march 2017

3.1.17
Today is Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent, and for some reason Will has really latched onto the idea of giviing something up this year. We haven't pushed that on him—I used to be more intentional about doing this each year, but I can't remember the last time I (or Julie) consciously gave something up. It might be ten years or more—well before he was actually born.

And here's what decided to give up: Minecraft videos on YouTube. For those of you who live a blessed enough existence not to be aware of this corner of the internet, there are a lot of people who make quite a bit of money by playing video games and recording their exploits while talking over them (seriously, talk to any person under age 12 and they are almost certain to know what you're talking about and be fans).

Without fail, they have annoying voices and talk way too loud, and Will's favorites are Pat and Jen, a married couple who play new Minecraft maps and talk to each other as they explore them together. We put a limit on how much he could watch these during his already-limited windows of screen time throughout the day, and he would often save them for his snacktime because he treasures them so much and that's when he's generally watching tv without any other distractions.

All that to say that this really is a pretty big deal for him to be giving up, and although I'm not sure he's going to be able to make it the whole 40 days, I really have to give him credit for being willing to give up something that's really important to him, and not something that would technically be giving something up but which wouldn't be nearly as hard.

In solidarity, Julie and I are both giving something up as well, Julie her morning treat of sweetened coffee milk (a much cheaper version of a Starbucks frappuccino), and me something that I'm not ready to name because I'm not sure if I'll be able to do mine for 40 days either.


3.2.17
Will has gotten much more adventurous about spicy foods over the past couple of months, which, as a lover of spicy foods who didn't eat anything even remotely hot until I was in my 20s, really warms my heart. It started with sriracha, which I would put in little dots on his chicken nuggets, which has since expanded to sriracha on pizza, etc.

Then we tried jalapenos, which he took to immediately, and more typical hot sauces like Frank's Red Hot, which he also liked on things like tacos. He's also been getting jalapenos and the creamy sriracha sauce on his Subway sandwiches, and getting the spicy mayo (similar to the creamy sriracha sauce) on his food at a nearby Korean place called Bull Gogi. And when we went to a local arepas place for dinner over the weekend, he slathered his with their milder (milder being a very relative term) thai chili sauce, but he still tasted the very, very hot habanero sauce.

I was a very timid eater for a very long time, and as much as I love food of all types now, I can't help but think of the two decades of wasted opportunities that passed before the culinary would really started to open up my horizons. I'm beyond thrilled that it doesn't look like this will be the case for Will—by the time he leaves our home, I hope he's as educated and experienced with global cuisines as we are, and that he'll take that with him and make that part of how experiences the wider world when he makes his own way into it.


3.3.17
My mom is coming for a visit this weekend, which is always great for Will—they really enjoy hanging out with each other. Even though he loves all of his grandparents equally (they are all very different), she's the goofiest and the most willing to do his imaginary play with him. She's been at my sister's house the last couple of days, but she'll come tonight to do movie night with us and then stay through Monday, so Will will have plenty of time with her.


3.6.17
As expected, it was a busy weekend with my mom. On Saturday, she went with Will to the Fernbank museum for the afternoon and then we met my sister and her husband for dinner at a new Cuban place (our second time there, and another example of Will's recent openess to new cuisines).

On Sunday they went up to Will's school to practice bike riding in the parking lot. Later that afternoon Will and my mom put on a Will-directed puppet and music show for me and Julie, and then Julie, Will, and my mom went out to dinner together.

She stayed to say goodbye to him this morning, but she'll be gone by the time he gets home from school. We've got a busy travel schedule between now and June—three out of town family trips and probably a couple of conferences for me—but hopefully we'll find time to host her again or go see her before she comes for his birthday in July.


3.7.17
On Sunday night while Will went to dinner with Julie and my mom, I was attending the inaugural game of the inaugural season of Atlanta's first Major League Soccer team, Atlanta United. I've tried to get into it over the years by watching the Premiere League, but I'm not a huge soccer fan. But two of my friends are big fans, and so when one of them got an early place on the season ticket selection list, we decided to all buy seats together through him—two tickets each for my friends and one ticket for me, so a block of five seats altogether.

They were originally scheduled to play all of their games in the new Mercedes-Benz stadium where the Falcons will start playing next season, but that project is a little behind schedule, so all the games through July will be played at Georgia Tech's football field. It's not quite as accessible via Marta as the new stadium will be, just becase we have to change lines from where we leave from (while the new stadium is right on our line), but there's still a stop that's only about a ten minute walk from the Georgia Tech field, so that's not too bad.

The game was at 7:30, so we all met at the Marta station at around 5:30. It wasn't too crowded at the more outlying station where we got on, but there were plenty of people with Atlanta United gear on who were clearly going to the game as well, and the crowds (and percentage of people wearing gear) increased the closer we got to the stadium stop, especially at the transfer station where all the lines in the city meet.

The stadium was packed—the first-game crowd was at the 55,000 person capacity of the stadium, and it was impossible to think about food/drink or bathrooms without a significant wait. We had great seats—for season ticket holders, they tried to make your vantage point in the Georgia Tech stadium mimic as closely as possible the view you'll have in the soon-to-be-opened stadium, so we were on the first row of the second deck at midfield, which was a great vantage point—very easy to see the whole field and really keep up with the ebb and flow of the game.

People were really, really into it, cheering and clapping (and yelling and cursing) for great plays/sequences or bad calls, and the game went by so quick. This is my first time watching professional soccer, and I am sold on this experience—it reminded me a lot of watching hockey in person, where everyone around you is an expert on the nuances of the game and is completely into the action. It's a very different experience than watching it on television, alone on your couch and generally uninformed about the finer points of the gameplay.

They have supposedly sold about 30,000 season tickets for this opening season, and they are closing off a lot of the Georgia Tech stadium for the remaining games there, so the seats that are in use for those games should still be pretty full. And even though it was cool to see 55,000 people out in force to support the team, 30,000 people is nothing to sneeze at, especially given the fickle and fair-weather nature of fans in this town.

Atlanta United scored the first goal, but they ultimately ended up losing 2-1. Our keeper just wasn't performing that well, and when the New York team started to get more consistent time around our goal in the second half, he just couldn't hold them at bay. Still, everyone was pretty excited about the turnout and the fact that they didn't get clobbered 5-1 like the other expansion team did in their opening game, but we'll see if that enthusiasm persists after a full season of losing. I can tell you something though: I've been a Braves fan for decades, but I'm much more excited about supporting this new team and their likely-terrible inaugural year than I am in going to see the Braves at a brand new, completely unnecessary stadium that's not even in the city of Atlanta.


3.8.17
"These are the stupidest pants I've ever weared!"

Yelled angrily by my son last night as he struggled out of a pair of probably-a-little-too-small-for-him pants while getting ready for bed last night.


3.9.17
Another thing Will has gotten more adventurous about (in addition to hiw willingness to try new foods, particularly spicy foods) is the movies he's willing to watch on our Friday night movie nights. We were trapped in animated movie land forever, and although there are a lot more quality offerings in that area than there used to be, we were running out of new content and were repeating the same movies over and over.

But we finally got him to watch the first Harry Potter movie, and that eventually led to move live action movies getting into the mix. And then a couple of months ago, he saw five minutes of Back to the Future and got very interested in seeing that, which kicked off a sustained interest in 80s movies: all three Back to the Future movies, the Goonies, WarGames, and most recently, Short Circuit, which might be his favorite (and which I didn't realize until recently was directed by the same guy who directed WarGames, who was also the director of Saturday Night Fever).

We still watch the occasional animated film too, but mostly new releases that we haven't seen in the theaters, and there are a few more 80s classics that he might be ready for: Indiana Jones, Beetlejuice, and the Bill and Ted movies, to name a few. It's funny to see which ones really capture his imagination—I was pretty sure he was going to love Short Circuit (he loves robots, especially nice ones with anthropomorphic qualities), but Back to the Future was a little bit of a surprise to me.

It might be time to revisit the Star Wars series as well—he saw it first when he was just barely five years old and they were really the first live-action movies he'd seen, but he's almost seven now, and those intervening 18 months will probably make a big difference in how engaged he gets with them.


3.10.17
Less than two weeks until decision release. Things have actually been going pretty well given 1) the immense amount of change in university leadership and the unanticipated meddling by the new executives and 2) the fact that we've implemented three or four major new processes this year, most of them during the reading cycle.

The proof will come when we release decisions, and then again about a month later when we get to the deposite deadline, and there's still a lot of work to do between now and then, but we've had three smaller releases already this application year, and all of those have gone as expected. My team has also been given permission to hire a new salary line, so that, in combination with backfilling a currently vacant role, should give us a lot more redundancy and ability to evenly distribute work over the summer and heading into next year.

This could be a year of big change in our office as well, which has been mostly untouched by the larger changes in the institution. We have a lot of people who have been with the office for a long time (I've been here almost five years, and I'd say that about half the office has been here longer than I have), and depending on who they choose to fill the permanent roles for the leadership positions that oversee our office, we could have a larger than usual number of folks decide to test the market and get better offers elsewhere.

But I'll worry about that in a few months. Right now we just have to get through the next few weeks.


3.13.17
Friday was a teacher workday at Will's school, so Julie had made plans to take Will and one of his classmates who lives a couple of streets over to Legoland. The day before, however, the girl's mom told us they wouldn't be able to go because she (the mom) wasn't feeling. But Julie offered to take the daughter even if the mom couldn't come, and they agreed, so Will got to spend several hours at one of his favorite places with a friend. Bonus: she had never been before, and Will LOVES playing tour guide, so being able to show her around made it even more fun for him.

For our Friday night movie, we watched another 80s classic, Pee Wee's Big Adventure. Will seemed to like it pretty well—a grown up who acts like a kid and a focus on a cool bike were strong attractors—but I don't know that he is going to return to this one anytime soon like he has with some of the other recent 80s movies we've watched like Short Circuit and WarGames.

On Saturday we went to the Tour deCatur race together, where Julie and Will ran the 1 mile and I ran the 5K. I was slower than I was last year, which wasn't that much of a surprise—I've gotten back some of my running habits, but I weigh a little bit more than I did at this time last year, I haven't been running outdoors in hilly terrain very much, and I'm still having this nagging heel issue. But I've signed up for a few more races between now and June, and I'm going to try to do the Peachtree again in July, and now that the weather should be warming up I'll be about to resume my outdoor regimen.

Will had a few other activities over the weekend—a birthday party on Saturday afternoon, Sunday school and church on Sunday morning, and a bike riding session with Julie on Sunday afternoon—but all in all it was a pretty typical weekend for him.


3.14.17
Will has been so adventurous with food recently that on Saturday night we decided to take him out for a special treat: his first time having sushi. He's been more intrigued by this idea recently, thanks to a couple of things that really have nothing to do with sushi: a video game he plays where a Japanese cat has to collect pieces of sushi, and the movie Short Circuit, where the robot Number Five says the word sushi (Will has grown very fond of imitating Number Five since he first saw the movie a few weeks ago).

He already loves miso soup, so that was an easy start to the meal, and we tried to pick some starter rolls that he could sample: bagel roll (salmon with cream cheese and cucumber), unagi roll (barbecued eel), spicy tuna roll, shrimp tempura roll, and, at Will's request because he liked the name, a spider roll (fried soft shell crab). He tried a few pieces and seemed to like them (he did best with the unagi and the spicy tuna), but he was really tired and was acting out a bit, and he also probably wasn't that hungry because he had pizza late in the afternoon at a birthday party.

So it was a success in that he ate some, didn't dislike it, and is open to trying it again, but he didn't try as much or really seem to embrace it like we'd hoped. But we'll definitely try it again sometime soon when he's less tired and more hungry.


3.15.17
It was 28 degrees when I went to work this morning. Three weeks ago we were in the 70s. I wonder what the temperature will be like next week when it's officially spring.


3.16.17
a poem that has
just seventeen syllables
may be a haiku


3.17.17
Julie doesn't go to concerts with me very often—I've become very accustomed to going alone to see shows—but she'll be joining me for three of the four shows that I have tickets for in March and April. The first of these was Regina Spektor, which happened last night at the Tabernacle.

I didn't go online to buy tickets when they went on sale, so I had to resort to StubHub for our seats this time because the good seats quickly sold out (the Tabernacle doesn't always do reserved seats, so sometimes you can get a great seat just by showing up early, but for this show, only the floor was general admission). And since the difference in price between the uppper balcony and the center of the lower balcony weren't that different, I splurged and got us seats in that section.

I usually decide when to show up for a concert (especially one where I have reserved seats) based on whether I have any interest in seeing the opening act, but I couldn't find any evidence that Spektor had an opening act for this tour. The tickets said the show started at 8, so just to be safe, I made sure we were there by 7:30. And I'm glad I did—she didn't start promptly at 8, but she did not have an opener, and she was on stage before 8:30, leaving many people who arrived at 8:30 or 9 scrambling to find their seats during the show.

There were a lot of folks our age or older at this show—it was a pretty sedate crowd - but they were all very into Regina Spektor. The people who sat directly in front of us were a mother and daughter, and although the girl was probably only 10 years old, she knew every song, and was calling out for the songs she wanted to hear. Everyone in our section noticed her—in a good way—and so when I went down to the merch booth to get will a souvenir (an 80s-inspired grapic tee with a space shuttle taking off in a rainbow), I got one for her as well.

When I gave it to her after the show, she thought at first that I had found it on the floor and thought it was hers, so she refused, but then when she realized I was giving it to her, she was so happy, and Julie and I exchanged hugs with her and her mom. She put the shirt on immediately, and she was still beaming from seeing her favorite artist when we left them.

One of the reasons I go to shows is because of the transformative power of live music, but because I go to so many, it can be easy to get jaded and forget about the magic of being surrounded by a fuller, richer, more visceral version of the music you know from the recorded versions. Seeing this girl experiencing this for likely the first time is something that brought me back to my earliest experiences with live music, and I hope that she'll never forget that night the same way I'll never forget my first shows.


3.20.17
Will's been struggling a little bit at school recently—talking too much with friends, copying bad behavior/language, and also seeming to get in more conflicts with his friends—but none of it was really all that bad. Until a few days ago, however—when Julie went to pick him up, the aftercare teacher needed to see her in private with Will so he could tell her something.

It turns out that he and his closest female friend (she lives around the corner from us, and they both stay at aftercare until after 5 most days) had started drawing on one of the exterior doors when they were outside playing. But they didn't use chalk—they used rocks, scratching the paint down to the metal.

Will was mortified to tell Julie about it (and later me), and the teacher said he had been bawling about it the whole afternoon and she clearly felt that was punishment enough, but we really wanted him to understand the consequences of his actions in a more substantial way.

He earns coins for doing good things, and he can save those up to trade in for cash value towards a toy he wants, so we figured that the paint would cost $20 and made him cash in enough coins to cover that, which took him from 31 coins to just 1, setting him back pretty far from the toy he's been saving up for. He also made an apology card to the aftercare teachers, and we let the school know that, if it was allowed, we wanted Will to help repaint the doors himself.

We don't have to punish Will that often because he's generally pretty well behaved, especially at school, so hopefully this will have the appropriate impact on him. He does seem genuinely sorry about it, but the lesson I really want him to learn is not just about damaging someone else's property—it's about learning to make good decisions even when your friends are making bad decisions.


3.21.17
The second Atlanta United home game was last Saturday afternoon against the Chicago Fire, and it was as raucous and fun as the inaugural game. The home team got off to an early start, scoring a goal within the first five minutes, and then Chicago pretty much sealed its own fate when one of its players got a red card a few minutes later, meaning they played the majority of the 90 minute contest with only 10 men on the field. Atlanta wouldn't score again until after the half, but by the end, the score was a decisive 4-0, giving the United their first home victory.

The crowd control and lines for things seemed a little more manageable this time. This was partly due to the fact that they closed off part of the stadium (so the second sellout had about 10,000 fewer people than the first sellout), but it also seemed like they opened up more concessions, etc., so the crowds could spread out to more locations. I was looking forward to seeing the game in the afternoon sun, but I think I actually preferred the evening game—the stadium lights lit the field equally in all parts, whereas the location of the sun later in the afternoon and the location of our seats meant that part of the field was in shadow AND the sun was directly in our eyes.

The next game isn't until the end of April, and it will be interesting to see if interest in these games by the city at large continues once we hit warmer weather and the baseball season gets underway. The team has sold something like 30,000 season tickets, which would at least put the Georgia Tech stadium at more than half capacity every time, but just because people have the tickets doesn't mean they're going to come. But it's been such a great experience so far, i don't know anyone who wouldn't want to show up and be a part of this first season.


3.22.17
In happier Will news, we found out that his writing entry that won for his school and was sent on to the district level also won at that level, which moved it on to the state level. He didn't win anything at the state level, but I'm so proud of him for submitting entries each year, and it's a bonus that they've won and had a positive reinforcement effect.


3.23.17
A few months ago, Will saw me playing Monument Valley on my iPad and watching along with me, experiencing Ida's story as I played through the puzzles. When I finished, he asked if he could play himself, and I agreed, thinking that some of the harder puzzles past the first couple of levels would stump him and he'd get bored with it, or at the very least that he'd want to play it together with me.

At first this seemed to be the case—he'd hit a wall with a level, want my help finishing it, and then not return to the game for a few days. But a couple of weeks ago he showed renewed interest in the game, and in that time, not only has he completed all the levels of the original game completely on his own, he's played through the first expansion and started on the second expansion. Some of these levels are really, really hard, and not only did he not ask for help on any of them, he didn't give up, either.

Monument Valley is beautiful and intricate, but also pretty limited—a company with a hit like that on its hands could have kept making levels and expansions endlessly with the concept, but they seem to be satisfied with the current number of levels and don't seem to be in the process of making more expansions or a Monument Valley 2. So I'd like to find some other puzzle games like this for Will—I can completely get behind him spending more time on the iPad if it's going to be exercising his brain.


3.24.17
I recently finished a second book recommended to me by a physics professor at my institution, this one a non-fiction work called How the Hippies Saved Physics.

The basic premise is that, during WWII and the Cold War era that followed, almost all physicists in were trained to work on practical problems, mostly related to warfare, instead of engaging with the more philosophical aspects of the theories that underpinned the practical work, and were it not for a combination of a collapse in the government-funded job market for physicists and the influence of the 60s counterculture on some of the physicists who might otherwise have been employed at weapons labs, the focus on theoretical questions that led to contemporary breakthroughs (both philosophical and practical) would have never happened.

It was a decent read, especially once I got past the early dense lessons on things like Bell's Theorem (I skipped over several pages with math diagrams and I don't think my understanding of the book was lessened significantly), but I'm not sure that it deserved an entire book. Maybe a few longform articles on the most significant players would have done just as well, and would have avoided some sections that felt inessential to the main narrative.

It did give me insight into the history of physics in the 20th century that I wasn't explicitly aware of, and the central thesis seems to be strong. But I'm not sure I would recommend it, even to a physics enthusiast—it didn't reveal anything new about the central theorems that these physicists were responsible for creating and/or promoting, and it sometimes got bogged down in personal details that didn't add much to the overall narrative.


3.27.17
We didn't go to church yesterday because Julie had a lunch outing with some friends, so I decided to take Will out for our own special brunch together. First we tried Sun in My Belly, a place where Julie and I went to breakfast when we were visiting Atlanta to decide whether we wanted to move here, but it was packed—we couldn't find parking and we didn't want to wait an hour for a table, so we went elsewhere.

I thought about a couple of more traditional brunch places, but in the end, I decided to try Golden Drops Cafe, a South American coffee place on North Decatur in the same building where my much-missed Sobban Korean Southern Diner used to be. We got a sampling of food to share: a mini-Cuban sandwich, a couple of kinds of empenadas, and a little dessert thing, and it was all very good.

The best thing I had, though, was the coffee. I got the signature Golden Latte, and I don't know exactly what was in it or how they prepared it, but it was incredibly delicious. It went perfectly with the sandwich and empenadas, and if they had something like that in the Starbucks that's in the bottom floor of my building, I can guarantee you I would be a daily coffee drinker.

For an added special treat, I also took Will to see the new Lego Batman movie that afternoon. He totally loved it, and I thought I liked it too, but I'm realizing that I already don't even really remember the plot, so...


3.28.17
After being REALLY turned off by the opening episode of the current season of The Walking Dead, I've finally started watching again, and I've now made it through the first half of the season and have watched a couple of episodes of the second half. And here's the problem: while the grotesque, over the top, unnecessary violence and cruelty of the premiere episode have not been repeated (overall this season might be less gruesome than the past couple), the show has now gotten...well, boring.

Negan had the potential to be the best villain yet, but we see too much of him, we see how tenuous his grasp on power is (someone is going to kill him at some point, whether that's Rick's group, his lieutenants, or his concubines), and we see how utterly lacking depth or complexity the character has. He's essentially a cartoon at this point, a collection of creepy grins, homey vocal inflections, and body mannerisms that define him much more than his psychological makeup. He's a sociopath, plain and simple, and sociopaths just aren't that interesting because, once you get beyond the manipulation and narcissism, there's no there there.

However much mischief he might cause in the short term, he will not survive forever, and the structure he's built around him will not survive him—either a more sane leader will take his place and reorganize his core colony around self-sufficiency or cooperation with other colonies, or it will descend into civil war chaos where the warring factions will all but destroy one another.

The whole Negan storyline (which will hopefully be wrapped up by the end of this season or very early next season), however, is a repeat of what has been the pattern for the core group since they found the prison: they find a way to set up a life for themselves in a new location after absorbing some new characters (most of whom are shortly to become corpses), a rival group starts slowly appearing on the fringes of their territory, that group is inevitably led by a monomaniacaly crazy person, and tensions build until there is an all out war, typically forcing a relocation.

This same basic story has played out several times since season 3, and while they've amped up the intensity of the bad guys each time, that's a game they can't continue indefinitely. In fact, I'd argue that they can't go any farther than they've gone with Negan—fans will not stand for another set of brutal executions of beloved characters just so the writers can show you how much meaner and crazier this new guy is compared to the last one.

The show needs a new pattern altogether, one where humans are actually cooperating with one another, or where there's hope that the virus that creates the dead can be neutralized or eradicated. The argument of the writers seems to be that humans are horrible monsters who will inevitably descend into chaos, killing, and completley selfish behavior without the constraints of a rigidly structured society, but what they forget is that, at many points in the long history of our species, primitive, unstructured social groups have come together with other groups and not just fought with one another until there was no one left.

The complex society that The Walking Dead descended from would have never existed in the first place if humans weren't capable of more than just selfish raw survival, and there's no reason to believe that this would change because of this particular catastrophe. The writers seem intent on showing us how ugly humans can be towards one another, but they forget to show us what our history has repeatedly shown us: cooperative societies are born just as often as fascist ones, and not all cooperative societies are doomed to failure when competing with kingdoms that depending on slavery and servitude.


3.29.17
I've gotten used to going to concerts alone, because so many of the bands I like end up playing on weeknights and most of the people I know who might consider going to the shows are my age and have more difficulty working up the energy and formulating the family extraction plan that are required for a show during the work week. So it's a nice surprise when I run into someone without prior planning.

This was the case with the second Magnetic Fields show that I saw last night at the Variety. I don't often decide to get a drink before the show, but I felt like a beer would nicely enhance the experience for this concert. As I approached the bar to get in line, I practically bumped into one of my college roommates, Jonathan, who I hadn't seen since we came to the Guided By Voices show at the same venue last fall.

We didn't sit together (assigned seats), but I did have a great time catching up with him before the show and during intermission (yes, there was an intermission for a rock concert). We left promising to get together again soon, but knowing us, it will probably be at least another six months, and it might well occur by happenstance just as it did last night.


3.30.17
We're taking Will on a trip for his spring break, and we're leaving tomorrow, so no more posts for a few days. This should be a fun excursion—not only are we taking him to DC for a couple of days, we're also visiting Charlottesville (where we got married) and Baltimore. He was too young to remember going down to DC when we still lived in the area, so this will kind of be his first time visiting, and he's so excited, especially about seeing the Washington Monument.

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