december 2006

It's December, right? And we're in the northern half of the United States, right?

So why the hell is it 70 degrees outside today?

Saturday was my first day at home with no work and no other obligations in over two weeks, and of course I woke up sick. I ended up sleeping most of the weekend away, and that's pretty much how I'm going to spend today as well, because I'm not really feeling any better. What really sucks is that, even if I feel better tomorrow, it just means I get to go into work. To whoever doles out these things, I'd like to refund this last weekend and get a new one, please.

Alright. Before I try to start figuring out how to tell you the long saga about me attending my sister's wedding, I'm going to finish up with a few last details of our cruise, which is now two months in the past.

Our final stop before returning to Baltimore was Port Canaveral, which is close to the Kennedy Space Center and Disney World. And besides sitting on the ship all day, those were pretty much your two options for shore excursions.

We chose the Kennedy Space Center, which I had visited once when I was very young and which Julie had never seen. They've made a lot of changes since the last time I was there, and it looks like they're building even more stuff to attract visitors. But we were there to see the rockets and the launch platforms, so Julie and I invested a little extra in the special tour that took you as close as tourists can get to those attractions. We were there for most of the day, and our tour took us to a lot of the normal stops (the Saturn V building, the massive Vehicle Assembly Building, and the viewing stands for the rocket/shuttle launches), as well as to some of the harder-to-reach attractions—we got within 20 feet of one of those enormous transporters that moves the shuttles from the VAB to the launch pad, and we got within 200 yards of one of the shuttle launch pads (although sadly there was no shuttle on it).

We also saw an IMAX film about the ISS, paid like $30 for two hamburger lunches, and got some nice souvenirs. We could have easily spent a few more hours there, but as usual, our ship was leaving port early in the afternoon so we had to get back.

After that, we had one more day at sea before returning to Baltimore. That was our gambling day, and I'll tell you how that turned out tomorrow.

Normally when we go on vacation where a gambling venue is easily accessible, we give ourselves a small budget (typically no more than $50 per person) and take a few hours to play the slot machines. Before this trip, Julie had been the lucky one: on our honeymoon cruise, she won $75 in the ship's casino; on our trip to New Orleans last year she won $150; and finally, on our trip to Niagara Falls this past summer she won over $500.

We know our luck can't last forever, so we weren't really expecting to win anything on our recent cruise; we just wanted to play the slots for a couple of hours and have some fun. And it looked like our run of luck had finally come to an end, too: I burned through my $40 or $50 very quickly, and Julie had to loan me $10 while she played off of a relatively minor jackpot. But then I sat down at a machine a few seats away from her, and by the time she had burned through the last of her money, I had turned the original $10 stake into over $100.

Julie wanted to cash out then, but I had a feeling about this machine: it was older, it was simple, it didn't have a lot of flashing lights on it, and it hit small jackpots often enough that I was willing to wait for a bigger one. And my patience paid off: I dipped down to $90 before hitting a $450 jackpot, and then dipped down to $430 before hitting another one for $125 or so. I played a few more spins, but at that point we were more than happy to take our profit and walk away, so we cashed out when we hit just below $500.

That seems to be the big mistake people make: they don't know when to walk away. They get caught up in the thrill of winning, and just keeping pushing the button until their initial winnings are gone, and then they eat up their budget, and then they go past their budget. From our experience, walking away with a profit has as much to do with your luck as it does with your good sense. But I know we've been pretty lucky, too.

30 Rock is awesome. I don't care if you don't like Tina Fey, I don't care if you don't like Tracy Morgan, I don't care if you don't like Alec Baldwin: the show is hilarious. You people better start watching it, though—there are so few watchable half-hour comedies on television this day that it would be a crime to see one this good get knocked off the air.

Thank god. Today I'm feeling mostly recovered from my illness earlier this week, and we've got nothing at all planned for this weekend. I'm going to stay up late, sleep late, and hopefully do nothing but relax on the first Saturday I've had to myself since well before Thanksgiving.

It's hard for me to believe that this is really the last full workweek before we get to the holiday season, on the other side of which is 2007. I still feel like it's late October or early November in terms of how much stuff we still need to get done before the tidal wave of regular decision applications hits our office after the first of the year; I'm pretty sure we'll somehow get it all done, but I feel like everyone on my team has been driving hard since August, and we really need a break.

I'll get small one in the form of taking two days of the workweek to read applications with the counselors, and I'm hopeful that the other members of my team will be able to go into a lower gear for two or three weeks while everyone else is preoccupied with the business of processing and decisioning the apps. It won't be completely stress-free, of course, but it shouldn't be as intense as it's been for the past few months, even though, as usual, we're looking at record numbers for both our early decision and regular decision applicant pools.

Both of my officemates were out yesterday, which means I had our three-person office to myself for the first time in a long time. I played music over my computer speakers, made phone calls without feeling like I had an audience, and had absolute quiet whenever I wanted. It was nice, a good preview of what it will be like when we move into our new building next year and I finally get my own office. I can't wait.

Also, since I'll have a big window and my own light switch, I'm not ever going to use the overhead flourescent lights. I hate those fucking things.

So...twelve days til Christmas. I reckon it's about time I started figuring out what to get people.

Happy birthday, Rachel! I know you don't read this, but I'm posting anyway to remind your other son not to forget to call you today. Got it Dodd?

Today is the day we release our Early Decision letters. It's mostly a good day, because it means we've gotten through a significant part of our application cycle and tested everything out for the flood of applications we'll have to process for Regular Decision in January. But it's also a little bit scary, at least for me, because I'm the one who has to send out the decision emails.

I haven't screwed sending decision emails yet, but it's always terrifying to press the send button in our bulk emailing program, especially to the admits. If we accidentally held or denied people we wanted to admit, it wouldn't be as big of a deal, as long as we corrected it quickly. However, there's a legal can of worms that gets opened up if we send admits to people that we don't actually want to admit.

We cover ourselves by noting in the email that the decision in the paper mailing is the decision of record, but it would still be a PR nightmare if we accidentally sent the admit emails to a group of holds or denies. And since I'm the one responsible for sending out all of the emails, the blame would fall squarely on me if there was a major mistake. So I'll really be happier about passing this milestone in the application cycle next Monday, when we'll be completely sure that the emails we sent matched the paper packets we sent out.

It is kind of fun to watch the kids' behavior on decision day, though—there are two or three message boards about Hopkins with fairly active populatons that I check regulary once I start sending the emails to see how long it takes between when I press the send button and when the kids start posting about their decisions. These kids are watching their inboxes like hawks, and they pounce on the decision emails as soon as they get them; it's typically no more than 3 minutes between the emails going out and the kids starting to post about them, and many times the kids in the first part of the file are posting even before the email has finished sending.

We did most of our Christmas shopping this weekend, and we put the lights and ornaments on the tree, but it still doesn't really feel like the Christmas season to me yet.

I guess that's due to several things: work isn't really winding down even though we got our ED decisions out, because my team is working on several projects that we aren't expecting to go live with until right before the RD read starts in earnest in January (typically we like to finish up all of our applicaton processing-related projects by October, but there were some important ones we needed for RD that just took a long time to develop). Typically, once we get those ED letters out, everyone goes into relaxation mode while we wait for the flood of RD letters that starts on January 1, and pretty much everyone else in my office entered that phase on Friday afternoon, but not me—I couldn't even go to the office-sponsored lunch because I had to stay in my office to take care of an issue that was affecting our ability to send the decision emails out.

Also, the holiday season for me typically begins with Thanksgiving with my family, and this year's holiday was spent in briefly in Maryland without my family followed by a five day trip to Florida, and the climate there didn't really help set the tone for leaving fall and entering winter (the warm weather around here recently hasn't helped that perception much, either). We've also missed church a lot in recent weeks, which means there's been none of the building to Advent and eventually Christmas that I've experienced most of my life.

I guess what it comes down to is that I'm a creature of habit, and all my normal routines for this time of year haven't gone like they've gone recently. I've been having a fairly predictable Thanksgiving experience for a long time (although it changed a bit three years ago, it was a change I actually got very attached to), and that didn't happen this year; I've been in the same job for five years, and things have always slowed down close to Christmas, and that didn't happen this year; and I've been going to church my whole life and experiencing Christmas as a strongly religious holiday, and that didn't happen this year.

It all adds up to me being a bit out of sorts, and not really feeling physically, emotionally, or spiritually ready for the holiday season. It's hard for me to believe that we'll be leaving to visit family in just four days, but hopefully being with them will help make me feel more the way I'm supposed to feel this time of year.

Our office Christmas luncheon/white elephant gift exchange is today, but I'm really not in the mood. So I think I'm going to work through lunch and leave a bit early to tackle the last of my Christmas shopping. I've been in kind of a pissy mood at work recently (the fact that it is once again regularly 80+ degrees in our tiny windowless box of an office hasn't helped my attitude), and I neither want to make it worse by being around some of my more grating coworkers, nor do I want to inflict my bad mood on anyone else.

Then again, I'm not sure that spending time with throngs of last-minute shoppers is really the best thing for me either, but it has to be done, and going in the afternoon during the workweek is certainly going to be better than going this weekend.

I've finally processed the last several hundred photos from our cruise in October, and I've started to post them as of yesterday. There are a lot of shots that I like, and I'm expecting that this batch will take me at least through February, but be warned: lots of sunset/sunrise and water shots.

I pride myself on doing as little post-processing to my photos as possible, which is one reason I like Canons so much—the colors, especially the blues and greens, are pretty much how I see the world, so I don't have to do any color adjustment to get a photo to look how I remember it in my mind. Usually the most I do is a slight levels adjustment, which just makes the image seem clearer and cleaner to me.

However, included in this batch of photos is a bunch that I took at Tuluum that I had to do a lot of correction on because of mistake I made in my camera settings. It's pretty frustrating, because one of the big reasons I wanted to go back to Tuluum is because I didn't have a camera the first time I went, and I really wanted to have a chance to take some shots there. What happened was, the night before we went to Tulum, I was taking some pictures in our cabin, and to compensate for the orange added by the incandescent bulbs, I set my camera to a setting that is made for shooting in that light. When I was done, I forgot to change it back, and I didn't notice that it was still set that way until it was almost time for us to leave Tuluum.

The end result was that most of the photos I took there had a distinctly blue cast to them, which looked pretty, but which wasn't accurate in terms of what I actually saw. Luckily, I did have time to shoot a few reference shots with the correct settings, and I spent several hours over the weekend working up a set of filters and layer adjustments in Photoshop that, when applied to the blue shots, made the colors of the sky and the sea look pretty much how they looked in the reference shots that I took with the correct settings for outdoors.

So I ended up doing a ton of post-processing on those images, but for the purpose of making those shots look how they would have looked naturally if I hadn't screwed up and left the wrong settings on the camera from shooting indoors the night before. I still don't really like that I had to do that, but there were some nice shots there and they would have been unusable without the color correction.
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