02/2020

Monday, February 03, 2020

Weekend Wrap-up

Happy February!

On Friday morning, we took a trip down to Fredericksburg to visit the Ahlbins and actually hit an I-95 sweet spot where I could drive faster than 20 mph. Maia alternated between loving the novelty of being kid #7 of 6 and needing a quiet corner to decompress in.

We stayed until Saturday evening, then drove up the road to visit the Hickses for dinner. Heavy rains tried to keep us from home, but we made it back to Sterling on Saturday night in about 75 minutes.

On Sunday, we had a half-hearted Super Bowl party with Chih, Sena, and Maia's best friend, Nolan, featuring two kinds of beef over rice: grilled teriyaki chuck roast with grilled pineapples, and pan-fried short ribs. We watched the game until halftime when the kids started getting tired then called it a night.

How was your weekend?

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Wednesday, February 05, 2020

Memory Day: Snapshots

This picture was taken 10 years ago, on February 6, 2010.

We kicked off a month of snow with a blizzard on February 5. By the time I took this picture the next morning, I had already shoveled on 3 separate occasions. There was enough on the ground (and enough in the following week) that Rebecca got to stay home to sell her T-shirts from the comfort of our dual office.

The neighbours across the street in this picture are long gone. The ones on the left have been replaced with people that let their tiny, yappy dogs run freely in the street while the ones on the right have been replaced twice since then. I presume that the house on the right is haunted.

tagged as memories | permalink | 1 comment

Friday, February 07, 2020

Maia Battle Report: Year 2 Month 7

Maia is another month older and wiser. She talks all the time and invents brand new sentences based on established concepts.

  • "We ever been here before, daddy?" - said when we go somewhere that we haven't been to in awhile.
  • "Don't say that, daddy!" - said when she doesn't like the song I'm inventing or I'm saying something that isn't true. She uses conjunctions like "don't" when talking to others but consistently uses "do not" when expressing her own thoughts and opinions.
  • "Maybeeee..." - said when she knows that there are multiple options to answer a questsion but expects you to list the options before she makes a decision.
  • "This is a bunk house!" - said when I added a 2nd floor to her house built out of blocks

Maia doesn't really want to watch TV anymore except for an occasional episode of Superwings. She will choose play time over TV time consistently, and often selects play time over ice cream as well. Naptime has become "poop and quiet time". She has napped only about 5 times since the beginning of 2020 but is content to play in her room by herself for 2 hours while everyone else recharges. Her primary activity these days is to build houses for bunnies out of foam yoga mat pieces and foam blocks.

She is enamoured with her Original Bunny and seems to live vicariously through it at all times -- she may not want me to Nose-Frida the snot out of her nose, but she'll let bunny do it. She doesn't want to go to the restaurant, but bunny will go (and she follows implicitly, of course). If I'm not careful, an entire afternoon can go by where I do nothing but draw more bunnies on scratch paper.

She is also excelling at puzzles, easily doing 12 - 24 piece puzzles, sometimes with the back facing up. She always puts on a show for the very last piece, crying out, "Where's the last piece at!?" to make sure you're paying attention before flourishing it into position.

We're getting ready to sign her up for pre-school through Loudoun County, which will entail 2 mornings per week for 3-4 hours each morning in the Fall. She visited the school twice and enjoyed the classrooms, mainly the sensory rice boxes.

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Monday, February 10, 2020

Weekend Wrap-up

On Friday afternoon, I replaced our 9-year-old ice maker water line that was making Rebecca's iced drinks taste skunky. It took 2.5 hours and several newly bored holes behind the kitchen cabinets to remove the old line and just a half hour to install the new line. The operation was a success and our new ice since then is completely tasteless.

Maia had her first stomach bug on Friday, honking twice -- once at the end of naptime and once in the middle of the night. It was the first, but probably not the last, 3 AM laundry done in our house.

On Saturday, I cleaned out the basement crawlspace to get ready for finishing. I plan to seal up the holes the mice are using to get in a poop on our Christmas decorations and make the space slightly friendlier for future use as a Maia fort. In the afternoon, the family went to Inner Power Yoga for Rebecca's 3rd Lil Yogis class. Attendance was high and popularity soaring. We finished the evening with dinner at Red Robin to use up a coupon.

We did our normal Sunday morning routine of yoga followed by McDonald's hash browns. In the afternoon, we went across the street for Jax's 3rd Birthday Party (dinosaur-themed). Maia did unexpectedly well at Pin the Tail, so there may have been peeking involved.

We might have considered watching the Oscars in the evening had ABC not become completely unfriendly to cable-cutters in its streaming options.

How was your weekend?

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Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Chad Darnell's 12 of 12

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

6:29 AM: Showered and ready for the day.
6:41 AM: Bagel for breakfast.
7:17 AM: Squeezing in some work in the early hours.
8:48 AM: Breakfast with Maia while Rebecca goes to a PT conference / class.
11:10 AM: The grandparents stop by to get their Valentine.
11:45 AM: Eating bread. Just bread.
1:14 PM: "No, daddy, don't say that! This is bunny's warren not 'lizabeth's warren."
2:28 PM: This nap does not seem to be very naplike.
2:57 PM: Catnap.
4:15 PM: She'll only play if there's music on the stand.
5:41 PM: Dinner at Ford's Fish Shack after finding that The V has closed permanently.
6:39 PM: "I missed you, mommy!"

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Friday, February 14, 2020

Review Day: A Conjuring of Assassins by Cate Glass / Carol Berg

There are no major spoilers in this review.

A Conjuring of Assassins is the second book in the Chimera series by Carol Berg, writing under the pen name, Cate Glass. (I also reviewed Book One, An Illusion of Thieves last year). The author delivers a satisfying, self-contained story that can be appreciated on its own, but doesn't push the overall series forward in a significant way.

Book Two picks up immediately after the grand caper in Book One, with Romy and her friends recruited to solve a tangled political problem by using their particular talents. The first 20% of the book is peppered with plenty of gentle recap, which will be great if Book One isn't fresh in your mind but more irritating if you're reading them back-to-back. There's an overreliance on coincidence to introduce new story elements, such as Placidio the swordsman running afoul with the Pizotti family, Romy's encounter with a familiar lawyer, or the discovery of an injured man in the fog.

Once the characters begin their new assignment in earnest (around Chapter 6), the book finds its stride and will keep you hooked until the end. The heist storyline is centered more around political intrigue and influence this time, adding a well-executed layer of interest above simply stealing a MacGuffin. I have always appreciated the way that this author builds suspense in a central mystery by methodically dropping hints and reminders of key questions until the master plan becomes clear to the reader -- this approach works particularly well in the Chimera series.

The characters (both new and old) are well-written although they don't evolve much beyond their starting points. Granted, this makes tons of sense when you consider that the entire book takes place in roughly a week, but the characters sometimes toe the line between being interesting in their own right and treading water as mere plot ciphers.

More noticeable is the fact that the world-building takes a backseat in this outing. This is a fun "heist of the week" story that takes place in Cantagna -- the intricate foundation of societal structure, mysticism, and beliefs that the author established in Book One is no closer to culmination by the end. I would have appreciated a few more breadcrumbs to keep me invested. For example, we see the 'sniffers' in action many times, but are no closer to understanding their predicament or means of detection. Romy's visions of antiquity are obviously telegraphing something about future books, but the reveals relegated to the final pages of Book Two offer more questions than answers.

With calibrated expectations, there is a lot to love in A Conjuring of Assassins. This is a tasty morsel of a story that acts as a refreshing palate cleanser in between volumes of your favourite byzantine epic fantasy. Read it for the well-choreographed caper plot that doesn't fall back on a trite, neverending succession of backstabs to surprise. Read it for the main characters that realize they are made stronger through their trust and friendship and the supporting characters that are too delightfully complex to label as pure villains. Just don't be surprised if you reach the end and are left wanting, like a mid-season episode of Alias!

Final Grade: B-

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Monday, February 17, 2020

DIY Day: Crawlspace Rejuvenation, Part I of II

Since no one ever committed to manufacturing my idea for a smart mouse trap, checking the crawlspace for dead mice was a regular activity in 2019. I resolved to seal up the crawlspace in 2020 and finally got started this past weekend.

Thursday: Evict all of the Christmas decorations and myriad boxes of Rebecca's high school memories to de-mouse-poopify. Shred several ruined rolls of excess carpet and throw in the trash.
Friday: Tear out the atrophying remains of the external insulation.
Friday: Locate the mousehole-to-hell and seal it with enough foam sealant to deter a small mammal.
Saturday: Install new insulation, while styling the finest in AmazonBasics safety equipment.
Saturday: Seal up the external insulation with a moisture shield. Use up the leftover insulation on interior walls for no good reason. Briefly consider installing an old-timey spyhole into the next room, disguised by a portrait of a Civil War general.
Sunday: Cut and install the first 64 square feet of drywall in a space completely devoid of true right angles. Initially neglect to remember that the entrance to the crawlspace is much narrower than most of the drywall segments. Hand-wave away any irregularities by saying, "I'll spackle that gap later."

Remaining Steps

  • Cutting and installing 80 more square feet of drywall.
  • 3 rounds of spackling.
  • Sanding, priming, and painting.
  • Move 80 tons of stuff we rarely use back into the space.

Tune in on Friday for the thrilling conclusion!

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Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Review Day: World of Warcraft Redux

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

The WoW Diary: A Journal of Computer Game Development:
This is a fun look into the development of the original World of Warcraft (2000 - 2004), written by one of the original designers of dungeons and indoor spaces. It's only mildly technical and worth a read for anyone who has fond memories of playing WoW. It gets a little repetitive towards the end but is a fast, pleasant read throughout.

Final Grade: B

World of Warcraft in 2020:
Out of nostalgia for the glory days, I resubscribed for a month of WoW to see what has changed. The answer? Nearly everything. Skill trees are replaced by change-anytime Specializations and Talents (a la Diablo 3) and everything has been streamlined as much as possible to get you to max level. All of the new features are cluttered by detritus from the old, like 800 class trainers scattered all over the cities that no longer serve any purpose in the game.

Logging into old characters results in a confusing hieroglyphic of the few remaining skills on your Action Bar that haven't been replaced and about 30 seconds of glowing notifications while the game grants you the 200 achievements you missed. One of my characters actually leveled up just by walking from a mailbox to an auction house because of some new exploration zone overlayed on an old location.

It's too complex to jump back in after so many changes, so I started a few new characters to learn like a new player. A change I'm ambivalent on is "world scaling", where each zone scales up or down to match your current level. While this lets you quest at your leisure without ever outleveling the quest rewards, it opens up cheese tactics like getting 10,000 experience points for a starting area quest to kill 5 boars, and prevents you from ever running through an old zone without getting attacked by a spider. Animations feel just a little bit more unstable than they used to, with damage done to monsters half a second before your character reacts.

I ultimately quit again after just two weeks. There has always been a conflict between the leveling process and the endgame, and Blizzard has made leveling easier so more people can sit around at level 120. This implicitly takes the fun out of a huge chunk of the game. When you gain levels so fast that you don't even have time to enjoy your current gear or get comfortable with new skills (I went from level 38 to 46 in about 4 hours of questing), you don't get a chance to appreciate the world as you go, and you rarely have an incentive to talk to real people. "Rush to the end where there's nothing to do" is so ingrained in the gameplay now that they might as well remove level 1- 119 altogether.

After canceling Warcraft, I reinstalled Elder Scrolls Online for a free-to-play, solo-friendly experience that's so much prettier looking, and have enjoyed playing it in spurts between drywall installation and Maia care.

tagged as reviews, games | permalink | 1 comment

Friday, February 21, 2020

DIY Day: Crawlspace Rejuvenation, Part II of II

Continued from Part I

Monday: Cut and install the remaining drywall, while explaining to Maia that you secure the ceiling pieces by wearing them like a turtle shell and drilling over your head.
Tuesday: Spackle the gaps caused by your earlier poor measurements. Quick dry it with a portable dehumidifier then sand it all down.
Tuesday: Apply a layer of primer and then use up the can of paint most likely to rust out in the coming year (Creamy Beige, last used in the living room in 2012). Paint with little regard for perfection, reasoning that no one will ever look in this room ever again.
Tuesday: Cut the remnants of carpet not savaged by mouse poop to class things up just slightly.
Wednesday: Move all of the junk back into the crawlspace to be forgotten, at least until the next themed holiday arrives.

Bonus: Let Maia vandalize one wall since she really wanted to help paint.

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

Monday, February 24, 2020

Construction Day: Screen Porch. Part I of II

We now transport you from the little warren under the stairs to the backyard, where a screen porch is emerging from the Loudoun County clay like a triumphant groundhog.

And the conclusion!

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Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

The Witcher, Season One:
I doubt Netflix's claim that this is the most watched show on their network, because it's really not put together very well. The season acts as an extended prologue featuring the origin stories of three main characters with unnecessarily divergent timelines. At least one character is treading water in any given episode, and there's rarely a hint of any overarching reason to bother watching more. The show tightens up by episode 5 (of 8), but most people will have checked out by then. The 7th episode is the strongest while the finale drops the ball by featuring a Game-of-Thrones-esque battle scene with no reason to care about it.

There's also an overwhelming amount of nudity to cover for the lack of plot progression, which is fine -- but if your story's not strong enough to stand on its own, maybe you could improve it instead of distracting the audience. Free on Netflix.

Final Grade: C-

Good Girls, Season Two:
There's a nice arc to this second season about suburban moms turned criminals but it's unevenly paced. A few episodes in the middle had weird time progressions that made me feel like I had missed key scenes of character development somewhere. Some of the same tropes that were already mined in Season One are hit again here. Overall, it remains a fun show to watch and forget about immediately. Free on Netflix.

Final Grade: B-

Bo Burnham: what.:
Bo Burnham's first one-man act / comedy show is mildly funny and over before it reaches the "annoying" point. A few weeks after watching, however, I remember nothing about it -- none of the jokes had any lasting power. Free on Netflix.

Final Grade: C+

InvisiPure Sky Ultrasonic Cool Mist Humidifier:
The problem with humidifiers is that they die on a regular cycle, during which the company making them has changed its name and tweaked one single feature or model number to make it impossible to do any comparison. This humidifier took the place of one that lasted an unusually long time -- 3 winters. It's fine and it works, but is very cumbersome to refill (especially since the rectangular shape prevents it from being filled in a normal bathroom sink). It also loses points for using blue LEDs as a nightlight (with two settings: BLUE and BLUUUUUUEEEEE).

Final Grade: B-

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Friday, February 28, 2020

End-of-the-Month Highlights Day

New photos have been added to the Life, 2020 album.

  • Events
    • Visited the Ahlbins and Hickses in Fredericksburg on S 2/1.

    • Had a Half-of-Super-Bowl dinner of marinated beefs with Chih, Sena, and Nolan on S 2/2.

    • Family playground time in the warm weather on M 2/3, followed by dinner at Ford's Fish Shack.

    • Preschool Open House on W 2/5 (Maia got into the mixed age Starfish class on 2/18!)

    • Maia's first stomach bug on F 2/7.

    • Rebecca and Maia taught Lil Yogis again on S 2/8, followed by family dinner at Red Robin.

    • Jax's 3rd Birthday Party on S 2/9.

    • Maia's first trip to the dentist on T 2/11.

    • Visit from the Uri grandparents on W 2/12 while Rebecca was in continuing ed. classes all day long. Dinner at Ford's Fish Shack.

    • Went to "Tea with Teddy" with Maia at the Sterling Community Center on H 2/13.

    • Visited the Uri grandparents on F 2/14.

    • Rebecca and Maia went to visit the cousins in Front Royal on S 2/16.

    • Family dinner at Cafesano on M 2/17.

    • Dad-daughter dinner at Fireworks Pizza on H 2/20.

    • Poker Night on S 2/22 (1: Chih, 2: BU, 3: Jack, 4: Kathy, 5: Chris, 6: Rebecca)

    • Family dinner at Bungalow Lakehouse on S 2/23.

    • Family dinner at Local VA on W 2/26.

    • Lunch with the Chous at Ariake on S 2/29.

  • Projects
    • Replaced the ice maker line to the fridge on F 2/7. Goodbye skunk ice!

    • Got the air handler fixed after it wouldn't shut off on F 2/14.

    • Finished the mouse-exposed crawlspace F 2/14 - W 2/19.

    • Screen porch work began on M 2/17.

  • Consumerism
    • No amazing new shows or music this month.

    • Enjoying Elder Scrolls Online again as a quiet, solo game in short bursts.

February's Final Grade: B-, Cold without much downtime.

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