Monday, October 03, 2016

Seventh Anniversary Day

As anniversaries pass, and senility robs us of our wedding memories, we'll always have the photographic evidence to fall back on (click to enlarge).

Other posts in this series: 2013 | 2014 | 2015 | 2016

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Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Debate Analysis

  • Tim Kaine is easily the warmest, most inoffensive Muppet that Jim Henson ever created.

  • Mike Pence's stark facial features suggest a man who has overzealously drained his lifeforce into a Horcux in his quest for immortality.

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Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Memory Day: 1984

In 1984, I continued to live in the weekdaily care of our babysitter, Rosa. During the hours when my sister and Rosa's sons were in school, I had sit in a room with the door closed and the TV on to such gems as The 700 Club. I got in trouble if I changed the channel or made too much noise, but occupied most of my time with large brown bags of He-Man and Transformer (Generation 1) action figures brought from home. My action figures made me popular with the other kids that Rosa babysat in the afternoons, although one of them named Rashaad tried to steal a Transformer that turned into a bird from a cassette tape by hiding it under a bed until he could reclaim it later. I also got my earliest scar at Rosa's, when I sliced open the back of my thumb on a disposable razor in the bathroom.

At home, I had a He-Man bicycle (to go with the He-Man sword and shield I'd received for Christmas in '83) and rode it up and down the street constantly. It had plastic wheels and I spent hours skidding to a halt on the sidewalk, leaving trails of shredded plastic until my dad yelled at me for making a mess. Besides He-Man and Transformers, my favourite cartoon was Inspector Gadget, and I had a Cabbage Patch Kid solely because my sister had several.

I had not gotten into Legos yet, but I had a healthy collection of CONSTRUX!, which were the economy version of Legos in the early 80s. I always had to deconstruct my creations before going to bed (because all toys must be picked up and put away) and one time I had a massive tantrum where I threw my CONSTRUX! creation at the pine wood dresser in my bedroom. This dresser currently lives with my sister in Rhode Island, and the battle scars are still there.

In the fall at the age of 4 going on 5, I started kindergarten at William Ramsey Elementary School under the kind eyes of Ms. Lovo and Mrs. Wheatley. (I didn't realize that preschool was a thing until people later in life asked me why I didn't attend). I made rapid friends with a boy named Yunus from Turkey, a fellow adoptee named Gina, and another girl named Gigi. I've been told that Yunus and I would take charge of the sandbox, but I don't really remember this.

I do remember taking field trips to the attached Dora Kelly Nature Center to see the bees fly in and out of their hive and being disappointed with the selection of reading materials available in class. I had a reader, Birds Fly, Bears Don't, intended for first graders and I had completed it by the end of the second quarter.

Above is a picture of my sister, Gina, myself, Yunus, and his sister, taken in our backyard. Gina once wrote me a letter saying "I love you" so I replied in turn with the same. My family made fun of me and my "new girlfriend" until I had yet another tantrum and tore up the letter.

Other posts in this series: 1979 | 1980 | 1981 | 1982 | 1983

tagged as memories | permalink | 4 comments

Friday, October 07, 2016

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

Jarvis Adjustable Standing Desk (Ergo Depot):
I'm very satisfied with this desk, having used it consistently for about a month now. With the push of a button, I raise it up and down multiple times a day to vary my working position. There were a couple hiccups in the assembly (one accessory came with screws that were too long for the desktop) but customer service was very responsive and helpful.

Final Grade: A-

Broadchurch, Season One:
I just realized that I screen-capped the French version of the DVD cover, but wouldn't it be great if you could go to a craft brewery and order TV-show-themed saisons? The LOST saison would taste great at first, but it'd come in a giant boot (with three toes) and start to taste like a sour beer less than halfway through it. Anyhow, Broadchurch is one of those brooding British mystery shows full of interesting, normal-looking characters. I enjoyed the build and the mystery, but it does tend to be a bit slow (not as slow as Bloodlines). I probably won't watch the second season unless there's nothing else to watch. Free on Netflix.

Final Grade: B

Everything You've Come to Expect by the Last Shadow Puppets:
The Last Shadow Puppets are a collaboration band including the lead singers of Arctic Monkeys and The Rascals, and their initial release was my favourite pop/rock album of 2009. With their second album, I was unimpressed during my first listen but liked it a lot every time afterwards. This could end up becoming another favourite.

Final Grade: B+

Luther, Season Four:
Luther didn't really need a fourth season but it's a good one. The glaring problem is that it's only two episodes long so it feels more like an incomplete movie than a "season". There are a lot of good hooks that I would have liked to see explored more, but it was over just as I was getting invested. Free on Netflix.

Final Grade: B

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Monday, October 10, 2016

Have you considered putting it in the cloud?

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Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Chad Darnell's 12 of 12

5:01 AM: Ready for work.
12:16 PM: Home for lunch (after the camera battery died during the morning, preventing any pictures at work).
12:30 PM: Feeding the senses. Delicious!
12:37 PM: Back to work on proposal stuff.
1:45 PM: Amber offers her services as a thesaurus.
3:07 PM: Quick afternoon nap.
3:31 PM: Playing Overwatch.
4:55 PM: Rebecca comes home and reads on the couch.
5:08 PM: Exercising and watching the second season of Narcos.
6:53 PM: Ordering dinner from Joe's Pizzaria.
7:20 PM: Fried stuff.
8:09 PM: Starting season two of iZombie.

tagged as 12 of 12 | permalink | 3 comments

Friday, October 14, 2016

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

KIN by KT Tunstall:
The good KT is back after the disappointing, overly mellow Invisible Empire / Crescent Moon album in 2013. This album is full of catchy hooks that will get stuck in your head.

Final Grade: B+

Architect by Wallis Bird:
Wallis Bird strays away from her folksy guitar sound into electronica here, and the result isn't particularly exciting. There are a few good songs interspersed, but overall, the production is cold and forgettable.

Final Grade: C-

Stranger Things:
This series was fun, but not nearly as amazing as hyped. It's a pleasant homage to every 80s movie ever made (like ET meets the Goonies) and has a nice story arc that's just the right length. Winona Ryder's shrill performance is exactly what it's supposed to be, but it gets annoying after just one episode. Free on Netflix.

Final Grade: B

Dell XPS 13:
Although I miss my HP Folio 13, which started having random keyboard failures (and sometimes the failing key was part of my login password) and graphics issues, this has been a great replacement so far. It has a normal amount of bloatware that comes off fairly easily but a much thinner profile than any laptop I've had before. The screen is still 13", but extends all the way to the edges, and boasts a very sharp picture with an unnecessarily high (but appreciated) range of brightness. One area it surpasses the Folio is its matte screen covering, as glass makes it nearly impossible to use a laptop outdoors in the daytime. Windows 10 is annoying as expected, constantly readding apps I removed and making poor UI choices like forcing "All Apps" into the Start Menu.

There are three minor annoyances, none of which are deal-breakers:

  • There's no bezel on the edge to help you open it with one hand. The form is so thin that you're going to need two hands unless you want to risk dropping it.
  • There's no HDMI port, so you'll need a $15 USB-C to HDMI convertor which looks bulky compared to this tiny piece of technology.
  • The backlit keyboard (a feature I didn't know I needed in my life until I had it) turns off after a few seconds of inactivity. There's no way to have the keys backlit all of the time. I found a Dell utility for it, but it was designed for Windows 7 and crashed on 10.
Overall, I'm liking the XPS 13 for my use case, which is about 75% hooked up to the big TV for streaming, 15% reading websites in comfortable places, and 10% coding.

Final Grade: B+

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Monday, October 17, 2016

Reunion Day

This past Saturday, Rebecca and I attended a 20th Reunion for my high school graduating class. While there were events throughout the weekend, I opted solely for the closing event: a meetup at Capital City Brewing in Shirlington. Reunions are a little unnecessary in the age of Facebook where I already keep up with everyone I want to keep up with, but it was interesting to see who came out (both locals and a surprising number of out-of-towners).

Of the thirty-ish people that showed up, no looked dramatically different than they did 20 years ago. Their faces were immediately recognizable, but detached from any specific memories or deeper knowledge that I might have had about them long ago (not unlike a persistent database object outside of its Session). Among the people I actually talked to:

  • Mike, the class president and guy I went to Governor's School with, who's local, married, and expecting his first kid soon.
  • Deborah, who lived in the neighbourhood and had many of the parties where Truth or Dare was played while I sat with a vantage point to the upstairs where her strict, hovering parents were to provide coded warnings. She's still local and has a 7th grader.
  • Beza, who lived around the corner from Deborah and who my dad always called a wimp because she never answered his questions the way he wanted when he filmed my birthday parties. She's now in Brooklyn with two kids.
  • Dave, who played saxophone in the band and who I didn't recognize because of his giant Seattle-style hipster beard.

Overall, it was a good experience to get out and see people, thwarting my usual MO of apathetic cancellation for events involving people from the past.

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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Memory Day: 1985

I continued to kill it in kindergarten in 1985 (at the age of 5) as shown in the progress report below, where I had Mastered everything.

In fact, the only low grade I had was in my first quarter under "Recognizes pennies and nickels", a skill that is no longer necessary in today's societies. I don't put too much weight in this grade anyways, as it's inconsistent with the final category, "Copes with change", which I got an M in.

I continued to play with He-Man and Transformer action figures and my favorite gum was Juicy Fruit. Unfortunately, we only kept Doublemint in the house, and getting some Juicy Fruit was a matter of pleading with my dad in the grocery store (and he rarely caved).

At this time, my dad's hardware store of choice was Hechinger's. He took us regularly to the one on Duke Street and left us in the doorbell aisle while he bought miscellaneous screws and pipes. One time, I knocked over a glass light fixture dome on the bottom shelf while reaching for the doorbells and a customer angrily asked where my parents were and why I wasn't supervised. He ran off to get a store worker while I frantically found my dad and fled the store. I would not return for a year and a half, worried that my picture would be up on the wall by the door and I would get arrested immediately.

In the fall, I turned 6 and started first grade at James K. Polk Elementary school. Since it was right up the street, we switched from our family babysitter to before-school and after-school day care. The day care workers were not particularly skilled -- on the first day, there were two kids crying and the workers split me and my sister up to play with the cryers. The result was four crying kids instead of two. Still, day care was worth it for the wooden floor hockey table that you could play with using a checker and pencils. I enjoyed playing with this so much that I had my dad build one from scratch so we could have one at home.

My first grade teacher was Mrs. McClung, and she had a small board with the numbers 1 to 100 hung on it. I could post all of the numbers in order in record time, so it was my assigned job to reset the board every afternoon if the other kids had knocked the numbers off.

First grade was also the time period I started playing text adventure games, after my parents picked up Zork I at the Seven Corners Mall. This greatly increased my vocabulary (at least with imperative phrases consisting of one verb and one noun) and led me to search for games to play at school, but they only had the weird and pointless Gertrude's Secrets on their Commodore 64s.

Here's a picture of our family at Christmas time, where my yearly loot stash was gradually evolving from action figures to computer games.

Other posts in this series: 1979 | 1980 | 1981 | 1982 | 1983 | 1984

tagged as memories | permalink | 1 comment

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Debate Analysis

  • Trump's debate style is to fire shotgun blasts into the negative space around a coherent argument and hope that people can deduce what his argument was intended to convey.

  • Clinton's debate style is like a GPS that sends you down every back road through the suburbs when everyone knows there's a six-lane highway leading directly to the point.

  • Country unity depends on the Gregory Brothers to create an auto-tune version of "You're The Puppet", starring Franklin from Arrested Development.

tagged as politics | permalink | 2 comments

Friday, October 21, 2016

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

Bruxelles by Boulevard des Airs:
The third album by this reggae-skaw-orld band feels very mature, with better produced songs but slightly less fun. None of the albums matches up to seeing them live in a foreign country's summer music festival, but on the bright side, this album is densely packed with over an hour of good-to-better songs.

Final Grade: B

Whitton by Whitton:
This self-titled EP includes the catchy I Fell In Love With You song and is only 15 minutes long. There's enough overlap with the Rare Bird album that it's not worth purchasing -- just get the individual songs a la carte and save some money.

Final Grade: C+

Orphan Black, Season Four:
Orphan Black recovers nicely from its byzantine, meandering plot problems and I enjoyed this season as much as the early ones. A few layers of conspiracy are shaved off the top, and the story goes back to a few leftover holes in the original premise, deepening the plot rather than broadening it. A sense of fun has also come back to the various storylines, even when Helena and Alison aren't onscreen. I'm glad Tatiana Maslany finally got the Emmy for her 50 different characters.

Final Grade: A-

Show Me a Hero:
This new David Simon show tells about the decade-long conflict to build public housing in a white Yonkers neighbourhood. When it originally came out, I recall various newspaper articles explaining why the subject matter was so boring yet so important, which I now recognize as a warning signal that this is not the second coming of The Wire. The plot is boring, there are few characters worth rooting for, there's no payoff, and the production does a really bad job at showing the passing of time. Skip it.

Final Grade: D

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Monday, October 24, 2016

Cabin Weekend

We had a three-day weekend at "Deer Haven" in Edinburg, Virginia, a cozy cabin (with essentials like WiFi) up a steep mountain road that would be impassable to my Honda Accord in the winter. During this trip, I saw 3 deer, hiked Duncan Knob, Woodstock Tower, worked on a puzzle, and made two fires.

tagged as day-to-day | permalink | 2 comments

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Memory Day: 1986

The second half of first grade (at the age of 6 going on 7) was an obliviously happy time. My closest friend was Jason McCabe (in the camo shirt in the front row, below) who lived in Brookville and came over to play with bulk quantities of cheap army men (with no moveable joints) in the dirt pile by my house. As a northern exposure location, it never got enough sun for plants to grow, so it remained a place to dig holes and stage large-scale strategic encounters. Sometimes, Jason would spend the night and we would take baths and sing the theme song from GI Joe (but with all of the verbs replaced by some conjugation of "burp", in an arrangement called "The Real American Burper"). I don't know what happened to the other students in the class, but I hope that the little blond boy on my left got an acting job as a hillbilly meth addict on Justified later in life.

We briefly had a little grey cat named Cindy around this time but it only lasted a few months before my dad got rid of it for poking holes in our leather furniture and peeing on chairs. My parents had dogs before I was born, but the cat was my first pet, and the reason I keep cats today.

At school, we learned typical first grader stuff, such as "Citizenship in the Community" which facilitated democracy through toy sharing. As the year went on, I spent more and more time in the 2nd grade class of Ms. Uhler, the nicest teacher at the school who had cred for living in a house right next to the school. I would learn to be a good citizen in 1st grade and then walk alone to Ms. Uhler's for language arts and math. I remember getting scared of my first math class because it involved subtraction of double-digit numbers and I had not yet learned how to carry the 1. I also learned about homophones.

In the fall of 1986, I started 2nd grade in Mrs. Tutt's class, where I learned about Christopher Columbus and made a paper mache bowl for Columbus Day while going across the hall to Mrs. Quinn's for the SAT-ready skills. I bounced around the hallway like Desmond without his Constant until the administration made the executive decision to promote me to third grade early.

By the end of October, I was in Mrs. Hutt's third grade class. This was always a pretty traumatic transition in my history as I chose to remember it and had a direct impact in the type of person I ultimately evolved into. Leaving 2nd grade before friend groups had really formed and entering 3rd where cliques were calcifying like the tap water in a beach house made it difficult for me to make close friends. This transition wasn't helped by the fact that Mrs. Hutt had an unusual dislike for me, possibly because I pushed her class size up to 21 kids. My introduction to the class on the first day was exactly like this, and it was immediately followed by a set-up-to-fail situation where I had to measure the bottom of a milk carton and she made fun of me for not knowing how millimeters worked. Later, a student lost his dollar bill and she made me empty out my pockets, never convinced that I hadn't stolen it.

Luckily, I continued in Mrs. Quinn's class for language arts, where I started making friends with kids who had no teacher-driven notions of who I was. This core group, including kids like Jennie and Mike Buns, would end up sticking together up through junior high school.

At home, I was playing all of the Zork games, occasionally getting stuck. I enjoyed drawing and dinosaurs, and could correctly categorize dinosaurs into the appropriate eras.

Other posts in this series: 1979 | 1980 | 1981 | 1982 | 1983 | 1984 | 1985

tagged as memories | permalink | 1 comment

Friday, October 28, 2016

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

Zootopia (PG):
Though definitely not an instant classic, this new animated movie has some good moments. The story is a thin skeleton used to segue between funny scenes, and the voice acting (including Jason Bateman and Idris Elba) is solid. Free on Netflix.

Final Grade: B

Shameless, Season Three:
I started getting bored during this season as the plot meandered too much and the situations started to get old. Some parts are only notable for shock value, and there's too much sex and nudity covering up the sparseness of plot. Free on Netflix.

Final Grade: C

Crazy Ex Girlfriend:
This CW show reminds me of Glee but with original songs. It definitely has a weird, campy vibe, but owns its weirdness completely. If you can get past the concept of a show that breaks into song a couple times per episode, you'll enjoy the musical style parodies and humorous lyrics that emphasize the breaking of the fourth wall. One of my favourites is the Textmergency, an 80s rock song about sending a text to the wrong person and rushing to delete it before it's seen by the recipient. Free on Netflix.

Final Grade: B+

Burger 21:
We tried out this new fast casual burger joint near the Dulles Town Center last weekend. Ordered cafeteria style, burgers are prepared very quickly and paired with thin fries and a variety of interesting house-made dipping sauces (like Toasted Marshmallow and Chipotle Mayo). The patties are sizeable and supported by a thick underbun to sop up the juices. The burgers are pretty good for the inexpensive cost point, making this a cheaper, local alternative to The Counter once the Reston Town Center implodes from charging for parking next year.

Final Grade: B+

tagged as reviews | permalink | 2 comments

Monday, October 31, 2016

End-of-the-Month Highlights Day

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

  • Events
    • Celebrated our 7th Anniversary with a trip to Aslin Brewery and Barcelona Wine Bar on S 10/1.

    • Visited the Ambrognes for their daughter's first birthday party on S 10/8.

    • Made bean chili for Rebecca's yoga friends who volunteered to take a trial yoga class with her on F 10/14.

    • Went to my 20th High School Reunion on S 10/15.

    • Our across-the-street neighbours sold their house and moved out on F 10/21.

    • Spent a weekend in the countryside at Deer Haven in Edinburg, VA, F 10/21 - M 10/24. Hiked to Woodstock Tower and Duncan Knob, hot tubbed, and made s'mores.

    • Said goodbye to the Lowrys (who are moving to San Diego next month) on F 10/28.

    • Visited the Alhbins and the Hickses in Fredericksburg, S 10/29 - S 10/30.

  • Projects
    • Worked on a new proposal for the first half of the month.

    • Obtained my AWS SysOps - Associate certification on F 10/7.

  • Consumerism
    • Still playing Overwatch, having gotten my win rate back up over 50% and reaching Level 367. Tried Civilization 6 but was bored.

    • Enjoyed seasons of Orphan Black and Crazy Ex Girlfriend. Currently watching Narcos, Season Two.

    • Listening to new music by Twenty One Pilots.

October's Final Grade: B+, Fun weekend trips and nice weather.

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