11/2016

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Overwatch Day

I'm still enjoying Overwatch, as evinced by the 376 hours I've spent playing it. For reference, Steam says that I played Skyrim for 345 hours, Borderlands 2 for 232 hours, Fallout 4 for 214 hours, and Portal Stories: Mel for 30 minutes. I enjoy the fact that Overwatch matches are quick, self-contained, and always fresh, even though I haven't branched out from the few heroes I play the most.

  • Roadhog is my default hero pick, because I feel like I can make a difference in a game regardless of how good my team is. I've also become adept at "fishing for Tracers" with the hook, which is always satisfying.
  • Junkrat is the character I have the most fun with because he can be played completely chaotically and blows things up, after which you can emote "Happy Birthday!".
  • Lucio is my default healer choice when I don't feel like doing much other than herding cats and pushing the payload.
  • Mercy used to be my main healer choice, but really needs a good team to be satisfying to play. This is still the best play I ever did:
  • Mei was my (mei)n hero in beta, and I've gotten back into playing her again recently with the buffs to her Blizzard ultimate. I love that she pisses everyone off on the enemy team even if she doesn't do much burst damage.
  • I only play Reaper when the enemy team has more than 2 tanks and we're struggling to survive. I'm pretty awful at most of the offense heroes but in this specific situation, Reaper shines.

Come play!

tagged as games | permalink | 3 comments

Friday, November 04, 2016

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

Narcos, Season Two:
The second season of Narcos feels pretty obligatory, focusing on the real-life decline of Pablo Escobar's drug empire. It's pretty slow-paced for only being 10 episodes, and it introduces too many minor characters with minimal payoff. It's okay if nothing else is on and you don't mind endless Spanish subtitles. Free on Netflix.

Final Grade: C+

10 Cloverfield Lane (PG-13):
I'm torn on this movie. For the first 90 minutes, it's a claustrophobic psychological thriller featuring John Goodman as an unsettling doomsday prepper. Then, the last 15 minutes changes tone completely and feels utterly out of place with everything that came before it (apparently in an attempt to tie this movie to the world of the Cloverfield movie, which I never saw because shaky cam is dumb). I loved it up until then.

Final Grade: B

Blurryface by Twenty One Pilots:
Songs from this album of well-crafted pop music comes up on multiple Pandora stations I have, so I finally bought the whole thing. It's great shallow pop music with few duds, although it feels a little ridiculous to hear twenty-somethings sing about how they're too old and want to be kids again.

Final Grade: B

Civilization VI:
I gave this turn-based world conquering game a try because LA Mike is super into it. After 8 hours, I can see why fans of this genre enjoy it, but it didn't do much for me. There's too much complexity in the various game systems and an overabundance of micromanagement and clicking required to coordinate your empire. Units have such restrictive turns that it feels like nothing ever gets done in a single turn -- that's the whole point in an epoch-based timeline, but it just felt too slow for me. Luckily, I got 20% off with my Prime discount.

Final Grade: C

tagged as reviews | permalink | 0 comments

Monday, November 07, 2016

Quiz Day: Me Me Me!, Part VIII

Part: I | II | III | IV | V | VI | VII

How much you know about me? Hover your mouse over the right column to see the correct answers.

1 What is my current ringtone?
  1. Just Jack - Glory Days
  2. Hi-Los - Minor Changes
  3. Muse - Undisclosed Desires
  4. A default Galaxy ringtone
B
2 What was my most recent unhealthy lunch?
  1. Popeyes
  2. Chickfila
  3. McDonald's
  4. Shells & Cheese
D
3 Why don't I do overnight trail hiking?
  1. Having to carry gear
  2. Bugs and the elements
  3. Fear of hillbillies
  4. Lack of electricity and Wifi
A
4 What kind of comment am I most likely to make while watching a movie?
  1. Expressing frustration at a character's actions
  2. Identifying two actors that an onscreen actor could be the love child of
  3. A wisecrack to spice up the dialogue
  4. Deductions about the final plot twist
B
5 Which book did I NOT throw out during Fall Cleaning this weekend?
  1. Java Puzzlers
  2. Beginning Java 8 Games Development
  3. Effective Java
  4. Practical Java
C
6 How many miles does my four-year-old car have on it?
  1. 15,000 - 22,000
  2. 22,001 - 29,000
  3. 29,001 - 36,000
  4. more than 36,000
B
7 How many consecutive carpet cat vomits does it take before I escalate from Oxiclean to the steam cleaner?
  1. 1
  2. 2-5
  3. 6-10
  4. 10-20
C
8 How many times have I washed my car this year?
  1. 0
  2. 1 - 2
  3. 3 - 6
  4. more than 6
B
9 What tool do I NOT keep in my computer desk drawer?
  1. Compressed Air
  2. Flashlight
  3. Tiny Screwdrivers
  4. Stamp Pad Ink
A
10 What service was my most recent credit card charge for?
  1. Amazon Fresh
  2. Amazon Video
  3. Amazon Web Services
  4. Amazon.com
D

tagged as random | permalink | 6 comments

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Despair Is Not a Long-Term Solution

When Clinton and Trump applied for the position of US President, I did my due diligence as hiring manager. In Clinton, I saw a career politician with strong policy credentials and an inability to prevent self-inflicted political wounds. The email controversy, while serious, was no worse than established practice of other politicians before her (although her flippant comment about wiping the server with a cloth incites Hulk-levels of rage in me to this day). In the "Miscellaneous" portion of her resume, I liked the symbolism of electing the first woman president.

In Trump, I saw an erratic, ineloquent businessman with no experience in politics. His actions and words showed clear racism and misogyny, and he used fear to gather and excite his voting base. Subjectively, he gave me the impression that I would be wiser to interview the advisors he surrounds himself with to prepare for the day (somewhere in Year Two) when he got bored of governing.

Both candidates were flawed, yet one clearly had the stronger resume for this specific job. The hiring recommendation I submitted was based on what I felt was best for our country in spite of my personal feelings. In the end, I was overruled and Trump was elected.

There are arguments to be made about all of the reasons that this was possible -- the Electoral College is an outdated institution, the spoiling effect of third party votes, or media oversaturation -- but these are just trifling details. Simply put, Trump won because people voted for him. REAL people, some of whom you might see on the street or at work every day. REAL people with legitimate concerns in search of a solution. I remain highly skeptical that Trump will be the solution that these voters had hoped for, but I can empathize with the feeling that their voices were finally heard.

So what will the US look like under a Trump presidency beyond a loss of international prestige and an uncertain, fluctuating market? As it has for every presidency, that remains up to us as citizens of this country and the world. We are still the best defense against institutionalized hate and we still have the power to accept or reject the qualities we want in the communities we establish.

If you're feeling despondent right now, go ahead and take a day to get that noise out of your system -- torture yourself by browsing all of the online "what-if" punditry, finish off that bottle of stale caramelized dessert wine, and rewatch Dave. When you wake up tomorrow, here are my suggestions for what you should do instead of giving up in despair (simplified into a Buzzfeed-friendly list of 3):

    1) Nurture your local community

    Exemplify the type of person you want to be around. Love your family, take care of your friends, and say hello to your neighbour before you dart into your suburban house to hide from real social connection. Practice the values of diversity, civil rights, and personal responsibility that you hold dear and let them virally infect your personal network and beyond. No amount of negative policy changes at the national level will ever be enough to overcome a strong, loving community.

    2) Strive to understand the anxieties of the "other side"

    Dismissing the concerns of the voters who put Trump in power dehumanizes almost half of our country. It's very easy to adopt an "us vs. them" or "enlightened vs. never-went-to-college" viewpoint but this will never heal the divide. In the face of manufactured factions, we need to remind ourselves that we're not as far apart as we have been led to believe. Make a conscious effort to empathize with other peoples' concerns even if surface appearances suggest an obvious bias. Be skeptical of your own stances sometimes and read news stories from sources you normally wouldn't deign to consider -- not to change your mind, but to see issues from a different perspective. It will never be as simple as saying that "everyone who votes for a racist is also a racist".

    3) Work within the system to change the system

    Our political system is imperfect and in need of change, but protest voting simply doesn't work. If you seriously want a third party candidate to ever win at the national level, start them organically from the local level in one of the big parties and give them a platform with broader appeal beyond people that want to smoke pot, get Wifi cancer, or abolish all government. If you dislike both big party candidates in future elections, consider choosing the one that would have a net positive impact on humanity in spite of your personal views. It's possible to work within the system without abandoning it wholesale -- as an outsider, Trump used every flaw in the process to get the nomination of a political party he doesn't truly represent and then went on to win.

We are still the same good people we were before the election, and in spite of its problems, our country is still a better place to live, raise a family, and thrive than it ever has been. If you believe that yesterday's election was a giant step backwards, it is your responsibility to keep the trail maintained until we can move forward again.

tagged as deep thoughts, politics | permalink | 5 comments

Friday, November 11, 2016

Predictions Day

I've had an unusually busy week, so I'll delegate responsibility for today's post to you. This has been a peculiar year to date, and there are still 50 days to go! We probably have room for at least one more alignment of the stars that manifests itself in a crazy, unexpected event, big or small. What are your predictions for something that will happen before the year is out?

tagged as you speak | permalink | 3 comments

Monday, November 14, 2016

Chad Darnell's 12 of 12

8:14 AM: Awake, later than usual.
8:15 AM: Opting to remain in bed for a bit longer.
8:34 AM: Soft-boiled eggs for breakfast.
9:00 AM: Morning computer time.
10:24 AM: First rake of the season.
11:09 AM: Yard cleared and tomato plants destroyed.
11:16 AM: Booty patiently waits for food.
11:58 AM: Lunch in the productivity zone.
2:11 PM: Amber helps Rebecca prepare her work presentation by rolling around on smooth papers.
5:24 PM: Respawning as Junkrat.
6:30 PM: Dinner at Chuy's with Rebecca and Michelle.
9:38 PM: Watching Idiocracy with the family.

tagged as 12 of 12 | permalink | 2 comments

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Memory Day: 1987

At the age of 7 going on 8, I finished out the school year in Mrs. Hutt's third grade class and matriculated up to my favourite year of primary school. I was still a child free of obligations or regular activities, since it would be another year before I started things like band or Cub Scouts.

I don't really remember much about the summer between 3rd and 4th grade, but it was probably spent with my grandparents in Michigan taking the occasional piano lesson, getting scratched by their surly cat, Cody, and painting cheap clay sculptures that always broke after a couple days.

In the fall, I joined Mrs. Sharkey's class, yet another teacher who lived across the street from the school (these teachers were an oddity for the fact that you knew they had a life outside of the building an didn't just plug in to the nearest robot closet to recharge). She was one of 3 fourth grade teachers, including Mr. Hazzard and Mr. Cmiel, who split the duties of teaching different subjects. In the morning, the Talented and Gifted students would go to Mrs. Marmarino for language arts. We spent several weeks creating snake-themed dioramas for an imaginary town called Snakeville. My contribution to one group project was the "Snake-ifieds" section of the snake newpaper, full of hissing puns and snake want ads. I also wrote a children's story called The Orge Family about a bunch of clumsy kids that lived in a castle.

Around 11, we would go to Mr. Hazzard's class to learn about Virginia history. I would eat the snack out of my lunch to stave off the hunger, usually a fudge brownie or cheap Oreo knock-offs, because lunch wasn't until 1 PM. After lunch, we'd have science or family life with Mr. Cmiel. I got straight As across the board and my report card blurb says, "A fine citizen, an A-one student, and a wonderful personality makes Brian 'a teacher's delight'. Outstanding, delightful, and creative!"

My best friend in 4th grade was James, and our primary activity was to build things out of Legos (mainly the town-themed sets). I also continued playing PC games, mainly those published by Infocom and Sierra Online, likes King's Quest, Space Quest, and Police Quest. I would take the hint book maps to school and let my friends play the games with their imagination at the lunch tables, and then go home at night and write really bad text adventure games in the BASIC programming language.

My favourite book series was the Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander and my favourite movie was Back to the Future. I did not yet listen to music, so I only knew about things my parents listened to, like the Broadway cast recording of Phantom of the Opera.

Other posts in this series: 1979 | 1980 | 1981 | 1982 | 1983 | 1984 | 1985 | 1986

tagged as memories | permalink | 1 comment

Friday, November 18, 2016

The Orge Family

A children's book written in fourth grade language arts class

Once upon a time, long, long ago, King Orge and his queen had sextuplets.

Their names were: Worge, George, Horge, Morge, Corge, and Dwaborge.

They were always clumsy.

Dwaborge would pull the cat's tail while...

...George put a match in the gas stove.

"We must do something about these kids!" the cook exclaimed.

They never got the problem solved.

By the time they were all 30...

...they became fighters and warriors.

They were still clumsy.

Morge was fighting when...

...his helmet fell off!

One day, Corge took the King's throne.

He didn't have a queen so he put up a vacant sign.

Then he married a woman named "Torge".

He was still clumsy. He went right past the castle after the honeymoon.

When Corge called for a limousine and a driver...

...it turned out to be a Volkswagen and a moose.

A boy named Vorge broke a window, and...

Corge didn't have a lawyer or insurance.

Then the water tower broke.

In the Orge family, everything has been the same forever.

If you listen across the ocean at night...

...you just might hear Corge's spirit yelling "I want my lawyer!" or "Who broke that window!"

tagged as media | permalink | 4 comments

Monday, November 21, 2016

New Job Day

After almost 14 years of working full-time for FGM (later renamed Novetta), I have a new job as a senior software engineer for a tiny commercial startup. This will pull me back into the trenches a little bit, away from the ivory tower architecture and proposal writing that I've been mostly focused on over the past couple of years. My last day "in the building" is today, and I start the new job on Monday after Thanksgiving.

It's a little scary to leave stability and awesome benefits behind when your entire career identity is intertwined with a single company, especially for a risk-averse individual such as myself. However, I felt like this was better to do on my own volition now than at some unforseen point in the future for unforseen reasons. I'm looking forward to doing nonstop coding again and delivering software as a tangible end result that I can point at with pride (not unlike enjoying the lines on a freshly mowed lawn).

The new job is also a refreshing reminder that the core skills in my career apply to pretty much every sector out there and not just Defense and Intelligence. It will be nice to be out of the world of incessant acronyms, constantly expiring badges, and dreadful security training classes for a little while. As a safety net, my security clearance remains open for 2 years, so all will not be lost if things don't work out.

tagged as day-to-day | permalink | 5 comments

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Data Day: FGM / Novetta Stats

I kept rigorous logs of the hours I worked while full-time at Novetta, right down to the specific time I started each day (between 5:30 and 6:30 AM throughout the years). From the data, here's how many hours I worked overtime or used as paid time off over the past 13 years:

Among the highlights that I remember:

  • When I was hired full-time after grad school, there was no work to do for the first few weeks, so I spent the days learning how to create Warcraft 3 custom maps. I then spent 4 months doing a project with the Vignette Content Management System which was ultimately scrapped because it was an inappropriate abomination for the intended use case.

  • I used to play poker, soccer, and basketball with FGMers, but I was bad at everything but poker, and didn't want to be in the office at 5 PM on a Friday to play poker. I organized many intern events back when I was rich and single and looking for love.

  • Over the years, I taught two separate courses in Java, gave three lunchtime seminars (How to Read Music, History of Western Music, and History of Jazz), and taught a course in AWS. I also joined the FGM Volleyball team for a single season before being beaten by the traffic on the Fairfax County Parkway. Never join a volleyball team that practices and plays 45 minutes from the office.

  • My office mates included Richard Albright, Noah Klemm, Eric Fox, Tammy Hale, Marquis Parker, Gary Monroe, Carla Rogers, Jack Wilmer, Tim Suh, and Tina Hsu. I've mainly had a single office for the past six years.

  • The Metadata Registry crashed during Larry's wedding, and I went straight to the office from there to sit on the phone with the government system administrators all night long. With no progress by 5 AM, I tried restarting the web server and that fixed the issue. All in all, I spent about 7 nights in the office.

  • When I first moved to Sterling in 2004, I briefly had a 2 mile commute to work. Two days later, the office moved to Reston where it's been ever since. The hardest part of getting a new job may be turning off the muscle memory to drive to Reston.

  • I spent a year working in data standards where my primary coup was getting two warring ontologists to agree on a compromise definition of the term, "Physical Entity": An entity that is part of physical reality, such as a physical object, an environment, a geographic feature, or a region of physical reality. This had stalled talks for several months before I arrived to add the italicized text.

  • The farthest I ever had to travel for work was Virginia Beach. The places I went most often beyond Reston was Fort Meade, Bailey's Crossroad, and MITRE.

Final Grade: I would give my tenure a solid A-

tagged as data | permalink | 0 comments

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thanksgiving Day

tagged as media | permalink | 3 comments

Monday, November 28, 2016

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

Silicon Valley, Season Two:
Silicon Valley continues to charm in its second season, hitting the sweet spot between funny and absurd.

Final Grade: B+

Fundamentals of Caring: (TV-MA)
This Netflix Original stars Paul Rudd as a depressed everyman starting a new job in home care. While it does hit the emotionally manipulative story points in a paint-by-numbers way, it's a low-key, funny affair that will be most enjoyed by people who are already Paul Rudd fans. Free on Netflix.

Final Grade: B-

Homeland, Season Four:
New life is somehow found in this season of Homeland, as the writers are finally able to toss some plot baggage to the curb (like Brody's teenage daughter). The story is constantly grim but full of good twists. It builds nicely, although the last episode is tonally out of place with the rest of the season. The main negative feeling I had was that this is a show where no one ever wins, so this is a pretty grim slog if you're already tired of the unchanging personality of the main character, Carrie.

Final Grade: B

Lovesick, Season Two:
Formerly called Scrotal Recall and renamed for broader viewership, this is a great series that effectively balances emotion and hilarity across a story that's told through well-orchestrated flashbacks and present day progression. The characters are well-formed and worth rooting for. This is the show that How I Met Your Mother should have been. Free on Netflix.

Final Grade: A

tagged as reviews | permalink | 0 comments

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

End-of-the-Month Highlights Day

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

  • Events
    • Did an all-day coding exercise to interview for my new job on F 11/4.

    • Did my annual fall cleaning on S 11/5, then tried to get takeout from Pattaya Thai, only to learn that they had closed (probably for being too slow to fill orders). Ate food from Thai Thai instead.

    • Had dinner at Jackson's on S 11/6 to celebrate the end of Rebecca's weekend-long PT class, then bought stupid trinkets at Paper Source, which is the weirdest store ever to have employees work on commission.

    • Rebecca taught her first real yoga class at Sportrock on M 11/7.

    • I accepted an offer to work at a new company on the same day that Trump was elected President. T 11/8 CONSPIRACY THEORY.

    • Joined Rebecca and her friends in a practice yoga session on F 11/11.

    • Did raking #1 of 3 and destroyed the tomato plants for the winter on S 11/12, then had dinner with Michelle at Chuy's.

    • Had a book club where we discussed the first half of a sci-fi book called Hyperion on S 11/13.

    • Had 6 adults, 1 teen, and 4 kids over for Friendsgiving #1 of 1 on S 11/19.

    • Had my last day at Novetta on M 11/21.

    • Had Thanksgiving with both sets of parents on H 11/24.

    • Spent Thanksgiving weekend taking care of Rebecca with a sore throat, then caught said sore throat.

    • Installed a cat door in the basement on S 11/26 while Rebecca visited her family in Hagerstown.

    • Started my new job on M 11/28.

  • Projects
    • Printed out scores and parts for One for Rosie, and Bubba's Fried Chicken Stand, both of which Peebs wants to try playing with his high school jazz band.

    • Crash coursed through the latest Java EE specifications which apparently don't suck like they did in 2006 anymore.

  • Consumerism
    • Still loving Overwatch (Level 412 with 421 hours and a 50.5% win ratio). Got Rise of the Tomb Raider and will eventually get around to enjoying it too.

    • Enjoyed watching seasons of Silicon Valley and Lovesick, and currently enjoying The 100, Season Three.

November's Final Grade: B, Lots of changes in the works, but too soon to judge their effects.

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

 

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