Monday, January 01, 2018

Happy New Year!

We made it all the way to 12:48 AM this year!

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Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Memory Day: Snapshots

This picture was taken ten years ago, on New Year's Eve 2007 - 2008.

We dressed up fancily and went to Chris and Kathy's townhouse in Centreville for "fancy New Year's poker". We each ponied up $10 ostentatiously and lost with equal verve. As the game progressed without us, I played with Lake and Titan (the gay kitty brothers) on the stairs to the basement. If I recall correctly, the number of kids at this New Years party was between 0 and 1.

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Friday, January 05, 2018

Maia Week #26 Battle Report

Maia has finally reached the 6 month milestone, which is probably the point at which I should stop measuring her age in weeks and start using a more common metric like fortnights or eons. The two weeks since the last battle report have been holiday-centric and fairly disruptive, so there haven't been many crazy developmental milestones. She rolled over four successive times (only to the left) one day, then never wanted to do that again.

She can also say "em" which is clearly the 13th letter of the alphabet, and she can string this into multi-syllabic SAT words like "emememem" and "emememememememem". Surely, "Eminem" and "M&M" are not far off. Yesterday, I taught her how to use our touch lamps which blew her mind and entertained her for about 10 minutes before she just wanted to grab the lamp with both hands and lick it (much like the reaction she has to my ice cold Coke Zero cans).

Maia naps even less now than she used to, getting about 9 hours continuously at night and then just 2 - 4 hours of 30 minute naps during the day. We've tried all of the tricks short of buying "I ♥ naps" T-shirts but she's just someone who wants to be up and experiencing things all day long. It has been a little harder with the weather so cold this past week, but we had the temporary distraction of watching Sara play the new Zelda game on the Switch in the afternoons to keep us from having to trek out for a mall walk. I also just discovered that she sometimes naps up to 90 minutes if I wear her, sit very still, and play Zelda myself, so look for my academic paper on the impact of video games on baby naps in the next quarterly journal if the hypothesis continues to prove itself.

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Monday, January 08, 2018

2018 Plans

2017 was a year of trial and error, between dipping my toes in the shoals of a software startup and figuring out how to take care of a small human while still maintaining a minimally viable amount of health, wealth, and leisure time. Now that our six-month trial period has ended and we are truly in charge of growing the Maian Empire, 2018 will be all about stabilization and process improvement. Here are some of the changes I expect to make this year:

  • Consume more new content: Movies, shows, albums, games -- I'm not picky about what I'll consume, but I'll make sure that I'm not just rereading old books or playing Overwatch all of the time. It is very easy (and fun) to make a game of Overwatch be the mortar between the bricks of baby care in my schedule, but it tends to introduce a feeling of sameness across days that already sometimes seem too similar. I would also like to read new books as my vocabulary is getting a little rusty -- I have "what is that word that means ____?" moments far more often than I used to.

  • Get back on the treadmill: After five straight years of maintaining a minimum of 2 hours per week jogging, treadmill time petered out at the end of 2017, such that I only used it 1 time in the month of December. Though the extra exercise is not strictly necessary since my smallest pants have started to fall off my hips from just walking Maia around the forest and mall, this will be a good way to have some extra solo time and watch some new TV shows.

  • Learn to play the soprano recorder: I have a recorder and a d'Auberge book which should be sufficient to play nursery rhymes for Maia so she is regularly exposed to annoying music. I will do some trumpet or electric bass at some point too, but the recorder is very portable, reasonably quiet, and doesn't require daily practice to maintain.

  • Try new things in cooking: I have a small pouch of simple recipes that get us through the week but I'd like to do more cooking this year. Rebecca got me the book, Salt Fat Acid Heat, for Christmas which teaches about food science and what happens when you add different ingredients to a pot -- this is perfect for me since I never really follow a single recipe exactly.

  • Don't work more than necessary: Work is going very well and it's nice having specific important assignments to deal with that are done when they're done. I don't need to look busy or seek out new assignments just to fill up 40 hours in the week. I plan to continue the stay-at-home-dad'ing for as long as it's fulfilling and don't plan on working more until I want to. It's also amazing how much money you save when you can no longer go to real sit-down restaurants.

  • Maintain programming skills: Eventually, I'll mix a little programming back into my daily routine. Whether it's continued open-source development or just a daily programming brain teaser, I want to make sure that Microsoft Word doesn't become my most-used application.

What are your plans for 2018?

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Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

The Architect by Paloma Faith:
None of Paloma Faith's follow-on CDs has come close to her first, Do You Want the Truth or Something Beautiful. This new album is pure pop drivel with nothing to stand out from the crowd. Even a spoken word introduction by Samuel L. Jackson can't make it interesting.

Final Grade: C-

Halt and Catch Fire, Season Four:
This show has been hit-or-miss throughout the years, but the fourth and final season provides a very good closer. With organic character growth and strategic time skips (we're now in the 90s), the show writers somehow make every character sympathetic and relatable once again in spite of their tempestuous histories. The pace is sometimes self-indulgently slow (lots of tracking and reaction shots), but it generates a lot of good will and wraps the story up well. Free on Netflix.

Final Grade: B

Day of the Dog by Bliss n ESO:
This is one of Bliss n ESO's early albums (2006). Because these albums are expensive to import from down under, I generally just ask for one every Christmas. The energy is high but the mixes aren't as good as they eventually become on later albums. The balance between crass and uplifting lyrics also veers heavily towards crass throughout.

Final Grade: C+

Overwatch Anthology, Volume I:
This is a hardbound copy of all the origin comics that were released in the Overwatch universe. Though all of them are free online, it's nice to have them in paper form with text that can easily be read without zooming in on a PDF file.

Final Grade: B

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Friday, January 12, 2018

Chad Darnell's 12 of 12

12 pictures of your day on the 12th of every month

7:01 AM: Early morning treadmilling while watching the second season of Humans.
7:35 AM: Showered and ready for a (standard) three-day weekend.
7:59 AM: Some post-breakfast, pre-baby-awakened Overwatch.
8:31 AM: Good morning!
8:49 AM: At the feeding battlestation while I pack for our road trip.
11:37 AM: Finally on the road to Fredericksburg.
2:03 PM: Holding court around 4-month-old Felicity.
4:09 PM: Down with OPT (other peoples' toys).
6:22 PM: Dinner with a baby on.
6:31 PM: Maia allows her royal court to bring her meals and libations. Sydney mourns in the background.
9:15 PM: Anna finally gets to hold the baby after the million kids go to bed.
9:47 PM: Ending the night with a game of Smart Ass.

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Monday, January 15, 2018

Review Day: Legenda of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

I have had a tempestuous relationship with the Zelda series over the years, and the ones I tend to like don't always match the ones that receive critical acclaim. A general rule of thumb is that I prefer the 2D games over the 3D ones, motion controls are always dumb, and the more cinematic they are, the worse games they tend to be -- I loved A Link Between Worlds on the 3DS but actually fell asleep a couple times while playing Skyward Sword on the Wii.

After about 20 hours of playtime with Breath of the Wild on the Switch, I remain unconvinced that it's a great game. It's not a bad game by any stretch of the imagination -- it's just not a game that gives me any incentive to keep on playing.

First, the good parts: The world looks great and its physics are well done. There are generally multiple ways to defeat a camp of enemies, from charging in sword swinging, to sneaking up like a Skyrim thief-archer, to waiting until nightfall and dropping a bomb on the explosives stash that is conveniently being used as pillows for the sleeping monsters. There is minimal handholding or "on rails" sections that force you to relearn the same tired lessons like "press this button to jump" or "a red rupee is worth 20 rupees!" You can also skip most cutscenes in the game, including the forgettable backstory scenes that are never worth watching as well as the interminable scenes showing your entrance into one of the 120 shrines on the map.

Breath of the Wild bills itself as an "open world" game in the vein of Skyrim or Fallout 4 but this is a little misleading. It is definitely vast, but feels pretty generic and static. After exploring every inch of the starting area (which is as big as some older games' worlds) I found nothing that would compel me to turn over every rock in future areas, whereas the tiny unique details built into the Skyrim world (like the lighthouse horror story) made me excited to veer off the main quest path at every opportunity. And no, collecting 100% of <useless Zelda collectible> is never a good enough reason.

At its heart, this game is really a cooking simulator with a hardened candy shell of Zelda themes baked around it. The game can be challenging, and cooking foods and elixirs provides temporary buffs to help you out. Unfortunately, there are so many ingredients to gather that you sometimes need to take breaks from the action to run around trees picking mushrooms or catch tiny bugs in the grass.

This leads to one of the key faults that I found with the game -- there are so many distractions from the main plot in the spirit of being "open world" and the world takes so long to travel across that I never really felt like I was making much progress. The distractions themselves are not exciting enough to make it worthwhile (conversely, I probably spent more time playing the Gwent minigame in Witcher 3 than I did on the main quest and was satisfied the whole time). Sure, there are optional puzzle shrines that feel a lot like classic Zelda dungeons, but each one is so short and lacking in character that their loading screens are often longer than the experience (look at the Tomb Raider series' "optional puzzle tomb" implementation for the right way to do things like this). Also, the optional puzzle shrines aren't so optional after all, since you must beat them to get new heart containers or increase your annoyingly low stamina.

Do you remember playing vanilla World of Warcraft and seeing a Silver Vein pop up on your minimap, forcing you to detour from your quest to mine it because it would be OCD madness to just leave it there? That's essentially my entire experience with Breath of the Wild. I'm traveling to the next quest point when my controller starts beeping to notify me of a mandatory optional puzzle shrine. While climbing up some huge mountain to search for it (the annoying beeping has a pretty massive radius so the shrine is not always easily visible) and stopping at various ledges to regain my stamina, I'll see some shiny rocks that I definitely need to blow up in case they contain important ingredients for my cooking experiments. Then I'll see an opal fly out worth several hundred rupees, but the physics engine will launch it off the mountain so I'll have to fly down to grab it.

Then, I don't have enough stamina to get back up the mountain so I'll run off to the nearest pond full of stamina fish or teleport back to the cache of stamina mushrooms in town to cook up a new batch of stamina food. I get back to the mountain but there is now a respawned enemy camp in my way and my last sword just shattered because some game developer ignored thirty years of amassed wisdom in what makes games fun by coding a weapon durability system that crushes your swords and your dreams, and makes you too cautious to ever use the fun, expensive weapons lest they break. So I whistle for my horse to go find a new weapon, but the horse is on the wrong side of the river and cannot swim. Then, Maia wakes up and I have to quit the game to change a diaper, having made zero progress towards my original goal.

Final Grade: C+, a game I would definitely continue to play when there's nothing better to do and the Overwatch servers are down.

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Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Time-lapsed Blogography Day: Twenty Years Ago Today

Twenty years ago today was January 17, 1998. It was a Saturday in Blacksburg and I lived with Dan Shiplett in 3119 East Ambler-Johnston. This was also the day of the "Bandquet" for the Fall '97 season of the Marching Virginians during which I got an "Outstanding Rank Member" award for having memorized all three trumpet parts of every song and never needing to march with a drill chart after the first two days of learning a new drill. I didn't actually hear about this award until after the Bandquet because Bandquets are social events and why would anyone go to a social event when they have a T1 Ethernet line in their dorm room?

The evening of the 17th started with a trumpet practice session in Squires. As the 3rd chair trumpet in the lowest tier university band, it was important that I maintained the ability to sound better than the 9 worse trumpets below me. I also worked some on jazz improvisation, which was not helpful as I went 0 for 2 on getting into the Jazz Band that year (I ended up in "Jazz Improv Lab" instead which was where we met with Chip McNeill once a week while he played his sax for a half hour and then class was cancelled the other 3 weeks out of the month).

On the way back, I picked up a chicken patty sandwich from Dietrick Express and ate it in my room while reading the webcomic, Sluggy Freelance, chatted with my online friends in the "Silvermoon Forest" roleplaying chatroom on the Webchat Broadcasting System, and listened to the loud populace of East AJ fan out for parties through my ground-floor window. (3119 was on both the third and ground floor at the same time, either because building engineers are bad at math, or because of hills).

Once the dorm had quieted down, I switched gears to composing the fourth movement of my interminable trumpet concerto, The Hero, which I was struggling to end authoritatively yet quietly. After fighting the music for about an hour, I shut down Finale 97 and ended the night with a game of the recently released Quake II. I went to bed around midnight which was about average for that time in my life.

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Friday, January 19, 2018

List Day: 10 Dream Facts

  1. I dream in colour.

  2. Most of my dreams are in first person perspective. Only very rarely do I have a dream where the viewpoint is third person (usually hovering behind my shoulders).

  3. I hate listening to people describe their own dreams because they're irrelevant if you weren't the one directly experiencing them. I have no idea if you're just making things up for kicks so why should I care?

  4. When I've gotten enough sleep in the night, I know I'm ready to wake up because my dreams will start taking place in and around my childhood home.

  5. When I've gotten way too much sleep, my dreams will try to bore me awake by being completely mundane (e.g., waiting around a room for something to happen) and taking an eternity to get through just a few minutes.

  6. I have many dreams that involve rushing to get somewhere but being unable to move faster than some low maximum walking speed, like an NPC in a World of Warcraft Escort Quest.

  7. I used wake up and jot down keywords to help me remember my dreams in Junior High School. I can still remember some of them vividly when reviewing the list of keywords.

  8. I have never tried lucid dreaming but I sometimes recognize that I'm dreaming.

  9. I have never had dreams where I'm magically flying or falling endlessly. Everything is on the ground.

  10. I sometimes have unsettling dreams but never have viscerally scary ones. The one time I thought I did and woke up, it was because Booty and Sydney had decided to have a cat fight on my balls.

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Monday, January 22, 2018

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

This Is Us, Season One:
This network dramedy tells the story of a minorly dysfunctional family using two separate timelines: a set of sibling triplets in their thirties in present day and flashbacks to key events in their parents' lives years earlier. It's incredibly emotionally manipulative in its feel-good moments, but remains highly watchable anyhow because of strong performances and a good balance of comedy. The season finale is disappointing as the story manipulates you into thinking a key question about the family will be resolved but then punts it after three up-the-middles.

Final Grade: B+

Get Out (R):
This movie suffers from the same issue that many "unexpected horror" movies face -- the fact that the rug is going to be pulled out from under you is telegraphed through previews and the cover art to convince people to watch it, but the various twists and turns function best when you get to experience the building tension without any preconceptions. In spite of this, both Rebecca and I enjoyed watching (and Rebecca usually doesn't like horror movies). It blends jump-scares and unsettling creepiness together well, and has just the right amount of comic relief.

Final Grade: B+

Humans, Season Two:
Everyone is talking about Westworld these days, but this UK gem that came before it is largely unhyped. Season Two of this show about robots gaining consciousness picks up a few months after the first and never stumbles in its delivery. It maintains a hopeful tone with sympathetic characters and ends with a game-changing plot culmination that could work as either a season or series finale. Free on Amazon Prime.

Final Grade: A-

Miss Sloane:
This movie about the effect of powerful lobbyists on Congress starts off better than it ends. It gets more predictable as it proceeds and the constant hammering of the "you have to be one step ahead of your opponent at all times" mantra in voiceover eliminates any sense of suspense from the ongoing drama. I think Jessica Chastain was in every single movie made in this year so skip this one and watch a different one instead. Free on Amazon Prime.

Final Grade: C+

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Wednesday, January 24, 2018

List Day: Currently...

  • Currently listening to... The Anthology by Return to Forever.

  • Currently reading... Stormed Fortress by Janny Wurts.

  • Currently playing... Overwatch with a little Super Mario Odyssey on the side.

  • Currently composing... nothing in almost 6 years aside from baby jingles.

  • Currently considering buying... nothing.

  • Currently coding... nothing in 4 months.

  • Currently planning... a trip to LA in March and a trip to Rhode Island in April.

  • Currently learning... how salt affects taste and how to play the recorder.

  • Currently watching... Lovesick, Season Three, Westworld, Season One, and Vexed, Season One.

  • Currently anticipating... weather that's consistently warm enough to go back to the park daily.

  • Currently exercising... about two and a half hours per week.

  • Currently weighing... 130 pounds.

This update was sponsored in part by LiveJournal.

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Friday, January 26, 2018

Maia Week #29 Battle Report

Maia is now 6.67397 months old and an average of 15.4 pounds. Meanwhile, her dad is 38.361644 years old and 130 pounds and not nearly as crowd-pleasing. Maia continues to be a generally happy baby with an easy-to-elicit smile, and it's almost impossible to get a candid shot of her where she's not noticing the camera. This should satisfy my dad, who hates candid shots and trained all of my sister's kids to look at the camera on command by the age of 3.

Individual days are getting easier now as Maia can sit and self-play for longer than before, and we have a larger variety of settings and activities to rotate through between naps. We've also started doing a one hour enforced nap around lunchtime in addition to one in the evening, and that's working about 50% of the time (up from 0% in the first week of trying). She's not crawling or doing much rolling (except to roll out of the hated tummy time) but she excels at Sit and Reach and continues to clap for the most mundane reasons.

Maia continues to eat things that aren't milk, like beef, wheat cereal, and peanut butter, but her overall appetite has decreased recently. I dislike feeding her pureed meats because of the disgusting powdery consistency that is nothing like a delicious steak, so we blend it up with a metric ton of pureed apple or maybe a block of lentils -- it's like playing Zelda: Breath of the Wild in real life. She also likes sucking on cold coke cans (wiped down in advance, of course).

By this point, we're fully detached from charts and graphs, and I personally haven't glanced at a week-to-week milestone book since about week 20. There's a Wonder Week coming up at Week 37 but I have no idea what will happen then -- probably webbed wings or a fascination with anime. It's fun to watch her grow into her skin over time, and she's definitely looking more like a little person every day!

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Monday, January 29, 2018

List Day: 10 Ways We Have Greeted Our Small Human

  1. Maia Papaya

  2. L.G. (for "Little Girl" if you're Rebecca or "Lil' Gangsta'" if you're me)

  3. Maiawatha

  4. Cuteness Everdeen

  5. Oscar Maia

  6. Nugget / Nugnug

  7. Mai Mai

  8. Hermaiaknee

  9. It's-a me-a, Maia!

  10. Maia Christmas

Also, this will be Maia's theme song in future home videos.

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Wednesday, January 31, 2018

End-of-the-Month Highlights Day

New photos have been added to the Life, 2018 album. Google Photos sucks.

  • Events
    • Rang in the New Year with Sara, Car, and Ben in the comfort of our living room on M 1/1. Had Wegmans sushi for dinner on the night of the 1st after discovering that all of the delivery restaurants were closed.

    • Sara left our basement and went back to cold Minneapolis on W 1/3.

    • It snowed gently on H 1/4.

    • Maia got a visit from Marc on F 1/5. We had the slowest papusas ever from Papusa Express that night.

    • Rebecca's dad came over for a shrimp fettucini dinner on S 1/6.

    • Maia had her 6 month pediatric visit on M 1/8, then took visiting tours of Novetta and Inova PT Center in Tysons.

    • We went down to the Ahlbins for an overnight on F 1/12.

    • We had a Cafesano family date on T 1/16 after testing out our giant jogging stroller.

    • It snowed gently on W 1/17.

    • Tammy came over for a stir fry dinner in our long-lost wok on F 1/19.

    • We took a strolled walk all across the trails of Reston on S 1/20. Then, Rebecca took Maia to Uncle Dave's birthday party in Taylorstown while Brian went out for a solo date at Miller's Ale House where he ate 35 fried shrimp.

    • Rebecca took Maia to a dog's birthday party on S 1/21.

    • Aunt Carol came to visit Maia on H 1/25.

    • Rebecca finally cashed in her raffle massage, mani, pedi at the Four Seasons on F 1/26 (won at SterlingFest in October '17).

    • Rebecca had an all-day PT class on S 1/27 so Brian and Maia went to the Uris in Alexandria. We had subs from Joe's Pizzaria for dinner and watched The Big Sick.

    • Rebecca and Maia met up with Jessika at a farmer's market on S 1/28. Brian ended up with a shoulder / neck muscle ailment that prevented him from sleeping comfortably most of the night.

    • Visited the Uris again with Maia on W 1/31.

  • Projects
    • Work and baby for the most part.

  • Consumerism
    • Got to level 1002 in Overwatch. Reinstalled Fallout 4 but having trouble getting past the abysmal UI and long load screens.

    • Enjoyed The Big Sick and consuming Westworld somewhat tenatively.

    • No new music this month. I don't really listen to much new music anymore!

January's Final Grade: B-, January is always a pretty tedious month.

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