Friday, September 02, 2016

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

Catastrophe, Season Two:
This six episode season feels like a misfire. The frank and humourous dialogue is still there in spades, and the first episodes set up some interesting scenarios to work with, but the season ends abruptly with no resolution. It's like someone gave the writers a "pencils down" timer and they just shot whatever was done. The tone of this season is also slightly meaner than before. Free on Amazon Prime.

Final Grade: C

Fargo, Season Two:
The second season has no misfires, and I only rate it lower than the first season's "A+" out of personal preference between the two. It's hard to find a show that can be both cinematic and literary without pretension, while still sustaining your interest -- when a character here starts reciting Lewis Carroll, I was on the edge of my seat, while Walter White chasing after a fly for 45 minutes just had me rolling my eyes and fast forwarding. One plot point in the final episode stretches a bit too far unnecessarily to tie back to the first season, but it doesn't hurt the self-contained story at all.

Final Grade: A

Dungeons and Dreamers by Brad King and John Borland:
This is a pleasant history of computer games and their evolution out of D&D. It's a bit outdated, having been published just before World of Warcraft became a big deal, but it goes in-depth with some material on Richard Garriott (of Ultima fame) and id (of DOOM fame) that I hadn't already learned in other books. It also covers the sociology of gaming to some extent, as well as the various legal pressures on gaming in the 90s (does anyone remember Jack Thompson anymore?)

Final Grade: B+

MCIRCO 750ml Collapsible Silicone Water Bottle:
This was my go-to water bottle for hiking in Colorado. It's slightly lighter than a bike bottle or hardshell and doesn't leak if tightly screwed in. The novelty here is that you can roll the bottle up when empty, conserving valuable backpack volume, yet the material is also sturdy enough to stand upright on its own regardless of how much water is inside. The only nitpick I have is that the stretchy strap that keeps it rolled up sometimes falls off if allowed to hang -- I ended up taking it off completely and storing it safely until I needed to roll the bottle up again.

Final Grade: A-

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Monday, September 05, 2016

Weekend Wrap-up

In preparation for my new computer (an HP Envy 750se) and hipster standing desk arriving next week, I moved my office back into the blue guest room. This room fits the new arrangement of incoming furniture a bit better without as much wasted space, and I converted the old office into the guest bedroom / winter yoga room.

On Sunday, we played some games of Apotheca (I won two games out of three because I am good at alchemy), then went to a yogi party at Anya's in Leesburg. This segued us nicely into Labor Day, on which nothing exciting happened other than a cookout at the Lowry's house where we ate burgers and played with dogs.

How was your weekend?

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Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Memory Day: 1980

Having spent 1979 in a Korean orphanage, I was finally on my way to the States in January of 1980. Issued a temporary passport which listed my job as "None" (they would never accept a layabout these days) and identified no Visible Peculiarities. My weight was also unlisted, probably because of natural fluctuations -- I had put on a little holiday weight that I had not yet shed.

I was delivered successfully to an airport in New York where my parents had to come collect me (drone-based adoption was not yet invented). Being only three months old, I retain absolutely nothing from my time spent in Korea but have since learned that "an yong" means "hello". Here's a video of me just arrived in my new home while my sister fretted about losing the full attention of the parents.

The rest of 1980 was rather idyllic, with my sister continuing to wave at things while I sat in the background looking like a judgy version of Kuato from Total Recall.

By August, the paperwork had gone through to confirm that I was one of the good Koreans from the South and not a commie terrorist from the North. I was formally adopted by Judge Harriet Mims (who was also the first female judge appointed in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and passed away at 76 in 1991).

My parents gave me a good American name that wouldn't be confused with Korean barbeque and I celebrated my first birthday as a Brian. I remember nothing else from this year, but home videos show that I excelled at climbing up stairs, sat in an elastic swing suspended from a kitchen joist while my dad bounced me several feet into the air, and got a plastic train for Christmas.

Other posts in this series: 1979 | 1980 | 1981 | 1982 | 1983 | 1984 | 1985 | 1986 | 1987 | 1988 | 1989 | 1990 | 1990 - 1991 | 1991 - 1992 | 1992 - 1993

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Friday, September 09, 2016

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

Chaos Monkeys by Antonio Garcia Martinez:
This memoir offers a taste of working at Facebook, but it's much less incendiary and edgy than advertised. The writing style gets tiresome very quickly, and it's highly likely that you will not be interested in half the material presented. The author creates a disjunct hodge-podge of historical references, literary quotes, memoir-style stories, and dry explanations of how things like online advertising and hedge funds work -- just when you start to get interested in something, the book tangents into another area and kills any momentum. By the halfway point, I had gotten tired of the endless edgy analogies and "first writer syndrome" turns of phrases and started skimming to the end. The writer also does not seem to think highly of women, as evinced by his bro-y derogatory prose and the way he relegates every woman in the story except for Sheryl Sandberg to a nameless extra without any redeeming qualities. This would have been better (and 50% shorter) as a series of non-chronological blog posts with all of the fat chopped away.

Final Grade: C-

Modern Family, Season Five:
It took us almost a year to watch this season because we were so tired of Cam. In small doses it hits the spot, but 24 episodes is far too many episodes to be centered around the planning of a gay wedding.

Final Grade: B-

Outsourced, Season One:
This overlooked series is about an American sent overseas to run an Indian call center for his company. Dismissed by people who thought it was just making fun of Indian people, it actually has plenty of harmless laughs. It was cancelled after the first season, but is a pleasant way to wind down at the end of the day.

Final Grade: B

Why Am I So Happy? by Spose:
Spose is a white rapper who comes off as a less serious version of Atmosphere. This album has some nice beats and clever lyrics, like the catchy "Greatest Shit Ever".

Final Grade: B

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Monday, September 12, 2016

Chad Darnell's 12 of 12

5:08 AM: Showered and ready for work.
5:30 AM: The office has not changed.
6:40 AM: Morning over the Reston Town Center.
9:17 AM: Nothing good left in the variety snack pack.
11:48 AM: Safeway run for a successful Burger Night.
12:00 PM: Leftover pizza for lunch.
12:21 PM: Back to work in my new home office.
2:42 PM: Chopping up the detritus of old desks to fit in the trash bin.
3:15 PM: Exercising while watching Broadchurch.
4:30 PM: Taking a cat nap while waiting for the power to come back on. If you squint, Booty is a unicorn.
7:00 PM: Cool weather for grilling.
7:22 PM: 1/3 pound burgers with smoked gouda, portobello caps, and grilled red onions.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Memory Day: 1981

I have always been awful at remembering how old I was in any given year, and have had to rely on a simple number trick: The age at which I started a year ends in the same digit as that year. In the simplest base case, I started 1981 as a 1 year old.

Having been a normal 1 year old (albeit one with no visible peculiarities), I have no recollections of this year in my life and now have to rely on home videos, old documents, and tribal records to piece together my chronology. (I'm 80% certain that this fossil record was put here merely to test my faith, and I sprung fully formed and self-aware from the head of a god somewhere around 1986).

According to available records, I spent most of the year running around the house, the backyard, or the driveway. My photographer dad also instilled strong tradecraft skills at an early age -- whenever a camera appeared, we had to look directly at it and wave. Candid photos do not exist in our family.

Here are a few shots of me demonstrating my prowess at waving. The first was taken in May 1981 June 1982 near Ocean City, on a beach that featured those white and silver clam shells in huge numbers before we killed and ate them all as a society. The second was taken at home in the ground floor bathroom.

Here's a video of me in my high chair, more concerned with magpie tendencies than any waving:

This kitchen still has the exact same layout and accoutrements today, even if the exteriors of the cabinets have been modernized. I did not live in a house with a dishwasher until my college apartment, and even today, I still wash about half of the dishes by hand.

In September, I turned 2 on the exact same day that Rafael Mendez passed away, so there was probably some sort of vampiric lifeforce thing going on. Tragically, I did not acquire his trumpet-playing skills. To celebrate, we had a small party where the only guests were my sister and the blond Fisher twins from next door. The entire video of this event is just ten minutes of four kids waving at the camera, so I opted to omit it -- your imagination will suffice.

This final picture was taken at Christmas time that year, when my dad was the exact same age as I am as I write this. The math is left as an exercise, to reinforce the number trick I taught you at the beginning of the lesson.

Other posts in this series: 1979 | 1980 | 1981 | 1982 | 1983 | 1984 | 1985 | 1986 | 1987 | 1988 | 1989 | 1990 | 1990 - 1991 | 1991 - 1992 | 1992 - 1993

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Thursday, September 15, 2016

Birth Day

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Monday, September 19, 2016

Upgrades Day

There have been plenty of upgrades going on in the past couple of weeks as the stuff in my house (including myself) continues to atrophy over time. For example, the Blue Couch of Amazing Naps is now 12 years old, and the Coffee Table of Grad School Adventures is 15.

The American Dream desk (whose name was coined by Jim Barry because it had all of the space a composer could ever possibly need), constructed on March 19, 2004 and decommissioned on September 1, 2016, grew increasing wobbly as I moved it back and forth between two separate rooms that alternated between being a bedroom and an office. It has been replaced with an Ergo Depot Jarvis standing desk ($650), which has an electric motor that raises and lowers the desk like a hipster transformer, so I can now play Overwatch for hours in a standing position and call it a healthy activity.

To make up for the many cubic feet of storage space the old desk had, I bought the credenza seen underneath the window in the above photo ($250), where I keep office supplies and bags full of extra cables (wrapped neatly in 1996 era bags from the Hokie Bookstore). This credenza also holds the flatbed scanner I use to bring history to life, although the color photo printer has been relegated to the basement crawlspace because I never used it frequently enough to keep the printer heads from clogging.

I also bought an adjustable music keyboard stand ($37) so I can compose while standing or sitting. It had the right price point, but smelled horrible because of cheaply made rubber caps from China. Leaving them outside in the sun for a couple of days got rid of the worst of it, but it initially smelled like I did during crew season when I weighed 100 pounds and tried to fill the coach's launch with gasoline from a 50 pound container and spilled it all over my legs every day.

I replaced my desktop machine with an HP Envy 750se (i7, 16GB RAM, 256GB SSD) ($1000) because my 2011 machine was starting to get unpredictable IRQ blue screen crashes. I still hate Windows 10, but have to admit that it runs much better as a fresh install than as an upgrade from an earlier OS. I kept my Xonar DX sound card and GTX 960 graphics card from the old box.

I also upgraded to Finale 25 ($150) with the whimsical thought that I might do more composing in the future. I last upgraded to Finale 2011 which had enough issues to make composing a "not fun" activity. I haven't used the new version much yet, but am pleased that many of the obvious MIDI problems have gone away in this new 64-bit version. I still need to see if the historical "stuck MIDI note" issue will rear its head once I start using it more intensely.

The fresh install of Windows 10 eliminated the free Windows Movie Maker software I used to use to convert old home videos for your viewing pleasure, so I've finally installed Adobe Premiere Pro (already owned but never used) and started watching tutorial videos which demystify the horribly overarchitected UI that always scared me off in the past. I am now able to crop a movie clip, fade in and out, and add a soundtrack, which is really all anyone ever needs to do.

Finally, I just purchased a Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook ($760) to replace my 2012 HP Folio. I loved the Folio, but it was starting to have graphics issues and random keys would sometimes stop working. If I could just get another Folio for a reasonable price I would have, but the Dell sounds like a decent replacement. It's a classic ultrabook with extended battery power and no touchscreen (does anyone want a touchscreen on their laptop?) In the spirit of hand-me-downs, the Folio will become our foreign travel laptop (devoid of personal or work details to prevent Chinese espionage when we cross the border), and our 2009 Netbook will go into the basement crawlspace where electronics go to die.

These major infrastructure investments will rejuvenate my primary work area in the house, and I'm hoping they lead to new patterns of productivity or creativity in the last months of 2016 which, otherwise, has been pretty placid. The $2847 net price tag is about $2500 more than I would spend in a normal frugal month, so I will have to forgo lunch at Popeyes 496 times to balance out my checkbook.

What are you spending your money on this month?

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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Memory Day: 1982

1982 was another year from which I retain no memories of my own -- the first dribs and drabs of events I still have today don't start until 1983. According to my parents, my sister spent a good chunk of this year sick and in Children's Hospital, so there wasn't much leeway for entertaining me in the nature I had grown accustomed to.

My parents recall that I was good with puzzles very early on, and could even piece together a puzzle flipped upside down so the picture was not visible. This intelligence was also demonstrated in an earlier test at the pediatrician's, where they wanted to see if I could put a raisin in a bottle and just ended up eating the raisin.

After turning 3 in September 1982, my parents toted me along to see the government bureaucrat responsible for slowly processing my naturalization paperwork. According to legend, he had a thick Southern accent and kept reciting my name as "Brianhh" while he leafed through tall stacks of forms. After a minute of this, I piped up from the corner of the room where I was playing to say, "Not Brianhh, Bri-IN. Bee. Are. Eye. IN!" This confirmation that I was a future STEM contributor led to the office finding my paperwork more quickly than expected.

I still retain my naturalization certificate because it functions in place of a birth certificate (I was probably born in Kenya). Every six months when I have to renew my military cards for work, I get to tote the big certificate around to bewildered government employees that don't know what it is and just want to stamp out a new ID card before lunch -- to them, I am an "edge case".

The picture below was taken late in 1982 in our upstairs living room, which mostly sat unused except at Christmas time. We had a fireplace there that we were never allowed to use because of a structural fault in the chimney that apparently sent smoke back into the house. I also continued to wear that sweater with the wildlife on the front well into kindergarten three years later.

Other posts in this series: 1979 | 1980 | 1981 | 1982 | 1983 | 1984 | 1985 | 1986 | 1987 | 1988 | 1989 | 1990 | 1990 - 1991 | 1991 - 1992 | 1992 - 1993

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Friday, September 23, 2016

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

Limitless, Season One:
This short-lived TV series picks up where the "forgettably entertaining" Bradley Cooper movie left off, and even uses him as an occasional guest star. Telling the tale of a burnout who takes a drug that expands his mind's potential and starts solving cases for the FBI, this show maintains a very consistent tone of light comedy that never veers too deeply into melodrama. It's very much a network show so it won't challenge you much, but is a pleasant joyride with a solid, cohesive plot that gradually deepens over the season. The show was cancelled after one season, but the finale has a very good ending that wraps everyone's storyline up nicely. Free on Netflix.

Final Grade: B+

You're Never Weird on the Internet (almost) by Felicia Day:
This is a pleasant, quick read that barely stuck with me at all after I was done. As a memoir, it seems to skip hefty chunks of time, but the tone strikes a good balance between actual content and "being quirky". As a fan of The Guild, I found the sections on World of Warcraft interesting, but someone not familiar with Felicia Day's acting or web shows probably wouldn't get much out of this. I finished it in about a day.

Final Grade: B-

Love Stuff by Elle King:
I bought this album partly because of the single, Exes and Ohs, but mostly because I needed to get my Amazon basket up over $25 to get some much-needed Add-On items shipped. With few expectations, I was surprised by a solid album of southern rock. Her voice occasionally goes into "ugly country" timbre, but the songs are consistently well-written and catchy.

Final Grade: B

IT Crowd, Special:
The Brits love their Christmas specials, and this one provides an epilogue to the series finale from Season Four. As an extended episode, it takes a bit to get going, but eventually reaches the levels of absurd humour seen in the older episodes. Definitely watch if you're a fan of the show. Free on Netflix.

Final Grade: B

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Monday, September 26, 2016

List Day: 10 Facets of My Voting Bloc

  1. I am solidly upper middle class in a double-income no-kids household. I have no debts, other than a small mortgage that will be paid off in the next five years.

  2. I have two bachelor's and a master's degree (unless they took it away because I never use it).

  3. I work as a government contractor in software engineering. While my immediate job is dependent on government spending, my career as a whole is not.

  4. I like to believe I make decisions grounded in science and fact rather than emotion.

  5. I have historically voted for Democratic Presidential candidates but do not vote blindly along party lines. I think John McCain probably would have been just fine as President.

  6. I am not a fan of big government and am aware of how much waste it entails. However, I also recognize that our country is too large and diverse (geographically, demographically, and population-wise) to operate successfully anymore with a much smaller government.

  7. I have no problem paying higher taxes to support infrastructure and social services, even if I don't directly benefit from these services.

  8. I am a moral, if not religious, person but believe that a country's systems should not be used to enforce morality. I believe that allowing morality or religion to influence laws is dangerous -- it's a good idea right up to the point where it isn't anymore, and that point is hard to define.

  9. I recognize that rural white voters have legitimate concerns (that may seem outdated or incorrect to me) simply because of the environment they live in and their lack of exposure to the normalcy of contrasting ideas.

  10. I think our political system has been broken by the effect of private money as well as the immediacy and manufactured outrage of the 24-hour news cycle. However, I don't think there is a better option so we might as well fix the system from within.

tagged as lists, politics | permalink | 4 comments

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Memory Day: 1983

To compensate for the paucity of 1982 documentation, 1983 featured an explosion of childhood photos, all carefully developed in the darkroom my dad had built in our basement. I started the year as a 3 year old, and some of my clearest early memories involved me scaling out of my deathtrap 70s crib with the collapsible guillotine sides and heading downstairs on Saturday mornings to watch Scooby Doo. Around 8:30, we would then go with my dad to Shopper's Food Warehouse on Little River Turnpike for cheap groceries (in the years before the weekly Saturday Costco trip pushed the Shoppers trip earlier) followed by a trip to the "used bread store" where we bought just expired loafs at a discount -- not because we were poor, but just because my dad was an economist.

Sunday was generally some kind of day trip, hitting every park or historical site in Virginia, Maryland, and southern Pennsylvania. We would pile into a tiny Chevy Citation (license plate XVX-881) whose trunk always smelled like coffee, because that's where my parents tossed their tan travel mugs on the way home. My parents would both wear goofy cloth sun hats, and we would always stop at the black and white historical signs along the side of the road to see what happened there. We would also hit 7-11, where my dad would fill up a Big Gulp, drink it, and then fill it up again before leaving. We were not allowed to buy snacks because "it was cheaper to buy big bags at the grocery store", but I did regularly collect trading cards from The Dark Crystal, and was only 2 cards away from completion (out of about 150) before losing interest.

When the weekend came to an end, I would spend the day at our babysitter's apartment in Mayflower Square. Rosa would keep an eye on me all day long while my sister was bussed across town to Jefferson Houston for first grade (our initial district was based on the babysitter's house, so James K. Polk Elementary School does not enter the story for another two years). We would get dropped off at 6 in the morning and Rosa would order us to "sleep or be quiet" so she could get another hour of sleep herself. I remember most of my days being a pretty boring wait for Ellen to get home from school, along with Rosa's kids, Henry and Felipe. (1984 would be a more enjoyable year because He-Man had been released, and I would bring a daily grocery bag of He-Man action figures along with me). My dad would then pick us up around 4:30 and take us home for a dad-dinner featuring something cooked in the microwave or something boiled on the stove. My mom worked later, usually arriving home by 7 (both had what they referred to as GGJs, or Good Government Jobs, in DC). She would put us to bed with songs or read-alongs from a childrens' Bible.

On our left lived the Malones, a retired couple who once tried to hire my dad as a yard worker after he performed some neighbourly fix-it task for them without being asked, and on our right, the Faragassos replaced the Fishers as the "other family with kids". We also sometimes played with a boy named Tony from down the court, but he was banned after inciting us to throw rocks at windows.

I enjoyed digging for hours in the dirtpile behind our house, where the sun couldn't reach well enough to plant grass. Coincidentally, my favourite stuffed animal was Digger of the Shirt Tales. Digger still lives in my basement today, resembling a veritable Petri dish of dust, mold, and childhood snot.

Other posts in this series: 1979 | 1980 | 1981 | 1982 | 1983 | 1984 | 1985 | 1986 | 1987 | 1988 | 1989 | 1990 | 1990 - 1991 | 1991 - 1992 | 1992 - 1993

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Friday, September 30, 2016

End-of-the-Month Highlights Day

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

  • Events
    • Went to Anya's housewarming party in Leesburg on S 9/4.

    • Went to the Lowry's for Labor Day on M 9/5.

    • Converted to a standing desk on H 9/8.

    • Had lo mein at Cheng's on S 9/10.

    • Turned 37 and had breakfast at Virginia Kitchen on H 9/15.

    • Went to a Lusitanian horse demonstration at Creekside Winery, sampled beers at Mad Horse Brew Pub, and ate fancy local foods at Market Table Bistro on S 9/17.

    • Visited my parents for a birthday dinner of salmon on S 9/18.

    • Ended the weekend with a steak and mushroom pizza at Mellow Mushroom on S 9/25.

    • Watched the first debate on M 9/26.

  • Projects
    • Swapped office and guest bedroom singlehandedly on H 9/1 and then updated the furniture and computers throughout the month for maximum productivity.

    • Resumed work on Sparkour on W 9/21, releasing 2 new recipes and updating everything for Spark 2.0.

  • Consumerism
    • Continuing to play Overwatch, where my play hours are about to break the record I put into Skyrim.

    • Got several new CDs for my birthday, and am enjoying almost all of them.

    • Enjoyed the fourth season of Luther, and currently enjoying the fourth season of Orphan Black much more than the third.

September's Final Grade: A-, A birthday and plenty of vacation days taken, with a dollop of renewed productivity.

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