Musings: Too much gaming, Harry Potter, and Thanksgiving

Oh blog, it’s been a long, long time since I’ve paid you a visit. I
know that it hasn’t been fair and that we were supposed to spend extra
time together now that I live in Baltimore; however, I’ve been busy.
Really, really busy. You see, Battlefield 3 came out on October 25th.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim came out on November 11th. I JUST CAN’T
JUGGLE ALL OF THESE THINGS AT ONCE.

Neither could Ned.

Without elaborating too much at this time, the Battlefield series is
my favorite set of multiplayer games ever. The Elder Scrolls series is
my favorite set of single-player games ever. By some cruel coincidence
of fate, their newest entries that I have waited 5 years to play
released mere weeks apart and it has ravaged my productivity.

CAN YOU NOT SEE THAT I AM BUSY?!

Each of the games includes a leveling system, which promotes putting
time into them. For Skyrim, more time means more skills, greater
abilities, etc. In BF3, more times means higher ranks and more
unlocks. More than anything, it’s a competition thing, and we all know
how am I about competition. I’m embarrassed to say how many hours I’ve
played of the two games so far, but I honestly think it’s been longer
than I’ve spent sleeping.

My character, on the other hand, looks remarkably well-rested.

Aside from gaming, I’ve just been going to the gym a lot and eating
like a hobo, trying to plug away some extra savings.  This past
weekend, the three best friends got together to have a
mini-Thanksgiving/Harry Potter feast and watch as many HP’s as we
could. Despite getting a late start, we successfully plowed through
about 4 movies and had a nice meal of turkey, sweet potatoes, mashed
potatoes, stuffing, and pumpkin pasties. It was really quite nice (if
not a reminder that I need to work out a lot over the next week).

Yup.

Even more exciting is the fact that Thanksgiving is this week! I plan
on taking a short day tomorrow, leaving after lunch, and getting a
nice head start on a 5-day weekend. There are lots of meals, bike
rides, runs, and games in my next few days. I CANNOT WAIT. I hope
everyone has an enjoyable holiday! Don’t get trampled at Walmart.

Advertisements

Musings: Aaaaaaand we’re back

(Funny story…I thought I posted this last Monday)

As expected, the building of my new computer got in the way of my blogging. System building is the type of treacherously satisfying process that consumes the mind with a fear of DOA components and unidentifiable errors. It’s also a process downright saturated with both excitement and trepidation. Nevertheless, I am happily blogging from my new system as we speak and it is absolutely spectacular. In the one day I’ve had to give it a spin with some games, it has performed astoundingly well. The only remaining issue is that my CPU has an unusually high idle temperature, even after removing and reapplying thermal paste. I’ll sort it out and see how it does under load later. Anyway, the more technical blog posts will follow later in the week. For now, it’s time to catch up.

As much as I expected to miss some blog posts while I put the system together, I certainly didn’t expect to feel so guilty about it. Over the weekend, I realized how long it had been since I posted anything and felt terrible. I felt like I was slipping away from blogging, allowing my blog to devolve into one of the thousands that seemed like good ideas for a few weeks but were ultimately left to decay. At work today, I saw the little “Site Stats” link for my blog in my history but felt too ashamed to check it. If anyone had been checking in since I stopped blogging, I didn’t want to know about it. After a hardy workout after work, I now feel like I’m ready to get back to business with this writing mumbo jumbo.

So what have I been doing since we last spoke, you are undoubtedly not asking. Let’s start with Labor Day weekend. This summer, for some unknown reason, has been the fastest of my life. I’ve only made it to the beach twice and in my brain, summer should just be kicking off. Unfortunately, the world continues its refusal to conform to my will, and September has come kicking through my face when I least expected it. Needless to say, Labor Day weekend became a symbol for summer’s last stand.

Leading up to the long weekend, I was trying to meticulously plan a weekend that would encompass everything that I could possibly want to do in the summer. Go to the beach, visit my grandparents, tour NJ, visit NYC, etc. Sadly, as good as I am at planning, doing everything was a logistical impossibility. Instead, the three best friends decided to tackle the latter two ideas with a road trip to NJ and a daytrip into Manhattan to check out the Harry Potter exhibition (on its last weekend in town) and stroll around the Big Apple.

After having a blast replacing my car battery on Saturday morning, I begrudgingly began the drive to NJ with the TBFs. After some fancy driving around Baltimore, which was overwhelmed by the Grand Prix, we made good time back to my home state. We quickly dropped our bags at my house and drove over to Double Trouble for a stroll. After all, a trip to Bayville isn’t complete without some DT time.

You may not be able to tell, but I'm thrilled to be home.

Afterwards, we headed back home for dinner. As usual, we consumed a delightful dinner (grilled onions, squash, and london broil) courtesy of my step father. Then, the three of us and my younger sister headed out to Seaside for a little boardwalk stroll. On the way, we stopped by Rich’s to get some ice cream (the canoli sundae was awesome but nearly killed me). After spending so many nights at the Seaside Heights boardwalk in high school, it’s definitely interesting going back as a bit more of an adult. As awful as it sounds, it’s nice to have a bit more age and maturity on your side; it makes looking down on the scum that much more justified.

After the boardwalk, we returned to my house and retired for the evening. The next morning, we got up bright and early and headed out for Hoboken around 7 AM. On the way, we grabbed bagels at Oh What A Bagel. Mmmmmm…Jersey Bagels.

Where was I? Oh yes, driving to Hoboken. We got to Hoboken around 9 AM, parked, and took the PATH train into Manhattan. We strolled around the Penn Station area for a while before heading to Discovery Times Square for the HP exhibition. I wish we had some pictures to show, but sadly, photography was prohibited. It was very cool to see so many costumes and props from the movies though. It taught me two things: I am much larger than the entire cast of the HP films and the props are detailed as hell.

After the exhibition, we began our eating tour of NYC. We grabbed some pizza by Penn Station and started walking towards a Chinese noodle place that one of my coworkers suggested. By the time we were nearly there (it was down by the Brooklyn bridge and I prefer walking everywhere whenever possible) we decided to take a detour to Pomme Frites instead. I was severely dehydrated by this point, so I pounded a bunch of water with my fried potatoes and we decided to call off the noodles.

WHAT DO YOU MEAN ALL THIS SODIUM IS JUST GOING TO INCREASE MY THIRST?!

After temporarily giving up on eating and checking out Noho and Soho, we swung by Magnolia Bakery in Greenwich Village for some cupcakes. Several pounds later and severely exhausted, we decided to forego the walk back to Penn Station and instead caught the PATH from the nearby Christopher Street Station.

'Nuff said

When we finally managed to liberate my car from the parking garage in Hoboken, we hopped on the Turnpike to head back to Rockville; however, we still had to make a final, obligatory NJ stop: a diner. For the sake of efficiency, we decided to not drive out of the way to my regular stomping grounds and instead hopped off the Turnpike to check out Marlton Diner. Two pork roll, egg, and cheese’s, a cream-chip beef on toast, and some coffee’s later, I was ready to never leave Jersey ever again. Sadly, I need to earn a living, so we drove back down and got to Rockville a little after 1 AM.

The next day I chilled in the morning and stopped by College Park to tailgate for the Miami game for a bit. Almost all of my old roommates, including the ones who live pretty far away now, were there, so it was a jolly time in spite of the rain. After that, last week was mainly devoted to building my computer and modding my headset (to be covered soon) and last weekend was spent straight chillin. I’m getting wordy, so goodnight!

Musings: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 and Nerdrage

The past few days have been a fun, exhausting blur. Sadly, I’ve been feeling guilty the whole time for not feeling up to writing any blog posts; however, all is not lost. My boss is out of town for the next 3 weeks, so I can take my time and write posts in my spare time at work. Hooray!

My ID badge picture will soon be replaced with this.

My “weekend” started last Thursday evening in preparation for the Deathly Hallows Part 2 opening. The three best friends (Me, J, and H) gathered in DC to make butterbeer, grill some hot dogs, and pound some Little Debby snacks; a proper sendoff to our childhoods, if I may say so myself. We then hopped on a metro to Chinatown around 9:30 so that we could grab seats for the 6 of us who were meeting at the theater.

As it would turn out, 10 is NOT early enough to arrive at a midnight showing of a Harry Potter movie. You would think that after 8 movies (3 of which were attended with a nearly identical group of people) that we would have figured it out by now. We did not. Of the 6 theaters showing the movie at midnight, 3 of which we had access to (only half were in 2D), only one had reasonable seats for 6 people. Although we were in the back row, I consider us to have been extremely lucky.

Knowing full well that I always get myself stoked to see various parts of the HP books in the movies and that I’m always disappointed, I set myself up for the bitter feeling of being unfulfilled anyway. The first viewing is always the worst too; subsequent viewing benefit from already knowing what was cut. The good news is that I liked this film the most upon first viewing out of the 8. The bad news is that I have major issues with two changes that the movie decided to make.

'I foresee grave irritation in your future'

First, the good. David Yates has always done a great job bringing a more mature, cinematic touch to the HP films. I think the first two films in the series did well with what they had, but completely lacked any style at all. The third film was quite good, but maybe a little too stylized. The fourth film sucked. DHp2 maintains Yates’ distinct style and is probably the film best suited for it thus far. Much like what Christopher Nolan did with the Batman reboot, Yates blends a completely over-the-top universe with an abundance of gritty, “someone is going to die” flavor that makes the whole thing feel more realistic than it would normally be.

See, this is what a REALISTIC kiss looks like. You've just been doing it wrong.

Furthermore, for the first time in any of the films, I could understand why elements of the plot were changed. Although it never makes me happy, I can understand how 30-minutes of sidetracking to explain an inevitably minor point does not make for good cinema. I’m just going to have to wait until I get fabulously rich so that I can self-fund a Harry Potter miniseries, where each chapter receives its own episode.

Expect to see this image a lot.

Besides all of this, the movie is just fun to watch overall. Although I’m far from an action junkie, I enjoyed how the film picks up very quickly and never slows down. The emotional bits of the tale are also done exceptionally well. The conclusion of Snape’s story is every bit as draining and moving as it was in the books, even if I would have liked to see even more of the flashbacks that were described in the books.

Now, for the bad. Two parts of the movie made me want to punch somebody in the face for defiling essential plot points for absolutely no reason. The first, and less severe, was the fact that Harry just straight blurts out that he’s hunting for Horcruxes to Aberforth. We all know you are trying to get a point across Harry, BUT DID YOU FORGOT THAT IT IS AN INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT SECRET? Perhaps it slipped your mind that you haven’t been allowed to ask for help from any of the infinitely more powerful witches and wizards on your side because it’s so important that no one else knows?

'This is really supposed to be a secret, but what the hell. WE'RE GOING AFTER BIN LADEN TONIGHT.'

The second point almost ruined the movie for me completely. It’s the type of thing that I might refilm myself and edit directly into my copy of the movie whenever it is released on Blu-ray, because I think it undermines one of the most important themes of the series. If you haven’t finished the books/films yet, get off my blog. Alternatively, stop reading, because spoilers are forthcoming.

At the conclusion of Harry and Voldemort‘s final showdown (which would have been better left in the Great Hall, surrounded by other duelers), Voldemort loses his wand and sort of just disintegrates into dust. Not only is it anti-climactic, but it ruins the point that Voldemort was just as human as everyone else and could die just as suddenly/easily. Conversely, in the book, Voldemort uses a killing curse on Harry, while Harry tries to disarm him (which is supposed to so how pure of heart he is. The movie missed this point too). When Voldemort’s curse backfires, he just drops dead, spread eagle in the middle of the hall. When I first read it, I was shocked at how he was the world’s most dangerous wizard one moment and then suddenly a corpse like any other. Regardless of all of his attempts to avoid death, in the end he was no different than anyone else. By making his death so unique, unnatural, and completely abnormal, the movie seems to push the point that he was a creature all his own. They should have taken some cues from how they did Snape’s death. Now THAT was a shocking death scene.

Pictured: The only thing creepier than Snape's death.

After the movie on Thursday, we got back around 3:30. I begrudgingly went to work on Friday, which was an 8-hour blur. Friday night, the three best friends met some other lovely friends for dinner at Commissary in DC. The food and atmosphere at the place were amazing and made me a bit sad to be leaving DC in 2 weeks. Oh DC, how I barely knew thee.

On Saturday morning, Jenny and I went out to Lake Needwood (lol) to participate in a waterway cleanup at the park. We weren’t there that long, but the collective participants managed to drag out 380 pounds of trash over 3 hours. They gave out  some pretty nice swag too: A t-shirt, a Nalgene, a flag, free subs, organic plums. It was an awesome way to spend a Saturday morning.

Saturday night, the 3BFs made sloppy joe’s and had ice cream (mmmm, Neapolitan. The ice cream of racial harmony). Then, Jenny and I went to see HP again. Although my above breakdown partially reflects my opinion of the movie from both viewings, I assure you that I enjoyed the film a whole lot more the second time and would like to see it a third. Sunday morning, Jenny and I hit up Annandale for some free samples at the bakery and to stop at H-mart. Then we made the 10-mile trek to and from Georgetown to return some things. And now here I am, Monday morning! I hope you all have a good Monday and have a chance to see HP many, many times. Adios!

 

Musings: The End is Near

Honestly, I really do want to tell you all about my lovely trip to California; however, this week has been quite hectic and I want to make sure I bore you all with excruciatingly long winded descriptions. There simply is no time for that right now. Our lives are about to change forever.

Tomorrow at midnight (well, Friday at midnight for the Hermione’s of the world), the final Harry Potter film is being released. All of my most avid HP fan friends and I bought tickets well in advance, of course. We will be seeing the film in Chinatown tomorrow evening. In many ways, this movie marks the death of my childhood.

Like this...but dead.

That may not be completely true, actually. My childhood has been dead for a while now…cheerful, I know. As most of you know, I much prefer the HP books to every single one of the movies. Yes, I somehow manage to prefer the Order of the Phoenix book to the Half Blood Prince film, if only barely. For that reason, I’m more inclined to think that my youth ended when I finished reading the 7th book.

Fittingly, my time reading the Deathly Hallows was probably the most involved I have ever been while reading any of the HP’s. It was over a summer during the middle of college and none of my friends were around when I was reading it. In preparation for its release, I went to a Scottish restaurant and ate Cornish Pasties and scones. I sat at home by myself, reading it late into the night with massive pots of tea. I would occasionally google castles when I took breaks. The only time I wasn’t at home reading it was when I visited my parents at the cabin they were renting…in the mountains…on a lake. So yeah, I was pretty much in the zone.

Ohhh to be young.

Things are obviously different now. It’s still the middle of summer, but I work 40 hours a week. If you count the commutes, it’s 55 hours a week. I’ll be up late into the night tomorrow, but I’ll pay for it at 5:30 on Friday morning. Still, I’m extremely excited for tomorrow. Why?

Like a tiny fraction of Voldemort’s soul, my childhood is still tucked away, almost entirely unbeknownst to me, somewhere inside. The movie tomorrow will probably mark the last time that I gather with friends for the beginning of something new regarding HP, whether its a book release or a movie premier, and I refuse to take it lying down. I’m going to make butterbeer after work. We’re going to go to an Irish Pub to get in the mood. If the enormity of the event seems too overwhelming, then bring on the firewhiskey. We’ll cast a patronus to fend off the melancholy of the end, because I demand one last summer night with the man with the lightning bolt scar.

It's been real.

Fitness vs. Fatness: Biology and Pottermore

As much as I complain about having picked the wrong major in college, I am actually quite interested in biology; I just don’t want to stay in the field forever. Ironically, working in the field has made it very difficult for me to talk about the subject. Nothing wrecks your academic self esteem like working with 10+ PhD’s. Still, it doesn’t keep me from thinking about the stuff, as you will soon find out.

I had a granola bar when I got back from work and drank a few cups of water. Today’s running strategy was to plan on doing it from the moment I got up. Regardless of how tired I was, I backed myself into a corner and committed from the get go. After taking my usual digestion break for 30 minutes, I took off for the monuments again.

About a mile into my run, I started to think about one of the many irritating things about running: the simultaneous feeling that you need to drink and need to pee. The earlier in the run that these feelings come on, the more irritating they are. This cruel contradiction got me thinking, the thinking gave me an excuse to discuss biology, and this blog gave me an outlet for that discussion.

My favorite things about biology are the clever little evolutionary tricks that our bodies have worked out. They’re elegant, simple, and effective. Take exercise as an example. When we start to run, our muscles start churning through oxygen to produce energy. The more oxygen they use, the more blood they need to deliver oxygen. As anyone who has worked out knows, your heart rate increases when you begin exercising. Obviously, this is to get more blood to the muscles. The better shape you get into, the stronger your heart gets, and the more blood it can pump with each beat (the amount of blood being pumped is called stroke volume. Get the giggles out now). As your heart becomes able to pump more blood per beat, your heart rate decreases. This is why people like Lance Armstrong have insanely low heart rates (Please note that this only applies to cardio). The longer your heart has between beats, the more time it has to fill with blood, and even more blood gets pumped per beat. Essentially, this is why working out is awesome.

Don't worry, I don't expect anyone to actually look at this.

I personally think this system is an extremely cool positive feedback loop. What I find even cooler is that the act of running, or any cardio-type exercise really, directly affects the amount of blood being pumped. The repetitive contraction and relaxation of your muscles puts pressure on your blood vessels and literally acts as a pump, moving more blood through the system, and getting more oxygen to your muscles. Cool!

There’s also a really terrible bit of biology involving high blood pressure and how getting it starts a downward spiral where your heart works harder, things gets screwed up, and blood pressure needs to be increased even more to maintain blood flow. It’s the reason I freaked out when I found out my blood pressure was high and obsessed over it until I got it down. The bottom line is that you seriously want to keep your heart in good shape.

Anyway, this is all a very roundabout way of saying that the same repetitive muscle movements that pump extra blood also have a tendency to put pressure on the sensory system around your bladder, which gives the sensation of having to pee. At the same time, your body is heating up, losing water, and trying to tell you to drink. So that’s why that little annoying thing happens. Looks like I could have just explained that in two sentences instead of 3 paragraphs.

Now that I’ve finally broken out of my winter/spring workout funk, I’m happy to say that I’m seeing improvements again. Despite my little annoyance with the run today, I felt a whole lot better than I have in other runs recently. It’s always nice when you feel motivated, workout, and find that working out is getting easier; it makes you avoid it a lot less. Another positive feedback loop, yay!

Finally, I need to speak for a moment regarding Pottermore. As you all know, I’m a raging HP fan. I haven’t met anything HP that I didn’t like, except for the new Dumbledore. Even he got better in the Half Blood Prince at least. With that said, I’m cautiously optimistic about this Pottermore business. Personally, if it wasn’t going to be a new book, I was hoping for a MMORPG. I know that there’s supposed to be “game” elements involved in this, but ever since Angry Birds flung itself into pop culture, I’ve lost respect for the term. I sincerely hope that there are engaging interactive elements though; lord knows that I want to be as involved in the HP world as possible.

What is the meaning of this?!

Personally, I can see the whole thing one of two ways. The timing of the announcement makes me a little suspicious. With the final movie coming out, I’m worried that someone decided that they needed to hurry up and find another way to cash in; however, I seriously doubt that JK needs any more money. I hope that the goal really is to extend the HP experience for all those who are getting depressed that our childhoods are dying, not just to sell ebooks.

Finally, although I would have preferred a printed encyclopedia from JK, I am extremely stoked about her releasing information about the HP universe through Pottermore. It would be a serious bummer to think that we already know everything we ever will about the universe. So in closing, I am at once suspicious, curious, confused, and extremely excited about the whole thing. Now if you will excuse me, tomorrow is Friday and I need to wake up at 5:30. Good evening!

Musings: The one where everybody loses respect for me

People always seem to be surprised to find out how much of a nerd I am. I’m not exactly sure why either. Perhaps it’s because I’m active, have friends, eat decently, and love the outdoors. I personally like to think that it’s because of my rugged good looks and roguish charm, but no one asked me. Either way, there usually comes a point when I’m talking with a new acquaintance (or sometimes an old one) when they say something along the lines of “I didn’t know you were that nerdy”, and never in a good way. There’s not much I can say either, because I know I am. In order to avoid this awkward moment in the future, where I see a little bit of respect choking to death in the back of someone’s eyes, I’ll lay it all out now.

Prepare to see me differently.

On any given night, I would MUCH rather chill at home and play video games than go out to the bars. My junior year of college, I played Pokemon for 12 hours straight one day. Then I battled my roommate. I’ve owned every console from the last 4 generations of consoles, excluding the Gamecube, but definitely including the Dreamcast. During the summer of 2008, I built an arcade unit from scratch with my grandfather. My heart rate actually quickens when I think about building my new computer this fall. I’m in a clan. Hell, I’ve been in the same clan for the past 8 years. It even has a ridiculously overdone theme. Don’t believe me? Check it out: it’s called the Insane Army. I don’t care either; the people are cool and I’ve made some money from tournaments, so suck it.

Yeah, the ladies love it.

To my credit, I’ve never played World of Warcraft, the definitive game of the nerds. No, I played Lord of the Rings Online instead, because I’ve read the entire series and thought it would be more immersive. Dammit. There’s really no winning this one.

But seriously, it's the Shire. What's not to like?

I’m also an avid Harry Potter fan, but that one might not make things any worse. I’d say about 50% of the people in my age group grew up reading the series and another 25% claim to have “just read the first few” when they were young. That group has definitely read them all, but doesn’t want to admit it. On the other hand, I’ve made t-shirts for most of the movie premiers and handcrafted two wands one summer (the same summer as the arcade actually), so maybe this one does make things worse.

Anyway, it’s nice to get this all out. I’m proud of my inner nerd. Unashamedly proud. I think it adds character. Besides, as a competitive person, does it get any better than being able to pwn a friend in a FPS, beat them at Harry Potter trivia, prepare superior woodwork, and then outrun them? Probably, but not for this guy.

Fitness vs. Fatness: Cool summer breezes and the National Mall

The weather today was spectacular. I was in a rush this morning to get out the door, but it was a really nice surprise to hop on my bike and not be immediately drenched in sweat. There’s nothing quite like a crisp, sunny morning in the summer; it’s the best way to start a day, hands down.

If I didn’t expect it to be so nice in the morning, then I was totally floored when I left work and found that it hadn’t heated up all that much throughout the day. There was still a really nice breeze and minimal humidity. Since I made that whole post earlier glorifying running, I realized that I didn’t have much of a choice but to run today. This blog thing is really working out I think…it lets me get my thoughts out of my head, where I can analyze them better.

Yeah, I think I'm in pretty company there.

Anyway, I suited up to run in my usual shorts and cut-off, tied my keys into my laces, and headed out with my roommate. We ran up to the Capitol and down the mall, where he met up with his girlfriend and her roommates for a picnic. I kept going up to the Washington Monument, around to the Lincoln Memorial, through the little park, and back to meet up with them on the mall. That little loop is probably my favorite run in DC, or at least one of two. You can check it out here: Lincoln Memorial Run.

The weather really couldn’t have been better either. The combination of the weather, a nap on my train ride home, and a general good mood made the run go really nicely. It’s always nice when your body feels like it’s firing on all cylinders, cranking out each bound.

The other nice thing about running is that it always cuts down on my usually overwhelming desire to eat. Plus, I was pretty much crashing their picnic, so I was a little reluctant to really chow down. This worked out well, because I ended up just having a very light dinner of a single corn on the cob, a couple pickled beans, and some couscous with chicken, cucumber, beans, and dried cranberries.

I was still feeling pretty energetic too, so I climbed a tree a few times, chilled out, and then played two rounds of 2-on-2 ultimate frisbee with everyone. I forgot how much I missed that sport too. I’ll have to have a full blown post on it at some point, but I played it a LOT in high school. It was also a good outlet for my inherent competitiveness. Winning both games felt good.

After that, we ran back. Now I’ve just got a date with a watermelon before bed. Not bad at all.

Sorry friend, your moments are numbered.