The URI! Zone - 09/2009

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Museday Tuesday

  1. The composition can be for any instrumentation. It can have an actual score or be a pure synthesized realization that might not be possible to perform in the real world.
  2. It must not be longer than thirty seconds.
  3. It does not necessarily have to have a start, middle, and end -- it can just be a fragment of something grander.
  4. It should be composed in thirty minutes or less. If time runs out, I post whatever I managed to finish, be it good, indifferent, or makeup on a corpse.
  5. The title of the piece must be a word from a random word generator, although this word doesn't necessarily have to be incorporated in the piece.

Bombastic: (adj.) High-flown; inflated; pretentious

My Composition (0:29 MP3)

I seem to have triplet sixteenth notes on the brain, although that's the only thing this Museday has in common with last week's. The excerpt is written for brass, percussion, sitar, and miscellaneous instrument patches.

Jesus of Siberia: An ex-cop turned Messiah
Band shirts hit the wrong note with parents
Table tennis star finally old enough for a girlfriend

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Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Memory Day: The Admiral's Overture

In the winter of 1996, with only six months of composing under my belt, I was asked by a former band director to compose a piece for her middle school band. Although it wasn't my first world premiere (it was actually the fifth), it was the first one triggered by an outside request rather than my incessant attempts to bug band directors who couldn't say no to me. I would later learn that it's HARD to get people to play your music (with the exception of flute solos, because once you've played your first contemporary flute piece, you can fake all the rest of them without much effort, plus you save money by not having to hire a pianist).

Hammond Middle School was a former high school, so their concert attire was an embarrassing approximation of what a sailor might look like in a land where polyester is an undepletable natural resource. The school motto was something appropriately navy, and the school song was "Anchors Aweigh". Having just gone through an unpleasant experience where Warner Brothers Music charged me $50 for the rights to make a crappy pep band arrangement of the Darth Vader theme, and realizing that the school song was in the public domain, I jumped at the chance to work it into the score somehow.

In an obviously original move, I invented a countermelody that could be played at the same time as the school song, and then opened the piece with that theme. I also interjected tiny fragments of the more familiar tune with all the subtlety of Jim Swearingen and craft of an arthritic cobbler.

Because movies are louder than words, especially when they contain eighth graders, you can see the entire performance on YouTube. Pay special attention to the size of my glasses, the way I conduct like a drum major leading a legally blind marching band, the audience clapping prematurely, and the moment near the very end where I knock all the music off of the first flutist's stand.

Mother of 18 surprised by number 19
Because trying to kick feces always propels it in the right direction
Stimulus checks lure Floridans to their death

tagged as memories | permalink | 3 comments

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Review Day

There are no spoilers in these reviews.

Mort by Terry Pratchett:
In this fourth Terry Pratchett novel, Death becomes disillusioned with eternity and takes on an apprentice, Mort, to fill in for him while he tries various other occupations like short-order cook. However, when Mort saves a girl whose time was up, he accidentally turned the entire universe on its ear. Book 4 was as good as Book 3, and works well as a humorous, harmless diversion. I purchased the first four books up front, and based on them, I probably wouldn't read anymore unless I had a beach vacation coming up.

Final Grade: B+

Dexter, Season Three:
Dexter has been the most consistently good show I've watched on TV. This season is just as good as previous ones, though I felt like all the good storylines wrapped up before the last episode, so it wasn't as gripping of a finale.

Final Grade: A-

Paul Blart: Mall Cop:
This was a low-budget comedy with just a few interesting moments that kept it from being a complete waste. The lead seems to be trying to channel Jim Belushi and the supporting actress has eyes that are distractingly too large for her, or anyone else's, face.

Final Grade: D-

Portal:
This puzzly first-person-shooter came out years ago, but I just picked it up recently in my Orange Box purchase. You have a gun that can shoot holes in the walls, floors, and ceilings, one red and one blue. Walking through a red hole takes you to wherever the blue hole is, and you must reach an unreachable area on each level by walking through portals, manipulating buttons and boxes, and understanding gravity. The highly logical, entertaining puzzle game is wrapped in sardonic narration that ultimately reveals a crafty little storyline around the entire experience. It will only take a few hours to beat, but it's worth the time of anyone who likes puzzles and doesn't get dizzy in first-person games.

Final Grade: A

Darkly Dreaming Dexter:
This is the original novel that the Dexter TV show was based upon. The first few chapters are almost scene-for-scene identical to the TV show, but beyond that it has its own voice and plot. The book feels like a single episode of the show and doesn't resolve in the same way. Given the choice between the two, I'd pick the TV show.

Final Grade: B-

MIT creates new school of robotic fish
Man stole woman's car on first date
Company criticized for obscene candy wrappers

tagged as reviews | permalink | 3 comments

Friday, September 04, 2009

Friday Fragments

only eleven days to thirty

♠ Life has been pretty busy this week, between work, webmastering as a community service, and wedding planning. One of our recent activities was to select wedding ceremony music, and we're currently trying to find a place to tastefully fit Boobies by Carlos Adolfo Dominguez into the processional.

♠ We have also brought painting back as an after-school activity in the URI! Household by hand-painting the numbers for our wedding tables. And if people scoff at the crude Tempera primary colours, we can just say Ella did them and suddenly the childlike innocence of the numbers will be considered cute.

♠ When I would spend summers as a kid with my grandparents, they would always give us an allowance to take to the crafts store for a clay model to paint. Unfortunately, the allowance was rarely large enough to cover glazing, so we'd either buy a life-size clay beetle, or watch as our castle model crumbled in the back seat on the way home.

♠ On Wednesday night, I made a Glazed Chicken Stir-fry, using such disparate ingredients as mayonnaise, vinegar, my closest MacGuyver approximation of sweetened condensed milk, and red dye #2. The only downside to frying stuff in oil is that your house smells like a stale funnel cake stand for up to 36 hours afterwards.

♠ I may be the only person in the world to like funnel cakes (and any pastries) without powdered sugar. Then again, I also hate curry, guacamole, and sunflower seeds, and think there should be more meat-based tiers to the Food Pyramid.

♠ I've never been a big fan of seeds and nuts, except when using them to humourously threaten those that are allergic to them, but Cashew Chicken as a meal is definitely becoming one of my favourites. It's about even with beef and mushrooms in a rich mushroom sauce.

♠ Looks like it's time for a new joke:

    Q: Why did the peanut lose the election?
    A:: He eschewed cashew issues.

♠ Plans for the weekend include shopping for wedding supplies, like tranquilizer guns for unruly uncles, a wedding of Rebecca's work friend on Saturday night (also at a Loudoun winery), and maybe a few jogs through Claude Moore park. We'll also continue watching Burn Notice and the eighth season of Scrubs, both of which are quite decent so far.

♠ Have a great weekend!

Seals begin hunting humans
Man eating out of his own colostomy bag halts trial
Dirty layers hid painting's penis
What's the best Chinese takeout meal?

Shrimp Lo Mein (1 vote, 12.5%)


Beef and Mushrooms (1 vote, 12.5%)


Cashew Chicken (1 vote, 12.5%)


Eggdrop Soup (1 vote, 12.5%)


General Tso's (3 votes, 37.5%)


Crap with Pancakes (1 vote, 12.5%)


tagged as fragments | permalink | 2 comments

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Newsday Tuesday

Your Brain Is Organized Like a City

A big city might seem chaotic, but somehow everything gets where it needs to go and the whole thing manages to function on most days, even if it all seems a little worse for the wear at the end of the day. Sound a bit like your brain? Neurobiologist Mark Changizi sees strikingly real similarities between the two.

This article was written by the LiveScience staff, whose news site has brought us such hard-hitting Newsday Tuesday fodder as People are Too Dumb To Understand a Weather Forecast and Some People Are Happier But Other People Are Sadder Now. If scientific reporting were any softer it would throw like a girl.

Changizi and colleagues propose that cities and brains are organized similarly, and that the invisible hand of evolution has shaped the brain just as people have indirectly shaped cities. It's all driven by the need for organization and efficiency, the researchers say.

The root problem of this hypothesis is that cities are not designed for maximum efficiency -- they just appear over time in the area with a critical mass of people. The mechanism for building a road between two commonly used locations is an intentional action to improve a city. If natural selection were related at all, it would imply the elimination of poorly-designed preexisting cities in favour of the better ones (a patently false idea, since we still have Baltimore, the cankle of the eastern seaboard).

"Natural selection has passively guided the evolution of mammalian brains throughout time, just as politicians and entrepreneurs have indirectly shaped the organization of cities large and small," said Changizi [...] "It seems both of these invisible hands have arrived at a similar conclusion: brains and cities, as they grow larger, have to be similarly densely interconnected to function optimally."

The alternate approach, which has proven to be surprisingly resilient in actual practice, is to move 25 miles away and start a new town, boroughing across the land like a municipal blight. As a sidenote, if your scientific research requires the concept of "invisible hands" to make sense, more rigorous peer review may be called for.

As brains grow more complex from one species to the next, they change in structure and organization [...] One couldn't simply grow a double-sized dog brain, for example, and expect it to have the same capabilities as a human brain. A human brain doesn't merely have more "dog neurons," but, instead, has neurons with a greater number of synapses than that of a dog [...]

Left unanswered by this research is whether we could implant double-dog brains into our politicians and effect an improvement in their urban planning skills. Certainly, it could be no worse than giving the job to an actual dog.

To draw a crude analogy, you don't just take small-town streets and build a city out of them. You need wider streets, more stoplights, and so on.

One need look no further than M Street in Georgetown, where city planners bought plenty of stoplights, but neglected to make the streets any wider or purchase gutter alligators to stop the morons from jaywalking. In contrast, Merrifield, Virginia has a plethora of wider streets and stoplights, but failed to purchase any "so on" (American for je ne sais quois), leaving it a city on the outside but empty on the inside.

Or as Changizi puts it, you can't string three Seattles together to get a Chicago; there would be too many highways with too few exits and lanes that are too narrow.

Sorry, Fairfax County, Dr. Changizi correctly agrees that you are not a city.

In doing the math, the researchers found common "scaling laws" for brains and cities on several measures. For example, as the surface area of a brain or city grows, the number of connectors (neurons or highways) increased at a similar rate for each. Likewise, a bigger city needs more highway exits in the same proportion as a bigger brain needs more synapses, the things that connect neurons.

Such limitations have been routinely overturned by mind over matter self-help books and courses which, when applying the city metaphor, teach you to shop online at home rather than wasting all of that time trying to find a shortcut to the mall.

Dr. Changizi had no comparative measure for paranormal phenomena like extrasensory perception (ESP) but was open to suggestions. Meanwhile, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority would neither confirm or deny the rumor that the Silver Line would be billed as "The ESP of Exurb Transportation".

Suicidal cows in Switzerland
Suicidal cows in California
Man leaps into river to escape wife's nagging

tagged as newsday, favourites | permalink | 3 comments

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Memory Day: Stuffed Animals

In the halcyon days of my youth (a period after the idyllic but before the tempestuous), I owned more stuffed animals than a taxidermist with defaulting clients. The collection of roughly thirty completely filled up a rectangular laundry basket, and the animals were all shapes and sizes, like the hippo on the left who is surprisingly happy for a mouth-breather and was probably a hand-me-down from my sister.

My stuffed animal collection obeyed three basic rules: none of the animals were given names unless they already had one, they all actually had to be animals, and they could not have any hard shell parts (Cabbage Patch Kids failed on all three counts). And because we lived in a home where good children made their bed up neatly every morning, setup and teardown of the animals became a part of my daily routine.

I never really liked this crocodile, but could never pinpoint the reasons why. Perhaps it's because he won't stand up on his own, or because he looks perpetually high -- whatever the reason, he was relegated to the far back corner of the bed, up against the wall. The rest were arranged painstakingly at the head of the bed and in the narrow shelf on either side of the bed, in the exact same configuration each night (and sometimes I would even spell OCD with them).

Today, I have very few of these stuffed animals left, and the few that remain sit on a basement shelf, quietly collecting dust and damp to brew some sort of airborne respiratory disease. The most likely vector of contagion might be Digger, the mole from Shirt Tales, who was my favourite for many years.

The "Digger, Please" phase lasted until I become obsessed with dinosaurs and received the triceratops from the Natural History museum's gift shop. Triceratops easily outlasted the other animals, staying on the bed even as I grew older and got tired of setting up a menagerie every night.

What was your favourite stuffed animal?

Robber returns to ask for date
Trapped girls call for help on Facebook
New online Monopoly game ties to Google Maps

tagged as memories | permalink | 4 comments

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Review Day

There are no spoilers in these reviews.

Breaking Bad, Season One:
This is one of those critically acclaimed experiments that's actually really good, but fails to find an audience, like the game, Grim Fandango, or one of Doobie's tuba recitals. Bryan Cranston, the dad from Malcolm in the Middle, stars as a high school chemistry teacher who starts cooking crystal meth to support his family after he learns he has terminal cancer. Everything about this show bleeds "good" from the acting to the plots -- the problem is that the dramatic parts do "unrelentingly grim" so well that it can be hard to watch. The first season is seven episodes long (because of last year's writers' strike), and the episodes that focus on the fish-out-of-water aspect of a teacher in the drug world are very enjoyable. The ones that deal with Walter's cancer and mortality are artful but obviously not entertaining, and I tend to watch TV shows as a BREAK from real-world problems. Reviews of the second season suggest that the tone gets even grimmer, but I don't think I would justify watching another twenty hours of downers solely for the great acting, when there are more escapist shows to be seen.

Final Grade: B

Rage Against the Meshugenah by Danny Evans:
This book is written by the man behind Dad Gone Mad (in my Bloglog), the next in the line of bloggers-turned-authors, and it's a memoir of his experiences with depression, fatherhood, and other deep-seated issues that I hopefully won't have to deal with for at least a couple more weeks. The prose is well-written and easy to read, and the humour is handled expertly (as you would expect if you read his blog). Towards the end, the mix of flashback anecdotes seem a little disjointed from the main narrative, and maybe 20% of the book has already appeared in some form on his blog (which I've read from the beginning), but neither issue kept me from enjoying it.

Final Grade: B

Scrubs, Season Eight:
The seventh season of Scrubs was easily the worst season ever -- one of those unfortunate mistakes that you wish you could quietly excise from the main mythology and hope no one remembers (see also, The Covenant and the time a company I knew tried to become a Large Business by hiring a thousand people in a week and then had to lay them all off). Season Eight redeems the series (which had been slipping ever since season five) and wraps everything up well. It's not a series high point (and Ted and the Janitor are both still overused) but it's once again a Scrubs worth watching.

Final Grade: B+

Adventureland:
In hindsight, the "TRULY HILARIOUS!" on the cover should have warned me, because things billed as hilarious never are (except when I make fun of NASA or Kanye West, or both at the same time). Despite the appearance of so many Apatowian stars (including Bill from Freaks and Geeks), this movie about a pretentious English major working in a theme park for the summer is slow, unrewarding, and not worth the time. It might have been better if the main character were at all likable, and not just someone you'd want to drop-kick out a window if you met them at a college party. They were going for "shy and earnest" and came away with "awkward and annoying". (I haven't used enough parentheses today so here's another pair).

Final Grade: D

Repentant man breeds 4600 scorpions
Super glue assault victim: 'It got chaotic real quick'
Man flings jellyfish at teens

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Friday, September 11, 2009

Friday Fragments

indirectly responsible for the erosion of decorum, civil liberties, and foothills

♠ Wedding preparations are nearing completion, two weeks ahead of schedule as befits a URI! operation. Last night, I gathered up the classiest of photos featuring me and Rebecca for the perpetual slide show that will flash incessantly behind our table at the reception, like a really annoying billboard at the Verizon Center -- one that you can only escape by consuming more free wine.

♠ A worser fate than billboards involves gas stations that play TV ads while you pump your gas. If they're going to spend all that money on an embedded TV, they should up the sound quality to a level higher than "marching band recorded with a tape recorder". The gas station nearest to our house plays ads for the first thirty seconds, and if you haven't finished pumping, you get to hear "Come inside for a sandwich!" looped over and over like an amateur Boy Scout knot.

♠ Speaking of knots, I should learn how to tie a tie sometime soon. I own a single black tie (whose narrow dimensions make it look more like my BLACK BELT) which has been perpetually tied for over thirteen years now. When I have to wear it, I simply loosen the knot and slip it over my head. It's not unlike maintaining a ten-year-old block of code because you're not sure if you'll irrevocably break something if you try to rewrite it yourself.

♠ I wonder if any engineer parent has ever referred to their child as "that ten-year-old block of code I have to maintain". In nerd terms, that's way hipper than substituting "version 2.0" for "Junior".

♠ I will never name a son Brian, because there are more than enough good names out there without resorting to reuse. Plus, the kid would eventually become computer-savvy and Googling himself (or SPACE-Googling, as it will be called since it's in the future) would return all the illicit deals of his pa. Later, Brian Junior's future wife will do her own SPACE-Googling and discover this website, which contains lesson plans for "Everybody Poops" and two redheads bent over. She will cancel their first date, shattering his happiness and disrupting the SPACE-time continuum. It's just not worth the risk.

♠ Speaking of important dates, today is a national anniversary. However, after the initial few years, etiquette states that you should really stick to just the years that are multiples of five (unless you're selling a Special Edition of <classic movie no one really liked> on <brand new video format that's way better than the previous, possibly named WeeVDV>) For etiquette's sake, there will be no commemorative plates or articles here. If you need fellow rememberers, I'm sure today's Facebook and Twitter feeds will be alight with memories (and maybe even some Cats).

♠ Plans for the weekend include some birthday stuff, some steaks, and a Saturday-themed 12 of 12, which will contain 10 pictures of me sleeping and 2 of a penguin. I may also finish Half Life 2, the most boring use of beautiful graphics in any game ever.

♠ Have a great weekend!

Carrier pigeons faster than DSL
Message in a bottle follows girl home
Police free 9 from fake Big Brother house

tagged as fragments | permalink | 1 comment

Monday, September 14, 2009

Chad Darnell's 12 of 12


7:28 AM: Sleep interrupted by a hungry cat who's not afraid of a flash.

8:37 AM: Post-shower and ready for a gloomy, overcast Saturday.

9:18 AM: Rebecca heads off to work and I head to Safeway.

9:42 AM: Just your typical trip to the grocery store.

11:01 AM: Laundry time!

12:00 PM: Today's lunch consists of bread, mayo, meat, and mayo.

1:04 PM: Doing a little work-work after lunch.

2:14 PM: Playing Half-Life 2, which I have officially rated as "pretty but vapid", not unlike some sorority girls.

6:46 PM: Pizza and babies for dinner.

7:43 PM: My thirtieth birthday shirt, courtesy of Anna.

9:14 PM: Couples Poker, during which the babies kept attracting all the chips to their parents.

10:03 PM: I came down with a little bug and had to retire before the end of the game, so instead of a picture of the winner (Ben), here's another picture of the stacks of someone with a baby.

See more 12 of 12ers at Chad Darnell's site!

For your health, Fruit Loops
Official says castration comment a joke
Pair accused of playing porn at Wal-mart

tagged as 12 of 12 | permalink | 5 comments

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Birth Day

Grizzly bear gets swimming lessons
Schoolchildren send Marcus the lamb to slaughter
Arizona not monkeying around with masked speeder

tagged as media | permalink | 11 comments

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Stuff in My Drawers Day


"The Man with a Pan", or "Why You Shouldn't Count On Sixth Graders to Write Worthwhile Childrens' Books"

That little spindle fiber on the word Virginia is apparently a mouse. There's one mouse in each picture, not unlike the higher quality book, Goodnight Moon.


I started the book with half of a couplet on each page. This soon became too ambitious, as you shall see.


All parrots say "BRAWK". I'm not sure how well they tan.

The man is thinking so hard about his luxury limo with miltary grade satellite dish that his hat is levitating over his pate.


That's one scary-assed cumulonimbus cloud.

If your rhyming scheme is less iambic and more iamnotbic, you can stretch out sentences with useless adverbs like "really". Reciting this page aloud will make you sound like Barney Rubble in the Fruity Pebbles Rap.


Enforcing the values of hard work and determination in children, this book teaches you that if you get lazy early on, gold will come to you.

Gold in its natural form is a doubloon.

Kids today would know that this much gold should be stored in a bank account in the Caymans. In the late 80s, your foyer was just as secure.


My childrens' book doubles as an eye chart.

Billionaire uses teens to clean asbestos
China covers suicide bridge in butter
Hairspray triggers teen's alcohol monitor

tagged as media | permalink | 3 comments

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Review Day: Half-Life 2

There are no spoilers in this review.

Continuing my trend of playing and reviewing five-year-old games from The Orange Box, I finished Half-Life 2 over the weekend. The original Half-Life (released eleven years ago) was often billed as the greatest game of its time for its storyline, ambience, and immersion, but I was completely underwhelmed by it. Most of that game was spent beating up bugs with a crowbar while walking in a straight line from scripted scene to scripted scene, culminating in a finale that explained absolutely nothing. This is the gaming equivalent of watching Gosford Park.

Half-Life 2 is better than its predecessor, but still not worth the "greatest game of all time" hype that accompanied it. Its strongest suit is world design -- the visuals and attention to detail throughout the world are amazing, and more than worth its extremely low purchase price. Human characters still aren't perfected, but they're no worse than the lifeless mouth-breathers from that 2001 Final Fantasy movie. This is easily the prettiest game I've ever played, and it's five years old. In addition, a fully-formed physics system (which also formed the framework for Portal) makes for great explosions and chain reactions.

I have simple tastes when it comes to shooting games. Give me some atmosphere, worthwhile exploration, enough of a storyline to keep moving, and lots of adrenaline-inducing action, and I'm set. Some of these needs are met in Half-Life 2, but several areas annoyed me.

Loading Screens: There are no "levels" in the game, because apparently "beating a level" breaks the immersion. However, the game freezes for 15 seconds with the word "LOADING" every time you reach a checkpoint, which is about as immersive as a floater. I actually prefer level breaks, because they give you a good stopping point and make you feel like you've accomplished something.

Lack of a Story: This game has tons of SETTING, but setting is not story. The game (which also doesn't even come with a manual) picks up seven years after the first game, with no great explanation for what has come before. You learn a little as you go, but not enough to make you care about the plot. I often found myself wondering why I was fighting through some apartment building just to get to another apartment building, since much of the initial story motivation seems to be "Get to the other side of the city." The game ends with about as much closure as Locke peering down the hatch in the first season of LOST. I know you need to sell expansion packs, but at least say "EVERYONE DIES" or "DUMBLEDORE KILLS HERMIONE" before you fade to black.

Teammates: I don't want teammates running around stealing my kills, especially when they're more likely to trap me in a narrow hallway and refuse to turn around than kill something. For the most part, I tried to lead them across big flashing landmines (which they were unable to notice on their own), but sometimes you actually have to keep them alive.

Overdoing It: Every single level loading-screen-interlude is crammed with great sequences and enjoyable firefights, but each one crosses the line into tedium. Riding around in a hoverboat was a nice change of pace, but when I was still in that hoverboat an hour later, on a radioactive river that's easily longer than Four Mile Run in Arlington, I was bored. The ratio of really great sequences to really boring ones was about 1 to 1. The only exception was a level towards the beginning featuring zombies in an abandoned little town -- it was creepy, fun to play, and over before it got old.

Bottom Line: Half-Life 2 is a must-play game, but for historical purposes rather than enjoyment ones. It's worth going through to admire the world that Valve created, although it doesn't have the raw fun factor that a game like DOOM did in its time. Final Grade: B

Rodney King vs. the Police, Round 2
Florida on alert for hybrid man-eating pythons
Little girl's foul toss makes dad a celebrity

tagged as reviews, games | permalink | 2 comments

Friday, September 18, 2009

Friday Fragments

now accepting micropayments

♠ Despite being sick for the first few days of the week, I had a successful thirtieth birthday and received good loot. My presents included, but were not limited to, the new Muse CD which I'm listening to as I type this, hardcover editions of the d'Aulaires mythology books, the new Mario & Luigi DS game (which I may have purchased for myself), and a Virginia-Tech-themed cornhole game from my sister.

♠ The cornhole game will go well with the VT umbrella and 8-foot inflatable Hokie Bird that my parents got me. Apparently, they all needed to remind me of which college I attended, since the memory is the second thing to go when you turn thirty.

Update 2/18/2010: I've been getting mail from people asking about where to purchase the inflatable Hokie Bird. This specific one was bought at www.forevercollectibles.com -- however, they don't seem to list it on their site anymore. I'd check with them.

♠ I'm not sure when I'll have a special occasion to inflate the Hokie Bird, but we're currently planning on putting a Santa Hat on him for the winter (converting him into a holiday lawn ornament) and surrounding him with Virginia Tech lawn gnomes, of which I already own one.

♠ College merchandising has already invaded the most common day-to-day paraphernalia, like Hokie wines and UVa Enema Bags, but I think it's time to start being more creative with their outreach. Instead of buying a Hokie keychain, you should be able to buy an actual Hokie, who will come to your home between classes and make the bed, or show up in the Fall and take the SATs for you.

♠ I read an article in the Post the other day about a test trainer who takes every SAT test to determine how his company's ridiculously overpriced preparation materials should be tailored. The article mentioned that analogies have not been a part of the SAT for several years now. I had no idea that such an integral and easy to mock portion had been removed. It's like -- well maybe I could explain what it's like if kids today knew what an analogy was.

♠ Plans for the weekend include steaks tonight, followed by a clandestine trip organized by my groomsmen with bacheloresque overtones, while Rebecca is off with a bunch of chicks eating cookies shaped like male genitalia. Next week will be my last week of work until Halloween week, so I'll probably be pretty busy. The quality of content here should not suffer, because I pride myself on being able to maintain consistency in mediocrity.

♠ Have a great weekend!

Four awkward moments in Facebook Likes
Forest Service apologizes to Hispanic campers
Green Bay roundabout proposal raises fears tipsy fans will fumble

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Monday, September 21, 2009

Weekend Wrap-up

The prelude to Bachelor Weekend started with New York Strip steaks at Jack's house, followed by a random gathering of high-school era guys. We tried out Jack's recent purchase of Beatles Rock Band and learned that trying to sing along to "Within You Without You" is a retarded proposition. Later on, we switched to poker, except for Chris Sharp, who switched to poker and Scotch (resulting in a massive depletion of both reserves). I conceded and came in second, winning $10, though I might have gotten first had it not been 3 in the morning.

Following a breakfast of chocolate chip banana pancakes, the three of us, Ben, Jack, and myself, got on the road for a trip to Atlantic City, which would be my first trip to a casino where I was old enough to touch anything. (To clarify, I'm talking about gambling machines, although I suppose other interpretations could apply).

We arrived around 1 PM and picked up Mike (of Mike and Chompy) who had flown in from Boston so he could lose at blackjack. The next step was to locate a cheesesteak shop which we ultimately determined did not actually exist, so we ended up at the Whitehouse sub shop. Their cheesesteaks were delicious, but this was probably because we spent an hour in line at near-starvation levels before finally getting them.

After checking in to our room on the 37th floor of the Borgata (which I kept calling the Bogota throughout the weekend), we took a quick power nap and then signed up for a single table of poker in the Borgata Poker Open. Though there were many high-rolling events going on, we played it safe with the smallest one that had a $100 buy-in. Unfortunately, they gave out one too many stubs for the game, and Mike was unable to compete. The rest of us didn't completely suck though -- Jack came in 6th, I squeaked in at 5th, and Ben walked away with the top prize of $700.

We celebrated in the high-class buffet, where I had a completely balanced dinner consisting of sushi, raw shrimp, fried shrimp, mussels, clams, macaroni and cheese, prime rib, lo mein, and multiple chocolate mousses with chocolate playing cards on top.

After our dinner, we ambled around the casino paying our stupid peoples' tax into various video poker machines and noticing the ridiculous number of coeds who had come to the casino solely to enter their $25 cover nightclub. There must not be a lot to do in New Jersey. I made it to around 2 AM before retiring for some sleep, but the others were out until 4 and even 5, trying their luck at dealer games.

On Sunday, we dropped Mike off in Philly after Ruby Tuesday burgers, because his previously purchased flight would have sent him home to Boston by way of Orlando and possibly Arizona. The remaining three of us finally made it back to Virginia around 3, and I got home around 5. My activities for the evening included cat-feeding, laundry-doing, and twelve hours of sleep.

All in all, it was a successful trip, and we even found a reason to go back a week after the wedding.

The ridiculous manpower behind World of Warcraft
Get Out of Jail Free: Monopoly's hidden maps
New Montauk monster spotted in Panama

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

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Newsday Tuesday

Flu Trackers Encourage Patients to Blog About It

Think you have the flu? In some places, you can now go directly to the Internet and report your symptoms to officials eager to spot outbreaks. Say you feel sick, but before you see a doctor you search the Web for information, or blog or Twitter about the flu. Your worries will be detected by companies prowling the Internet for disease trends.

Researchers suggest a preemptive exclusion of Myspace from its monitoring, since the symptoms of being emo or "a member of a thrash metal band that hasn't quite made it big" are textually identical to the flu, resulting in too many false positives.

And someday, scientists hope, this "infodemiology" might help forecast and track a flu epidemic the way experts monitor the weather.

In other words, "mostly inaccurately". Early warning systems will anticipate a high pressure flu outbreak over the greater metropolitan area, which will actually turn out to be a light misting from someone's sneezes.

Google's public Flu Trends system, for example, is designed to pick up early clues by tracking and analyzing Internet searches for flu information. [...] Because people often search for information on the Web before going to a doctor, the system can provide an early warning of trouble [...]

Google has already used this technology to anticipate when other trends will crest, such as the outbreak of STDs ("it hurts when i pee"), the high probability of future nudity from Rachel McAdams ("hot chick nude"), and popular trends in venture capitalism ("mowable marijuana").

Other companies and programs scan live Web chatter for mentions of, or reports about, the flu. Boston-based HealthMap's automated system sends out an hourly Web "crawler" that hunts for flu information in seven languages.

HealthMap administrators ensure that you can opt out of this service by writing "Disallow: /" on your face.

Its creators on Tuesday launched a cellphone application called "Outbreaks Near Me" that can alert users to illnesses nearby. "If you move into a zone where there's an outbreak, your phone would actually alert you," said John Brownstein, assistant professor of pediatrics at Children's Hospital in Boston [...]

As a public service, Apple has agreed to launch an ad campaign to promote proper flu treatment.

In Singapore, scientists have gone a step further, testing a system called FluLog that could use Bluetooth cellphone technology to locate people who had been in proximity to someone who has become infected.

Cynics have noted that using Bluetooth technology to spread the virus would be more sensible, as it would reduce the number of people wearing those ridiculous earpieces in public.

The CDC currently has a network of 2,500 doctors nationwide that reports flulike illness on a daily or weekly basis [...]. And the CDC issues a weekly public report on the Internet called Fluview.

CDC officials reported being disappointed at the rather bland name of their report, but noted that Floogle, iNfluenza, Yaflu!, TheFluegelhorn, and TheFluperficial were snapped up too quickly by domain name squatters. However, they confirmed that the Spanish-language edition of their report, Fluego, will be online in a matter of weeks.

Fast food surprise lodged in man's lung
Terrorist blessed with explosive diarrhea
Teacher disciplined for unusual creative writing assignment

tagged as newsday | permalink | 1 comment

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Weird Search Day

or "How I stumbled upon the URI! Zone"

  • applebees operational flow charts
    Applebee's is a shallow organizational structure, with the bulk of employees reporting directly to Mr. Applebee. In the event of the catastrophic loss of the CEO, the strongest employees will have a food fight to determine who will succeed him. My money is on the server armed with "con sizzle".

  • Reston Town Center drug dealer
    I highly doubt that someone in this line of work advertises their services on the Internet. Your best bet would be to visit the town center in person and sidle up to shady individuals near the fountain, asking them if they "have a cousin named Sven".

  • trajectory chart for crossbow bolts

    Instead of trusting that I actual remember anything from my 1998 Newtonian physics courses, you could just assume that the trajectory can be calculated without taking into account gravity or air resistance, since crossbows were invented and used in an era before either one was invented. In this case, the bolt will travel forever at constant speed, especially if Kevin Costner pretending to be an Englishman is the marksman and he is shooting at another crossbow bolt while the camera trails from behind.

  • what is one way of showing the earth on a flat piece of paper called?
    Drawing a map? Early Babylonian blasphemy? Photocopying an atlas?

  • bulk velveeta shells and cheese
    This is really the only way to purchase Shells and Cheese and not face an inadvertent shortage at some point. I generally have two five-packs of Shells and Cheese in my cupboard at any given time (except for the unfortunate months when Costco tried to promote "Annie's Mac and Cheese" as an alternative -- great cheddar, but it was not laced with the addictive additives one might find in Velveeta).

  • flaunting cleavage at the poker table

    This is actually one strategy I haven't tried at the poker table, although it might have more success than distracting with chocolate pie or playing bad pop music in the background. I'll be sure to try it out in the next poker game.

  • cups and balls craigslist
    If you are a budding magician and need secondhand supplies from Craigslist, your first step would be to go to Craigslist and do a search. I am not selling my cups or my balls.

  • is chad kroeger building a house in mexico?
    I'm not really sure what this obsession with Chad Kroeger is all about. I suppose that if you need someone to recite ninth-grade poetry in a voice that sounds like the forceful expulsion of the lungs, spleen, and duodenum, you might have a need for him. That talent does not necessarily make him a trustworthy carpenter.

  • picture of carp feces

  • are meal worms inside big macs?
    Big Macs are probably far more food than such an organism could eat in a single sitting, so if they have discovered such a bountiful food supply, I'm guessing they are happy meal worms.

  • bloodelf manawyrm dildo
    Please cancel your World of Warcraft subscription, back away from the computer, and get a girlfriend, or at least one night of companionship in a seedy motel.

  • shannon lucio fake naked pics

    This searcher did ask for fake pictures, after all. That definitely isn't John Basedow's body.

  • Cops caught playing Wii on the job
    Identical lottery draw was a coincidence
    Taser and handcuffs used on militant emu

    tagged as website, searches | permalink | 5 comments

    Thursday, September 24, 2009

    Review Day

    There are no spoilers in these reviews.

    Burn Notice: Season One
    This show is kind of like Alias-light. Michael Westin is a spy who has been burned by his agency and dumped in Miami with no explanation. Over the season, he tracks down the people who burned him while solving odd jobs on the side. The main plot progresses slowly but steadily, and you can easily miss a couple episodes without getting confused -- the plot really just sets the stage for "cases of the week", fun spy stuff, and Macguyveresque lessons about how you can fashion a bomb from a drinking straw and a gecko.

    Because this is a USA show (like The 4400), it is over-the-top cheesy, but that adds to its charm. From the retro 80s theme song to the gratuitous camera tricks uselessly spliced into the aerial shots of Miami, it's supposed to be campy. The main actor seems to be constantly channeling Guy Pearce (which works well), and every other segue features random and plotless shots of Miami women in bikinis. We went out and bought the second season as soon as we'd finished this.

    Final Grade: A-

    Half Life 2: Episode 1:
    I suppose that if you want to write a sequel to a game but don't want to go up a full version number, this kind of expansion pack naming scheme suffices, but it's still annoying that Episode 1 is the second part of Half-Life 2. A similar problem can be seen in the title, New Super Mario Brothers, which will be exacerbated in November with the release of New Super Mario Brothers Wii. Overall, this expansion pack is just more of the same. It's quite short, there's nothing really new to experience, and you spend half of the game running through an unlit underground parking garage. Your off-again-on-again sidekick is back, permanently this time, and cracks stupid jokes throughout.

    On another note, it feels strange to be playing so many games that aren't World of Warcraft. This must be what dating after divorce feels like.

    Final Grade: C

    About a Boy:
    Movies where Hugh Grant can be unlikeable and snarky are fun. In this one, he concocts an imaginary kid so he can pick up woman at a single parents' club and unintentionally bonds with someone's son, with sexy amusing results. The soundtrack is a complete set of Badly Drawn Boy songs (the group that thwarted many people in one of my Name That Tune contests).

    Final Grade: B

    Goodbye Blues by The Hush Sound:
    In old reviews, I said that The Hush Sound showed promise, and their sound is definitely unique and cohesive here. There are quite a few catchy numbers on this CD, although I think I enjoyed Like Vines a little more. The one problem here is the female lead's voice -- she seems to have taken vocal lessons because the timid, wispy sound from previous albums is replaced with a rich, strong tone. However, though the tone is vibrant, it's marred by a distracting quiver throughout the CD (think Michael Ball in Aspects of Love, or the palpitations of a caffeine addict if you think musicals are lame). You can hear samples here.

    Final Grade: B

    Hanged man with "fed" written on him "might be" a victim of anti-government sentiment.
    Store launches underpants for left-handed men
    In Wellford, SC, the cops won't chase you

    tagged as reviews | permalink | 2 comments

    Friday, September 25, 2009

    Friday Fragments

    the last Fragments column for a month, so if I make it horrible, you won't miss it

    ♠ I've been listening to several new CDs in my car, including new releases from A Fine Frenzy, Ingrid Michaelson, Gabriella Cilmi, and Muse. We also discovered that Muse is playing at FedEx stadium next Tuesday, which would be exciting if they weren't opening for U2 -- artificially jacking up the ticket prices and forcing attendees to sit through a telethon for Bono's cause of the week.

    ♠ Speaking of causes of the week, our office is in full-fledged donation mode. I have nothing against any particular crusade, but it seems odd that the disease with the best marketing campaign should get the most money. I'm sure that with enough capital and star power, you could even start a Race for the Canker Sore, except for the fact that there aren't enough ribbon colours left.

    ♠ As research for this post (after which I billed my sponsors $50 an hour), I looked up the complete list of ribbon colours. It must be a very schizophrenic experience to wear a common one like "blue" and not know if you are fighting for water safety or sex trafficking. I also think it's unfortunate that the anti-tobacco ribbon is the colour of tobacco, and that brown was used for anything with the word "rectal" in it.

    ♠ If the URI! Zone ever needs saving, the ribbon will be plaid, like a kilt, and the people wearing it will have nothing on underneath, like a kilt. All of the spokespeople will be women and 25% of donations will go towards getting a better server for this site (although I'm not sure how much better it could possibly be -- maybe it dispenses bacon). The other 75% will be used to put me into a lavish early retirement so I can focus on my Fragments writing.

    ♠ Speaking of early retirement, today is my last day at work for a month since I'm taking off the entire week before the wedding to wrap up any last minute wedding issues (like making sure Marc knows how to read and hiring a stand-in bride for any stunts we do). Updates will continue throughout next week, but I'll probably be too busy reenacting scenes from Finding Nemo with the sea turtles in Hawaii to do more than post pictures during our honeymoon. Real-real updates will resume sometime around the 26th.

    ♠ Plans for the weekend include an early morning run to Costco (which is nothing like an early morning run to crew) for final wedding supplies (wedding favours will be bulk rolls of Scotch tape), and then lunch on Sunday with Emily and Evil Brian.

    ♠ Have a great weekend!

    Female students are a perk of the job
    Giant baby draws spectators in Indonesia
    "We don't eat human flesh, it is definitely unacceptable"

    tagged as fragments | permalink | 2 comments

    Monday, September 28, 2009

    Weekend Wrap-up

    I started my final day at work (for a month) with a 5:30 trip to Bailey's Crossroad, and the day gradually improved towards noon, when my team surprised me with a giant cake covered in roses (or chili peppers if you turned it upside down). After cake, I promptly turned on my "Out of Office" automated email message and then came home for a two-hour nap, followed later on by sushi.

    On Saturday, I watched the Hokies beat Miami 31 - 7, mounted two new racks in the house (one for keys and mail, and one for magazines), unpacked all of the Halloween decorations from the basement closet, and took an online course on UDDI registries to meet the minimum requirements for my work performance plan this year. In the evening, we went to the Loudest Mall On Earth, Tyson's, for a rather bland dinner at TGIF's and then watched the movie The Informant! starring Matt Damon! It was cute, though it got a little tedious as it went on, but since we paid for the entire evening with gift certificates from various sources, we couldn't complain.

    On Sunday, we met Emily and Brian for lunch at Uno's, where I devoured a juicy cheddar and mushroom burger and most of the fries and we discussed the need to turn guyseatingstuff.wordpress.com into a burger-rating site, to give us an excuse to eat lots of burgers. We returned home to a surprise wedding shower for Rebecca, which had appeared in our basement in a whirlwind of activity during our lunch date. I may have accidentally left the back door open before we left.

    In the evening, we ran a few errands and then took a Fall walk through Claude Moore Park, which was chilly and deserted. We closed out the night with a dinner of leftover fries, bananas dipped in chocolate, and Sunset Hills cabernet franc.

    This morning, I woke up at 9:45 AM and phoned this update in, stream-of-consciousness style. What did you do on YOUR weekend?

    Bank sues Google for sending data to the wrong email address
    Bank of America sued for a billion, trillion dollars
    Chinese holding Darth Vader's head hostage

    tagged as day-to-day | permalink | 1 comment

    Tuesday, September 29, 2009

    Museday Tuesday

    1. The composition can be for any instrumentation. It can have an actual score or be a pure synthesized realization that might not be possible to perform in the real world.
    2. It must not be longer than thirty seconds.
    3. It does not necessarily have to have a start, middle, and end -- it can just be a fragment of something grander.
    4. It should be composed in thirty minutes or less. If time runs out, I post whatever I managed to finish, be it good, indifferent, or makeup on a corpse.
    5. The title of the piece must be a word from a random word generator, although this word doesn't necessarily have to be incorporated in the piece.

    Subaudible: (adj.) Barely within the range of hearing; lacking definition

    My Composition (0:30 MP3)

    I used a mix of instruments smack dab in the middle of the bass clef to evoke a feeling rather than a melodic line. It's a good wash of sound, although it might have come out better had I picked a time signature with less motion, perhaps 11/4.

    He explained that these young women are from poor countries and need to make money to help their parents
    This baby seal is a people person
    In Texas, there are only 43 states

    tagged as museday | permalink | 1 comment

    Wednesday, September 30, 2009

    End-of-the-Month Media Day

    See new Cat Pictures
    See new September Pictures
    See new Baby Pictures

    Shoppers liberate giant lobster
    Woman pulls gun on cop as chihuahua deal goes bad
    Judge rules that cows might not have even been puzzled

    tagged as media | permalink | 2 comments

     

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