september 2014

9.2.14
I'm still more psyched for the impending start of the NFL season than I am for college football, but man, Georgia looked good in their win over Clemson on Saturday.

The first half looked like one of those games that was all-too-common last year (especially against ranked opponents), where it became a basketball-like contest of trading touchdowns throughout the game and just hoping you ended up with the last one (the score was tied 21-12 after two quarters). But in the second half, both the offense (thanks in no small part to a much heavier use of star running back Todd Gurley) and the defense kicked it into another gear: the Bulldogs ended up scoring another 24 points while holding the Tigers scoreless.

When they exited the first half tied with Gurley only having four or five touches despite a strong showing every time he got his hands on the ball, I started to question the strategy, but it became all too clear in the second half that Mark Richt was playing the long game with a position where the team is very deep, and they were saving their biggest weapon for a time when the Clemson defense was exhausted and most vulnerable to his power.

Gurley scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter on long runs (18 and 51 yards), and you got the sense that it only because of Richt's mercy towards an opponent that was already thoroughly beaten that Gurley didn't tack on another one at the very end of the game. He ended up with four touchdowns and 293 all-purpose yards when it was all said and done, and for most players that would be the game of their career. But I have a feeling we're going to see other performances this year from Gurley and this team that will outshine even this game.

It was a decisive, masterful victory over a tough opponent that was ranked only slightly lower than UGA, and it wasn't a surprise to me to see them move up in the Bleacher Report rankings (the only ones that have been released since the first week of games have been played) from 12th to 6th, which should be a harbinger of what to expect from the more established polls when they are released later this week.


9.3.14
Our trip the beach last week was pretty fun. We started off most days by swimming in either the ocean or the pool (I preferred the ocean, but on the third day I got stung by a jellyfish twice, including once so bad that I've still got welts on my chest and stomach a week later, and then I got stung again on the fourth day, so after that we spent most of the time at the pool), then had lunch at the condo, took an afternoon nap, and did something fun in the evening.

There were two days when we took side trips to see lighthouses (Will has been obsessed with these since we saw Pete's Dragon, which prominently features a lighthouse), but when we went to see the second one (over an hour's drive away), they told us that he wasn't tall enough to climb to the top (they don't mention a height requirement anywhere on their web site), so I climbed to the top and took some pictures for him. He had a little bit of a meltdown, but recovered fairly quickly and still had a good time exploring the beach nearby.

We also went to three concerts featuring a musician we saw twice last year, Hannah Wicklund—twice with her band the Steppin Stones and once doing a solo acoustic performance. Will loves loves loves her, so we had to buy her new CD. She told us that she'll be touring this fall and making at least one stop in Atlanta, so we'll have to see if we can catch her there. She's a pretty amazing performer—she's only 17, but she is an incredible guitar player and she has a powerful voice, too. She draws a lot of inspiration from 60s and 70s classic rock (which is what she focuses on when she's performing covers), but I hear a lot of growth as a songwriter between the album we bought last year and the new one she recorded this year, so I'm hoping she'll continue to develop her own unique style.

We also took lots of walks on the beach, including a few "nighttime adventures" (as Will liked to call them) where we went down to the shore after dark to look for ghost crabs with flashlights. It felt like it went by faster than last year's trip, but it was still pretty relaxing overall. Plus, we got back on Saturday, which means that, with the holiday on Monday, we still had a full weekend's worth of time to get back into our home routines before we had to go back to work.


9.4.14
First night of the football season! I actually don't care that much about who wins tonight's game, but knowing that the Ravens first game is only three days away is a good enough reason to get excited about the Packers/Seahawks contest.


9.5.14
While we were at the beach, I got in the habit of going for a run on the beach at night after Will had gone to bed. It was a pretty nice experience—even though we were there as moon was coming out of its new moon phase (meaning I didn't see it except as a slight crescent early in the evening towards the end of the week), it was still pretty easy to see everything with the ambient light coming from Hilton Head and the other buildings that were right on the beach like our condo complex. But there was no so much light that it ruined the view of the stars and the Milky Way.

There was one stretch of beach where there was no development of any sort—no beachfront hotels or condos, no beach houses set back on the edge of the treeline—and it was always darkest and most isolated-feeling during that stretch of my run. It creeped me out a little on the first night, especially because I hadn't walked down that far during the day and didn't know the terrain, and because the high tide was unusually high that night (pushing all the way back to the dunes) due to a tropical storm off the coast, but on night two I really enjoyed the experience of being out there alone (it was the stretch of beach where I was least likely to encounter groups of people with flashlights out looking for ghost crabs).

On the third night, however, something very strange happened. I was running with the dunes on my right and the ocean on my left, and suddenly my eye caught a light that seemed to just appear in the sky. I slowed down to look at it, and just as my brain was trying to process what it was and the question "Is that a UFO?" popped into my brain, it vanished as suddenly as it had appeared.

Here is what I saw, what I can still clearly see in my mind's eye: it was hovering off the coast, not too far away, and it seemed to be at least the size of a medium-sized airplane at that distance. It was saucer-shaped, but there were no lights on the top half; rather there was a void in the sky that implied something blocking the stars. The bottom half, however, was extremely well-lit: there were three trapezoid shapes that looked like they were made of frosted, opaque glass that started at the equator of the saucer and tapered down to the near the center of the bottom of the saucer, leaving a small unlit circle at the very center where they all met. The lights were orange when I first saw the object, and then the pulsed to red and back to orange again, doing this 3-4 times before the object vanished. All told, I probably only saw it for 10-15 seconds.

I spent the rest of the run being kind of freaked out because I just could not figure out what I had seen. I was looking for anything that it could have been: a personal drone that someone was messing around with; a reflection of lights on the clouds coming from either a ship over the horizon on somewhere on land; cloud lightning; aircraft from the commercial airport just south of us in Savannah—anything that I could hang onto as a plausible explanation. And I looked for the rest of the week as well (three more night runs), and became an expert at picking out the airplane lights from among the stars, but none of them ever got as close as the object I saw and none of them had lights in the color and pattern like that thing did.

Many years ago I had an extreme fascination with UFOs and alien conspiracy theories, but now I view them more as interesting stories than something I actually believe in (the Drake equation has certainly influenced my thinking, but I also believe that, in the absence of proof that anything in our universe can move faster than the speed of light, it's extremely unlikely that a race of extraterrestrials that would spend so much time to reach us would spend their time making crop circles and entering into deals with the US government to help them develop better fighter jets). So I really don't know what to do with this experience: I don't believe in UFOs, but I don't have any explanation for what I saw, for how it looked and how it behaved.

(Sidenote: I know the Drake equation isn't perfect—the Wikipedia article I linked to points out some suggested modifications that might make contact with an alien civilization more likely, and there are other issues I've thought of that aren't included in the discussion, such as the possibility that intelligent civilizations in our galaxy might have all developed around the same time, meaning we would overlap with each other for a much longer period than the Drake equation would predict. But the thing that gets me is the limitation on our speed—even if a civilization had developed travel at light speed, and if they had located us and developed a desire to visit us, it's highly likely that they'd have to build a spacecraft capable of hosting generations of their species, since it would take more than a lifetime to reach us. And the odds of that spacecraft and the community on it remaining intact long enough to get to Earth is so low that, if they did ever settle into orbit above our planet, they'd have bigger goals in mind than teasing us with the possibility of their existence, abducting us to give us anal probes, and eviscerating our cows in the dead of night.)

Anyway. I doubt that I'll ever know exactly what I saw, and I probably won't think about it very much in the future. But I did see something very unusual in the sky that night, and although I still believe that it must have been an optical illusion or some sort of manmade craft behaving strangely, I also know that I really don't have an explanation for it.


9.8.14
After an offseason where we brought in a highly respected offensive coordinator who revamped our entire system, upgraded our wide receiving corps, and solidified the o-line, Sunday's first half performance was a disappointing return to the same dreadful offense that fans were subjected to for most of last season: lots of three-and-outs, low time of possession, and way too much time on the field for the defense.

To be fair, there were lots of drops that would have turned into points or at least first downs, and there's not a whole lot that Joe Flacco or Gary Kubiak can do about that—the receivers have to do their job and actually catch the ball. But still, there was the same overreliance on the passing game, which was especially strange given that 1) Kubiak spent most of the offseason talking up his run-first approach and 2) the running game actually seemed to be working pretty well, especially once they took Pierce out of the game and put in veteran Forsett.

The defense was good but not great—Bengals QB Andy Dalton never really seemed pressured, and didn't get sacked once, but the defense at least was able to stiffen up in the red zone and prevent any touchdowns in the first half despite five scoring drives for Cincinnati. But five scoring drives and no three-and-outs were very disappointing—in fact, aside from the lack of success in producing touchdowns, the Bengals' offense looked exactly what I was hoping for from the Ravens under Kubiak's system.

Things did pick up in the second half, but it wasn't enough—even though the Ravens took the lead in the fourth quarter after scoring 16 unanswered points, the defense gave up a big play to A.J. Green immediately after that and the offense couldn't get back in the endzone even though they drove down to the red zone and had plenty of time left on the clock.

But that wouldn't have mattered if they had done a better job in the first half, and these two problems—an offense that is very slow to start and quickly gets behind, and a defense that tires out in the fourth quarter and gives up big plays—are exactly the same reasons that gave us an 8-8 record last season when Baltimore could have easily been 10-6 or even 12-4.

This week is going to be a real test for them, because after that loss they only have four days to prepare for the Steelers (who eeked out a victory over the Browns) on Thursday night. But at least the game will be in Baltimore, so they don't have to travel like the Steelers do, and then they'll have a nearly a week and a half to prepare for their third game.

I'm definitely more hopeful that the Ravens can end up with a good season here, and there were flashes of what this team can become if they put everything together, but we saw lots of those same flashes last year and it didn't ever amount to anything. We need to go from glimpses of greatness to greatness for 60 minutes every week—that's how this team gets back into the playoffs.


9.9.14
Okay. So obviously I'm a huge Ravens fan, and up until now I have declined to comment on the Ray Rice situation. In light of the release of the video showing him striking his wife and knocking her out and his subsequent termination by the Ravens and indefinite suspension by the NFL, I'd like to share my thoughts on the events of the last few months, which I'm guessing are how many Ravens fans feel.

First off, let me state unequivocally that there is no excuse for a man assaulting an unarmed woman, no matter what the context, but especially in the context of a heavily muscled professional athlete lashing out in anger at his domestic partner. Regardless of his past or his future, regardless of whether this is a one-time incident or a pattern of behavior, regardless of whether this is a true reflection of who he is and how he normally behaves, Ray Rice deserves all the negative press he's gotten, and he deserves to lose his job (and honestly he deserves a criminal prosecution). It's all on him, even if there are some who interpret the video as him being provoked by and/or attacked by his then-fiancee.

The reason I withheld judgment prior to seeing the videotape that was released today (and was even willing to forgive him at some point) was based on the evidence that I had prior to today. Yes, the video showing him dragging his unconsicous wife from the elevator was damning, but we never (until today) saw what actually happened in that elevator. What we did know, however, was that the police, who had access to the video at the time of the incident, initially arrested both of them on assault charges, and that the judge hearing the case, who also had access to this video, decided to let Rice take a plea bargain and enter a pretrial diversion program where he wouldn't even end up with any charges on his record.

Based on this, and the narrative that Rice put forth, it wasn't hard to create a scenario where they were both at fault and she just got the worst of a mutual combat situation. His behavior is still reprehensible even in that context, and a two game suspension by the NFL still was not a harsh enough penalty (even though it was comparable for previous disciplinary actions of a similar nature). But all the circumstantial evidence pointed to a very different story than the one that emerged once we actually got to see the altercation, in which there is no doubt that Rice is both the initial aggressor and used way more force than necessary even if you think the second blow was delivered in a self-defense context (which I do not believe, but some will likely argue).

Compare Rice's behavior to Jay-Z's equally infamous elevator video of him being attacked by his sister-in-law Solange. Solange repeatedly lashes out at Jay-Z, hitting him in the face, kicking him in the stomach, etc., and all Jay-Z does is use his arms to try to keep her at a distance. He doesn't take a swing at her, he doesn't move aggressively towards her, and he doesn't do anything to escalate the conflict. Rice, on the other hand, not only takes the first (seemingly unprovoked) swing at his fiancee, but when she lashes out in retaliation, he cold cocks her, knocking her out instantly. The physical part of this incident is all Ray Rice's fault, and even if the knockout had never happened, the initial hit which led to his fiancee's retaliation still should have been enough for both criminal charges and discipline by the league.

In terms of the reaction by the league and by the team, if all they had access to was the footage of what happened in the aftermath that we all saw earlier this year, the decisions made by the police and the judge in the case, and the story that Rice and his now-wife gave them, I can buy why they didn't take harsher action like releasing him from the team and removing him from the league earlier (although Goodell's two game suspension was still way too light). But there are many who believe that at least the NFL (there is more doubt about the team personnel) had access to the video earlier than today, and if that's the case, it's unconscionable that Rice wasn't immediately kicked out of the league—I don't think anyone could see that video and remain in any sort of apologetic/explanatory stance on Rice's behalf.

What Rice did was ugly and wrong no matter who he is, and now that we all have proof of what happened, him losing his job is a no-brainer decision. If the league had access to this video when they made the decision to only suspend him for two games, you have to start to question whether Goodell should keep his job himself. But the real headscratcher for me is the police and the judicial system, both of whom absolutely had access to the video when they made their decisions (and which decisions certainly influenced the responses from the league and the team): after seeing that video, how could you initially charge the woman with the same crime as Rice? And as a judge, how could you plea bargain this down to nothing?

The league and the team still deserve criticism for their handling of the situation, especially if they saw the video, but if they didn't have access to that evidence, the indifferent response by the criminal justice system would certainly lead an outsider to believe that this incident was perhaps not as serious and one-sided as it initially appeared from the video that showed the aftermath.

Anyway. I'm glad the truth has come out, and I'm glad that the team can start to learn lessons from this incident and move on. I'm sure it will still be a distraction throughout the season, and unfortunately for many football fans this is going to be one of the main signifiers of the team's reputation for years to come. If the team executives really only saw this video for the first time today, just like the rest of us, then their previous response was in line with the story being crafted by the police and the courts, and they took swift and appropriate action once they knew the truth.

I don't even want to think about the alternative—that the coach, GM, and owner saw this video and were complicit in covering up the brutality of this altercation—but I have a feeling that, just like with the video of this incident, the truth will out, and will do so very quickly.


9.10.14
Cross posting to Brain Coral and Notes since it's relevant to both sites:

So in case you weren't on planet Earth yesterday when Apple announced its new products, the iPhone 6 and the Apple Watch (and despite what they say, Apple haters are as obsessed with these product launch media events as the members of the cult are), the event concluded not only with U2 performing a new song, "The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)", but with the announcement of a new album, Songs of Innocence. The kicker: the album was immediately made available worldwide for free to anyone with an active iTunes account.

What's more, it will remain free to anyone who sets up a new iTunes account between now and October 13, after which the album will get a traditional physical release and presumably be available for a price digitally from all digital retailers. And it's not like either of these entities needed the publicity from a stunt like this, but it still made for one of the most compelling product launch shows since the original iPhone was unveiled.

Apple paid a price for this exclusivity and for the ability to give the record away, but almost no matter what they paid (I'm assuming it's in the tens of millions of dollars), it could end up being cheap compared to the cost of getting new users into their ecosystem through other ways. Here's why this is important: in order to download the album, you have to have an iTunes account, and in order to set up an iTunes account, you have to add at least one credit card to that account. And Apple really, really wants you to have a credit card linked to their services.

This is because not only will getting people who have so far resisted any entry into the iTunes ecosystem now be more likely to buy other music, movies, etc., from the service, which may in turn make them more open to the possibility of purchasing Apple hardware, but because of another new initiative that Apple announced yesterday: Apple Pay, a payment system that will let you pay for goods and services in brick and mortar vendors from your iPhone or Apple Watch without you having to share your credit card number directly with the vendor (there are also ways of getting your credit cards linked to your device without sharing that info with Apple directly, but I'm guessing most people will end up using the credit card linked to their iTunes account, which is more easily added to the payment service).

Like many of the services and devices that Apple is the standard bearer for, many companies, including some of their biggest competitors (like Google and their Google Wallet service), have already rolled out something similar that has yet to gain widespread mass acceptance. But as with the iPod and iTunes (these are the best examples of Apple's ability to create a better user experience for a category that already existed in the marketplace and dominate that category for years to come), if Apple can refine this experience and integrate it with its ecosystem of hardware products, they could end up once again becoming the flag bearers for this technology.

It's unclear to me at this point if they get any profit from this (the credit card companies will still take their percentage, but it's hard for me to believe that either those companies or the vendors selling you stuff will be willing to give up a percentage to Apple) or if this is just another value-add for their ecosystem to keep current customers locked in and entice new customers to join, but as one of those already heavily invested in that ecosystem, I don't much care——I benefit from this functionality without having to do anything more than install iOS 8 when it is released later this month and wait for the official launch of the service in October.


9.11.14
...


9.12.14
That. Was. Awesome.

After a lackluster season-opening loss just four days ago and the distraction of the Ray Rice situation to deal with in the meantime, the Ravens rebounded in a dominating game against their fiercest rival. It was a little too early to say that their season depended on this win, but losing would have put them at 0-2 and the Steelers at 2-0 and would have made the possibility of winning the division much more remote.

Instead, the offense got off to a hot start and just kept pushing, eventually ending up with 26 points. The defense was also commanding, forcing three turnovers (two forced fumbles and subsequent recoveries and one interception), holding Pittsburgh to just 6 points, and keeping the Steelers out of the red zone for the first time since 2011 (not just agains the Ravens—prior to this game, Pittsburgh had 30 consecutive games with at least one touchdown).

And now they have a long ten day break before they go on the road to face Cleveland. If they can come out of this stretch 2-1 and play another strong game against the Browns, they'll be in prime position to make a run at the division, especially if the Bengals suffer at least one loss over the same stretch. This is the team that I was hoping to see coming out of an offseason that saw them install a new offense, add a lot of new offensive weapons, and transform their defense into a younger, faster unit than they've been in years.


9.15.14
The most disappointing thing about Georgia's loss to South Carolina was that it was actually a very winnable game. Yes, the defense gave up lots of big chunks of yards, leading to an 11 point deficit at the half, but by the beginning of the fourth quarter, they had reduced that to only 3 points—the 3 points that a missed field goal late in the quarter would have given them to tie the game.

Winning this game would have put them in a position to have a solid lock atop the SEC East, and while the loss, especially a close one to a ranked opponent, doesn't take them out of contention, it means they have to play lights out against the rest of their division and hope that some of the other good teams have some bad games along the way.


9.16.14
This weekend was another busy one for us: Saturday started out with Will taking a walk with Julie to the construction site where the school he'll go to next year is being constructed. Later that afternoon we met my sister and her husband for mini golf as a surprise for Will (he loved playing mini golf at the beach during our vacation last month, and he's been talking about wanting to go again), and then we went out to dinner nearby.

Sunday was even busier: on Sunday morning Will went to Sunday school for the first time ever, then church, and then had lunch at home. After a short rest period, Will then went to his first soccer practice ever. He was pretty adorable in his little soccer uniform, and I was actually surprised at his level of engagement with the practice, but there were more than a few times when he was wandering around the field preoccupied with his own interests rather than doing what the coaches said.

He's never done any kind of organized team activities, and several of the kids on the team have (and are also bigger than him because he's one of the youngest on the team), but after initially being very timid, he started to get into it by the end of practice. It's a pretty low key league, though—the kids play three or at a time for 10 minutes, and they don't really keep score because it's more about learning the basics of the sport than it is about real competition. The coaches were both really nice—they've known each other since they were kids and they've had children play in the league before.

My favorite part is the team name. The kids collaboratively came up with a unique team name: the Dragon Bees (which is not a species name that actually seems to exist, but it sure should).


9.17.14
That was already a lot of activity for one day, but when we got home, we got ready to take Will's old tricycle down to a couple down the street who have a two year old girl. We've been talking to him about this for a while - he's been too big for his tricycle for several months now, and additionally he got a scooter and a bike for his birthday this summer, so he doesn't need it anymore even if he wasn't too big for it. But he gets very attached to things, and he was having a hard time with the concept of the tricycle belonging to someone else. We told him it would make the girl very happy to have a tricycle, and he could go down and visit it whenever he wanted to, and even ride his bike with the girl while she rode the tricycle, but he was still resistant. But then suddenly he had a change of heart, so we set up a time when we could ride down and deliver it.

On the way down, however, we got delayed when we ran into some new neighbors who have a 1 year old girl and another girl who is almost exactly the same age as Will (she was born two weeks after him). We made them brownies last week and went down to introduce ourselves, but instead we met their housesitter, who told us that they were on vacation all week. But we learned their names and met their dog, so when we saw them out in their yard, we stopped to introcude ourselves and get to know them a little bit. Will had a ball running around with the girl that was his age, and it took some effort to get him to leave so we could continue on our original errand.

We finally made it down to the little girl's house, and we spent an hour so getting to know the parents a little better while Will ran around with the girl. We also got to meet the father's parents who were visiting, and I chatted awhile with the grandfather—I'd never met him before, but he's from my hometown and plays golf regularly with my father, which is how our two families became aware of each other's existence.

It was a big day for Will, so after we got him home and got through dinner and his bedtime routine, he was out like a light. That's how we know he's really had a great day—he's happy and the end of the day and he goes to sleep quickly. That means we found the perfect balance between finding fun things for him to do that wear him out enough to fall asleep without his normal hour of reading and playing in bed, but not making him so exhausted that he turns into a complete grouch in the hour before bedtime.


9.18.14
Ender's Game is running on HBO now, so I finally got around to watching it after not making it out to see it in the theater last year. Even though this was exactly the kind of book I would have read between ages 12-17, I somehow never got around to this one, but I did read it a few years back after finding a copy that somehow ended up in my library even though I can't recall purchasing it. I liked the book pretty well (let's not get into the politics of the author, please), and it seemed like the kind of story that, with the right casting and the right director, could translate pretty well to the big screen.

It was reasonably entertaining, but I'm not sure that it lives up to the expectations of a fan base that has been waiting for a film adaptation for decades. Although they had to make him older than the book version, the actor who plays Ender Wiggins is a pretty good choice, and both the zero gravity training competitions and the advanced war simulations are well-filmed with great effects. And unlike most current sci-fi or superhero adaptations, it's got a pretty good runtime—it's under two hours, when the tendency these days is to make films like this two and a half or three hours long.

They skipped over too many crucial events in the book to make this truly satisfying for fans of the book—like many adaptations of this type (such as the Harry Potter series), even when the movie versions are good, they are still a pale reflection of the books and only touch on the highest level of the plot and character development. Ender is nothing but a likable protagonist throughout the film, but I remember when I read the book that, even though I was rooting for him, I realized his potential to be a monster, and was always wondering whether he was going to turn out to be a character that you regretted feeling empathy for. And there's very little of that ambiguity that comes through in the movie—even when he does something awful, it's not as awful as the equivalent event in the book, and he's given an easy excuse (he was outnumbered and had to take drastic action, it was an accident, etc., etc.).

Fans of the book will likely want to see this, because there will be things to appreciate about it even as you are disappointed with others. But in the end, the failure of this translation to film might prove that this really is an unfilmable story, because it's clear that the filmmakers were fans of the book and were doing everything in their power to bring it to the big screen intact.


9.19.14
I hate doing performance reviews. Can't I just tell everyone they're doing a great job and leave it at that?


9.22.14
The Ravens won their game in Cleveland yesterday (the 12th time they have won against the Browns in 13 games under coach John Harbaugh), but it was very close and decided in the final seconds.

The games against the Browns aren't the drubbings that they can tend to look like given the lopsided win-loss ratio of the past several years—even though they have played some very bad Browns teams during that stretch, the Ravens tend to play to the level of their opponent, so when they play a bad team they tend to play worse than they really are, and the games against Cleveland can look pretty sloppy and unorganized on both sides.

This game, however, showcased a lot of strong points for both teams, and although I have my doubts about the Browns really engineering a turnaround this season, they are definitely showing much more than they have in recent years (and not just against the Ravens—they nearly beat Pittsburgh in week 1 and stunned the Saints in week 2, so all of their games so far have been very winnable even though they now have a 1-2 record). If Cleveland's ownership can actually keep the coach and offensive coordinator in place for more than a year or two, and if they can stop distracting themselves with the stupid circus that is Johnny Manziel, they might have a chance to gel into a very good team in the next couple of years.

But this time their inexperience showed in the fourth quarter: with the score 21-17 in favor of the Browns, kicker Billy Cundiff (the same kicker who missed a chip shot for the Ravens in the AFC championship game a few years ago that knocked them out of a chance at the Super Bowl that year) blew two chances to add points with a missed field goal from 50 yards that bounced off the uprights and another field goal attempt from much closer that was blocked by Baltimore.

The Ravens, meanwhile, had to settle for a field goal despite a first and goal in the fourth quarter, putting the score at 21-20 for the Browns, and then had to punt it away on what looked like might be their final drive. But the Browns failed on defense, too, going three and out and only taking 1:20 off the clock on their final two possessions and giving up a big chunk of yardage to Steve Smith on a third and long by the Ravens, which put them in field goal range and allowed them to score their final three gamewinning points as time expired. So the final score ended up 23-21 Ravens in what could have been, in a better managed fourth quarter, 20-27 Browns.

The running back corps continues to look very good for Baltimore despite the now-permanent absence of star Ray Rice—I'm guessing we're going to surpass last seasons rushing yards halfway through this season if we keep going at this pace. The big loss for the Ravens was tight end Dennis Pitta suffering another injury to the same hip that kept him out for 12 games last season, ending his season and putting his NFL playing career in jeopardy.

But the Ravens end up a brutal opening three weeks playing all three games against divisional opponents with a respectable 2-1 record, which is what they needed to do to keep their chance at a division championship alive early in the season. It would have been great to be 3-0, but given the quality of the opponents (the Bengals have been even better against their opponents after the Ravens than they were opening week in Baltimore, and the Browns are much better than anyone expected), it's a good outcome. Now they just need to keep this momentum going so they can make sure that they're at least in contention for a wild card spot in the event that they don't win the division outright.

Normally I'll write a separate entry on the Georgia Bulldogs, but this week's laugher against Troy State doesn't justify any real recap. It was a schedule-filler that was supposed to end in a lopsided victory, and it did just that with UGA winning 66-0.


9.23.14
I keep hoping for a nice quiet weekend where we don't have anything on the calendar and I can just hang around the house for a couple of days, but I don't think you really get many of those once you have a very active four year old.

Saturday was pretty low-key—we did some yard work in the morning and early afternoon and then took some brownies over to our new neighbors who have two little girls, one of whom is Will's age. We hung out in their house for a little while and got to know the wife a bit (the husband was at a friend's house watching UNC get demolished by ECU), and then headed home to get ready for a night out.

Every now and then at Will's school they sponsor a parents' night out where they will babysit your kids at school for a few hours while the parents go out on a date, and we always take advantage because we have yet to find an actual babysitter. If Will didn't like it, we might not do it, but he LOVES it—he calls it "dark school" (because it's at night) and he talks about it all week when we tell him. So Saturday was one of those nights, and we went out and had a nice dinner after dropping Will off at school.

We've been wanting to try Bacchanalia for a while now, but even if we try to make reservations as soon as they annouce a parents' night at school, they never have any spots left. So this time I made reservations for us at Anis Cafe and Bistro, a french restaurant recommended by a friend. I'm not normally a big fan of french food, but that might be because I haven't had really good french cuisine very much in my life. But after a recent trip to Cleveland where I had lunch at the incredible L'Albatros Brasserie, I wanted to see if I could find something of similar quality in Atlanta.

Anis was good, and is well worth returning to for both its food and atmosphere, but it wasn't quite as good as L'Albatros. We split their signature appetizer, mussels in a white wine and cream sauce, which was terrific, and then each had a salad. For dinner Julie got tortellin and braised short rib, while I, for comparison purposes, selected the duck confit with lentil ragout, since the cassoulet I had at L'Albatros including duck confit. Both entrees were good (again, I'm looking forward to returning to this restaurant), but in comparison to L'Albatros, they were just a notch below what that restaurant had to offer.

For dessert, Julie got the creme brulee, while I got the flourless chocolate cake. That's usually a dish that Julie prefers, but I had had one of the best versions of this dish in my life at an italian place on that same visit to Cleveland, and so I was craving it. And as with the rest of the meal, it was very good, but not as good as the dish I was comparing it to. Maybe it's not fair to make these kinds of comparisons and set expectations at this level, but it was wanted to reexperience these dishes that made me select a french restaurant in the first place. And we'll definitely return to try their other selections, so even if they didn't quite set a new bar, they still gave us a very nice meal, and the outside seating really added to the experience—it felt very french cafe-ish.

One other thing: each of us also ordered a cafe au lait with our dessert, which I have understood to be coffee made with steamed milk (similar to a latte, but with regular coffee as the base instead of espresso). So I was surprised when the cup of coffee was accompanied with a small pitcher of room-temperature milk which we added to the coffee ourselves (rendering it room temperature as well).

I thought this might be a difference between the American and European versions of the drink, so I did some research and discovered that, although there are regional variations, all of them involve hot or steamed milk. What we had seemed more like "white coffee", which is the European term for adding cold or room temperature milk to coffee. So now I'm trying to figure out if the room temperature milk was a mistake, or if that's how they always serve it—if I order it again next time, I'm going to ask, and if that's really how they serve it, I'm just going to get a latte or a black coffee instead.


9.24.14
Sunday was Will's first real soccer game (last week was just a practice), and I was surprised at how well he did. He's never done an organized team activity before, and he's not particulary inclined to do athletics, but he seemed really into the game when he was on the field.

They play 3 on 3 for ten minutes and then do a switch so everyone has a chance to play, and they have two halves, so Will go two chances to be out on the field. The other team was much better—they were to a person bigger than Will's team, they all seemed to be on the older end of what's allowable for the league, and they also clearly been playing together for more than one season—but despite this, Will really didn't seem to be intimidated—he mostly kept focused on the ball, and despite some early complaints about the heat during the practice phase, he played for his full allotted time.

He's still got a lot to learn—whenever he would get to the lead position in the scrum and actually get a chance to kick the ball, he would stop and admire his work while the pack moved on after the ball (he was not alone in this behavior). But overall I was really pleased with his engagement—I hope it's something he continues to enjoy.

My sister and her husband came to watch the game, so afterwards we had them over to the house to visit for a little while. It's very strange seeing her so often—even though we grew up together, we haven't lived close to one another since I was 16, when I left home for NCSSM and she moved to Florida with my mother. We have always had our differences, but those have grown more tolerable as we've each grown more mature, and it's clear how much she adores Will, so I'm happy for him to have some family members nearby that he gets to see regularly. And her husband is a great influence, too—he's a very calming presence who helps balance out some of my sister's tendencies to react more emotionally to situations.

We had a nice visit with them, and then we let Will have a little nap before dinner since he had had another big weekend while I went downstairs to watch the Ravens game. We had a low-key afternoon and evening and got ready to face the work-week again.


9.25.14
I finally finished Neal Stephenson's The System of the World, which also means that I finished The Baroque Cycle. The last two books definitely picked up the pace, and despite their heft and often-byzantine plot mechanations, there were very few times when I felt like the story was a slog to get through.

Echoing my previous ruminations on Stephson's work, I'm still not sure what the point is to his stories. But his characters are as lovingly crafted as his prose, and he comes as close as anyone ever has to being able to seemlessly work an educational lecture on an obscure topic into a fictional narrative. I enjoy these books on many different levels, and even if there are moments when that joy is slightly muted by the part of my brain that insists on locating an overarching meaning or answer to the puzzle they present, that frustration does nothing to dissuade me from the belief that Stephenson is one of the great literary talents of our time.

I'm likely going to take a break from him for a few weeks, but I've already purchased Anathem and I know it won't be long before I return to his words.


9.26.14
So I got an iPhone 6 a week ago, on the day of its release using the same method I used last time: preordering online using the Apple Store app. I had to get up for a few minutes at midnight Pacific time on the day the preorders started, but by 3:30 my time I was back asleep, and all I had to do on release day was wait for UPS to deliver my new phone (even though it made for a good story the last time I did it, I will never, ever, ever wait in line for one of these devices ever again).

I got the normal iPhone 6, not the gigantic iPhone 6 Plus, and the 6 is still pretty big compared to the 5, which is the model I previously owned. I'm getting used to it, though, and I'm sure that a few months from now the iPhone 5 will seem tiny when I go back to hold it, the same way the the iPhone 4 seems tiny compared to the 5.

The only real problem I had with it was with some assumptions the software made about my music preferences. See, I use iTunes Match to store my music in the cloud, and when I logged onto the phone with my iCloud ID, it realized that I was an iTunes Match user and set a preference that made it so I couldn't manually manage the music on my phone (which is what I've been doing forever) but instead was supposed to download whatever tracks from iTunes Match that I wanted to physically have on my phone.

Now, I keep 30 or 40 gigs of music on my phone (and now even more with the 128 gig iPhone 6), and so it started trying to download all of that when I asked it to play music from one of my bigger playlists. In order to stop this, I deleted the playlist from the phone, and it decided that I also wanted to delete this playlist from both iCould and from the iTunes application on my computer (without asking me if this is what I wanted to have happen).

Long story short, I had to restore the phone from a backup twice before I discovered the iTunes Match preference and turned it off, and now I'm back to managing the music like I always have. But it was a tremendous pain in the ass to figure this out and get my phone to work like it has always worked, and it was very unlike my typical experience with Apple software.


9.29.14
Another solid game from the Ravens, likely their best performance so far this year. Each week they've gotten better, and with a 3-1 record, they now sit at second place in the division and are looking like real contenders. This game was an especially big test for them—not only is their secondary still not a full strength with Lardarius Webb only playing four snaps so far this season (and none yesterday), but their veteran left tackle Eugene Monroe is out for several weeks after surgery on his knee and was replaced by an undrafted rookie. The result: another solid rushing performance and zero sacks on Joe Flacco.

The next stretch is a little rough: after playing three of their first four games at home, they now go on the road for four of their next five, including away games against division rivals Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. If they can win those two division games and win at least two of the other three games (and possibly even just one), they'll face what is so far a terrible Titans team in Baltimore before their bye week and could be in prime position to be the division leaders heading into the season's final stretch.

Meanwhile on the college side, UGA won their game against an unranked Tennessee team, but just barely. If not for the incredible Todd Gurley, who makes his case for the Heisman stronger every time he sets foot on the field, you get the feeling the Bulldogs wouldn't even be in the top 25 this year; he is carrying the team and everyone knows it. As long as he doesn't get hurt, this will probably translate into a decent season, but even if they win the SEC East, it's hard to envision them having a shot at the national title, especially as they'll likely have to go through either Alabama or Auburn to win the SEC championship and have a chance to make the national playoffs.


9.30.14
Another busy weekend, like most of our recent weekends: Saturday Will and Julie went to a birthday party for two of his classmates before Julie and I went out to dinner with some friends while my sister and brother-in-law had a movie and pizza night at our house with Will, and Sunday was church and Will's soccer game.

The evening out with friends was interesting: they were actually two couples who are parents of two of Will's classmates, and we're still getting to know them on the friend level, but one of the couples is here from Austria for a few years, and the wife has really been wanting to go to a rooftop bar in downtown Atlanta before they return home next spring. So she did some research and settled on SkyLounge. And since this is atop the Glenn Hotel, she made dinner reservations for Glenn's Kitchen, the in-house restaurant on the first floor of the building.

The first complication was the parking: the restaurant supposedly had mandatory valet parking, but when we pulled up to the hotel garage, we were turned away, saying that they were only accepting guests of the hotel. This turned out to be because not only was there a huge hip hop festival headlined by hometown heroes Outkast being held a few blocks away in Centennial Park, but Garth Brooks was also finishing out a run of seven sold out shows in Philips Arena just down the street from the hotel.

Luckily, there was a garage right across the street that still had some spaces, and although it was expensive, at least it was close by and didn't disrupt our dinner reservation too much. The food was okay, but it was pricey for what it was and the place was strangely uncrowded. But we were really there for the SkyLounge, so we passed on dessert and got ready to head up to the roof for after dinner drinks.

This is when the second and more serious complication occurred: apparently in Georgia you can't even go into a bar without ID, even if you are (as everyone in our party was) clearly over 25 or 30 or whatever—it's not just a matter of not being able to buy a drink without ID, they won't even let you in the place without one (which is really strange when I think about the fact that all of us except for an expectant mother ordered drinks in the restaurant at the same hotel and none of us were carded). And two people in our group, including the woman who had arranged the whole thing, had neglected to bring their IDs, and the doorman just wouldn't let us go up (he did call his manager to plead our case, but it ended up being a no).

So we ended up walking down to the CNN center so a few people could get some ice cream as a dessert, and then headed back to our cars before all the concerts let out and the roads got ridiculous. I felt really bad for the woman who had organized the whole thing, especially because, as we found out during the course of the evening, it was actually her birthday that day and this was the second time she had attempted to go to a rooftop bar downtown and had some snafu prevent her from accomplishing her goal. We all promised to try again soon, but I could tell she was really disappointed with the outcome.

We had a good time, though, and hopefully we will be able to do it again. We've never really done much going out with other adults, and that has been exacerbated since Will arrived, but it was nice to go out and pretend to be grown ups for an evening.

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