july 2006

For the 4th, our plan was to have Dodd over for a cookout and then head to one of the local fireworks displays, likely either Columbia, which we went to last year and loved, or Westminster, which likely wouldn't be as impressive but which also likely wouldn't be as crowded.

I grilled hamburgers, polish sausage, and corn on the cob around 5:30 or so, and we just sat around for a while afterward, talking and listening to the sounds of sporadic fireworks being set off by my neighbors. Around 7:30 or so, we realized that none of us really felt like going anywhere, so we just continued to sit and talk, and we even let the cats join us outside for a bit.

That turned out to be an excellent decision; there were at least four or five of my neighbors who had invested a serious amount of cash in fireworks, and as the evening came on, the pace of the fireworks increased to the point where we had three or four people setting off grand finale type displays at the same time. The fireworks were more or less continuous for an hour, much longer than any professional fireworks display I've ever seen, and even though the explosions weren't as loud, they certainly weren't simplistic; some of the displays were as complicated and colorful as any I've seen at organized fireworks events.

It was a nice, relaxing evening, and it's going to be hard to convince myself to deal with the hassles of parking and crowds next year when I know that I'm going to get to see some great fireworks from my back porch.

I need a Summer of George.

Hell, we could all use a Summer of George every now and then. In fact, it should be like sabbaticals for professors, except that it would apply to everyone with a full-time job: every seven years of full-time employment, you get to take a Summer of George where they reduce your pay to half but you get to take three months off without fear of losing your job.

In case you haven't figured it out already, summers are relatively slow around my office...

Having done most of my office chores for the week, I'm likely going to spend most of today sending out mass emails and talking to my officemate about World of Warcraft (he has a 60 warlock on my server, but he doesn't play nearly as much as I do). Maybe I'll work in a long lunch out of the office somewhere in there as well. Ah, Fridays.

Today's photo really creeps me out. That butterfly has HUGE eyes. And that curled-up proboscis is pretty unsettling as well.

When it was feeding time for the cats yesterday morning, one of them, Smoltz, was nowhere to be found. Since they never miss food, we immediately got concerned and started searching the house for him. Several minutes later, we found him under the bed, crying and in obvious pain from something.

When we got him out, it was clear that he was having trouble putting pressure on his hind legs, so much so that he couldn't walk and could barely stand. We immediately took him to the vet even though they weren't open yet, and after about a 45 minute wait for them to open and for the doctor to show up, they examined him and told him they wanted to keep him for blood tests and x-rays.

When they called us back early that afternoon, they said his blood tests and x-rays both looked good (no masses or anything were visible, and no broken bones), which meant that he probably fell and hurt his back and it would just take several days to get better. They gave him a painkiller and a steroid shot, and gave us additional steroid pills to give him over the next few days, and said that it would be a good sign if he continued to eat and drink, and if he showed some improvement each day. They also said his symptoms could be a sign of a more serious back injury or even a neurological disorder, but that we'd just have to wait and see.

I stayed home with Smoltz yesterday just so we could keep a close eye on his progress, and I have to say he's definitely improving. He has been eating regularly (and showing a real interest in eating, which is just as important), drinking some, and has gone to the litter twice on his own initiative. He's also returning to his normal personality, and even purrs occasionally, none of which happened on Monday.

He's still having a lot of trouble walking and putting weight on his hind legs, but that area is clearly improving, too—you can pet him and touch his legs now, whereas on Monday if you even barely touched him in his lower back/hind legs, he would growl at you (and he never growls).

Still, his hind legs tremble a lot, and even though he seems to be in less pain, he's also clearly still having trouble controlling them, which makes me concerned that there may be something more serious at work here than a simple back injury. But we need to give him time; in another week, if he's still having these kinds of problems, we'll probably need to take him to a specialist, but at this point his symptoms could still be the result of a serious fall that will just take a couple of weeks to recover from.

Meunster is a pretty underrated cheese, I think.

The cat is doing better, but he's not recovering quite as fast as we'd hoped. Back surgery could still be in his future...

We're supposed to go to a baseball game tonight. The temperature today is supposed to be 100 or more, with a heat index of 104 or greater.

I don't think I live in a world where both of those things are going to happen, but we'll see how I feel about it later in the day.

Well, we're just past the All-Star break, so let's have another look at how the Braves are faring. The good news: they currently have a 6-game winning streak that goes back to before the All-Star break, and they have moved from last place to second place in the division. The bad news: their division sucks hard, and it's possible for them to be in second place and still be 11 1/2 games behind the division-leading Mets.

I don't want to get my hopes up too high, but they have been absolutely tearing it up hitting-wise recently, and they have always been a second-half team that seems to terminally labor under the delusion that the season doesn't really start until July. Barring an complete collapse by the Mets (which isn't out of the question), it's still highly unlikely that they're going to tack another year onto their record string of 14 division titles, but if they can play well for the rest of the season, they're still within legitimate shooting distance of the wild card for a playoff spot.

But again, let's not get ahead of ourselves. They have two more games against St. Louis, and then they have three straight series against the NL East division rivals the Phillies, the Marlins, and the Mets. Talk to me in a week and a half and we'll probably have a much clearer picture of their actual chances to land a playoff bid.

In my 4+ years at Hopkins, I've managed to avoid having to attend any kind of staff retreat-type thing, but now I suddenly find myself scheduled to attend two between now and the beginning of September. So I'm trying to figure out how suspicious it would be if I were to somehow end up feeling too ill to come into work those days. Because, you know, it wouldn't be that far from the truth...

It's been about a week and a half since our cat Smoltz somehow hurt himself, and we're guardedly optimistic that he's going to make a full recovery without surgery or any other extreme measures. The first week was really rough—he mostly slept and stayed hidden, he almost never purred, he was clearly in pain, and you could tell from his eyes that he was barely there.

But his appetite remained intact, which the vet said was a good sign, and slowly he started to improve, walking on his own more and even purring occasionally. The last few days have seen real improvements, though—he doesn't seem to be in much pain at all, he purrs readily, and he's even started returning to many of his old habits. He still sleeps a lot and I'm pretty sure that even though his body is recovering from his injury, it still affects his ability to walk, jump, etc. But from what we've read, it can take up to a month for animals to recover from a serious back injury, and as long as he continues to improve a little bit every day, I think it's not out of the question that he'll be fully healed in another two or three weeks.

So the first "lost episode" of Chappelle's show was pretty good, even though a lot of it danced dangerously close to the unfunny line by focusing on his newfound wealth and fame, but after watching the second episode, I'm starting to think Dave was right in calling it quits. His show has consistently made me laugh—I don't laugh at every skit, but every show has had more than a few moments that were drop dead funny. This one though...not so much.

We had some folks over for a barbecue on Saturday—I grilled chicken, bratwurst, hamburgers, and corn on the cob—which was pretty fun, but coming on the heels of three straight weekends of activities that take up most of our Saturdays and we're feeling like we need to take a weekend for ourselves next weekend. Which will actually work out quite well, as I'm planning to take one of my summer flex days next Monday, so it should be a nice, long weekend of very little responsibility.

Of course, I still need to find some way to either get out of or endure the all day IT retreat on Friday, for which I still have no agenda or schedule, which makes me more than a little suspicious. I swear, if the words "team-building" are in any way associated with this event, I'm going to go hang out with my graphic designer friend who has an office across the street from the retreat location.

The posts on the World of Warcraft forums, like virtually all forum sites on the internet, are full of garbage: pointless whining, even more pointless flaming of the whiners, tangential, off-topic, and often offensive threads, and trolls galore.

They can be entertaining for a quick lunch-hour read, however, and every now and then you stumble across some bit of inspired community genius that's funny as hell, makes reference to multiple cultural touchstones that have little or nothing to do with the topic (or even the forums in general), and still manages to be offensive without being bannable. Like this exchange, where the original poster is complaining about how hard it is to get a particular weapon set in the game (PVP stands for player-versus-player, a specialized subset of World of Warcraft; the bold text is the character name and the text immediately below it is the post made by that character):

To get the first full pvp set you have to be ranked 66 out of all the others (1000s) on your server. Isn't this a bit harsh? We are not even talking the epic set. Just for the full blue set you need this. Does others feel this way?

I remember back when people actually earned the things they had instead of just whining until the government gave them whatever they wanted.

And by earned things, we of course mean using superior weapon technology to rip the land away from the indians and then forcing them on reservations.

But who feels sorry for them? They have casinos.

I would trade everything I have for a casino.

This kind of exchange can only come from a community of smart, snarky, reasonably well-educated people who have an opinion about everything and who have also invested a ridiculous amount of time in a game that's fun as much for the social interactions in and out of game as for the gameplay itself.

People like me, in other words.

So we finally got the agenda for this Friday's IT retreat, and pretty much the entire afternoon is devoted to team-building exercises. Not only that, they went to the trouble of specifying exactly what those exercises will entail, and they're even lamer than I would have guessed. I seriously don't know if I can do this. It just seems like a big waste of time.

I've become quite taken with Hiroshige's "Summer Fireworks" print recently, but I don't really want a glossy poster of it and I'm reluctant to spend $75 or more on eBay for a supposedly genuine woodblock print (not an original print contemporary with the artist, but ones produced from his woodblocks decades later). That's the thing about prints: what's the point of owning them if you don't actually own a print? Getting them in poster form just seems counter to the whole essence of the piece, since some sort of high-quality reproduction is usually available without spending an arm and a leg.

But I'm at a loss for where to look for this kind of stuff beyond eBay. Any suggestions?

You'd think that Tabloid Wars, a reality show that's a behind-the-scenes look at a New York tabloid, would make for some compelling television during the summer months when there's a dearth of new programming, but you'd be wrong. Very, very wrong.

Well, we didn't do any ropes courses or trust falls, but the IT retreat on Friday wasn't really that great a use of my time (or my staff's). I bailed early, as did most of the people who didn't already work in the building where the retreat was held, and I also skipped a session so I could take a long lunch with Julie.

The retreat for my office that is scheduled for early September probably won't be as bad overall, but it might be worse for me specifically because I'm expected to conduct at least a couple of the sessions, and I have about as much enthusiasm for speaking in public as I do for participating in team building exercises with my coworkers.

But that's still a month away, and in the meantime we have another few weeks of relatively low stress work where most of the higher ups in my office will be gone for days (if not weeks) at a time before the admissions cycle really gets going again in September. I'm going to take advantage of it while I can.
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