january 2012

1.3.12
It got a little dicey towards the end, but the Ravens won their final game of the season, guaranteeing them a bye week next week and home field advantage for the week after that (and, if they make it to the AFC championship game, home field advantage for that game if someone manages to knock off New England). Given that they've always been a strong team at home and they didn't lose a single home game this season, that's a big plus, especially if they could play the AFC championship game in Baltimore.

I would love to see this game in person—I haven't seen a game at the stadium yet this year, and given how tough this division is (three of the six teams in the AFC playoff picture are from the AFC North, with Pittsburgh and Cincinnati claiming the two wildcard spots), a home playoff game may be a very rare thing going forward (this will be the Ravens' fourth year in a row of making the playoffs, but this will be the first home game they've played during that run). But I know the tickets are going to be expensive and hard to come by, so unless I stumble upon a bargain, I'll likely be wathing from home.


1.4.12
The holidays falling on the weekend this year posed the same problem for me at Christmas that it did at Thanksgiving: because we were traveling to see family, we weren't in the home market for Ravens' broadcasts, which meant I had to find alternate arrangements to follow the Ravens game.

It was easier on Thanksgiving: my dad lives in a decent sized town, and the Ravens were the only NFL game on in their time slot (the evening game on Thanksgiving), so I just had to drive 10 minutes to a Buffalo Wild Wings and watch it on one of the big screens there. But my mother-in-law, who we were visiting on Christmas Eve when most NFL games (including the Ravens) were played last week, lives in a tiny town that doesn't even have cell reception for our network, AT&T, much less a sports bar with multiple screens showing all NFL contests. And it's not close to anything, either—I would have had to drive an hour plus in order to get to a town big enough to have one of those establishments.

I wasn't happy about not having an option to watch it, since I've seen every other game this season and their last home game of the season, but I resigned myself to listening to it over the internet via a streaming radio broadcast and following along on ESPN's GameCast. I checked that the app I bought that aggregates internet radio streams still had access to the main FM station in Baltimore that broadcasts the games, and I thought I was all set.

But then game time came, and the broadcast suddenly switched away from football commentary (they have a preshow) to classic rock tracks, and a small note appeared under the icon for the Ravens game broadcast that said "Not available for streaming". I tried the AM sports station in Baltimore and got the same result. Then I tried a random search of any station broadcasting the game, and finally found one out of the Eastern Shore. I ended up missing the first couple of minutes of the game, but I was able to listen to the rest of it without any problems.

I thought pairing the radio broadcast with the ESPN GameCast would be a nice combo (although hardly a substitute for watching the game), although I wondered how useful the GameCast would be since, in my experience, it tends to lag behind the game just enough to make it annoying. But there must have been a delay on the radio broadcast, because I actually had the opposite problem: the GameCast updates seemed to be about two minutes ahead of the radio, which was not at all what I wanted. So I ended up just turning off the GameCast and listening to the broadcasters. Again, hardly ideal, but at least I got to have some sort of real-time experience with the game instead of just looking at the box score online afterward.


1.5.12
Other than worrying about how to watch/hear the Ravens game, the first few days of our travel were pretty uneventful. Like I said, my wife's hometown is pretty small, and neither she nor her mother really have many friends there, so other than some last minute Christmas shopping, I mostly read and kept up with work email (there were a surprising number of year-end details to wrap up this year).

On Sunday (Christmas), we opened presents, went to church, then packed up all our stuff and drove to a hotel in Raleigh, where my grandfather lives. We've usually done Christmas dinner a cousin's house outside of Raleigh and then stayed with my grandfather and his wife at their house in the city, but that all started to change last year.

See, my cousin is a smoker, and she smokes inside her house, and while it was always bad enough having to stomach that for a few hours ourselves, there was no way we were going to expose Will to that. So last year, our first year with Will, we instead had the celebration at my grandfather's house, which is much smaller and less suited to gatherings like that, but still our best option given that my cousin wasn't willing to forgo smoking indoors for even one day.

This year, she was again unwilling to change her habits, but we also couldn't use my grandfather's house for either the celebration or as a place to stay, because he and his wife recently moved into an assisted living facility. So we found a nice hotel nearby (Embassy Suites, which was great at night because we could put Will to sleep in one room and still hang out and read and watch tv in the other without disturbing him) and stayed there instead. And my mother and her brother reserved a rec room at the assisted living place so we would have enough room for the family to gather for a meal and the opening of presents.

So Christmas was a very hectic day: up at 7 to open presents and have breakfast, church at 10, on the road to Raleigh by noon, finding and checking into our hotel by 3, opening presents with my mom and sister by 4, and then immediately off to the assisted living place, where we stayed until about 7. Will was a trooper, even though he didn't nap at all that day (he usually has a morning and an afternoon nap). He was a little fussy after 2 1/2 hours in the car, but other than that, he was in a pretty good mood. That's one of the nice things about him: he loves being around people and he loves going new places, so as long as there's a crowd and new things to do/look at, he's going to be fine even if he's dead tired.

The dinner itself was pretty good, too—my uncle fried a turkey, and my brother and his girlfriend (and her two kids) were able to stop by on their way from Ohio to my dad's place in Wilmington to exchange gifts and hang out for a bit. They weren't able to make it to Thanksgiving this year, and because we spent Thanksgiving with my dad, we weren't going to see him at Christmas, so we were expecting not to see my brother at all. But the timing with their drive worked out pretty well, and even though it delayed the end of their journey by a couple of hours, I was really glad they took the time to take a break and have dinner with us.


1.6.12
During the second half of our Christmas trip, while we were in Raleigh, I found a little time to catch up with some old friends. The day after Christmas, we usually go to Chapel Hill with my mom (she's an alum, and loves to visit campus whenever she can), and for the past few years we've met up with my friend John and his wife Heika.

Our lives have moved in strange parallels for the past couple of years. In 2009 when we met up with them, we announced to each other that we were pregnant, and when we compared due dates, we found that Julie and Heike were due at almost exactly the same time (their baby was born about a week and a half before Will). So last year, of course, we got together to meet each other's child, and this year to compare notes on 17 month olds.

We went out to lunch with them (and my mother and my sister and brother-in-law), but the real fun was afterwards when we went back to the parking lot. It was pretty much deserted, so we let the boys run around, and they had a great time jabbering at each other, hugging, and stomping through some dry leaves. I've always wondered about how Will is going to do around new children—he's an only child, and although there is another boy his age at daycare, right now they are the only two kids there, and Will has known him since he was three months old. He's always seemed very friendly and social, but it's nice to see him in a situation like this where he's meeting another kid for the first time and it goes well.

Next year we probably won't be able to repeat our annual meeting, however—they are moving to Massachusetts soon (in fact, they're already there). It would have been cool to meet up with them at least once a year so the boys could somewhat know each other, but I guess we'll have to find some other way to make that happen than us getting together with them whenever we make a trip down to NC.


1.9.12
On the same day that we had lunch with John and Heike in Chapel Hill (and after having dinner with my family), I met my other friend, Jeff, for coffee. He was someone who I used to work with back in Charlottesville, and I hadn't seen him in around 14 years. He left Charlottesville around the same time that we were transitioning up to Maryland, and we just kind of lost touch. I would occasionally Google him, and in the last year I'd looked for him on Facebook a couple of times, but to no avail until his Facebook profile suddenly appeared sometime in the fall.

I sent him a message to confirm that he was who I thought he was, and as we messaged each other, I found out that he had moved to Raleigh, so we made plans to get together for at least a quick visit while I was in town for the holidays. After the Chapel Hill day trip and the rest of our Christmas travels, I was pretty worn out, but that evening was the only time we could see each other, so he identified a coffe shop between his house and my hotel and we met up around 8:45.

It's really weird catching up with someone who you haven't seen for 14 years; it's too long to go into any real detail although it's strange to summarize significant portions of your life in a sentence or two. (Me: Had these jobs, lived in these places, had a kid. Him: had these jobs, lived in these places, got married. Oddly enough, we were both English majors with dreams of becoming writers when we last knew each other, and we both ended up working in IT.) But despite the high potential for awkwardness, the conversation flowed very easily once we got past the perfunctory exchange of life information, and it was easy to remember all over again all the reasons he had been my friend in the first place.

With both John and Jeff, I realized all over again that while I'm very happy with my life in general—I have a great wife, we're financially stable, I get more enjoyment out of my job than not, and now I have an amazing child—all the people I care about as friends, the kind of friends that you can go without seeing for 14 years and still have the kind of connection that lets you slip back into a comfortable conversation as if it had only been a few days since you'd seen them, live far away from where I am now, and all the people who I see every day who have the potential to become those kinds of friends don't have the time to form those kinds of bonds anymore, what with work, spouses, kids, etc.—the same reasons that keep me from pursuing friendships more seriously.

I've experienced this kind of longing a lot the past few years, and in addition to thinking there's really nothing I can do about it, I'm also pretty convinced it's a mirage. Even though I've daydreamed about living in Chapel Hill or somewhere that has a high concentration of former friends, I have a feeling that even though I might see them more often, it wouldn't really be much more often than I'm able to hang out with friends here, and compared to how close they felt when we were young, they would still feel very far away even if I were in closer physical proximity to them.

I've even got friends around Baltimore who I've known long enough at this point that they count as old friends too, and yet I don't spend nearly as much time with them as I'd thought I would. Hell, one of them even works for me, in a cubicle not ten feet from my office door, and there are days when I barely have time to say hi to him, much less have lunch and a conversation. And although we've hung out outside of work a few times since his return to the area, it hasn't been nearly as frequent as I had imagined, and the blame for that lies squarely on me.

Still, I wouldn't mind living back in the Triangle, not only because North Carolina still feels like home to me even though I've spent nearly half my life away from it, but because despite my lack of interaction with my local Baltimore friends, I somehow believe it would be different there (even though I know in my heart it probably wouldn't be). That's very unlikely to happen, but who knows where life can end up taking you—a lot of my friends who now live in NC spent a long time away before making their way back home.

The time I spend with old friends, even if it's measured in hours or even minutes, is something I treasure; it's nice to know these folks are still the same people I knew them as, and that they're out there in the world somewhere making it a less terrible place.


1.10.12
As satisfying as it was to watch the Steelers' humiliating defeat at the hands of the worst team to make the playoffs in a long, long time, in the long run it might actually work against the Ravens. See, as long as New England is in the playoffs, they have the home field advantage, so if the Ravens beat Houston in Baltimore this Sunday, the only way for Baltimore to host the AFC championship game is if somebody beats New England. The Steelers would have had a chance to do this, but Denver absolutely does not.

Don't get me wrong, I always enjoy a Steelers loss, especially when it's the result of a poor defensive strategy against a terrible, terrible quarterback. But it's a lot easier for the Ravens to win at home, and it would have been incredibly satisfying to win the AFC championship over Pittsburgh in front of the home crowd, which has been consigned to watching the past three years of Ravens playoff appearances on tv.

But we get at least one game this year, and they've got a good shot at winning – they beat the Texans in Baltimore once already this season, and they've had a week off to recuperate and come back with everyone at full strength.


1.11.12
Watched the second most recent season of Dexter (the most recent to be released on DVD, the one with Julia Stiles as the major guest star for the season), and I have to say, I like it better than last season, which got tons of critical raves for John Lithgow as the Trinity Killer. Which is weird, because I really, really like John Lithgow—I think he's highly underrated as a dramatic actor—but for some reason that character and his portrayal didn't ever click with me.

I've got the next DVD season of Entourage waiting in the queue now, but I'm not really sure why I'm still watching that show—II can barely remember the plots from past years, and the premise has gotten a little tired. But I'm also a completist, so I know I'll watch it—I just hope they end it soon.


1.12.12
I've also started gorging on DVR'd episodes of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, which I hadn't watched single episode of two weeks ago. Luckily, it airs so frequently on so many channels that I've probably watched 20 already with another 20 set to record in the next week or so.

This is definitely not a show I'm going to try to convince anyone else to watch, and I don't know why I've suddenly taken a shine to it, but after getting oriented to the characters after a couple of episodes, I can't get enough of it. If I had to describe the characters, generally "annoying" and "stupid" would fit most of them most of the time. And there's not really anyone you can focus on as the protagonist or the reasonable one like Jason Bateman's character on Arrested Development—they're all ridiculous in their own way.

There's a very distinct and consistent vibe to the humor, and if you like it (and for some reason, I suddenly find myself in that position), you're going to have a hard time finding a dud. Of course, if it turns you off (which it did me for years), you'll pretty much hate every episode. But at least it won't take you long to figure out what camp you're in.


1.13.12
I haven't been to a Ravens game yet this season, but I'm going to be there on Sunday to watch their first home playoff game in five years thanks to an early birthday present from my wife. Watching any Ravens game from the stands in Baltimore is a treat—the crowd is unbelievable—but I'm sure the playoff game will be extra special, especially because, even though the Ravens have only missed the postseason once in the past five years, it's also been five years since they played a playoff game of any sort at home.

It took me a while to find a good ticket. Since I was planning to go by myself, I thought I'd be able to get reasonably good seats because single tickets usually come at a discount, and I found some tickets at decent prices on ticket reselling sites like StubHub. But then I also discovered the dirty little secret on those sites: their profit doesn't come as a percentage of the ticket price from the person who is reselling the ticket, it comes on top of that price as an exorbitant "handling fee" that you only see when you reach the final payment screen. And by exorbitant, I mean anywhere from $75 to $115, not the typical $5-$10 that sites like Ticketmaster charge.

A friend of a friend has a little side business reselling Ravens tickets (this is not uncommon in Baltimore), so I called him up to see what his best deal was, and it wasn't great—$250 for nosebleed seats. He actually suggested that I try eBay, and that's where I ended up finding a great deal: $275 for a seat 14 rows from the field on that 15 yard line, plus a parking pass to one of the official lots right next to the stadium (the face value on the ticket alone was $155, and I saw the parking passes selling for that lot from $75-$150 by themselves).

It would have been cool if I had been able to find someone to go with me, but then I likely couldn't have found tickets in a section as good as this one. And the crowd in Baltimore is always very welcoming of newcomers as long as you're wearing Ravens colors (most seats in the stadium belong to season ticket holders, so everyone in a section tends to know most of the people around them), so I'm not worried about having no one to high five when the Ravens make a good play.

The temperature is projected to peak at around 31, so even though there won't be much wind and it's supposed to be sunny, it's going to be brutally cold, colder even than the New Orleans game I went to last year, especially because my section is on the home side of the field which is always in shadow. But the pain will all be worth it, especially if they come away with a win.


1.17.12
Will had his 18 month checkup last Friday (I'm not terribly superstitious as long as the Ravens aren't involved, but I wasn't enthusiastic about scheduling his appointment on a Friday the 13th), and he did pretty well. He had a lot of shots to get this time, including the chicken pox vaccine, but he was easily distracted and forgot all about them five minutes after he got them. He also didn't have a site injection reaction or get a fever from the chicken pox one, and now he won't have to have another set of shots until he's four.

After his appointment, we went out to lunch at a Panda Express and we picked up my ticket and parking pass from the seller. It was Purple Friday, so Will and I both had our jerseys on, along with most of the city of Baltimore. I know our brains are primed for branding, but it's amazing to see it in action—Will definitely recognizes the Ravens logo, and every time he sees it, he goes crazy clapping and cheering.

I was still getting over an illness I caught from Will, so I spent the rest of the day and all day Saturday trying to relax and get some sleep so my body would be somewhat prepared for the game experience on Sunday. I was pretty close to 100% by gametime, but I would have had to have been really, really sick to miss that game, even with the cold weather forecast for that day.


1.18.12
The Ravens game was an endurance trial, but it was a lot of fun, even though I went by myself. I've been to a couple of games before, but I've never parked in one of the official lots next to the stadium, and I wasn't quite prepared for the drive in. I've parked at that lot plenty of times before for Orioles games, but this time, the crowds started blocks away, and because they closed off the bridge for pedestrian traffic, I was routed around to a much less direct way of getting to the lot. And once I got there, finding a spot wasn't easy—I didn't arrive until just before noon (the game started at 1:00), and this was a tailgating lot, so most people there had arrived hours earlier and gotten all of the grills, etc. set up.

I got to my seat around 12:30, and although I was already pretty cold, it was nothing compared to how I'd feel four hours later by the time I got back to my car. I thought it couldn't be any worse than the December game I saw in 2010 against New Orleans, but it definitely was. But it was still amazing to be there, especially because the end of the field I was on (14 rows back from the field on about the 10 yard line) was where some of the best plays happened, including the fumbled punt return that the Ravens recovered and Ed Reed's interception towards the end of the game. The guy who sold me the tickets sells those regularly, so I might hit him up for a couple of games next season if the price is right (and he's pretty reasonable—I probably only paid about a $50-$60 markup on the face value of the ticket and the parking pass combined).

As for the game itself...well, it was ugly, but it was a win. It was definitely a game that the defense won for us, forcing three turnovers that set up short scoring drives even though they allowed pretty big games from Houston's primary running back and wideout. The Texans have a great defense, too, but the Ravens offense was anemic, not scoring anything but a field goal after the first quarter, something that just won't work next week at New England. No matter how good our defense is, the Patriots are going to put points on the board, and our offense has to take advantage of their weak defense to try and keep up enough to give us a chance to win.

Despite the cold, it was still great to be there in person to see the Ravens play their first home playoff game in five years, and it was even better to come away with a win. If they win just one more game they're in the Super Bowl, but man, it's going to be a tough one.


1.19.12
I am doing terribly on my intention to start reading application files earlier this year than I did last year. I'm going to have about 400 files again, and since I have not yet read any and I only have six weeks left, that means I have to read about 65 a week.

That's not a terribly difficult target to reach if I can set aside two days a week to work at home, but that's becoming increasingly difficult, and even when I do manage to work at home, I end up spending most of the day working on other projects and not getting any reading done.

Today is supposed to be my one day at home to focus on applications this week (too many meetings yesterday to not come into the office), but I there are already other things piling up, and I'm sure my daily email load will bring even more. Next week doesn't get any better—I'm traveling on business Monday and Tuesday, so I have to come in the rest of the week to get caught up. I have a feeling the weekends are when I'm going to end up getting most of my reading done, as much as I need those days off to take a break from work.


1.20.12
Going on a business trip next week, so I won't be home on Sunday to watch the AFC championship. I've arranged my flight to arrive at 1:30, though, so that should give me some time to find a sports bar to watch the 3:00 game. Despite the oddsmakers, this is a very winnable game for the Ravens if they go in with the right gameplan and play up to their ability. Fingers crossed...


1.25.12
What an absolutely heartbreaking loss. The Ravens absolutely deserved to go to overtime, and there's going to be a sour taste in the mouths of all the players and fans for the next seven months while we wait for next season to start. An overtime loss might have been easier to stomach, but losing like that...it was just a terrible way to end one of the team's best seasons ever.


1.26.12
Weird week—because I spent the first two days traveling, it simultaneously feels like a really short and a really long workweek, like today should be the end of the week and that it's also only my second day in the office. Not a whole lot planned for this weekend, though, so hopefully I'll get a chance to reset and regroup and have a somewhat normal week next week. Although there are still all those files to read...


1.27.12
I'm really not in the mood to do any work this weekend, but it's been a long time since I've been able to make that happen. Is it really too much to ask, though?


1.30.12
When I went back to work after Will was born, I was on a schedule where I would be at home with him on Mondays and then work long days the rest of the week to make up for those hours, but I haven't been able to take a Monday with him since October and I think they might be done for good. I'm already having a hard time fitting all of my meetings into three days a week—I'm supposed to be reading at home two days a week, but I'm lucky if I can get one most weeks—so there's no way I could take another. There's just too much that needs direct monitoring in the office these days.

I'm glad I got to have those days with him, though, even though I'm a little disappointed that they ended early (the original plan was for me to keep that schedule until he was two). Luckily Julie still gets to do her side of it—she also works four long days so she can have Fridays at home with him—and hopefully she'll get to keep doing that for a few months longer.


1.31.12
Last Friday I went down to the Applied Physics Laboratory to listen to a talk from Johns Hopkins' latest Nobel Prize winner, Adam Riess. This was part of the same lecture series that brought me down to the APL last year to hear Charles Bennett, another Hopkins physicist whose most recent contribution to the field was designing a space-based microwave probe to measure cosmic background radiation and to create temperature map of the universe (in addition to putting forward the most accurate estimate to date of the age of the universe).

Riess was speaking about his discovery (along with a team of other researchers) that the expansion of the universe was actually acceleratiing and not slowing as previously thought. A lot of the talk was about the methodology they used (which involved focusing their research on suerpnovae, but beyond that I can't remember the details, although it made sense at the time), but the most interesting part was that the discovery essentially confirmed Einstein's idea of a cosmological constant. Einstein would later call this idea, which he added to his equations to create a stationary universe, the biggest blunder of his life, because it kept him from deducing that the universe was not static and was in fact expanding—that idea instead came from Edwin Hubble (interestingly, the space telescope named for Hubble was the device the Riess used to collect the data that led to his Nobel).

Einstein was wrong to throw in a number to balance the universe and make it into something that he had already decided it should be despite evidence to the contrary, but in light of Riess' findings, a number very close to Einstein's cosmological constant is now necessary to the equations to account for the accelerating expansion. So it turns out that Einstein was right for the wrong reasons, and now the search has turned away from simply balancing the equations to figuring out the mechanism behind the number, which has been dubbed dark energy.

Riess was actually selected as a speaker before he won his Nobel (which was awarded in 2011), and as a result of his newfound notoriety, the crowd was far larger than the previous event, so it was moved to a new venue (still on the APL campus, though). The crowd was still mostly folks from the APL itself (the lecture series is open to all Hopkins faculty and staff, but the APL campus down near Columbia is relatively far away from the other Baltimore-based campuses of the university), and so the follow up questions were appropriately technical (and interesting), but in some ways it might be cool if, in addition to the talks at the APL, scientists like Riess were given a complimentary venue at the main Hopkins undergraduate campus at Homewood so they could give a talk aimed at laypeople. The events are great, but it's hard for the average staff member or student to attend, and a few of them, like Bennett's and Riess', are certainly of interest of casual followers of scientific theory, of whom there are many at Hopkins.

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