august 2013

8.1.13
Last weekend the Atlanta Falcons opened their training camp to the public, including games and special activities for kids, so we dressed Will up in the closest thing he has to Falcons gear (black shorts and a red shirt) and made the hike up to Flowery Branch for the festivities.

It was a pretty hot day, and I didn't know for sure how long Will would last, but we were probably inside the camp for an hour and a half or so before he told us he was ready to go. The first hour was just walking around doing the different little activities, and although we did sit on a hill overlooking the practice field when practice started at 3:30, he was just about out of gas, so after one incredibly fast melting ice cream sandwich, we headed back to the car. While he was eating, the Falcons photographer got a couple of shots of him that were posted to the Falcons site (he's in pictures 95 and 96):



We're always going to be a Ravens family, and on Sunday afternoons Will is going to be wearing a purple jersey. But the Falcons play in a different conference, and they're only going to meet the Ravens once every four years during the regular season, so I can see us adopting the Falcons as a secondary/hometown team the same way that we were able to root for the Orioles when we were in Baltimore even though I'm a Braves fan (and yes, that symmetry between Baltimore and Atlanta did work out rather nicely). I don't know if I'll ever be able to bring myself to buy him a jersey, but I can definitely invest in a t-shirt or two.


8.2.13
Friday.


8.5.13
So: of the 14 total players suspended for their involvement with Biogenesis, 13 of them got suspended for the rest of this season, and one got suspended for the remainder of this season and the entirety of the next season. Whatever your opinion about athletes who use PEDs in general or Alex Rodriguez specifically, something seems a little out of whack here.

I think MLB originally threatened him with a longer ban to get him to agree not to appeal the suspension, hoping they would be able to negotiate him down to the same rest-of-2013 suspension that everyone else agreed to, but he called their bluff and now they're sticking to the longer ban as punitive measure for not capitulating and to put themselves in a better position during the appeals/arbitration process (where it seems likely that the worst-case outcome for Rodriguez will be a suspension that's more in line with what everyone else received).

This is pretty risk of MLB, but not surprising given that the league are still led by Bud Selig who is a thoroughly detestable human being and, as a commissioner, is about as competent as George W. Bush was in the White House. Their best case scenario is that they win in arbitration and Rodriguez serves his full suspension. But in the meantime, it looks like he's going to be in the Yankees' lineup, thumbing his nose at them and causing a daily negative distraction in the leadup to the playoffs.

Worst case scenario for the league? Rodriguez wins his appeals process, gets his suspension completely lifted, and in the process exposes what could be very weak evidence against the players that were banned. This would have the twin effect of making them look like idiots who have no clue what they're doing and bullies to whom Rodriguez stood up, tarnishing MLB's image and burnishing Rodriguez's. And there's almost no way that the arbitrator won't reduce Rodriguez's suspension to make it on par with what the other players received, which still makes Rodriguez look smart for appealing the suspension.

I'm reasonably sure that all of these players and more were involved in some sort of doping shenanigans, and it's especially tragic to see Rodriguez end up sharing Barry Bonds' legacy as a great player, one of the greatest of all time, who ruined his career and alienated his passionate fan base by using banned substances that in all likelihood didn't pad his stats by a meaningful amount when put in the context of his overall talent.

It's not lost on me that when Bonds was accused of using PEDs and forced into retirement (not officially by MLB, but no club was willing to sign him, so he just had to stop playing), many people hoped that Rodriguez would stick around long enough to surpass all his major acheivements and erase Bonds from the record books. Now it just looks like Rodriguez is going to join the company of those with a permanent asterisk next to their names in the eyes of the fans.


8.6.13
Holy cow. A little over a week ago I was feeling pretty confident that the Braves had already wrapped up the unexpectedly weak NL East with a 7 game lead over the next closest team, and now they've gone on a serious tear, winning 11 straight and padding their lead to a whopping 13.5 games.

I don't want to jinx them, but there's almost no way to blow a lead that big with only seven weeks left in the season, especially with as terrible as the other teams in the division have played this year (none has a winning record). It would have to be an epic collapse, and even though this team is still very young, they're relatively battle tested, and I just don't see them making the kinds of mistakes they'd have to make to not win the division given their current lead.


8.7.13
Annual review time at work. I hate making my team members write their self evaluations, I hate writing their evaluations, and I hate writing my own self-evaluation. But still: They. Must. Be. Done. It is the way of things.


8.8.13
Ravens tonight! It's just the first preseason game, but still, there is football being played, and that means we're right around the corner from the games that count.


8.9.13
Yesterday was a joint retreat with another office who we work with very closely. It was supposed to be a repeat of an event we did at pretty much the same time last year, an event that I actually enjoyed, but instead it turned into an all-day series of intense meetings that left very little time for social interaction (which is supposed to be one of the goals of the day) and which left most people bored out of their skulls well before the day was over.

I think I did pretty well for my part—even though I oversee two teams and we're in the midst of four significant projects that all need to be completed before October, I limited my requested time to half an hour (although I went a bit over my time because of quesitons from the group). I don't feel bad about going a little long, though—the person whose time I ate into had already had an hour and a half in the morning session and was scheduled to have an hour more after me.

I still generally enjoy retreats/team building events with this office, especially compared to my previous one, because I actually like almost everyone I work with as a person and have respect for their professional approaches to their jobs. But this one felt like a missed opportunity because it focused too much on the relentless delivery of information that was most pertinent to a relatively small contingent of the people who were in attendance.


8.12.13
It was just a preseason game in which the first string offense played for a very limited time (and didn't do all that well when they are on the field), but there's rarely going to be a time when I'm not psyched by a 44-16 win by the Ravens.

Even better news came over the weekend: the signings of veteran wide receiver Brandon Stokley and tight end Dallas Clark. Yes, they are two older players at the ends of their respective careers, but even though they've received limited work over the past couple of seasons, they've both been used for the critical short-to-medium routes that are critical for third downs and which the Ravens had a lot fewer options for running after trading Anquan Boldin and seeing Dennis Pitta injured and out for the season. As a bonus, both players have years of experience with the current offensive coordinator, so they're likely to know his schemes and playbook better than the average newcomer to camp.

They aren't a long-term solution—we're still going to need Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta healthy next year, and we're going to need to see at least one or two of the young wide receivers who make the team step up and start to develop into starters—but they might give us enough flexibility and experience to get us through this year.


8.13.13
I thought this was going to be a no-meetings kind of week (which I desperately need). But even when they don't get scheduled in advance, these things tend to sprout like mushrooms after a soaking rain...


8.14.13
Today my team at work is finally complete. When I joined my current institution, we posted several new job positions that would report to me, but this one, a data analyst position, was of particular importance to the people two and three levels above my direct report. So much so that they all felt they wanted to have input into the process, especially because I was so new to the institution that they didn't yet have trust in my personnel evaluation skills.

So what is typically a long process for me compared to some other managers I've worked with (even when I'm aggressive about reading resumes and interviewing candidates, it always seems to take ma at least a couple of months to find a good fit) became even longer, with more than one highly qualified candidate being presented to the higher ups only to be blackballed by one of them (and that's an accurate analogy—even if everyone involved in the interviewing/candidate review process loved a candidate, a single "no" from one of the executives meant they were out, and this precise scenario happened on two occasions).

As we drew closer to the one year anniversary of the job being posted, everyone started to realize that maybe that perfect candidate who would check all the boxes on every single person's list just didn't exist, and I got a little more leeway. And it's then that I stumbled on the candidate I ended up hiring who, as coincidence would have it, was also the best fit for what I needed out of the dozens of candidates I had reviewed over the preceding 12 months.

So I'm trying to take that as the positive side of this drawn out process: in the end, we got the candidate that I needed, and also got someone that all the higher ups felt comfortable with. I still think we'd be in better shape at this moment if I had been able to hire someone eight months ago, but in the long run, those eight months won't matter and we'll hopefully have the right person on our team for many years to come.


8.15.13
Second preseason game for the Ravens tonight, this time at home against the Falcons. Given that this is their first home game of any sort since Baltimore won the Super Bowl, I'm expecting that M&T Bank Stadium will be packed like it's a regular season game.


8.16.13
One more week until we take our first real vacation in over seven years. But it's going to be one hell of a week...


8.19.13
The Ravens won their second preseason game last Thursday, their first game at M&T Bank Stadium since winning the Super Bowl, but it was another nightmarish evening for the first team offense and defense. The defense, which is supposed to be a lot better against the run this year, gave up way too many yards, and the main ball carrier had better than 5 yards per carry. The offense had exactly one brilliant play, a short strike to Torrey Smith that he then carried for 77 yards and a touchdown. Otherwise it was a pretty miserable evening, especially for Ray Rice, who was constantly getting tackled before he even got across the line of scrimage.

The third team (or whatever we were down to by the fourth quarter) picked it up, holding Atlanta to zero points and scoring 16 points to put Baltimore up 23-20 by the time it was all over, which was a nice way to end it for the hometown fans. Still, if the starters don't get their act together quickly, I'm worried for the season opener in Denver, especially because that team is hungry to prove that it was them, and not the Ravens, who should have been in the AFC Championship game and the Super Bowl last season.


8.20.13
I have a TON of stuff to do before we leave on Saturday. And I have more meetings in the next three days than are at all reasonable (today and tomorrow are the worst, with seven and eight meetings respectively).

Here's how I envision this playing out: I get nothing done during the day (other than generating new action items that require immediate attention from all the meetings), try to keep my head above water by getting some stuff done at night, and then using my Friday (which is currently shockingly, almost unbelievably, meeting-free), to get as much done as I can before I throw my hands up and leave what's undone undone until I get back.


8.21.13
We're nearly at the end of August, and the Braves are still 15 games up in the NL East and are also back to owning the best record in the majors. They haven't lost a series in over a month, and they went on a long winning streak of 14 straight games that included sweeps of St. Louis, Philadelphia, Colorado, and Washington.

It's almost inconceivable that they won't make the postseason, and it's all but certain that they'll also win their division and have a good shot at home field advantage throughout the playoffs. And if they keep on playing like they have been, I'm getting excited that they'll be able to make their first real postseason run in years.


8.22.13
After finishing David Grann's The Devil and Sherlock Holmes, I moved onto The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson. It came up as a book that was frequently purchased with The Devil and Sherlock Holmes, and after reading a summary and some of the reviews, I thought it looked pretty interesting.

It's a piece of long-form journalism that starts with Ronson investigating the story of a man who pretended to be a psychopath to avoid a lengthy prison sentence, only to be actually diagnosed as a real psychopath when sent to an asylum and spending longer in treatment there than he would have if he had taken the longest prison sentence possible for his crime. This led Ronson to the test behind the title of his book, which is basically a 40 point scale on 20 different measures (you can score a zero, one, or two on each measure); if you score 30 or higher, you are generally considered to be a psychopath (or sociopath) and, since you are considered untreatable, it's highly likely that you'll never be released, especially if the reason you were given the psychopath test in the first place is related to a violent crime.

Ronson used this as a springboard to investigate Scientology (members of this group were fighting for the release of the is-he-or-isn't-he psychopath that originally interested Ronson), the history of psychology/psychiatry as related to sociopaths, and eventually a series of interviews with all sorts of folks—a corporate raider, the leader of Haitian death squads, and genuine emotionless killers—to give them the psychopath test and see how they scored.

A central idea of the book eventually becomes that, although sociopaths are thought to make up slightly less than 1% of the overall population, when you start looking at people in positions of great power—politicians, CEOs, etc.—the number jumps to 5%, and Ronson wanted to understand why psychopaths were drawn to and generally successful at jobs like these.

It was a great read—I love Ronson's personality and his interviewing/writing style. His interviews/essays had some similarities to Grann's approach to his subjects in that, taken individually, each chapter could have made for a highly readable article in a publication like Esquire, the New Yorker, etc. (and I think some of them were originally introduced to the world in this manner), but Ronson's work was a lot more personal and less objective. And he is fully aware of this: he comments on his own weaknesses/biases much more often than an ordinary investigative journalist would.

It was also a book that nicely tied together two of my other recent reading experiences, as it spent quite a bit of time exploring Scientology and Scientologists (the subject of Going Clear) and it also had a chapter on Toto Constant, who was also the subject of the final chapter in David Grann's book. If only Ronson had interviewed Lance Armstrong as part of this book (who I'm pretty sure would score pretty high on the psychopath test), it would have really brought everything together.

I'm a huge fan of Ronson now, and I imagine I'll be checking out his other books in the near future. His most famous is The Men Who Stare at Goats, which was made into a movie starring George Clooney, but I'm much more interested in Them, a book about conspiracy theorists and extremists.


8.23.13
Well, I've done all I can do. I'll probably end up checking work email occasionally next week, but I intend to actually be on vacation as much as possible, especially when Will is awake. We're going to Hilton Head, and it will be our first true family vacation that doesn't involve visiting grandparents and also Will's first real visit to the beach.

I almost can't believe we're finally doing this after so many years of not taking any kind of real vacation, and I really hope that we can do this at least anually, if not more often. At any rate, I'm reasonably sure it won't be another seven years before we take a week off work again.

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