The URI! Zone - 05/2008

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Euro-tic Adventure, Part IX of X

Budgeting

When we first planned this trip out back in January, we'd decided that $3000 per person was the maximum amount we wanted to spend. In the end, despite all the heart palpitations over the expensive pounds, we actually spent just under $2500 per person. We alternated lavish meals with local foods from the market and hit the freebie museums (especially in London), but never sacrificed the things we WANTED to see because they were expensive. Of the $2500, about $1200 went towards major transportation (planes and trains), $600 went towards lodging, and the remaining $700 was our slush fund for the Metro, food, drinks, and daily attractions. If you plan ahead, going to Europe is suprisingly feasible -- particularly if you travel with another person, and especially if you're under the age of 26 (those little snots get discounts on EVERYTHING).

We did not use any of the all-inclusive tourist passes, partly because we didn't want to visit many of the included places, and partly because going off-season meant there were no lines to begin with!

Going Off-Season

The warm travel season for Europe officially starts in May. Even towards the end of the trip, we could feel the increase in tourists acutely. To me, going right at the end of the off-season was a worthwhile trade-off -- we got to experience the cities and most attractions without any crowds or lines. The downsides: sometimes our toes froze, and some places had greatly reduced hours or were closed for renovation. If you don't mind a "cold, but getting warmer" Marco Polo approach to tourism, April is a great month to go. Any earlier would be way too cold to be worth it.

Big City Awards

LondonParisBarcelona
MetroEasiest To UseMost TediousMost Efficient
AttractionsCheapestMost ArtsyLeast Interesting
CleanlinessCleanestUnmemorableMost Likely to Smell Like Raw Sewage
GraffitiNearly PristineGraffiti EverywhereGRAFFITI EVERYWHERE!
SmokingMore than the StatesMore than LondonEveryone Smokes
PricesPlum CrazySlightly PriceyNormal
ToiletsIn the BasementFree self-washing street toiletsFilthy, even in Burger King
HistoryFeels ModernHistory Is OmnipresentBest Blend of Old and New
FoodTasty and FillingToo Much Cheese and BreadI Hope You Like Seafood
DrinksGreat BeersEven the Cheap Wines are GoodWine and Beer -- Your Choice
LocalsVery FriendlyFriendly When ApproachedWhat Locals? It's All Tourists
NavigationEnglish is FunStraightforwardOnly Sucks When You Leave Downtown
PetsWhat Pets?CatsReally Wimpy Dogs
CharacterBusy and ModernAncient and CharmingBusy and Modern

Favourites

I preferred the little cities over the big cities in general. Carcassonne was wonderful, but I could see it getting boring after more than a couple days. Collioure was a perfect idyllic setting, and someplace I might want to retire to someday. Out of the big cities, London was my favourite for its charm. If I spoke all three languages fluently and could move to any of these cities today, my pick would be London -- I could see myself living a daily life there without to much effort.

To Be Concluded tomorrow...

GTA 4 did not release with stunt stabbings
Free Tibet, but not on Mount Everest
London blogger exposes life on the Tube

tagged as travel | permalink | 0 comments

Friday, May 02, 2008

Euro-tic Adventure, Part X of X

List Day: Ten Travel Tips for European Adventures

  • Pack lighter than you could possibly imagine. Slice up guidebooks so you only have to bring the information on the cities you're visiting. Leave extra clothes at home and wash your underwear a lot. The more mobile you are, the more fun you'll have.

  • If you injure your leg on the second day of the trip, buy a cane so you don't look like a total retard hippety-hopping across the Continent.

  • Don't waste your money on maps at magazine stands -- the Tourism Office will be chock full of maps, lodging and restaurant info, and free tips.

  • Not all toilets are created the same. If you can't figure out how to flush, just randomly poke and prod at it until something happens.

  • You will want to take pictures of everything, but don't take so many that you forget to just enjoy the experience. Those 900 pictures of the view from the Eiffel Tower will get junked once you get home (see also, pictures of interesting cloud formations).

  • Picture menus are for the weak. It's far more exciting to point to some foreign words in the menu and have no idea what you might end up eating.

  • Any restaurant with the words "traditional" or "we speak English" in their front window will probably be full of tourists.

  • Be aware that Southern France has a maximum of tiny yappy dogs and a minimum of leash or cleanup laws. Watch your step. The same applies to horses around Buckingham Palace.

  • Paying a little extra so your hotel is very close to a Metro line is always worth it. Paying extra for a toilet or shower in the room is nice but not essential. Paying extra for TV is fun because you can learn that the French are obsessed with Mika and Leona Lewis.

  • Every self-respecting city should have at least one penis-shaped building.
  • The End

    If you would like high-resolution wallpaper-sized copies of any Europe images , right-click and save the little image from my website to your desktop, then mail it to me (so I know which one to use) along with your desktop resolution (i.e. 1024x768, 1600x1200, etc). Here's a sample:

    Tokyo's cat cafes offer serenity
    BASE jumpers land next to police
    Texas state bird attacks outside state office

    tagged as travel, lists | permalink | 1 comment

    Monday, May 05, 2008

    Plan Day

    Much like the third season of LOST (but without an obnoxious Kate character or any mention of tattoos), my 2008 is divided into two standalone sections. The first four months were a self-contained mini-series during which I ended up going to Europe. The last eight months are more open-ended, giving me room to pursue other projects that might come along. Here is a sneak peek of what you can expect:

  • May: Attend a graduation and a wedding, or a wedding occurring at a graduation if I'm pressed for time. Create another concrete slab outside my house to increase the amount of poisonous run-off leeching into the Potomac River. Install a wireless network in my house so I don't have to keep sync'ing up the MP3 collections on all four computers.

  • June: Get a Loudoun County library card so I can read more books that I haven't read before. Sign up for FIOS, if they ever finish laying the cables in my neighbourhood. Remove my wisdom teeth (or get someone to do it for me).

  • July: Attain the next level of Java Certification to appease the gods of Performance Management and Salary Control. Install Linux on one of my home computers. Put down laminate flooring in the basement bathroom. All of these activities can be done in my home, because July is about hot as balls.

  • August: No plans yet. What do YOU think I should do this month?

  • September: Turn 29. Go to the beach.

  • October: Plan, review, and implement a CMMI Level 3 compliant Halloween Party.

  • November: Eat lots of Thanksgiving food ALL MONTH LONG, including cheese soup and bacon-wrapped scallops. (fat)

  • December: Write a musical about the life of Mike Catania. Or, do absolutely nothing.
  • As you can see, the closer months are more jam-packed with activities, but the later ones will probably fill up quickly. Of course, this website will continue to be updated daily so you can read it at work and use up one billable hour (this is my contribution to the stimulation of the economy).

    And if I get really bored, I'll learn how to play the accordion. What are you going to do with the rest of your year?

    The places Jesus can appear are infinite
    'Sex Pest' seal attacks penguin
    Robot elephant drinks urine

    tagged as lists | permalink | 5 comments

    Tuesday, May 06, 2008

    Newsday Tuesday

    The Silver Line, which provides Northern Virginia with its own brand of Ross-and-Rachel drama, is back on the table again after yet another reversal of federal funding . The goal of this project is to connect the region's only major International airport1 with its inadequate Metro system so travelers don't have to use the inappropriately-named Washington Flyer taxi monopoly, which never travels at more than 45 miles per hour when the meter is running.

    With all of their resources devoted to getting this built, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority has spent surprisingly little time figuring out how to make it profitable in the coming years. Instead of targeting penny-pinching foreign tourists who will use the Silver Line twice and then never again, their core market should be Northern Virginian yuppies with disposable income (namely, me). I have a few suggestions on how to proceed.

    First, they need to come up with a new name. When I think of Silver, I think of Diners, of trumpets that tarnish almost immediately, and of coming in Second Place to that clown who really didn't deserve First and probably cheated. None of these images make me want to hop on the train.

    In fact, it might be better if they did away with colours entirely. Once you run out of your basic Crayola six pack, you open the door to poor choices like the Cyan Line or the Flesh Line (and the latter might be disappointing if no boobies are involved). Eventually you get sued by a colourblind rider who THOUGHT he was on the Burnt Sienna Line, but was actually on the Raw Umber Line and ended up somewhere in Anacostia with a stab wound and no shoes.

    We can avoid this confusion up front by naming our new train as the "BU Line". This is a memorable, friendly name that could only be confused with the Blue Line, but that line is pretty useless anyhow (see also, Arlington Cemetery), and can be phased out. I wouldn't mind if the BU Line was coloured blue on maps, but yellow also works, since I, too, am yellow.

    The other change I would humbly suggest involves the locations of the stations. Having a train go directly to the airport would encourage Northern Virginia's rich white minority to travel by plane, and it's a well-documented fact that "white flight" lowers property values and leads to violent crime. Instead of providing a conduit out, we should build the Metro so that it encourages people to spend money in the area. After much research, I have decided that the BU Line will have eight total stations.

    East Falls Church: This is the one station from the Silver Line that I would keep, mainly because I travel here often to pick up women in Falls Church.

    Tyson's Corner: The original Silver Line called for four stations in Tyson's Corner. This is ridiculous, because the people who shop here are also people who would never be caught dead on a subway train. The BU Line will only have one stop, and patrons will exit onto the median of Route 7 without any crosswalks. As more shoppers get hit by cars, the urge to shop here will decrease and eventually trains can just skip this station entirely (see also, Arlington Cemetery).

    Wolf Trap: If Wolf Trap had a Metro line, it would easily be the best ampitheatre in the area and we could finally blow up the Nissan Pavilion and use that land for dumping hazardous materials. (It should not take four hours to clear out a parking lot after an Aerosmith concert).

    Reston Town Center / FGM: The BU Line would run straight under my office, and might even have an elevator directly to my floor. Underground tunnels would connect to the Reston Town Center and Target.

    Herndon: A station at Elden Street, with easy access to Popeyes, Panera, the Hard Times Cafe, and Popeyes. It might even be more efficient to relocate the Popeyes in the station, so you don't have to exit through a turnstile first. Alternately, Popeyes patrons would be eligible for a free transfer stub.

    Overlook: A station at the intersection of Crestview and Herndon Parkway in Herndon would offer an easy access point to the W&OD trail. This would provide me with the illusion that I might someday go biking and get some exercise.

    Church Mills: Having a station within a half mile of my house would allow me to walk there, conserving gasoline and reducing air pollution.

    Potomac Run: The terminus of this line would be underneath the Sterling Costco, with underground tunnels to Petsmart, Target, and Friendly's. Escalators would be slightly wider to encourage bulk shopping.

    As you can see, the BU Line would be a comprehensive solution to my our commuting issues. Please write to your local representative today and show your support.

    1 BWI does not count as a real airport because it has three strikes against it: 1) it's in Maryland, 2) no one uses it, and 3) putting Washington in the name fools people into believing that it's near the city even though this is entirely false. Sure, I could rename myself "Brian Rattlesnake Uri!" but that would not automatically give me venomous fangs and maracas on my ass.

    Happy Birthday Matt Lund!

    Meet a real live drug dealer
    Passenger moons at speed camera
    Papa John's apologizes for crybaby shirts

    tagged as newsday, mock mock | permalink | 2 comments

    Wednesday, May 07, 2008

    List Day: You're Old and I'm Not

  • It has been 1 year since I invented the Museday Tuesday phenomenon. Since then, there have been twenty-three compositions (over eleven minutes of music).

  • It has been 2 years since I earned the Level 59 Epic Mount in World of Warcraft. I still ride it daily, but now I wear far better armour.

  • It has been 3 years since this website transitioned from two-line updates about grad school and work to a daily column. August 2005 still holds the record for longest daily entries.

  • It has been 4 years since Friends went off the air and Desperate Housewives came on. Remember when Mike (of Mike and Chompy) was obsessed with that show ?

  • It has been 5 years since I lived with Anna at the Elms in Centreville. That's when she worked at a car dealership and coached the swim team.

  • It has been 6 years since I taught sightsinging to undergrads using musical examples by Eminem and Nate Dogg.

  • It has been 7 years since we adopted Kitty in Blacksburg. It has probably been 7 minutes since the last time she peed outside of the litter box.

  • It has been 8 years since I finished writing the game, Augmented Fourth . If you're really bored at work and have Java, you can play it online!

  • It has been 9 years since Pat Brown and I were Marching Virginians section leaders. Have you played the slot machine recently ?

  • It has been 10 years since I had a crew cut and gigantic glasses.
  • Happy Birthday Erin Blankenship and Jason Chrisley!

    Motorcyclist flipped bird, popped wheelie, crashed
    Man arrested for camel punch
    A cheaper form of mulled wine

    tagged as lists | permalink | 4 comments

    Thursday, May 08, 2008

    Review Day

    Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay:
    The only people that will go see this movie are the people who saw and enjoyed the first movie, Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, and it does a pretty good job of providing exactly what you'd expect. The number of gross-out jokes is higher and the continuity is lower, but overall it's good for an hour and a half of laughs. Wait for the video.

    Final Grade: B

    The Darjeeling Limited:
    I should have been warned by the fact that this was made by the same creator as Life Aquatic and Royal Tenebaums, but we forged ahead and rented it anyhow. It has Owen Wilson in it, so at the least, it should be Owenwilsony, right? We turned it off after 60 minutes, because it felt like 90 minutes had passed and the end was nowhere near. If you liked those other movies, you'll get more of the same here.

    Final Grade: F

    Rick Steves Civita Day Pack:
    Though I cringed at being a walking billboard for the Rick Steves empire, this is the bag we used in Europe for all our daily activities (leaving the bigger bags in the hotels). We were surprisingly impressed by the quality to price ratio -- the bag only costs $20 and is made of soft, sturdy material that's very comfortable on the back. It's quite roomy, easily holding two guidebooks, two giant waterbottles in its side pouches, and eight thousand sweaters so Rebecca wouldn't be cold. The only caveat: there's no internal frame, so bring along a sturdy piece of cardboard or some folders to maintain the shape of the bag against your back. Otherwise, it starts getting lumpy as the day goes by.

    Final Grade: A

    International Spy Museum:
    For my mom's twentieth birthday, we went to the International Spy Museum in DC. The museum begins with a small-group guided mission, where an actor leads you through a scenario straight out of Alias or 24, and you use spy gadgets and old-fashioned Hemlock Overlook teamwork to solve a spy mystery. This portion has high production values, complete with fake descending elevators and rooms that bounce like the back of a delivery truck. You will enjoy it plenty more if you're willing to work with other tourists who you may not have met before the tour.

    After the mission, you are dumped into the massive at-your-own-pace Museum area, which is gigantic, and exactly the way a museum should be. There's a good balance of interesting things to read, touch, listen to, and admire, covering the history and gadgetry of spying from the Romans to the Cold War. At various points, there are movies so you can rest your feet, or computers with games like "Spot the Spy". This may also be the only place on Earth where you can see the display of a "rectal lockpicking kit" to get spies out of jail. No word on whether it was actually used or just a floor model.

    The museum will take a good two hours to enjoy, although you will probably get saturated with new info by the three-quarters mark. Highly recommended.

    Final Grade: A

    Austrian rugby strip show caught on Lithuania video
    Students claim police chief who shot himself was careless
    Substitute teacher blames job loss on wizardry

    tagged as reviews | permalink | 2 comments

    Friday, May 09, 2008

    Friday Fragments

    ♠ Last night's LOST was pretty good, and much better than the episode before it. Dave Matthews mercenary is still scary, and the lack of beach time was good. They should really give Desmond more to do than sit around looking Scottish though. There are no more episodes before the three-hour season finale (which will play out over the next couple of weeks).

    ♠ The energy of this season is another argument in favor of twelve-episode serialized dramas -- you get in, tell your story, and get out. A show with 22 forty-minute segments to fill is obviously going to have some stinkers in the mix (like Jack confirming yet again that he doesn't believe in miracles, or Sydney Bristow falling in love with a butt-ugly assassin).

    ♠ Speaking of twelve-episode serialized dramas, the fourth season of The 4400 was released on Tuesday and will be on my list of things to watch this month. Unfortunately, the show was cancelled at the end of the fourth season, but apparently the writers had a little time to edit the finale to be more conclusive (something which Veronica Mars, unfortunately, did NOT do).

    ♠ It seems like I'm reaching the tail end of good shows that aren't cancelled yet, thought Dexter and Prison Break will come out in the fall. I considered buying five seasons of QUANTUM LEAP, because it's probably the greatest 80s show ever made, but balked when I realized they were selling for $30-40 per season. One of these days, they'll release a boxed set that ends up on Amazon Marketplace for a couple euros (since by then Europe will have conquered the US) and I'll snap it up. Until then, I'll keep wasting my $12 a month on Warcraft.

    ♠ Speaking of Warcraft, remember the longtime URI! Zone reader, Asmodues, who I always annoyed by telling him that his handle should be spelled "Asmodeus"? I randomly bumped into him in a cross-server game of Warsong Gulch the other day. He was only level 50, but we won handily anyhow.

    ♠ Team Turtle has been winning so much that we finally made new characters on the enemy side (so we could split up and fight each other when the games got too one-sided). The problem with this approach is that everyone else got to Level 59 while I was in Europe. While I try to catch up, THEY steamroll ME in games, and I have no allies because they're all on the other side. Evil-Plinky is level 45 right now though, so it won't be much longer. I'm sure I'll be 47 by the end of today, because that's the kind of exciting life I lead (and because I have to go to bed early so I can't go out and party at CLUB DREAM DANCE HEAVEN LIQUID MAGIC like I would normally do on Fridays).

    ♠ Tomorrow, I'll be getting up at 3 AM and going down to Tech to attend graduation, since my sister is graduating from vet school. Congratulations! After that, she and her husband are signed up for another three years of residency in Blacksburg.

    ♠ I still love visiting Blacksburg, but I do wish it were a couple hours closer to Northern Virginia. Maybe Dan can put his EE skills to work and create an electromagnetic teleporter that will swap Staunton and Roanoke Valley so I could get there in two hours rather than four.

    ♠ Speaking of Tech stuff, Kelley Corbett, Jonathan Shachter, Scott Elliott, Skippy, and some interchangable horn player (redundant?) will be giving a free-admission concert at Harris Pavilion in Manassas on Wednesday, May 14th (next week) . Donations will go to charity. The first three performed in my Fifth-Year Recital in 2001 as Blue Ribbon Brass (Blue Ribbon is a beer). No doubt, Skippy is performing because Doobie is now married and not allowed to fraternize with bad influences anymore.

    ♠ The concert should be good because these clowns have been evading adulthood in various music schools across the country since leaving Tech, to the point where most of the degrees listed on their CVs are not made up. Come listen if you're in the Manassas area, because honestly, what else is there to do in the Manassas area?

    ♠ Happy Birthday to Emily Spellerberg, Allen Lutz, and Christy Kull! Have a great weekend everyone!

    Expensive Santa Cruz Mountains search finds stoned teen
    World record for tallest Lego tower
    Great tits cope well with warmth

    tagged as fragments | permalink | 6 comments

    Monday, May 12, 2008

    Chad Darnell's 12 of 12

    Because of the neverending rain storms, today was an exceptionally dull day. You're probably better off looking at last month's 12 of 12: Barcelona Edition which everyone missed since it went up so late.

    5:06 AM: Waking up a half-hour earlier than usual to the continuing storms which have probably flooded every basement in Arlington by now.

    5:22 AM: My bathroom has been remodelled for a year and I still haven't bought curtains yet.

    5:44 AM: Today was an onsite day but I left all my security badges in the office over the weekend. I made a quick stop, dodging raindrops like a precipitation ninja.

    6:01 AM: HOV Restrictions begin at 6:30, which translates into every solo driver trying to cram onto I-66 at once, bringing it to a standstill. At least the early sunrise through the clouds made it seem later than it really was.

    8:55 AM: Returning from Bailey's Crossroad, around mile forty of the fifty I spent in the car today (I also get to go back tomorrow!) At least I wasn't in those lanes going in the opposite direction.

    1:48 PM: I deleted the pictures of me at work because the upper corner of the nuclear schematics accidentally appeared behind me. Instead, you get a picture of me driving home after a status meeting.

    2:22 PM: A late lunch of leftover Chinese food -- Beef and Broccoli!

    3:04 PM: It was rainy and in the forties all day long, so Booty did not move from this spot for the entire afternoon. At least, that is, until food time.

    4:12 PM: Relaxing at the computer with a little gaming.

    5:33 PM: Had it not been raining, I probably would have gone on a twenty mile bike ride (or at least imagined one). Instead, I stayed inside and burned 104 calories playing DDR.

    6:23 PM: Empirical data supports the assertion that I can eat an entire box of Velveeta Shells and Cheese.

    7:18 PM: In the home office with a jug-wine glass of Paisano and a cat, doing some composing for tomorrow's web page update.

    See other 12 of 12ers at Chad's site .

    Happy Birthday Mike Stafford!


    Getting paid to drink
    MoMA exhibit dies five weeks into show
    Parking tickets for respectable ladies

    tagged as 12 of 12 | permalink | 12 comments

    Tuesday, May 13, 2008

    Knightly: (adj.) Noble, courageous, generous

    My Composition (0:28 MP3)

    The first mental image that came to mind before looking up an actual definition was a double whammy -- Kiera Knightley starring as an anorexic waif of a damsel in distress, in one of those really bad period pieces from the 1980s. This fragment depicts a knight who is both courageous AND caring, and what it lacks in any real musical depth, it makes up for in the immediacy of "if I heard this song, I'd know what kind of movie I'm in for".

    Happy Birthday Madeleine!

    13-year-old buys hookers with dad's credit card
    Gang of girls blows up house
    Hackers try to cause seizures on epilepsy site

    tagged as museday | permalink | 1 comment

    Wednesday, May 14, 2008

    Cat Day

    Yesterday after work, Rebecca and I went to see Becca, fresh from her first year of college with a new kitten that's only about seven weeks old. Its mother was a barncat whore, so it's unclear what the breed is, but it looks a lot like this ragdoll breed on the left (except, more in focus and less like someone tried to attack it with a pink eraser). If you have ever played a computer game with "ragdoll physics", those complex physics were modelled by putting a cat like this in a jumpsuit and launching it out of a cannon.

    Becca's cat, Leonidas, is still very tiny -- probably the size of two clenched fists put together or a single poop from a Saint Bernard. It runs around the room chasing toys, licks stuff, and solves complex integrals from 0 to infinity in mere seconds. We considered setting up a play date with my cats, but it probably wouldn't be very fun since Booty would eat it and be like the python in this X-ray .

    To round out this post, here is a video of two cats on a treadmill . This could ostensibly be the solution to our clean energy concerns all over the world.

    Don't forget about the brass quintet concert tonight at Harris Pavilion in Manassas (7:00 PM - 8:30 PM). The first five hundred people to arrive will receive free T-shirts with Skippy on them. Also, Paige has returned to the Bloglog on the left!

    Hoochy prom dress lands teen in cuffs
    Blunt Federal Letters Tell Students They're Security Threats
    Buckle up your beer

    tagged as cats, day-to-day | permalink | 4 comments

    Thursday, May 15, 2008

    Memory Day: School Newsletters

    Every month in elementary school, we would receive a copy of the school newsletter to take home to our parents. Contrary to popular impression, these newsletters were not safety pinned to our jackets -- we maintained the complete responsibility for delivery, which is probably why most elementary school parents were clueless. Every newsletter began with a pithy unreferenced quotation, teaching children that plagiarism is appropriate in all settings, and the body of the letter was typed in a fake cursive font. This was obviously a conspiracy to disenfranchise the first and second graders who had not yet learned how to SWOOP DOWN with their pencils.

    The opening section contained tips for parents to help their kids become better citizens, written in a neutral and politically correct manner. Obviously, it's the parents' fault that their kids are late for ELEMENTARY school, but the school administration is not allowed to write "Come on, parents, get your asses in the minivans. Also, you don't need to put make-up on if you're still in a bathrobe." because someone would be offended. This method is still used today in my HOA newsletter, which always includes two politely worded requests to remove Christmas lights and to park somewhere other than your front lawn.

    After the endless list of school activities and PTA meetings came the section with awards and accolades.

    This was the year that I wrote the song about the Proud Beagle for the Reflections Contest about PROUD EXPERIENCES. Ruff yap yap! I don't remember what I submitted in the other categories, but it's obvious that I was trying to be the Little Man Tate of Renaissance Men.

    If you were not lucky enough to have a parent that forced you to enter a bunch of contests, your name would likely appear in the final section, which might be called "The Shout-Outs" if written today.

    I'm glad Katrice (in Mrs. Sharkey's fourth grade class) finally got good at cursive -- it only took two and a half years1. Also, Tai has a lot of friends.

    1: Longtime readers will call me a hypocrite but I contend that my poor cursive grades were caused by my messy lettering and not a lack of cursive comprehension.

    Squirrel for dinner
    Have a breadhead
    World's biggest bullock

    tagged as memories | permalink | 3 comments

    Friday, May 16, 2008

    Friday Freshened

    This coming July will mark three full years of the Friday Fragments column, and since many of my readers are spawning children that need to be roped in as soon as they learn to read, I though it might be worthwhile to come up with some alternatives to the Fragments column that will breathe new life into the site and increase readership. Here are a few possibilities:

    Friday Freestyling: In which I create freestyle raps about topics submitted by readers and make amateur recordings backed by a MIDI beat box.

    Friday Fraternities: In which I ridicule one Greek organization per week until they have all been ridiculed. This idea would also allow me to occasionally take a Friday off and make it up with a Saturday Sororities column.

    Friday Fraggles: In which I profile one puppet from the cast of Fraggle Rock in a behind-the-scenes interview.

    Friday Frenchy: In which I write my column completely in French and then try to translate it into English with Babelfish.

    Friday Frijoles: In which I perform weekly experiments to convert beans into natural gas, as an alternative to ethanol.

    Friday Frottage: In which I visit a discotheque for the purposes of bumping and/or grinding with sluts, and discuss my experiences.

    Friday Frescos: In which I reproduce various scenes from popular television shows on the walls of my basement.

    Friday Fryers: In which I review various recipes for chicken, from the perspective of both ease of preparation and tastiness.

    Friday Free Stuff: In which I pull random paraphernalia from 80s out from under the house and give it away for free to interested readers. This will not include the Lego Eldorado Fortress -- hands off.

    Friday Frowsy: In which I compose variations on the Frowzy theme from last year's Museday Tuesday .

    Friday Freakouts: In which I go off, Lewis Black style, on whatever might be irritating me at the moment.

    Friday Franks: In which I make a set of Lincoln Logs out of frozen hot dogs and attempt to reconstruct various 18th century landmarks.

    Twin girl didn't get enough food in the womb
    911 operator fired for swearing
    Swiss man flies with his own wings

    tagged as fragments, lists | permalink | 6 comments

    Monday, May 19, 2008

    Pet Day: Cindy

    The first pet which my family owned was a small grey cat with a white spot on its neck named Cindy. There are no remaining up-close photos of this cat although its likeness has been immortalized in one of those premade sculptures you can purchase and paint to give other people the impression that you're artistic.

    We owned Cindy when I was in first grade, at the same time when we owned two expensive leather couches (because foreshadowing is most effective when experienced directly). I honestly don't remember much about this cat except that it got trapped in our home office all day long while we were at school and peed in a big orange chair (which is still orange, and still smells like pee to this day). After this day, it learned that chairs were where you pee.

    I used to take hintbook maps from Zork and other Infocom games to school so I could take them out at lunchtime. Using my encyclopedic memory of all the text from the games, I would let my friends play the games by proxy. (This is also called Dungeon Mastering or DMing in the Dungeons and Dragons crowd, but D&D is for nerds and geeks and I do not belong in those categories. By the way, I leveled my Blood Elf Priest to 59 last Friday with 4 days /played and gained the 2805 honor required to get a PvP Fear Trinket. FTW).

    About midway through the school year, we noticed that the maps were starting to smell a little sickly-sweet, like the styrofoam fresheners they keep in urinals. Because the scent wasn't that strong, we continued playing our little games until the night when I was sitting in the family room and saw Cindy taking a huge leak all over my elementary school backpack. Needless to say, this definitely rained on our lunchtime gaming parade.

    Pets in our family generally stayed with us until one of three things happened: they died, we got bored with them and our dad gave them away, or our dad got sick of them and gave them away. In this case, it was option #3 -- Cindy punctured two leather couches and gave us a nice rumcake (except replace the rum with urine and replace the cake with every chair in the house). After less than a year, Cindy was donated to someone living in an apartment on the other side of town, and given a name change since her new owner had a boss named Cindy.

    Police perplexed by photos of privates
    IPod may be responsible for helicopter death
    Naked Ugg boot ram-raider jailed

    tagged as memories, cats | permalink | 2 comments

    Tuesday, May 20, 2008

    Newsday Tuesday

    Robot digger set to land Sunday at Martian pole

    Like a miner prospecting for gold, NASA hopes its latest robot to Mars hits pay dirt when it lands Sunday near the red planet's north pole to conduct a 90-day digging mission. The three-legged Phoenix Mars lander . . . is zeroing in on the unexplored arctic region where a reservoir of ice is believed to lie beneath the Martian surface.

    To be clear, the article is not saying Phoenix is a gold digger, but it's not messing around in a region where it won't find anything. This type of colourful simile is common in stories that NASA wants to excite the public mind.

    Phoenix lacks the tools to detect signs of alien life -- either now or in the past.

    When asked, project manager, Barry Goldstein, confided that a fully-functional flux capacitor (and the accompanying plutonium fuel) was too heavy and too expensive. He said the extra savings were spent making the robot look extra fly for the day it would touch the Martian sky. Good photography is the keystone to any popular space mission.

    On Sunday, Phoenix will punch through the Martian atmosphere at more than 12,000 mph. Over the next seven minutes, it will use the atmosphere's friction and a parachute to slow to 5 mph. Seconds before touchdown, Phoenix will fire its thrusters for what scientists hope will be a soft landing. The last time NASA tried a soft landing on Mars, it ended in disaster.

    NASA blamed previous crashes on an engineer who had trained extensively with the 1980s game "Lunar Lander", written in BASIC. Apparently an extra GOTO statement in the game's code made this engineer believe that it was safe to land at 456 miles per hour. Perhaps it is only fitting that the new robot is named after a mythological bird that ends its life in a fiery explosion.

    The spacecraft's main tool is an 8-foot aluminum-and-titanium robotic arm capable of digging trenches 2 feet deep. Once ice is exposed -- believed to be anywhere from a few inches to a foot deep -- the lander will use a powered drill bit at the end of the arm to break it up.

    When asked what would happen if there were no payload in the first 2 feet of ground, Mr. Goldstein exhaled deeply, scratched the back of his head and admitted, "We'll probably be shit out of luck." His rare candor is unsurprising, considering that the Phoenix robot does not come with wheels, and cannot reposition itself after the initial landing.

    "It'll be a construction zone," said mission co-leader Ray Arvidson of Washington University in St. Louis. He predicts the ice will be "as hard as a sidewalk."

    Because this is highly technical jargon, please refer to the following graph for a comparison of the hardness of Martian ice against various everyday objects.

    The excavated soil and ice bits will then be brought aboard Phoenix's science lab. It will be baked in miniature ovens and the vapors analyzed for organic compounds.

    A quick glance at eBay reveals that EZ Bake Ovens can be purchased for as little as $10 these days (less for the government-recalled model that partially amputates fingers), so at first, it's puzzling why the Phoenix robot costs so much money. NASA has spent $420 million on this mission, not including the $100 million wasted on a cancelled prototype from NASA's "faster, better, cheaper" era, when designers in the good life felt that the best things in life were free.

    It is hoped that the "harder, better, stronger, faster" era will result in fewer crashes, even if the resulting robot costs enough to feed the obese of America for at least seven weeks. The price tag certainly isn't buying longetivity:

    While scientists say there's a chance Phoenix could live a month or so beyond its 90-day mission to see late summer or fall, it won't survive as long as the rovers. That's because its solar panels won't produce enough power to keep it alive during the Martian winter.

    Said [mission co-leader] Arvidson: "Its feet will be embedded with dry ice and the sun will be below the horizon."

    Mr. Arvidson is currently engaged in a plagiarism lawsuit for his alleged theft of a Japanese Yakuza hitman's trademarked slogan.

    As prices rise, crime tipsters work overtime
    Man chips tooth on restaurant bolt
    Photographer Kabobs

    tagged as newsday, mock mock, favourites | permalink | 2 comments

    Wednesday, May 21, 2008

    Wireless Day

    A wireless router and a set of wireless adaptors for the four computers in my house should be arriving sometime today, eliminating the need for a wired home network with Ethernet cables snaking everywhere like a giant squid with a very fast metabolism and not enough to eat. Converting my home into a wireless hotspot is the first step my plan to sell coffee and newspapers out of my basement, and soon I will rival both Starbucks and McDonald's in Wi-Fi popularity. I also plan on installing Internet access points in all of my bathrooms for added novelty -- my commercial slogan will be "Surf and Poop: It's Not Just For the Wave Pool Anymore".

    As a kid, I only went to the Cameron Run Wave Pool one time, and it was an unmemorable experience. Fake waves really don't enhance the swimming experience, and with the ever-expanding number of obese children these days, every pool is a wave pool. But I digress.

    There were three major reasons that I upgraded to wireless:

    1. I play MP3s all over the house, and got tired of sync'ing up the MP3 collections on all the computers anytime I download the latest Fun Lovin' Criminals album off of Amazon. With wireless, I can put all the songs on one computer and play them from anywhere in a four mile radius.
    2. Rebecca has one of those amazing new mini computers with the keyboard and monitor all in one package that you put on top of your lap. It doesn't know how to deal with my antiquated wires.
    3. Florida-Mike's latest addiction is Mario Kart on the Wii (because it comes with a steering wheel adapter called a Wiilee) and he wants me to join in the daily Mario Kart games with Texas-Marty and Florida-Chris. The Wii only connects via wireless as well.

    It's not like this is my first experience with wireless though -- my telephone handsets, my girlfriend, and my cats are all wireless, and have been for many years.

    Wii Fit criticized for calling kid fat
    Flying penis disrupts speech
    Huge sturgeon ball a mystery

    permalink | 6 comments

    Thursday, May 22, 2008

    Review Day: The 4400

    There are no spoilers in this review.

    There are some shows that reach the point in their run where, no matter how good they were, it's obvious they should end. No one really wanted to see Veronica Mars become an FBI Agent, and when Verne Troyer guest starred on Boston Public as a "tiny person who hides in a locker and gives students exam answers" , it was time to move it to Friday night and eventually cancel it. The 4400 was recently cancelled after a four season run, and it was definitely not ready to go.

    This show received much less attention than the hit show that stole a bunch of its ideas, Heroes. It aired on the USA network every summer, and its small cable budget meant that it had to favour strong storytelling over special effects (and yes, sometimes the special effects are really, really cheesy).

    The premise of the show: 4400 people from the past sixty years were mysteriously abducted, and suddenly reappear in a giant ball of light in present day Seattle. They haven't aged at all and have no recollection of the time they were gone, but they have all developed a singular ability, like telekinesis or seeing the future. The first season focused on Tom and Diana, government agents, whose job it was to figure out who the 4400 where and why they suddenly reappeared.

    Had the story chugged along in this mold, it would have been an interesting X-Files clone with an "ability of the week" approach, and probably wouldn't have lasted a year. Instead, the story is allowed to grow organically, quickly moving to the next level. By the end of the first season, we are explicitly shown the answers to many questions (take notes, LOST) and the show tackles the broader political, social, and religious implications of a society where there are now two types of people. Yet despite the strange abilities, conspiracies, and science fiction, the core of the show is its interpersonal relationships (as most good dramas are). The evolution of characters, especially Shawn, over the course of the show is also well-done.

    Season two and four are the high points of the series -- season three stumbles a little bit, but has several great standalone episodes. Season four even resolves some unanswered questions from the early years of the show in logical ways. The only negative is the fourth season's finale: while it works great as a season closer, it does nothing at all to close the series as a whole, and it's very apparent that the writers had a vision for what the fifth season might have looked like. It's a disappointing end to a well-written show. Highly recommended.

    If you're at all intrigued, the first season (a five episode miniseries) can be found on Amazon for as little as ten dollars, and is also available through URI!Flix.

    Sorry mummy, it's a cover up
    Jack Thompson Found Guilty of 27/31 Counts of Misconduct
    Lost parrot tells vet his address

    tagged as reviews | permalink | 0 comments

    Friday, May 23, 2008

    Friday Fragments

    the only thing standing between you and total anarchy

    ♣ This weekend marks the official five-year anniversary of my life in the full-time job world. In that time, I've risen from lowly software engineer to CEO of the company, only to lose everything in a tragic whirlwind of blow and hookers, resetting myself back to a software engineer.

    ♣ It used to be tradition to receive a really nice watch of your choice for up to $250. As more and more employees stretched the rules and tried to convince HR that "this MP3 player also has a clock in it", they got rid of the watch rule and just hand out $250 bonus checks in the mail. I'll probably spend the check on blow and hookers, since most hookers can tell time, as far as I know.

    ♣ Speaking of time, Daylight Savings Time seems to be out of whack this year. The sun is already rising as early as 4:30 AM in Sterling, which wakes up Booty (who is part rooster) and compels her to start her breakfast-wake-up routine an hour earlier than usual. Cats have such strange priorities -- if I were asleep, I wouldn't want to wake up JUST to get breakfast, and I wouldn't treat every breakfast with Christmas morning excitement. Then again, I also don't lick my butt.

    ♣ It would really suck if smell was humans' main sense and we introduced ourselves to new people like dogs, licking faces and sniffing anuses. Habits like these would definitely make for awkward first dates, even moreso than a Washington Post Date Lab . Your "how they met" wedding story would involve some variant of "from the moment I sniffed his butt at the park, I knew he was the one for me."

    ♣ Speaking of weddings, Anna's younger (but not youngest) sister, Emily, is getting married this weekend in Berryville. This adds one more data point to the country's inexorable slide towards a Catholic-conquered world, since the requisite five kids will no doubt arrive within two weeks of each other. If I ever come up with a religion (Burism), I'll have to remember not to neglect the baby-making aspects, because it'll be far easier to raise kids as Burists than go door-to-door to convert people (take notes, Jehovah's Witnesses).

    ♣ So far, the founding tenets of Burism are to have lots of sex and eat fried chicken. I'll probably add some variant of the Golden Rule too. If I lead this religion, I want a more grandiose title than "Pope" though.

    ♣ This weekend, I'll be going to see Garrison Keilor's Prairie Home Companion at Wolf Trap (because apparently some of my friends still listen to the real radio and hear him on something they call Enpy Arr!, which must be the pirate station) followed by the wedding on Saturday. On Sunday, I plan to wash the car, mow the lawn, and try out Mario Kart for the Wii. I'll be working on Memorial Day because no one is having a big Memorial Day barbeque and I spent my own party fund on blow and hookers.

    ♣ Have a great weekend!

    Big rigs go high tech
    Woman teaches whistlers a lesson by stripping
    Identity theft prevention scammer hit with identity theft

    tagged as fragments | permalink | 1 comment

    Tuesday, May 27, 2008

    Wedding Day

    On Saturday afternoon, Emily and Matt were married at a church in Berryville out in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

    After the ceremony, Matt was given the traditional warning from the Spellerberg clan, admonishing him to treat his new wife well, or "we'll chop your balls off with a sabre".

    As usual, Ella was the center of attention, and danced even after some lady stepped on her bare foot with a high heel shoe.

    As the youngest Spellerberg daughter, Becca got to face the usual assortment of "So when's your wedding?" questions. (Photo courtesy of my dad, who was hired to take far better pictures than the ones I took).

    Matt's sister sang a song for the newlyweds, and the room was enthralled.

    I don't remember which song the couple danced to, so let's just presume that it was Flo Rida's Low. Later, Matt and his mother danced to a trick song that kept pretending to end, only to burst out with another chorus.

    The ring bearer and flower girl were also excellent dancers.

    You can see more wedding photos here . Once I get copies of the official wedding shots, I'll post some of them as well.

    $175 burger
    Cash-Waving Craigslist Player's Fury: 'These Photos Are Mines'
    Crocs vs. Sharks

    tagged as media | permalink | 4 comments

    Wednesday, May 28, 2008

    Memory Day: Senior Schedule

    Going to public school is like going to traffic school -- you show up, tune out, put in the time, and walk away with a certificate. My senior year of high school was easily one of the most enjoyable school years, because other than the three AP exams I took mid-year, it was an exercise in daily mingling.

    First Period: Music theory was a class of three musicians and three non-musicians, so the classes were geared towards the latter. We learned basic chord progressions without having to do any partwriting and got to listen to the 8-bar melodies of the non-musician who insisted that he was in a punk band.

    Second Period: Dr. Patel's idea of a joke was to put "shows no attempt to learn" on my report card. We did all sorts of tactile physics experiments while listening to him refer to us as chipmunks, bestow wise Indian maxims, or dismissing other subjects as garbage. After the AP exam, we watched the entire Star Wars trilogy, during which Dr. Patel insisted that Yoda had stolen "There is no try, only do" from him.

    Third Period: We watched movies, read plays, told the teacher than anyone who was absent was probably "out back smoking crack with Zulfan", and convinced a substitute teacher that we were planning a surprise party for our teacher so we could send someone off-campus to buy sodas.

    Fourth Period: Jazz band was only offered during lunch so we'd play the latest offering from Kendor Jazz for thirty minutes (until people started complaining that they were hungry), then eat a quick lunch at the end (two bologna and mayo sandwiches with an apple, a fudge brownie, and a juice pack).

    Fifth Period: Mr. Esformes did not believe in AP courses so he mixed AP students and average students together in a giant social experiment that worked about 75% of the time. Classes were both insightful and inciteful, with the bonus learning counterbalanced by the time wasted on tardy slips, bathroom requests, and behaviour management.

    Sixth Period: Mr. Kokonis may have been the oldest teacher in Alexandria, and he was still going strong (but with an oxygen tank) as recently as six years ago. He wasn't too strong on classroom management, and even worse with names, so you could tune out in his class and Jim would get in trouble instead. He was obsessed with his TI-85 calculator, and though both he and I owned the brand new TI-92, he never realized that it automatically solved the integrals and derivatives that were on our tests.

    Seventh Period: We sat in the back and ogled clarinetists while the band director berated the constantly misbehaving marimba player.

    Eighth Period: Because it wasn't an honors credit course, Marching Band was only good for lowering my GPA just enough so I wouldn't have to give any speeches at graduation.

    Tokyo loses their pot
    Teacher lets students vote out classmate
    Space toilet breaks down

    tagged as memories | permalink | 1 comment

    Thursday, May 29, 2008

    LOST Recap Day

    this post contains spoilers from previously-aired episodes of LOST (season four)

    With so many complex timelines and unsolved mysteries, it's often difficult to keep track of everything that has happened so far on LOST. As a public service, here is a summary of the most important plot developments from this season so you are prepared for the upcoming season finale. A special LOLCAT format has been used for ease of understanding.

    Episode 1: The Beginning of the End

    Episode 2: Confirmed Dead

    Episode 3: The Economist

    Episode 4: Eggtown

    Episode 5: The Constant

    Episode 6: The Other Woman

    Episode 7: Ji Yeon

    Episode 8: Meet Kevin Johnson

    Episode 9: The Shape of Things to Come

    Episode 10: Something Nice Back Home

    Episode 11: Cabin Fever

    Episode 12: There's No Place Like Home (Part 1 of 3)

    Thanks to Lost Media for the screen captures used in this post.

    Telephone operators nicknamed him the Don't Hang Up Man
    Toad licking leads to alert
    Monkey think, monkey do

    tagged as mock mock, media, favourites | permalink | 3 comments

    Friday, May 30, 2008

    End of the Month Media Day

    a lazy montage of leftover pictures to close out the month


    Graduation Day

    Ella does her Birdo impersonation

    Rebecca's Whiteboard

    Not My Coat

    Corned Beef with the Parents

    More Wedding Fun

    Have a great weekend!

    Horror Frog breaks its own bones
    Snake vs. snake
    Man fined for hedgehog toss

    tagged as media | permalink | 0 comments

     

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