ZHU @ The House of Blues

Posted by: Ryan 1 year, 9 months ago
Categories: Music

Last night we saw ZHU perform at the House of Blues in Boston. This was a really fun show. ZHU is an artist that’s a little difficult to pin down genre-wise; dance, R&B, electronic, house, and hip-hop would all be suitable classifiers. I was expecting his concert to be more on the R&B side of that spectrum, but it ended up being more on the dance/electronic side.  Nonetheless, the show was captivating.

While the type of music was amorphous, the concert had a consistent theme of a journey through the desert, which I think was really well executed. The theme was introduced by a few very short statements projected onto the wall, and aside from that it was very subtle.  The music itself carried the theme from there.  The desert aesthetic came through in the instruments and sounds more than the lyrics themselves, which was particularly impressive.

The lights at this show were at a different level than other concerts I’ve seen.  It seemed like they were using projectors, but I don’t know how they got the projected images to be so sharp and realistic.

The crowd at this show was very enthusiastic.  It was fun to be surrounded by so much energy.  I wish every show had this many people focused on the music.

Overall, this was a great time.  I’m excited to see and hear what ZHU does next.

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Thinking about new glasses...

Posted by: Ryan 1 year, 9 months ago
Categories: Family, Friends, & Life

I received a home try-on kit from Warby Parker.  It contains five different eyeglass frames for me to try. I’ll need to send them back in a few days.  What a neat idea.

I’m still undecided on which pair I want.  I actually don’t even know if I want new glasses at all!  I’ve just noticed that my current pair is getting a little scratched up and out-of-shape lately.

The two I’m showing here are the more adventurous styles of the five.  The others are similar to my current glasses.

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Walking to Boston

Posted by: Ryan 1 year, 10 months ago
Categories: Family, Friends, & Life

At 11 AM on Saturday morning, Jess, Violet, and I left our apartment in Waltham and embarked on a long walk all the way to Boston.  We followed the Charles River Bike Path along the way. The total length of that path is about 12 miles.  We bailed a little early when we got to the Back Bay (the official endpoint is at the Museum of Science).  It took us about 5.5 hours, including a coffee break and several Violet-related pit stops.

I was impressed by how nice the path was, particularly in Waltham and some of Watertown. There were many areas completely isolated from roadways, which made it feel like we were hiking in the woods.  Despite walking through familiar areas, we were repeatedly surprised by interesting things hiding around each corner.  We saw footbridges, dams, boat houses, football fields, an amphitheater, and many scenic areas.  We saw bizarre things: an eastern-European chess gathering in a cozy corner of the woods near the river, a drum circle near a boathouse in Allston, an outdoor public gym area, a pop-up beer garden, and a non-zero number of potentially crazy people wandering in the woods.

After getting to the back bay, we left the trail and walked to a bbq restaurant in Fenway.  We took the subway (plus a taxi) to get back home. Violet had no trouble keeping up all day, but she was understandably exhausted afterward.  Our legs were tired that night, but not too bad!  I think we’d like to do the trail again someday. 

Edit (9/11/2018): I mapped out the trail using an online tool and learned that it is indeed around 12 miles long.  The post originally said it was closer to 20.  This has been revised.

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Posted by: Ryan 1 year, 10 months ago
Categories: Web

I recommend Geoguessr, a fun and clever geography game. In this game, you will see google “street view” images of a random place somewhere in the world.  You can look and move around.  Then, you need to guess where in the world you are. After guessing, you’re given a score based on the distance between your guessed location and the actual location.

You can play different modes. One mode will only place you at ‘famous’ places in the world, which tests your cultural knowledge. Another mode will put you in a completely random location, which tests your reasoning and investigative skills. You can also limit it down to only US locations, only New York City locations, and so on. 

You can play right in your computer browser. If you want to play on your phone, I would recommend playing it on the phone browser, even though there is an iPhone app.

The website address is Enjoy!

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Boston Fan Expo

Posted by: Ryan 1 year, 10 months ago
Categories: TV & Movies

Last weekend, Jess and I went to the Fan Expo (formerly known as Comic Con) in Boston.  We didn’t go for any particular reason other than to simply experience something rad.  I was excited to see some enthusiastic fans and to see a big energetic event. Our actual experience was a slight let down.  But that’s partially our own fault, because our expectations were all wrong.

Right off the bat, things were going poorly when we tried to park. First, people working at the Hyatt (a hotel right next to the convention center) tricked us into thinking they worked for the convention, told us that the standard parking lot was full, then directed us to their parking lot which was $25. Not cool, and I was upset that the convention was letting Hyatt do this because it was happening right outside the main entrance. Then, after getting back into the right parking queue, we were directed through a dozen turns by convention staff and eventually directed out onto a street in the Boston seaport with no further directions, instructions, nothing. Then we had to find our way back to the convention center and we finally parked in a private lot for $15.

At that point the convention really needed to be stellar to lift our spirits back up. We bought tickets, but I struggled with how tiny the exhibition area was compared to the annual Pax East convention (which takes place in the same building).  It’s totally rediculous to fault a convention for being smaller than a different convention - but it was hard for me to really get into it.  The energy of Pax with in the back of my mind, and that same energy just wasn’t there.

Now that I’m done with all that negativity, I’d like to describe what was good about it!  There were tons of artists showing of really great, unique, quirky art. No boring art here! There were many areas where fans could line up and meet various personalities, like writers, artists, actors, etc. I think it’s cool that fans could connect directly with people they admire.  There were tons of vendors selling weird and neat stuff.  I actually kind of regret not buying something weird that I could wear at a music festival or something. Everyone there was very friendly and it good spirits. I’d say around 25% of the people were dressed up in some way.

So if it weren’t for the parking frustrations and my silly expectations, this would have been better experience.  I will treat this as a lesson: don’t let expectations stand in the way of a good time.

I didn’t take many good pictures.  The image above is of an exhibitor who had amazing Star Wars droid replicas. I thought they were super impressive...and then they started to move around and make noises. It was surreal. 

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Death Cab for Cutie, Thank You For Today

Posted by: Ryan 1 year, 10 months ago
Categories: Music

On Friday, Death Cab Cutie released their ninth studio album. I wasn’t much of a Death Cab fan when they first hit it big (about 18 years ago), but their mellow sound has somehow made its way into my ears over the past couple years - and it’s clear that I’ve been missing out.  I’m happy to have the opportunity to listen to new music from this band.

The consistency of aesthetic and quality from Death Cab is amazing. They have a signature sound, yet they’re still able to keep it fresh. This album is no exception.

I think I’ve already said enough to sufficiently describe this album to any Death Cab fans - but, I’ll end this post with an extra nod to my favorite tracks: I Dreamt We Spoke Again and Autumn Love - both of which have so much of that signature sound that they could have rung them out and made two full albums out of it.

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Scratch Cards...are your odds bad or very bad?

Posted by: Ryan 1 year, 11 months ago
Categories: Comet

A month ago, a few friends and I scratched our way through a stack of scratch cards while enjoying beers at a local Waltham dive bar.  We kept cashing in our winnings (our very small winnings) and putting the money back into more scratch cards.  As you could have guessed, this strategy was not effective for us.

This got me wondering...what does someone get for the price of a scratch ticket?  I concluded that you get a slim chance to win some money, a brief rush while your mind imagines a huge windfall, a few short minutes of entertainment, and then, ultimately, the dull satisfaction of donating a small sum of money to the state.

If you’re able to enjoy the entertainment value of a scratch card – and if you’re able to avoid falling into the lottery "deep end" – then maybe a buying a few scratch cards is justifiable.  But what if we put the entertainment aside and focus only on the chance of winning money.  Can we somehow maximize our chances of winning?  What are the odds, really?  There are a lot of mysteries when it comes to scratch cards – and I get the sense that few people stress the details when it comes to scratch cards.

Did you know that the winning statistics for all scratch cards in Massachusetts (and most other states) are available on the state lottery website?  Sometimes they are even on the back of the card.  I built a tool that reads those statistics and aggregates them.  I analyzed those posted statistics for 22 different types of scratch cards ranging in purchase price from $1 to $30, hoping to somehow find scratch card enlightenment.

So how bad are your odds to win any money when you play a scratch card?

Pretty bad.  Your chances of actually making more money than what you paid are 1 in 4 at best (if you buy a $30 scratch card), and 1 in 9 at worst (for a $1 card).

Let's say you're not looking to win a million dollars.  What are your chances of winning just $100?

Super bad.  For $1 cards, about 1 in 950 have a prize of $100 or more.  For $10 cards, those odds improve to 1 in 60.

Are your chances of winning higher if you buy a more expensive scratch card?

The short answer to this question is: yes.  But keep in mind that the odds are heavily against you even with the more expensive cards, so buying more expensive cards is really just putting you on a faster lane to losing money.

Are some scratch cards within a price tier better than others?

Not really.  From my analysis, I saw that the statistics for typical $1 cards are all fairly consistent, and the same goes for the other price tiers.  The exception to this are the "limited issue" cards, which I talk about below...

Do the “limited issue” scratch cards have a better chance of winning?

The short answer is no.  But, it's noteworthy that some of the "limited issue" cards do weird things with the statistics.  For example, there’s a limited edition $10 scratch card this year called “$50, $100 and $500 Blowout” which only offers prizes between $50 and $500.  This is fairly unusual because most scratch cards have a few million-dollar prizes and many small winners too.  While the prizes for this card are different, the chances of winning aren’t really better.

Ok, let’s say you want to dream big.  What’s your chance of winning over $1 million?

Well, the $1 and $2 scratch cards don’t even offer a $1 million prize - so if you're buying those your chances are literally zero.  Higher value cards do technically offer a $1 million prize, so your chances of actually winning $1 million improve from literally zero to effectively zero.  The chance of winning $1 million or more on a $5 card is 1 in 4.2 million.  Those odds improve to about 1 in 650,000 for the $20 cards.  While these odds are super-duper low, winners do exist.  It happens...just not that often.

How much money is Massachusetts making off of these scratch cards anyways?

I can’t really approximate how much money the state spends on designing the cards, manufacturing, distributing, managing the prizes, paying retailers, etc.  But I can see from the statistics that their profit margin (accounting only for prize payouts) is about 30% for the $1 scratch cards and 15% for the $20 and $30 cards.

At first, those margins seemed low to me.  If the odds of actually winning some money is between 1 in 4 and 1 in 9, then should their profit margin be higher – like 80%?  Well, the truth is that there are technically a few big jackpot winners.  Those lucky few jackpot winners take a hefty bite out of the state’s profit.

All that being said…how can you maximize your chances of winning?

No matter what you do, your odds of winning are garbage.  But there technically are some things you can do to prevent your odds from worsening into hot garbage.

But here is the real hint: One way to win every time is to shift the definition of “winning”.  As you scratch, enjoy dreaming of those big prizes, and enjoy your beer when you don’t win those prizes.  Revel in the fun of scratching off those tickets.  Stick to a budget, and don’t lose too much money.

[Dumster fire image by user jleonardart on - you can buy a T-shirt with that image on it here]

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Newport Folk 2018

Posted by: Ryan 1 year, 11 months ago
Categories: Music

We had another great time at the Newport Folk Festival this year.  The weather was warm, and the venue, Fort Adams, was as picturesque as ever.

It’s become a tradition for Jess and me to go to folk fest with my parents.  We love having them with us.  This year was especially fun because it was my parents’ third year at the festival, which makes them veterans.  They were able to weigh in on decisions, and they even had their own gameplan mapped out.

Shortly after entering the venue, we saw a highly entertaining set by Fantastic Negrito on the main stage. This guy is a great performer and he expertly blurred songs together using bizarre stories and banter.  His set sometimes had a mystical feel to it, as if he was telling us ghost stories.  I’d like to see him do a Halloween set in cramped, dark, smokey concert hall someday.

In the afternoon heat, we saw a new band, Glorietta, play at The Quad stage. The Quad is a relatively intimate stage as far as festivals go, and it has the power to make some artists shine.  But it also seems to get the best of many bands, making them seem like amateurs struggling to keep things afloat.  Noah Gunderson, one of the several singer-songwriters in Glorietta, did a great job at this stage and expertly mixed his firey, passionate vocals with reserved down-beat instrumentals in the song Golden Lonesome. After that song, Matthew Logan Vasquez picked the crowd back up with some rocking singalongs.

A highlight of the midday was Lucius, a band built around two harmonizing frontwomen.  They had such a unique and unusual stage presence, it was fun to watch. They had a trio of dancers who added to the strangeness.  Brandi Carlile joined them for a song, but I don’t think she added enough to the performance to make up for disrupting the perfect harmonization the band would have had without her.

The late afternoon set by Sturgill Simpson surprised me.  I was expecting a lot of slow southern crooning but instead saw a rock-and-roll jam fest.  It was great.  Whenever he sang, Sturgill’s voice would boom through the crowd with strength and with such a low frequency you could feel your internal organs vibrate around.  In a good way.

Near the end of the day, St. Vincent played on The Quad stage.  We only saw three songs before leaving a little disappointed.  She was doing stripped-down versions of her songs with only a piano accompanying her vocals - but it didn’t really work.  It seemed like the things that make St. Vincent songs good were lost in that stripping-down process.  What was left was overwhelmingly avant-garde and slightly boring.  She might have recovered in the second half of the set, or she might have fallen victim to the overwhelming intimacy of the Quad stage.

Last, we saw headliner Jason Isbell finish the night on the main stage. He put on a good show, albeit a little depressing at times.  We were going to sneak out a few minutes early to beat the notoriously bad traffic, but we were convinced to stay by a nearby stranger hinting at a surprise guest.  We were fortunate because soon thereafter, David Crosby joined the stage for two iconic songs.

Other highlights: 

Overall it was a really great time.  It's a shame that the Newpork Folk Festival stops its music as early as it does (7:30 PM)!  I would love to hang out at Fort Adams and listen to music after sundown.

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Abco’s Buffalo Chicken Wing Recipe

Posted by: Ryan 2 years ago
Categories: Food & Drink

Our friend Abby (aka abco) made these wings for us once and I thought they were great.  I had been struggling with making my own hot wings, so I asked her for the recipe.  She was nice enough to share, and since then I’ve done a little bit of iterating on the details (not to improve, but rather to dial it into our kitchen gear and preferences).

Here’s the recipe:



That’s it!  They come out crispy on the outside and moist on the inside.  The Franks sauce is a mild heat, especially after mixing it with butter.  Enjoy!

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Violet’s Bandana Collection

Posted by: Ryan 2 years ago
Categories: Fluff

Jessica and I enjoy collecting bandanas for our dog, Violet. It’s a fun thing for us to collect because we often find interesting bandanas for sale while traveling.  Plus, bandanas are usually pretty cheap, and they are generally smaller than other keepsakes/collectibles.

I recently wrangled up most of her bandanas and put them through the wash.  Before putting them away, we arranged them in semi-chronological order (oldest in top-left and newest in bottom-right, like reading a book) and snapped this picture.

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