramped trip down to Charlottesville for the day, where we heard a forgettable commencement speech by former Governor and brief Republican presidential candidate, Jim Gilmore.
I even dressed up -- my shirt had a collar.
There are no major spoilers in these reviews.
Fresh Meat, Season One:
This show feels like a British version of Undeclared, and focuses on misfit freshmen sharing a house together at university. The characters never deepen much beyond surface appearances, and a couple early episodes (8 total) are weak, but it's a light, pleasant show that doesn't need much of a time investment. Free on Netflix.
Final Grade: B
House of Cards, Season Four:
I felt like this season's plot was much more focused, with many threads from earlier seasons finally starting to tie together. Unfortunately, binge-style TV means that I've forgotten most of the deep details from the early seasons so I had to look up a lot of references and names as I watched. In order from best to worst season: 1, 4, 3, 2. However, I also think that no episode was ever as good as that first David Fincher-directed pilot. Free on Netflix.
Final Grade: B
Life Lessons by Just Jack:
Just Jack has been quiet for several years but just released this EP for $3.99 on Amazon and iTunes. It focuses more on warm pads and introspective lyrics rather than the heavy sampling and rapping from his full-length albums.
Final Grade: B+
HyperX Cloud Gaming Headset:
I finally bought a gaming headset for use with Overwatch (which comes out for real next Monday night) because there's never really a time to communicate by chat in the game unless you're already dead. I've actually only used the mic a couple times but had no problems. Setup is straightforward, as there's no drivers to worry about, and the ear pieces are very comfortable, if a bit warm. Sound quality is clear, and with the Dolby software enhancements offered in some games, emulating 3D actually works quite well. Then again, I down-convert all of my MP3s to 128kb to save space, so I'm probably not the best opinion to listen to on sound quality.
Final Grade: B+
Blizzard's latest game, Overwatch, has its global release on Monday night, May 23 on PC, PS4, and XBone. I normally don't jump on the hype bandwagon for new games (the last game I preordered may have been the highly disappointing Ultima IX in 1999), but the hundred hours I spent playing the beta has convinced me that this is going to be a huge hit. Besides the obvious care, charm, and polish baked into the package, the game features the same addictiveness and accessibility that made World of Warcraft intriguing to gamers who wouldn't normally be interested in the genre.
Overwatch aims to do the same for first-person team shooters, where you compete in teams of 6 to accomplish different objectives. While kills and reflexes are important, coordinated teamwork is a must, and there are roles that even people with the aiming skills of North Korea can perform to help their team succeed. The heroes fall into the traditional MMO categories (tanks, damage dealers, and healers) and all 21 are varied enough to lead to unexpectedly satisfying team compositions.
You might enjoy the animated shorts that Blizzard has released to develop the lore behind the game (although the story is more for flavor than an essential part of the game). Even if you're not a gamer, you'll appreciate their high quality production:
Matches take place on well-designed maps in scenic global locales and consist of three game modes: Defenders try to prevent Attackers from capturing a control zone, both teams try to claim the same control zone (King of the Hill), or Defenders try prevent Attackers from escorting a payload to a final destination. Some maps feature a mix of these objectives. Objectives take precedence over deathmatch kills, and it doesn't matter if you've killed 20 enemies if you end up losing control of a capture zone.
Besides running, jumping, and crouching in a 3D world, each hero has a very constrained skillset, generally consisting of a primary shooting ability, a secondary shooting mode, two support skills, and an "ultimate" ability that can only be used after you've charged it up over time (not unlike heroes in Warcraft 3). This makes it easier to try out and enjoy different heroes without having to master tons of key bindings. The tutorial hero, Soldier: 76, is the most traditional hero, and a good starting point if you ever played DOOM or Team Fortress as a wee youth with a 9600 baud modem.
The game comes with a basic tutorial and then drops you straight into the action. You can opt to play against the computer to get comfortable, but this gets boring pretty quickly. I was surprised by how much more interesting the game got simply by adding unpredictable real players to the mix. Games against real people are overwhelmingly chaotic when you first start -- you will die a million times and have no idea what all of the heroes are doing to you, but you'll enjoy every second of it. The art style, sound design, and animations all blend into a giant interactive Looney Tunes cartoon.
If you're interested in playing Overwatch, you should take a look at Overwatch: A Complete Beginner's Guide. Here are a few quick tips for your first games:
Next Tuesday in Part II, I'll give a brief overview of the 21 heroes and provide some suggestions on the easiest heroes to get started with!
This weekend, with its inescapable chilly rain, was very low-key. I had Friday off to burn some overtime hours and did some home tasks like replacing the filters in the water faucets and cleaning the house. In the evening, we had grilled glazed salmon and salads on the back porch, ekeing out the final hours of sunlight with a glass of Devil's Backbone Catty Wompus.
Saturday was an indoors day. I played some DOOM (review on Thursday), watched the great series, Humans with Rebecca, and worked a little on Sparkour. It was more of the same on Sunday. We had chicken sandwiches at The V for dinner, which was selected as a study in trade-offs -- the somewhat boring menu against the proximity of the restaurant to our house.
How was your weekend?
There are many resources available for mastering individual heroes (like the Cynical Nerds Youtube series or Furious Paul's Overwatch Strategy Guide). Instead of retreading the same ground, I'm going to approach Overwatch's 21 heroes from the perspective of how easy each one is to master. Every hero is fairly easy to pick up and use, but some heroes are more tricky to play in a way that will help your team win a match.
Starter Heroes: These heroes have straightforward, understandable skillsets and roles, and it is very easy to make a difference in a game with them.
Intermediate Heroes: These heroes are simple to play, but require a little extra spatial awareness and focus to support game objectives. Try them out once you're comfortable with the general flow of the game.
On Friday, I'll cover the other 9 heroes, which are a little trickier to play than these.
This picture was taken 23 years ago, on June 11, 1993.
I'm standing with Alexandria Councilman, Bill Cleveland, who gave me an Alexandria city flag during my Eagle Scout ceremony. I have never again removed the flag from its box in the basement, but it will be on the main mast of my future pirate ship, just below the skull and crossbones.
There are no major spoilers in these reviews.
The latest iteration of DOOM is a solid first-person shooter with a high nostalgia quotient, marred by a few too many distractions and minor bugs. It immediately loses an eighth for reusing the title of the original to drive home the fact that it's a reboot, making it difficult to search for walkthroughs and tips online without getting diverted to twenty years of established wikis and articles.
I was never a fan of the direction that shooters evolved in the Half-Life years. Everyone was gushing about how interesting the story was in a boring ten-minute unskippable tram ride and all I wanted to do was kill things and find keycards to unlock doors hiding more things to kill. This iteration of DOOM gives me exactly what I want. The story is little more than a framework to hang the levels off of, and there is no need to pay attention to any of the (short but still irritating) unskippable cutscenes.
The graphics look great, albeit very monochromatic and Quake-like. I'm presuming that the art designer is colour-blind like me because there's no reason why there should be so many browns in any colour palette. The framerate never dropped once from 60 FPS in my playthrough on Ultra quality settings and I don't have the latest and greatest gaming machine (an i7 from 2011 and a GTX 960). This is also the first 3D game I've played where I found the overhead map to be usable and useful (unlike Skyrim, where it always looked like I was exploring a lichen).
The core gameplay is fast, frenetic, and draws inspiration directly from DOOM 1 and 2 while avoiding the weak horror story aspects of DOOM 3. This is not a game that can be played carefully and conservatively -- every single battle has you sprinting around small monster arenas with no safe places to regroup, and it's during these ridiculous battles that the game is at its best.
The main problem is that there are too many extra features that slow down this frenetic pace, to the point where you're spending just as much time on a loading screen or wading through menus of far too many weapon and armor upgrades, along with the usual assortment of collectibles that plague every modern game. Loading screens are especially noticeable on the bonus "Rune Trials" where you must accomplish challenges with low health and each failure requires a complete reload of the level.
The upgrades are interesting enough although they come at you too rapidly for you to really care about any single mod. Once I had upgraded my Combat Shotgun with an explosive mod, I really just got the rest of the mods so the game would stop reminding me that I had unspent points. There are also a massive number of death animations, but these "Glory Kills" got tiresome after a while and felt a bit too much like Quick Time Events.
The prime slow down is the exploration aspect -- for people that care about finding all of the secrets, you'll spend a lot of time not in battles, and the game gets noticeably less interesting. As a completionist gamer, I kept getting pulled out of my fighting rhythm to hunt for secret rooms. The fact that most maps have certain one-way passages preventing you from backtracking means that you either need to find all the secrets as you fight, or spend a lot of time replaying levels just to check all the boxes. Jumping and double-jumping also feel a bit loose (the polar opposite of the new Tomb Raider series), and I probably had as many deaths (and subsequent loading screens) from exploring as I did killing demons.
There are a few annoying bugs related to the menu UIs, and the occasional crash-to-desktop issue that's really grating since the game is on a checkpoint-save system. Usually, I didn't feel the urge to wait through loading screens and replay my past progress after a crash, and just stopped playing for a while. Sometimes it's difficult to tell when your shots are actually hitting an enemy, especially if you're firing something other than bullets and the enemy is in the midst of a jumping animation.
The bottom line? This game hits the the nostalgia mark perfectly if you grew up with DOOM 1 / 2, and you'll get the most out of it if you just fight through without stressing the exploration / upgrade aspects. I got a solid 12 hours of play time out of it and would definitely recommend it at a bargain bin price. $60 is way too high, but $20 - $40 seems just about right.
(I didn't play the multiplayer aspect because Overwatch just came out and its objective-based gameplay is much more fun than a traditional deathmatch).
Final Grade: B-
Tricky Heroes: These are intermediate heroes with slightly more complicated skillsets that take a little practice to use effectively.
Advanced Heroes: These heroes (in my opinion) have the widest variability in effectiveness, depending on how good you are with them. An expert who can juggle their skills and understand how to apply them towards game objectives is deadly, but in a beginner's hands, your team might as well be down by 1 team member.
A few new photos have been added to the Life, 2016 album.
May's Final Grade: B-, Rainy with proposal work and no major highlights.
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