February 2011


Here’s another confession of a mean thing I did as a kid — though I should add the meanness directed at me over my childhood was easily 1,000 x more than how much meanness I gave back to the world. Readers may remember when I found that guy’s day planner and called him up using my pitch-shifter guitar pedal, to mock him on his answering machine.

This was probably a bit worse than that…

My parents owned 3 houses when I grew up… (Never content with the house they were in, they kept buying a new one, then deciding it wasn’t big enough, then buying another. They did it again after I moved out.) The 2nd of those was in a neighborhood called The Heights, in Lake Ridge, Woodbridge, VA. I lived there from age 4 til age 8.5, right at the start of 4th grade.

FOR BLOG - parents' 2nd-to-last house

The old house. Of course I have zero pictures of it.

I had a few neighborhood friends, like my next-door-neighbor Erica [who ultimately got pregnant really early], Robert “Obert” Beck, Chris Navarro (no relation to Dave Navarro), and Mike Enis. Eventually we moved away, to the The Knolls neighborhood in Lake Ridge.

2003 - Woodbridge - my childhood home - 173539637_e67979c3f8_o (by Britt)

The new house, spruced up after I moved into my own house.

I saw my friend Mike Enis one last time after moving from The Heights to The Knolls. I guess we had a “play date” or something, as his mom brought him over and dropped him off for a few hours. I suppose we were around 10 years old or so.

We hung out in the woods for awhile…

20060610 - camping - Mark + Clint = jousting - action shot - 165854458_34c5ea5e9c_o

Woods. Always fun. Especially if you're immune to pollen and mosquitoes.

As we came back inside, I stopped to take a leaf off the mint bushes by the rear sliding glass door to our house. I loved getting mint straight from a real bush, and ate leaves off the plant pretty frequently. I wish we had one at our own house.

FOR BLOG - mint-by-art_es_anna@flickr-481879487_a6594d8f93

Mint Leaves, by Art_Es_Anna@flickr

Here’s where the evil began…

FOR BLOG - evil inside

“What? You actually ate the mint leaf? I was JOKING, you know!”

“What? You DIDN’T eat them?”

“No! Those things are poisonous! You’re gonna die!”

That was the gist of things. I told him it was time to meet his sweet death.

20091226 - Christmas presents - figure - pewter Grim Reaper - GEDC1277

Nice to meet 'ya.

He didn’t believe me at first, but I kept at it. Kept telling him that he was going to drop dead in about 10 minutes. I eventually picked up a random thick book off the bookshelf — something that looked scientific.

20091224 - GEDC1236 - Beth + joke present

Because if it's from a book, it must be true, right Mr. Quayle?

I went on and described the effects: Within 10 minutes you would start to get dizzy, go into convusions, and die of painful seizures. Of course at this point he was completely believing me.

19880228-19880307 - Science Fair Project - The Effects Of Microwaves On Plant Growth - 0421

I am, after all, an expert on science! Look at my brilliant science fair project!

Needless to say… I let the 10 minutes pass, and he may have cried or shaken or something. I don’t remember. I actually figured that since he wasn’t able to come over [I hadn’t seen him in 2 years] due to the distance [1.4 miles] between our houses, that it made him a good mark for a prank like this. After all, I wouldn’t want to freak out one of my CURRENT friends.

Yeah… I don’t think I ever saw him again after that.

Sorry, Mike! I don’t know what came over me, but at this point, this story does more to entertain my life than you do, because I don’t know you anymore! So I guess it was the right thing to do in the long run, in a very calculating way. But in an empathetic way, I do feel kinda bad about convincing you that you were going to die. And thus, this confessional. Which is also kind of a “look how fucked up I am” brag, in a way. I am both ashamed of and thankful for this story.

I guess I was a bit of a troubled kid…

1989ish - Spanish class - mi abuelo

Drawn about 4 years after this story.

The end.
(more…)

I'd rather be watching TV![IMDB link] [Wikipedia link] [Official Site] SPOILER WARNING: SPOILERS IN ALL THESE LINKS! NO UNMARKED SPOILERS IN MY REVIEW THOUGH!

PLOT SUMMARY: (from IMDB) “Architect, and Father Ethan Mars joins a Private Detective, a Journalist, and an FBI agent in a race against time to save his son for a child murderer known as the Origami Killer.”

UNCOMFORTABLE PLOT SUMMARY (inspired by this): [highlight for spoilers] Sibling who watched brother drown successfully drowns many other children.

QUIRKS: Interactive film noir fiction. A single-player game.

Received GameSpy’s PS3 game of the year award for 2010.

Uses the PS3 motion-sensing controllers in unique ways.

Although the gameplay is very simple, some of the things you do with the controller are things you’ve never done with a controller in your life. (We played at the intermediate skill level.)

Different characters can die depending on what you do. The plot is not completely linear.

You have “free will” — but the plot still moves in a certain direction. Sometimes, you are doing things that you think affect the outcome, but they actually won’t. Sometimes you are forced to do things, even though you think we have free will. This continually reminded me of the movie eXistenZ, where people are in a game, and end up saying things that they don’t mean to say, because it’s what their character needs to do to advance the plot.

VISUALS: I’ve never played an HD (720p) console video game in the comfort of my own home before. Although I get superior resolution to that with PC games, I’m a more on the casual side of gaming, so I’ve really only played Quake3/QuakeLive at that resolution. Anyway, it looks really good. Even for 720p. The people look almost photorealistic. They used 90 actors. They used motion capture. Things look good enough to trigger the uncanny valley effect. It’s nice to see how polished things have become.

SOUNDTRACK: Appropriate.

MORALS: Sacrifice is the ultimate virtue.

POLITICS: Cops just want to find someone to blame.

GOOD STUFF: Excellent look and feel. Quite immersive. This is somewhere between watching a movie and playing a video game. A great deal of the game is cut scenes.

And the twist? We knew it would happen, but we still didn’t solve the mystery before the game told us the solution. And that’s good, I’d rather not spoil it for myself.

BAD STUFF: You never quite know if what you are doing truly makes a difference. I’d like to see choices affect the story even more than they did here, but obviously it’s really hard to write a “choose your own adventure” that retains a polished consistency.

CONCLUSION: I tend to dislike one player games, but this one is so much closer to a movie that there is hardly a difference between watching, playing, and watching your spouse play. So me and Carolyn took turns and shared the experience. In the end, this was quite a unique game. We’d never brushed our teeth, snorted drugs, changed a diaper, or performed CPR in a video game before. We’d never used a motion-sensitive controller in a non-pointing (i.e. Wiimote) fashion before. There were a lot of “video game firsts” in this story for us. Which is good, because in the time it took for us to play through this, we could have watched at least 8 movies. So it really needed to pay off to be worth it. And you know what? It did. I wouldn’t play a game like this again — not for another 10 years — but I’m glad we did. It was pretty neat.

For instance, while playing a cop, I accidentally shot a mentally disturbed man during a warrantless search of his apartment. That’s a first for me — doing something that I would blog about if I heard about it on the news :) There was a time when I held a gun to a character’s head for a full two minutes of real-life time — because I honestly couldn’t decide if I needed to kill him or not. Meanwhile, I’m thinking that the game might force a decision if I don’t hurry up and decide, so it’s not like I’m just taking my time. I was really trying hard to decide as fast as possible, and it took me like two minutes. (I let him live, and flamed the people in the IMDB forums who killed him for the wrong reasons.) Great moral choices here, though they could have been more ambiguous. But a couple were ambiguous enough to be very interesting situations.

RATINGS:
Clint: 4/5 stars. IMDB: 8/10.
Carolyn: 5/5 stars. IMDB: 8/10.
John The Canadien: 5/5 stars, IMDB 9/10. “Best PS3 game since Grand Theft Auto 4.”
The native public rating for this game is: IMDB: 9.4/10.

RECOMMENDATION: Worth checking out if you’re into single player games, or film noir serial killer mysteries. Especially if you are mostly in the mood to watch a movie, but instead want to play a video game.

IF YOU PLAYED ALREADY, check out the different game endings here. Also check out The Old Warehouse, another page about how the warehouse scene affects which endings you will get. For us, our particular choices meant that [highlight for spoilers] only Ethan and Madison made it to the warehouse. Jayden had to give up on the case. We also failed to save the cash register guy, shot the crazy religious guy (during the warrantless search, as mentioned above), and Carolyn let Lauren drown in the car by kicking out the window without untying her

SIMILAR STUFF: The “act quickly when prompted” / “Simon Says” style definitely reminded me of the early laserdisc arcade games: Dragon’s Lair and Space Ace.

Movie rights secured. Will it happen? Will it be good? At times, the game plot reminded us of Saw — but not grotesque.

MOVIE QUOTE: “Ethan Mars has had psychological problems since his first son died. He feels responsible for his death- a sort of morbid neurosis. He is haunted by visions of drowning bodies.”

SPOILER ALERT! Heavy Rain deleted scenes. The caption to this video explains why anyone who played this game would probably want to watch it:
(more…)

house_well-11 [NOTE: This post is an updated copy of my 2010 post, which itself was an update of my 2009 post, which was a copy of 2008, which had tons of comments relating to how Fairfax County seemed to change its assessment forumulas, flipping more of people’s value from their house to their land.] [Check our your property value using the official Fairfax county link.]

THE BASIC SUMMARY: Our real estate assessment finally went up again, by 3% (less than the average of 8.5% yearly gains), to $307K. At least we’re back on the right track again.

In 1999, we bought the house at $141K.
In 2000, we were assessed at $142K.
In 2001, this grew by 3.5% to $147K.
In 2002, this grew by 39% to $205K.
In 2003, this grew by 3% to $211K.
In 2004, this grew by 24% to $261K.
In 2005, this grew by 34% to $349K.
In 2006, this grew by 13% to $395K [addition completed].
In 2007, this grew by 3% to $406K (peak).
In 2008, this dropped by 7% to $375K*.
In 2009, this dropped by 3% to $364K.
In 2010, this dropped by 18% to $298K. (ouch)
In 2011, this grew by 3% to $307K. Finally a gain!

We’re 24% down from our peak (but not 37% like last year), but it’s still worth 2.27X more than we owe on the mortgage ($135.4K, the same as last year really).

This means we’re still $171.7K ahead (we were $163K ahead last year). We’ve lived here 11 years, so that’s $15,609 ahead each year, $1300 ahead each month. Our mortgage is only about $1300, so this place seems to practically be paying for itself. (Of course, the addition wasn’t free, it was about $80K, so we’re really only $91.7K ahead, $8336 ahead per year, $694 ahead each month. Still not shabby. These people who say houses aren’t a good investment don’t know what they’re talking about. Even if it’s value drops 90%, you’re still getting 10% more of your money back than if you were renting!)

Last year’s graph:




^^^^

Broken down via land vs. building:

LAND:
2000: $71K
2001: $71K
2002: $90K (+27%)
2003: $100K (+11%)
2004: $150K (+50%)
2005: $184K (+23%)
2006: $166K (-10%) [addition completed]
2007: $166K
2008: $184K (+11%)
2009: $166K (-10%)
2010: $148K (-11%)
2011: $148K

BUILDING:
2000: $71K
2001: $76K (+7%)
2002: $115K (+51%)
2003: $111K (-3%)
2004: $111K
2005: $165K (+49%) [addition possibly counted here]
2006: $229K (+39%) [addition completed]
2007: $241K (+5%)
2008: $192K (-20%)
2009: $198K (+3%)
2010: $150K (-24%)
2011: $159K (+6%)
(more…)

Next Page »