08/2018

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

New Edition Day

The URI! Zone is 22 years old this month. If it were human, it would now face the depressing dearth of notable birthday values between 21 and 30, and probably decide go back to grad school for a master's degree. By the numbers, the URI! Zone has had 4091 blog posts, 8537 comments, and over 171,944 unique visits in recorded modern history.

Like Old Faithful, this site continues to have a persistent eruption of mediocre to decent content on a semi-regular basis. The inexorable journey to future fame will continue in year 23, with regular posts on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Fan favourites like 12 of 12 will remain, and I'll make sure to post enough raw data about Maia's digestion to support any future science projects she does in elementary school.

Some of the more innovative features you can expect this year:

  • Introducing the URI! Zone mobile app, which uses microtransactions so you can buy a hat for your comments avatar (proceeds go towards Maia's trade school fund because air conditioning repair will be in even higher high demand twenty years from now).

  • Using convolutional neural networks and deep learning to figure out which types of posts are most likely to elicit discussion in the comments section, then never writing any of those posts again.

  • Converting the website header graphic into a Virtual Reality landscape so you can actually drive down the road into the URI! Zone.

  • Creating a companion web show documenting the life of our family in three minute video episodes (or is this too 2008?)

  • More exclamation points!

Thank you for your continued visits over the ages!!

tagged as website | permalink | 3 comments

Friday, August 03, 2018

Maia Month #13 Battle Report

Maia is mere days away from being 13 months old, although she still weighs just under 20 pounds and can fit in many onesies in the 6-9 month range. She's had a pretty weird sleep schedule the past week or so, and sometimes will only sleep for about 90 minutes in a single nap midday (and 10 - 11 hours straight through the night). When awake, she's crawling everywhere and recently figured out how to get up into the rocking chair using her side-saddle leg methodology.

Maia is very opinionated now, quick to get frustrated if she isn't getting what she wants (Cheerios) or we take her away from a dangerous situation (picking her up when she keeps trying to crawl into the street at the park). She still isn't speaking, beyond calling everyone and everything "dada", but she's very vocal and has her own collection of grunts paired with finger-pointing to express herself.

She now likes a few of her stuffed animals, notably Two-ty the ostrich head (so named because she reminds us of Booty the cat, so it's Booty Two), Chippy the chipmunk, and Leeloo the llama, but her favourite at the moment is her nameless bunny head on a blanket that she takes to bed with her. Other regular activities include "reading" all the books on her shelf, emptying out lower drawers, library storytime with Rebecca, and afternoon mall walks with me when the humidity is too high for a park visit. She loves water-based activities but hates when I turn the water off in the bathtub because the environment is not as important as playing with running water.

On the parent side, we're doing well. We have the routines down pretty decently now and even squeeze some time in here and there for pre-baby activities like yoga and video games. A couple times, we even had friends over for real meals!

tagged as offspring, day-to-day | permalink | 0 comments

Monday, August 06, 2018

Data Day: The Technology Timeline For My Career

tagged as data, programming | permalink | 2 comments

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

Rise of the Tomb Raider:
I first gave this game a B- back in January 2017. I recently picked it up again because I wasn't sure if I'd given it enough of a chance. I can now say that its predecessor, the Tomb Raider reboot is superior in every way. The parts of this game where you're actually playing are fun, with tight controls and neat mini-puzzles. However, the game beats you over the head with continuous cutscenes telling a boring story with awful voice acting and much of your time is spent on loading screens, backtracking through old levels to open up impassable barriers with new tools you gained in later levels (this is an awful idea in Zelda games too). The whole package ends up being tedious and momentumless and I was sick of playing by the time I reached the final boss.

Final Re-Grade: C-

Moss VR:
This is a charming, well-constructed VR game in which you help a mouse defeat an evil serpent in a storybook-style land (heavy shades of Redwall abound). You control the mouse with your Oculus Touch controllers but can also interact with the environment as a god-like character, moving blocks out of the way or distracting enemies so the mouse can get in a good sword strike. The game is very polished and cute, but it is also over very quickly without much evolution in play style or replayability. It's nice that content like this with high production values is being made for VR, but definitely wait for a sale.

Final Grade: B-

The Joel McHale Show with Joel McHale, Season One Part Two:
Six more episodes of this show have dropped on Netflix, but they're hit or miss in quality. The show needs to devote more time to mocking reality TV shows and less time on original skits -- all of the skits play out at the mercy of whichever guest star is plugging a new show that week, and many of them are out of their comedic element. Free on Netflix.

Final Grade: B-

The Gallant by Janny Wurts:
This extended novella is available in a new, massive Kindle bundle (99 cents for 6 fantasy stories spanning 1600 pages) called Secrets and Spells. I'll review the whole collection if I ever get through it, but this particular story is definitely worth the 99 cents on its own. The story takes place in the world of the epic Wars of Light and Shadow series (for which I run the Paravia Wiki), and delves into the backstory of a minor character several hundred years before the main story begins. There's an immediacy to the story that kept me reading (I finished it in an evening) and this is a good taster for Janny Wurts' writing style. (See also, my full Amazon review).

Final Grade: A

tagged as reviews | permalink | 0 comments

Friday, August 10, 2018

List Day: 5 More New Parent Inventions

A follow-up to this post

  • Sink n' Grow: A nanotechnology-based home where the floors get lower as the baby gets taller, so you don't have to keep moving everything on the low shelves just a few more inches out of reach.

  • Edible Batteries: AA Batteries made from a non-toxic, cruelty-free, gluten-free substance that eliminate the need for that annoying tiny screw protecting every battery alcove on every electronic toy.

  • Camo-food: Augmented Reality glasses for baby that make the boring dinner puree look exactly like whatever complex carbohydrate undigestable nonsense dad is eating.

  • Musical Downloadable Content (DLC): Extend your sanity by downloading new songs into your musical toys so you never have to hear Violet's "Morning Song" ever again.

  • Amazon One Hour Delivery Baby Gear: Never pack a baby bag when leaving the house again. Simply set up a list of common needs (stroller, high chair, pack n' play, etc.) and tell Alexa where you're heading when you leave the house. Amazon will deliver low-quality, recyclable versions of these supplies to your destination, be it a trip to Target, a friend's house for dinner, or all of the motels on your road trip.

tagged as lists, inventions | permalink | 3 comments

Monday, August 13, 2018

Chad Darnell's 12 of 12

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

8:12 AM: Up and at 'em, much later than normal.
8:22 AM: Bagel for breakfast.
10:09 AM: Good morning!
10:49 AM: Rebecca comes home from morning yoga.
11:17 AM: Doing some much needed lines in the yard between thunderstorms.
12:10 PM: Hair is cut for another three weeks.
1:00 PM: Family music time.
3:55 PM: Naptime concludes.
5:06 PM: Car travels.
5:28 PM: Early dinner at Burton's.
7:34 PM: Amber only has one upper canine tooth now, but still enjoys sitting next to Rebecca when she's eating frozen custard.
8:19 PM: Bathtime!

tagged as 12 of 12 | permalink | 1 comment

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Memory Day: Snapshots

This picture was taken two years ago today, on August 15, 2016. Maia did not yet exist.

On our way out of Boulder, Colorado towards Estes Park, we stopped for lunch at the original Oskar Blues for beer flights. These massively American-looking meals were our lunch for the day. Clearly we were bulking up for our attempt at hiking a 14er in the coming weeks. I was also on a mac and cheese kick, ordering mac and cheese at every restaurant that had it in Colorado, in hopes of finding the best one. Although no restuarant's serving was the winner, I won by getting to eat a lot of mac and cheese.

In the evening on this same day, we went hiking at Rocky Mountain National Park and made some furry friends.

tagged as memories | permalink | 1 comment

Friday, August 17, 2018

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

Arrested Development, Season Five, Part One:
This batch of 8 episodes is far better than the fourth season, but still not on par with the originals. The characters are all in the same room much more often leading to funnier jokes and reactions. The plot boldly picks up right after season four but there are enough flashbacks to refresh your memory so you don't have to rewatch it. I enjoyed the general silliness, although I felt Gob and Tobias were surprisingly overused this time around and I'm not totally sure where the plot is heading (8 more episodes are due later this year to close out the season).

Final Grade: B-

Brother HL-L2370DWXL Laser Printer:
I got this printer after the lightning storm fried my Dell workhorse. The key ingredients I look for in a laser printer are automated duplex printing and a wired Ethernet port. This printer worked right away with minimal configuration and warms up quickly when coming out of hibernation. It's somewhat loud when printing, but not a dealbreaker. I've heard that Brother printers are a little ruthless about toner replacement, but have not printed enough things to experience this.

Final Grade: B+

EVGA GeForce GTX 1080 SC2 (08G-P4-6583-KR):
I got this card to replace the lightning-fried GTX 960 I used to have -- I splurged a bit after work reimbursed me for $1000 worth of AWS certifications. I can run all basic (pancake) games at ultra settings without any dips, and can finally experience some sharp visuals in intense VR games like The Climb, which previously maxed out at about 40 FPS on the lowest graphic settings. Another plus: the fan is normally quiet, but has a consistent noise when running -- none of the annoying "ghost" wavering that some older cards exhibited.

Final Grade: B+ (Would be an A if it were about $100 cheaper)

Dusty Rainbow From the Dark by Wax Tailor:
This concept album by French trip hip-hop (trhip-hop) artist, Wax Tailor, is very cool in a conceptual kind of way. A good example is the track, Time To Go. A variety of soundscapes interspersed with light storytelling result in a cohesive sound that's fun to listen to, if not great for the foreground. It also comes with a 2nd CD featuring all of the tracks as instrumentals, which is nearly as good. This is not my favourite CD ever, but I appreciate that people are still making music like this instead of the neverending line of sterilized singles.

Final Grade: B

tagged as reviews | permalink | 0 comments

Monday, August 20, 2018

Weekend Wrap-up

Maia gets to visit with her Aunt Ellen and 3 cousins, fresh off the plane from Rhode Island.

7 out of 8 isn't bad.

Rebecca and Sara made a bourbon peach upside-down cake.

We threw a small yogi party for Sara's return.

tagged as day-to-day | permalink | 3 comments

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Memory Day: 1990 - 1991

It's been over a year since this BU origin story series atrophied into nonexistence, so I thought I'd try to revive it. I'm switching to school years instead of real years, since that's how my memories are chunked together until I left grad school.

In the 1990 - 1991 school year, I was an 11-year-old 7th grader. Francis C. Hammond was a Junior High School with grades from 7 to 9 (so I was there at the same time as my 9th grade sister) and while everyone else in the 7th grade was a hormonal mess, I was much younger and just wanted to play games all the time. I didn't understand or subscribe to being cool (as evinced by the fact that I was that kid who ran through the halls between classes) although I was plenty arrogant and a know-it-all. This wasn't helped by the fact that I was the only trumpet player in the 32-member band program which added even more unnecessary spotlight on me.

I had a pretty typical class schedule, with band being my single elective in the year:

  • Ms. Landrum had neat, cursive handwriting and laughed when I volunteered to bring the film projector down from the A/V room. I did it anyways even though it weighed more than me.
  • Gym was notable because we had a bowling alley across the street and actually bowled during the Bowling unit. I had a custom-engraved 6 pound Mickey Mouse bowling ball (which I finally gave to the son of the neighbours across the street, two eras of neighbours ago) because all of the others were too big for me.
  • I spent most of Life Science drawing fantasy sketches with pen and ink, but also managed to squeeze in the science project, Global Warming - How Will It Affect the Agricultural World?, in which I briefly talked about statistical signifiance using words that only my dad would have used, and I finally concluded that global warming would have more of a negative effect than a positive one.
  • My band director was Mr. Randall, who also took me aside and gave me free private lessons in the early morning until I could finally hit the G above treble clef in "Somewhere Out There" from An American Tail.
  • I brought large quantities of Quaker Chewy granola bars (from the Price Club) to math class and handed them out so kids would like me more.
  • Mrs. Hamberger's English class was unmemorable, although she got in a car accident halfway through the year and was replaced by a sub.

When not playing cutting-edge new PC games like The Secret of Monkey Island or King's Quest V, I was busy stalking my second crush, the girl a grade higher that also played computer games, in cringe-inducing ways such as leaving notes in her locker, biking past her house all the time, and walking home near (but not next to) her like a moth near a porch light. Not surprisingly, none of these embarrassing actions led to romance.

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

tagged as memories | permalink | 1 comment

Friday, August 24, 2018

Booty Retrospective Day

It has been just over a year since we lost Booty to mouth cancer (the actual condition and not a euphemism for eating vegetables). Between a one-month-old baby and the tail end of my job at the software startup, it was not an easy time, and I definitely cried. I recall going to bed that day at 6 PM after vigorously steam-cleaning Booty's drooly end-of-life dens simply because I was done being awake for day. (This was also the day I got 11 hours of sleep as a new dad). Thankfully, Annie came out from LA soon after and helped Rebecca take care of Maia, allowing me a little extra time to get my psyche back in order.

I did not expect to get as emotional as I did over a cat because, at the end of the day, it's just a cat. I love cats but I'm one of those people that take cats to the vet only when they're sick and do the best home care I can the rest of the time (Amber hasn't had a rabies update since 2005). If there was ever a situation where I had to choose between paying for a cat surgery or taking care of my human family, I'd pick the humans every time with minimal guilt.

I guess Booty was different because she spanned multiple discreet eras of my life, from the conclusion of my life as an occasional composer in Florida, to my quiet bachelor years looking for love in the wrong places, to my life with Rebecca (who eventually became Booty's real true love). I didn't feel as strongly when Kitty died and probably won't be overcome when Amber dies (sorry, Amber!).

Booty was a great cat, but she also made Amber into an end table cat. Jealous for any signs of affection, Booty would consistently prevent Amber from getting close to any humans for naps or snuggles or other Booty-centric activities. Once Booty was gone, Amber transformed into a much more cuddly cat almost immediately. She started by sleeping on Rebecca's pillow right next to her head, and graduated to always napping with Rebecca in the bed or on the couch. Though never as food-oriented as Booty, Amber now meows for breakfast in the morning, conspicuously near the sleeping baby room as a form of blackmail.

There is no real point to this post other than to note that pets will unexpectedly and immeasurably enrich your life, either with loyalty and affection or a 3 AM vomit all over the bedspread. Also, my definition of a pet implicitly includes the word "mammal" -- snakes are not pets.

tagged as deep thoughts, cats | permalink | 3 comments

Monday, August 27, 2018

Weekend Wrap-up

We spent a long weekend at a swanky cabin in Strasburg, VA, just 2 miles down I-81 (which is just about as far as anyone is willing to travel down I-81).

Maia enjoyed floating in the 70 degree pool although Rebecca was not so thrilled.

Maia also enjoyed expressing her artistic talent on the neverending shelf paper art station hidden behind a secret door under the house.

With Tammy and Zoe, we made delicious, extravagant breakfasts and dinners, and never had to drive off the mountain beyond an initial grocery run.

On Sunday, the ladies took a steep hike down the gravel road into the valley below, while I stayed behind and did absolutely nothing.

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

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Review Day: Dead Cells (PC)

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

Dead Cells is an addictive mash-up of three separate gaming genres. At its core, it's a side-scrolling platformer with monsters to kill and challenging boss fights like the Castlevania series. As a Rogue-like game, death is permanent and kicks you back to the beginning of the game with reset stats and basic starter equipment. Some earned abilities are permanent and persist beyond death, allowing you to explore old levels in new ways, evoking comparisons to the Metroid series and reducing the general level of frustration.

This feedback cycle of explore, grow powerful, and die is perfectly implemented, with interesting loot drops, forgiving but tight controls, and randomly generated levels that contain enough common features so that you learn what to expect, if not exactly how it will come at you. You have to reach the end of levels to save your progress towards permanent upgrades, creating a nice risk-reward mechanism for how long you choose to explore a dangerous level for better loot, and how much you might lose if you die before you exit.

As you gain permanent upgrades (like the ability to grow a climbing vine, stick to walls, or smash through floors), alternate paths through the world open up into completely optional levels just as you start to get tired of the original ones. There's always just enough freshness to keep you exploring, and no single run feels particularly grindy. For example, killing the first boss might seem impossible on your first few runs, but gradual permanent upgrades will eventually make him managable. Immediately afterwards, you'll unlock new options that make him much easier to beat on subsequent runs. It's challenging without feeling tedious.

I'm not great at platformer games, but there are enough different ways to develop the character (melee, ranged, trap-based, elemental magic) that I can find ways to play my strengths. And since the build essentially resets on death, there's plenty of incentive and opportunity to experiment with builds that I wouldn't normally consider.

The music and sound design is well done. Graphically, I'm not a huge fan of the 16-bit style, but the animations are fluid enough to minimize my annoyance. I purchased the game on PC and have rare issues using double jump properly with mouse and keyboard -- a console purchase or a game controller might be more comfortable. Regardless of the platform, this is a nicely-polished $20 package with plenty of replayability and content. I've already put about 20 hours of play in and have not grown tired of it.

Final Grade: B+

tagged as reviews, games | permalink | 3 comments

Friday, August 31, 2018

End-of-the-Month Highlights Day

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

  • Events
    • Went to the dentist for an overly long cleaning on F 8/3. Amber's front canine tooth started to fall out. Had burgers at Beer-Bourbon-Burgers for dinner.

    • Went to the Ambrogne's in Burke for dinner on S 8/4. Maia got to play with Emma and Norah.

    • Had a Solo Dad Date at Miller's while Rebecca and Maia visited some grandparents on S 8/5.

    • Did a full 9 hour day in the office on M 8/6, the first since I left that startup last August.

    • Pulled Amber's tooth on W 8/8, saving us an expensive vet trip.

    • Visited the Ahlbin clan in Fredericksburg on F 8/10 - S 8/11.

    • Went to Burton's for dinner on S 8/12.

    • Converged on my parent's house on W 8/15 for the arrival of Maia's 3 cousins.

    • Sara came to visit from Minneapolis and stayed in our basement starting on H 8/16. Had Car over for a Sara-themed taco night.

    • Visited my parents again for a massive grandkid-fest and taco party on F 8/17.

    • Went for a brief, humid walk with Maia at Claude Moore on S 8/18 then had dinner at The V.

    • Threw a party for Sara's return on S 8/19, sans meats, because, yogis.

    • Had a yogi salmon dinner with Rebecca, Sara, and Car, and also Facetimed Michelle in Berkeley on M 8/20.

    • The weather broke and Maia got to stroller-walk around Lake Anne on W 8/22.

    • Sara returned to Minneapolis on H 8/23. Took Maia for a cool walk in Algonkian.

    • Rented a cabin in Strasburg with Tammy and Zoe for the weekend, F 8/24 - M 8/27.

    • The Uri grandparents came to visit Maia on H 8/30.

    • Got my brake pads replaced on F 8/31. Had a solo dinner date at Miller's while Rebecca and Maia went out to visit Elizabeth, Sammy, and Renae.

  • Projects
    • No unusual projects this month.

  • Consumerism
    • Enjoyed watching Safe, Season One and reading The Gallant by Janny Wurts.

    • No new music of note this month.

    • Played Dead Cells in rare bits of free time.

August's Final Grade: B, neverending heat detracts from a nice month

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

 

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