september 2019

9.3.19
Busy weekend as usual, especially for a holiday weekend. On Saturday we walked to Decatur and spent the afternoon at the Decatur Book Festival. It seems like they need to think of some ways to revitalize this once-famous festival—it seems like it gets smaller and smaller every year, and they don't seem to get many big name authors.

I still like going, but even if I find something I'd like to read there, I'm not going to buy anything—I read things pretty much exclusively on a Kindle now, and I don't know of any way to give brick and mortar booksellers credit for helping me find a book if I buy it online. I feel bad about this, but I also know that 1) I don't need to create storage space for the 40+ books that I read every year (and I'm also a hoarder, so I would never give them away or resell them) and 2) there's no way I'd read as much as I do now if not for ebooks.

On Sunday we went out to my mom's to have lunch. It turned out that she was already planning to have lunch with my brother in law (my sister is off on a cruise with some of her friends), so we joined him and a few of he and my sister's friends, including the recent high school graduate who runs errands for my mom and helps her out around the house. We met at a local pizza place that we've taken her to once before, and where she usually has leftovers, which is good—she doesn't eat very much, but when she has leftovers for lunch, she'll usually have them for dinner that night.

I have a complicated relationship with my mom, and I have my own larger family issues that still linger in my relationships with my parents and siblings, so it's sometimes hard to see past those entanglements and be empathetic with my mother on a purely human level. So it's interesting to me to meet people that don't have that difficult history and baggage with her, and who as a result are able to see more of the positive aspects of who she is than I'm sometimes able to.


9.4.19
On Monday we had a surprise for Will: another trip to Suntrust to watch the Braves. I was prompted to look for tickets by an invite to a special party for members of the premium Kids Club (which only costs $25 per season, and comes with a goodie bag and a pass that lets you line up at the front of the line for Kids Run the Bases, which happens after every Sunday home game). Not only did you get in an hour before the stadium opened to everyone else, you also go to do all the games and rides in the play area for free for an hour and then got to walk around the field in a pregame parade led by the Braves mascot, Blooper.

Since they're doing so good this year, I wasn't sure if I could find cheap tickets, but there was a block of them in the Infiniti Club area for far below face value. I also learned from our last afternoon trip and bought tickets on the side that gets shade earliest. Will really loved all the games and activities before the game, and he always has fun at the Infiniti Club.

The Braves do special days for many of the SEC and ACC schools throughout the season, and it just happened that Labor Day was the UGA tie-in where you could buy a special ticket package that included a co-branded Braves and UGA hat. I really, really wanted one, but all as far as I knew, the only way to get one was to buy one of the special tickets, and unfortunately, all the cheap ones were gone by the time I figured it out.

I actually approached a couple of groups of people who had six or eight hats to see if I could buy one, and one of them told me they had a limited supply in the main team store. So we went immediately and they still had a few in stock; I bought two, along with a stuffed baseball man for Will, a shirt for Julie, and a shirt for me.

The Braves were only leading by one run going into the eighth inning, but they scored two more to take a commanding 6-3 lead into the ninth. Toronto didn't score in their last three outs, and the Braves won without having to come to bat in the 9th. Hopefully their great season will continue and we'll get a chance to see them in the playoffs in October.


9.5.19
UGA kicked off another promising football season with a 30-6 win over fellow SEC East team Vanderbilt playing in Nashville. That margin of victory was not as high as some predicted, but the outcome was never really in doubt: UGA was up by three touchdowns before Vanderbilt scored their first points via a field goal, which they followed with a second field goal. But 21-6 was as close as it would get—UGA didn't allow any other points but scored nine more via three field goals.

They lost a lot of experienced players to the NFL draft on both offense and defense, and you could tell that things aren't quite gelling completely yet, especially on the final three drives of the game where they had to settle for field goals instead of touchdowns. That won't cut it against their strongest competitors, but they have two more home games to warm up with before they get their first real challenge: Notre Dame in Athens in late September.


9.6.19
I just finished reading Billion Dollar Whale: The Man Who Fooled Wall Street, Hollywood, and the World by Tom Wright and Bradley Hope (both from the Wall Street Journal). It's related to my other recent non-fiction selections because it's the story of a con man (maybe the ultimate con man, aside, of course, from the creature currently occupying the White House), but unlike my previous books, his greed wasn't centered around cultural objects like books or paintings (although he interestingly used paintings as a way to protect some of his illegally gotten earnings).

This book tells the story of Jho Low, a western-educated citizen of Malaysia who used his connections in the world of finance and in the Malaysian government to embezzle billions from the Malaysian people and from semi-gullible financial institutions (who also profited handsomely from his scams). There are A LOT of details about the intricacies and loopholes in the global financial system and how Low utilized them to make himself, his friends, and his patrons very wealthy with very few real repercussions for any of them, and Wright and Hope do a great job of leading you through this maze without overwhelming you.

One of the key differences between Low and other Wall Street scammers is that he craved the spotlight, and used his stolen money not only to buy showy properties around the globe and a mega yacht, but also to throw lavish parties with celebrity guests. He even went so far as to found a Hollywood production company, the main achievement of which was to produce Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

(It's not a coincidence that Low wanted to finance this movie—financier Jordan Belford, the subject of the film, is a hero of his, although tellingly, Belfort, who is trying to stay on the straight and narrow, refused to do business with Low, saying he instinctively knew that Low's money was illegally gained based on the lack of care with which he spent it.)

This book is along the lines of Michael Lewis' investigations of Wall Street, but with a lot more odd characters and downright bizarre situations thrown in for color. And it's depressing for the same reasons, showing how easy it is for the global elite to make/steal money without really doing anything that adds value to the world, and all being willing to take a too-good-to-be-true deal at face value if it means they'll get rich as well.

Low is a wanted fugitive in several countries, but as of yet he has not been tried in any of them, and it's unlikely he ever will be. No one knows exactly where he is, but given that he still has access to hundreds of millions of dollars (at least), it's suspected that he's moving secretly around China, using his wealth to hide his tracks but also still live a very extravagant lifestyle. And that's probably the element of this story that resonates most strongly with the events of the past few years: a wealthy man who made the lives of untold millions of people worse so he could have the attention of celebrities and live a life far more luxurious than he deserved, with no repercussions whatsoever (aside from the relatively minor inconvenience of having some of your toys and houses seized by various governments).


9.9.19
UGA played their first home game this weekend, a warm up game against Murray State that they won handily—the final score was 63-17. They have one more of these against Arkansas State this weekend before they face their first real opponent in week 4.

The Ravens kicked off their season with a bang, playing an away game in Miami where they defeated the Dolphins 59-10 ( a bigger margin of victory than UGA had over Murray State). They set franchise records for points in the first half, total points, and total yards, with 265 yards on the ground for 2 touchdowns and 378 yards in the air for an astonishing 6 touchdowns.

Miami seems to have decided to tank this season, but this game was still a great confidence builder for a young team that didn't play its starters very much in the preseason. I know they won't score as easily and as often as they scored in this game the rest of the season, but this is a fun, exciting team to watch, and I guarantee that not every team is going to be able to beat the Dolphins by this big a margin.


9.10.19
I started playing World of Warcraft back in 2004, about three weeks after it first launched (December 10, to be exact). Since then I've played steadily, partly because it has grown more accommodating to players like me who don't necessarily have time to login every day, and who don't necessarily have more than 20 or 30 minutes to play even when we're able to login (whereas most content in the early years required a minimum block of an hour or two to really accomplish anything, and even longer than that for endgame content). But mostly it's been because of the people I've met in the game, many of who I have now also me and become friends with in real life.

Recently Blizzard decided to launch a Classic version of the the game that attempts to replicate the 2004 experience, including the lower quality graphics and a lot of the annoying interface issues that have since been refined or redone through the various expansion packs over the years. I wasn't intending to revisit this world—the experience then was poorer quality in almost every way, and there were a lot of intentional time sinks and artificial barriers to progress that you could only overcome by grinding—but in a smart move, they made this version of the game available to anyone who already had a subscription to the current version of the game. Given that the main game is in a little bit of a content lull right now, I decided to give it a try.

It was fun from a pure nostalgia perspective for a couple of hours—my main character is a night elf, and in the current version of the game their home city/island has been burned to ashes, and the second area you quest in has been taken over by the other faction, so you can't go back and repeat those opening quests again—but the game quickly reminded me why it took so much time to accomplish so little. And without the social fabric that made my original time in game not only bearable but fun, I quickly got bored with the poor quest design, the lack of progress based purely on lack of funds, and the endless running back and forth.

I got my character to level 12 (out of 60) and made it to the second questing area, but the grind just gets more difficult and longer with each successive level going forward, and I doubt that I'll ever login to the Classic version of the game again. I am curious to see what they do with it—will they keep advancing this version, including the successive expansion packs and their interface changes, or create a separate instance for each version of the game—but I'm going to do that by reading articles on gaming sites, not by having those experiences myself. I've already done that, and playing Classic even for just a few hours reminded me how much better today's version of the game is.


9.11.19
...


9.12.19
I've found my first 2019 album obsession: Black Dresses' Love and Affection for Stupid Little Bitches. Black Dresses is a female duo who both sing and write the music, and the sound can best be described as industrial-adjacent noise pop. They don't have any real analogs in the rest of my record collection, but there are moments when I hear the techno hooks of the first Nine Inch Nails record, the pop hooks of Grimes, and the tuneful noise that the Melvins generated on their most accessible tracks, with a touch of the over-the-top bombast of Sleigh Bells.

Love and Affection is the second album they have released this year, and the third they've released in the last 18 months (their debut was released in April 2018). I've shied away from listening to the other two records so far because 1) I don't want to be disappointed if they're not as good as this one and 2) I'm still obsessed with this one and not really listening to anything else, so I haven't needed new music, either from them or any other artist.

This is one of those bands that I wouldn't necessarily recommend to people, but I also don't understand how lovers of lo fi deranged pop couldn't immediately love what they've done here. There's only one track I don't love, and a couple, like "Hertz" and "Cartoon Network", are both in contention for my favorite songs this year. If anything about my description sounds like it would appeal to you, give those tracks a listen and see if they immediately hook you the way they did me.


9.13.19
Last week, the Braves sent an email to everyone who purchased tickets to a game this season allowing you to enter into a lottery for a presale to postseason games, and not only was I lucky enough to get selected (although I really don't know if it was a true lottery or just a registration for the presale disguised as a lottery to make it more enticing), but I was able to get tickets to both an NLDS game and, if they make it to that round, and NLCS game.

For the NLDS, I got tickets for the Braves second home game, and based on the current standings, that should be on Friday, Oct 4. I got tickets for all three of us, and I'm very excited about this one: not only will it be fun to take Will to such a big game, but this will be my first Braves postseason game after nearly three decades of being a fan.

Picking a game for the NLCS was more complicated, but I think I found a good compromise. Julie is gone most of the week when those games will be played, so I just bought two tickets for the Braves third home game, which with either be Oct 16 (if they are the away team, which they will be if the Dodgers will their NLDS games) or Oct 18 (if they are the home team). Scenario 1 means each team needs to win at least 1 game to force a game 5, scenario 2 means each team needs to win at least 2 games to force a game 6.

The Braves have to get there first, but if they do, the gamble on game 3 will hopefully pay off—since 1996 (the year after the Braves last won the World Series), the NCLS has gone at least 5 games all but two times, and it has gone to six games or more 13 times (out of 23 years). It would be great to see the team advance beyond the NLDS (they haven't done so since 2001 despite 8 additional postseason appearances since that season), and it would be even better if we got to see a home game in person during the NLCS.


9.16.19
I went to see Atlante United play the Columbus Crew over the weekend, and it was one of the worst performances I've ever seen from this team, especially at home. Things started off promisingly, with Josef Martinez scoring a goal in the 19th minute, giving the United a lead they would take into halftime. But the Crew scored two goals in the second half in rapid succession at the 53rd and 60th minutes.

There was still hope for Atlanta until near the end of regulation—they were making good attempts on the Crew and it felt like they might at least come away with a tie. But then disaster struck in the 85th minute when one of Atlanta's defenders, in attempting to clear the ball from the goal area, accidentally scored an own-goal, putting Columbus up 3-1 and demoralizing both his teammates and the fans.

Atlanta United is going to make the playoffs, and are likely going to be at least the 3rd seed in their division (guaranteeing them at least one home game), but losing this game probably put the top seed out of reach. They still have a shot to repeat as champions, but with the single elimination format and the likelihood that they'll have to play at least two away games (including the championship game) on their way back to another title, it's going to be a much harder road than last year.


9.17.19
UGA demolished another cupcake team over the weekend, defeating Arkansas State 55-0 playing in Athens. They will face their first real challenge of the year next week when they play Notre Dame, the first time the two teams have met since quarterback Jake Fromm made his first road start in South Bend two years ago. I think the Bulldogs will be victorious here—they seem as unstoppable as they were last year, and Notre Dame, who are currently ranked 7th (UGA is ranked 3rd), are always overrated in the polls due to the storied history of the program.

The Ravens faced a rookie quarterback (Kyler Murray) and rookie head coach when they played Arizona in Baltimore, and although it wasn't nearly as dominant a win as their dominant performance over the Dolphins in week 1, they still came away with a win to go up 2-0 on the season. They also will face their first significant challenge of the season next week when they go to Arrowhead to face Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs in their home opener. Lamar Jackson has only lost one regular season game so far in his short career, but it was last December against the Chiefs playing in Kansas City.

That was a close game though (it went to overtime), and Jackson has improved significantly since then, so I believe this will be a close one whether the Ravens end up winning it or not. But the Arizona game exposed some serious weaknesses in our secondary, which the team is going to have to clean up real quick if they don't want to get torched by Mahomes and Kansas City's incredible offensive attack.


9.18.19
After The Billionaire Whale, I returned to the world of art theft with The Rescue Artist: A True Story of Art, Thieves, and the Hunt for a Missing Masterpiece by Edward Dolnick. It's the story of the theft of Edvard Munch's The Scream from Norway's National Gallery in Oslo in 1994, just as that country was set to host the Winter Olympics.

I've been reading a lot of books in this genre recently, and this was one of the better ones. Not only did the author keep things interesting by dipping into related topics like a mini biography of Edvard Munch and stories of other art heists and how they were carried out/solved, but he was also fortunate to have at the center of his story a compelling figure in Charley Hill, the Scotland Yard art squad detective who eventually nabbed the thieves and recovered the painting in an undercover sting operation.

The story of the theft and recovery of The Scream, while fascinating, would not have been enough to sustain a book-length narrative, which is why Dolnick sidetracks to other thefts and other stories that are tangentially related to the primary theft. This ends up working very well, and because many of these stories are relayed to the author at least partially by Charley Hill, this is also why the book is called The Rescue Artist (referring to Hill) rather than something more specifically referencing the crowning achievement of Hill's career.

There haven't been many books in this art fraud/art theft genre that I haven't enjoyed, but this is one of the better ones. Dolnick's can fluidly switch between topics and he has a great ability to build drama. I'll definitely be checking out some of his other books, most likely starting with another title that also has to do with an art hoax.


9.19.19
I recently stumbled across a reality tv show called Undercover Billionaire, and was intrigued enough by the premise to watch a few episodes. The idea behind the show is that a self-made billionaire in his 50s (Glenn Stearns, who founded a major mortgage lending firm) is sent to an unknown location with nothing but the clothes on his back, a vehicle, and $100 in his pocket, and then has 90 days to found a business that is valued at at least $1 million. If he doesn't meet this goal, he will personally invest $1 million in that business.

He spends a lot of time the first couple of episodes talking about how hard work, not luck, is what builds the American dream while engaging in various schemes to take him from living out of his pickup truck and eating at soup kitchens to having his own apartment and living a somewhat normal middle class life. What's frustrating about this for me is the inherent shaming of the poor, especially when you take into consideration all of the advantages he has that he isn't willing to acknowledge. Some of these he was born with and some of them he earned, but they all put him into a much better position to pull off something like this compared to an average person who has gotten to age 50 with very few assets to show for a lifetime of work. These include:

  • White
  • Male
  • College educated
  • 30+ years experience running businesses (giving him a deep understanding of things like balance sheets, budgeting, business plans, recruitment, and personnel management)
  • Camera crew following him around, which undoubtedly makes everyone around him more willing to engage and help him out

Building on this last point, there are lots of things in the show that, even if they weren't specifically engineered by the show's producers, certainly had more positive outcomes due to the presence of television cameras than they would have if a random nobody tried to do these things without a camera crew. Some of these include:

  • Getting drunken idiots to spend hundreds of dollars on trinkets that were worth about $50 total
  • Finding tires behind an abandoned building that someone was willing to pay him $1400 for • Not getting arrested for sleeping in his truck on city streets for several nights
  • Finding a car lot that was willing to sell him a car that he immediately flips for a several thousand dollar profit; his value add was running it through a carwash
  • Returning to the same car dealership that sells him an even more expensive car that he can flip for an even bigger profit (again, a carwash was his only improvement to the vehicle)
  • Finding a team of people willing to work for him for free for a chance at having some sort of ownership stake if the business actually gets going

There are a lot of other factors that the show doesn't spend much time considering that also improve his odds of success (for instance, his ability to deal with a medical issue by having health insurance, and his ability to rent an apartment because he has a good credit score), and neither are these things counted among his assets, even though many people with no money, no matter how hard they might be working, have these things.

But perhaps the most important factor in his dogged determination is unspoken and unexamined so far by the show: he can quit and go back to being a billionaire anytime he wants to. He can keep pushing himself and taking risks that other people might not be able to take because he's not really risking anything at all. Worst case scenario for him is that the show is a short disaster that's not worth airing, and he goes back to his mansions on the beach with his perfect family and has a fun new story to tell to his country club friends at their golf-centric cocktail parties.

It's very much the television story of the subject of Pulp's "Common People", a rich girl who wants to go slumming with her art school friends but gets called out by the narrator for her lack of ability to truly empathize with the people she's surrounding herself with:

You'll never live like common people
You'll never do whatever common people do
Never fail like common people
You'll never watch your life slide out of view

Stearns is just an old white male version of this girl, refusing to acknowledge all the advantages he's been born with and insisting that he's no different than anyone else (and implying that everyone could be a billionaire if they were just willing to work as hard as he does).

I'll probably watch the remaining episodes just to see how it turns out—at this point, he doesn't even have a specific business in mind to build, although he's already got a bunch of truly hard working, truly middle class people who do whatever he wants for free—but there's almost no doubt how it will end: business successfully launched with an Undercover Boss-like reveal to his partners.


9.20.19
I finished watching the first season of Amazon's The Boys, about a group of corrupt corporatized superheroes and a ragtag band of people with various personal grievances against them (the titular boys). I really, really liked this show, especially because I watched the first episode on a whim with almost no expectations and barely even knowing the premise.

Not surprisingly, the finale had some pretty big reveals and plot twists that set up season 2, which was ordered by Amazon even before the first season started airing. I really haven't found much to love in the original dramatic content being pumped out by Netflix and Amazon (although I still haven't watched Stranger Things or Good Omens), but this is one I'm genuinely looking forward to seeing for at least one more season (and hopefully more if they can keep up the quality).


9.23.19
This weekend should have been a busier one for me—we had plans to go to the North Georgia State Fair, I had a ticket to the Atlanta United game on Saturday afternoon, we had tickets for a Bob Mould concert on Saturday night, and Will had a piano recital on Sunday—but it ended up being less harried than that (at least for me).

With the fair, the match, and the concert all scheduled for the same day, I knew something had to give, so I ended up giving my United ticket to one of my seatmates (who put it to good use, bringing both his kids as a prelude to his son's birthday party that evening). I was intending to still go to the fair, but I really wasn't feeling well that morning, so Julie and Will ended up going with Julie's mom (who was already planning to come with us before I dropped out).

Julie and I did make it to the Bob Mould concert that night though. We were originally supposed to go with one of our neighbors, but she dropped out at the last minute herself. Luckily one of my trivia/work buddies was able to make it and use her ticket. It was at the City Winery, a venue that usually means you're going to get an acoustic solo set with lots of storytelling between the songs, but Mould definitely went against that grain. He was playing solo, with no backing band, but he played an electric guitar the whole time, and blew through a set that covered all aspects of his career, from Husker Du to Sugar to his more recent solo albums. Here's the setlist:

    1. The War
    2. Flip Your Wig
    3. I Apologize
    4. Hoover Dam
    5. Stand Guard
    6. See A Little Light
    7. Celebrated Summer
    8. The Descent
    9. You Say You
    10. Thirty Dozen Roses
    11. The Final Years
    12. Sinners And Their Repentances
    13. Sunshine Rock
    14. Hey Mr. Grey
    15. If I Can't Change Your Mind
    16. I Fought
    17. What Do You Want Me to Do
    18. Black Confetti
    19. Something I Learned Today
    20. Chartered Trips
    21. Never Talking to You Again
    22. Makes No Sense At All

As you can see, he played songs from the full breadth of his career, from early Husker Du to Sugar to many of his solo albums, including the just-released Sunshine Rock. The coolest add to the setlist, which was played without any introduction context-setting, was when he chose "Never Talking to You Again". This is a Husker Du song but one which was written by bandmate Grant Hart, who Mould feuded with for years after the breakup of Husker Du but with whom he reconciled before Hart's death in 2017. It was a touching nod to a fallen comrade (and a funny one as well, since the two literally did not talk for years in the wake of Husker Du's demise).

It was a really good show, although I do wish he had slowed down a little bit and talked to the crowd more. But I'd go see him again anytime, solo or with a band.

On Sunday Will had a recital at his music school, and they did this one a little differently. There are old pianos that have been fixed up and placed at various locations around Atlanta (the BeltLine, the Woodruff Arts Center, and some of the bigger parks), and one of those is outside the church where the music school is (they use a few rooms in the basement). So the school had it tuned, and then set up a microphone and speaker for the students who sing or play other instruments and we had the concert outside, with the families sitting on chairs and blankets around the front of the church.

It was pretty hot, and there were a TON of kids doing performances (way more than usually come to the mini-recitals when they are held in the basement), and Will was also one of the last kids to play, but we found a spot with a little bit of shade and enjoyed the show. The only thing I didn't like was the constant distraction of the street noise—the church is at an intersection, and in addition to the baseline of traffic noise from idling and revving engines, there were also occasional horns and loud music being blasted from car radios. But overall if was a pretty nice experience.


9.24.19
This weekend UGA had their first real test, playing a ranked opponent in Notre Dame. Two years ago the teams played in South Bend in Jake Fromm's road debut, and the win there started their ascension up the rankings that got them into the playoffs after winning the SEC Championship game (they would lose the national championship to SEC rival Alabama, who didn't actually play in the conference championship game that year and essentially got an extra week of rest and prep while all the other playoff teams were battling fiercely in their respective conference championship games).

It was a close game and both teams played well, but the Bulldogs came out on top. They were up 23-10 with about 5 minutes left in the game, and although Notre Dame scored a touchdown and then had a chance for another score at the very end of the game, UGA held on and got a win that they pretty much had to have if they want to be seriously considered for the playoffs this year. The final score was 23-17, but the game never really felt in danger of slipping away from a disciplined Georgia team.

The Ravens, however, headed into Kansas City for the Chiefs' home opener, and although it was a hard fought game, their defense gave up way too many yards (a lot of them do to Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City's dynamic offense) and our similarly dynamic offense couldn't quite make up the difference. The final score was a respectable 33-28, but some real weaknesses in our defense were exposed (notably lack of pass rush and a secondary that's not communicating well) that we're going to have to fix if we're going to do well against quarterbacks like Brady, Goff, Wilson, and Watson, all of whom we face this season.

Next week is a home game against the struggling Browns, but no division game is ever a gimme in the AFC North, especially because the Ravens tend to play down when they're playing inferior teams. And I wouldn't even call the Browns an inferior team—they're loaded with talent, but they're struggling a bit under the weight of expectations and suffering from the inexperience of their new coach (who has never been a head coach at any level).


9.25.19
On Monday I went to see Stereolab with a couple of friends at the Variety on their first tour in over a decade. They disbanded/went on hiatus in 2009, and although they haven't released any new music as part of this reunion tour, it wouldn't be surprising to see that come together if they're still getting along well when the tour wraps up. Here's the setlist:

    1. Brakhage
    2. French Disko
    3. Baby Lulu
    4. Miss Modular
    5. Metronomic Underground
    6. Need to Be
    7. Come and Play in the Milky Night
    8. Anamorphose
    9. Ping Pong
    10. Percolator
    11. Crest
    12. Lo Boob Oscillator

      Encore

    13. Infinity Girl
    14. Blue Milk

What I remember from the one other time I saw them (at the 9:30 in DC back in 2006) was how visceral and immediate the music felt compared to the detached euro future cool that tends to be their signature mood on their recorded works. That was also true of this show—it was much more rock and dance oriented than you'd think from listening to their albums—but although they had the crowd eating out of their hands, they kind of spoiled it at the end.

It started with the finale of the regular set—not only was the set itself short, but the final song ended with an extended noise jam that really took the wind out of the sails of the audience. The first song of the encore was great—a tight, focused take on "Infinity Girl"—but the closer (which featured local hero and Deerhunter frontman Bradford Cox) was like the final song of the regular set: very long, filled with lots of noise and feedback, and not really compelling to anyone in the audience.

We heard more than one other group complaining about the ending as we were exiting the venue, and those final few songs put a bad taste in my mouth from what was otherwise a pretty incredible show.


9.26.19
A group of my friends and I went out to give trivia night at a local bar another try on Tuesday night, and we ended up in first place for the first time ever thanks to a solid final bonus round that gave us a single point over the second place team.

We didn't do that great in our first couple of rounds—usually you have to be pretty perfect in the first two rounds (which are intentionally the easiest), but out of a potential 52 points, we only had 45, and there were lots of teams in the room that had 6-8 people compared to our 5. But to our surprise, we were tied for third place with those 45 points, and we just got stronger through the last two rounds.

Going into the final bonus round, we were in second place with 77 points and only 9 points behind the first place team. The final round was worth 20 points, and you had to name each of the four Georgia cities besides Atlanta that had served as the capital of the state at one point or another. That ended up being a softball for our group—3 of our 5 members immediately knew all four (Savannah, Augusta, Milledgeville, and Louisville) because two are amateur historians and the other worked at the state archives for many years.

The other team (who have beaten us before) got three right and one wrong, which meant they ended up with 10 points total for the round (you get plus 5 for each right answer, but minus 5 for every wrong answer). And since they were only up 9 on us, our 20 points was enough for us to finish with 97 to their 96.

That's the fourth time we've gotten together for trivia, and we've now won third place twice and first place once (and for the night we didn't win in points, we did win for best team name, which netted us a bottle of wine, which we drank together as we were winning first place this week). So that's $80 in winnings total plus the bottle of wine—not bad considering that we've had a different group every time and we don't really do any prep for the contest.


9.27.19
I finished watching Undercover Billionaire, and it predictably ended with the successful launch of a business (in this instance, a barbecue restaurant) and a reveal to his partners that he's actually a billionaire who's going to invest a million additional dollars into the business. The show got more and more unrealistic as it went along—there's no way that all these people worked long hours for no pay for three months without knowing there'd be some kind of positive payoff (and at least one person was documented actually doing his research and figuring out who the guy was, although he—wink wink—promised not to tell anyone else on the team what he had discovered.

If it had been better edited to facilitate the suspension of disbelief, it would have been a more compelling watch, but that actually might have been an unobtainable goal—the whole premise is even more hard to take as anything other than the contrivances of a reality show that needs interesting characters and episodic drama that it makes the obviously fake Undercover Boss (on which it is partially modeled) seem authentic by comparison.

It's also hard to see how this will be anything but a one-off series—they clearly can't do it with this billionaire again because now he's been exposed on a national show, but even if they recruited another rich guy who wanted this experience, it's hard to believe that anyone would fall for this again. I'm not sure I would watch it again even if they did try for a second season—this one barely held together even by the most generous of allowances and lowered expectations, and there's no way they could heavily edit their way through making the second one seem "real" now that the format is known.


9.30.19
When we took Will to see Cats at the Fox Theatre last month, he saw an ad for an upcoming run of a new musical based on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and expressed interest in going. I looked up tickets that weekend, and they were way, way to expensive—even more than we paid for secondary market tickets for Cats. But it opened last week, and on a whim early last week I looked up secondary market tickets and was able to find a great deal on seats that were even better than the ones we had for Cats (they were below face value even after we paid the various Stubhub service fees).

We had a broader selection of seats by buying 4 instead of 3, so we asked Julie's mom to come along and then surprised Will with a trip to the Friday evening show. We told him we were going downtown to eat at a restaurant that Grandma really wanted to go to, but we had to reveal what we were really doing when we decided the easiest thing for us to do for dinner was stop into a Quiznos near the Fox Theatre.

He was so, so excited to go back to the Fox, so much so that, once we found our seats, he and I walked around to look into the orchestra pit, watch the organist play, see the views from the different balcony levels, and explore other parts of the theatre. And when we went outside for a walk, we found the show's trailer near the stage door, and struck up a conversation with a young woman standing outside. When we asked her if she was with the show, she answered yes and further volunteered "I play violin" (or so I thought—more on that later). So we asked her some questions about the show's logistics, how long they'd been on the road, etc. It was a cool little interaction.

Will loved the show, although I only thought it was alright. The performers were great, and the sets were pretty inventive, but no songs besides "The Candy Man" and "Pure Imagination" were reused from the popular Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory movie that starred Gene Wilder, and the newer songs were generally lesser in quality than the ones written for that movie. The characters were also mostly caricatures, even moreso than their portrayals in the 1971 movie, which uses very stereotypical representations.

There were minor updates to the core characters—Mike Teavee, was reimagined as a gamer (and his mom, oddly, as a midwestern wine mom), Violet as a social media maven, and Veruca as a Russian heiress—but the substance of their personalities remained intact, as did their various flaws and mistakes that led to them being removed from the competition to become the new owner of Wonka's factory. But despite solid new takes on both Charlie and Willy Wonka and good actors in all the roles, most of the updates fell a little flat.

Back to the violin girl: when Violet came out on stage, she looked very similar to the woman we'd met by the stage door, and it was confirmed that it was her when Will immediately asked the same question once the show was over. So she must have said "I play Violet" instead of "I play violin", and I just misheard her, at least partly because I wasn't expecting one of the stars to be casually hanging out on the street.

Will had so much fun that we decided to take Violet's (real name: Brynn Williams) advice and hang out around the stage door after the show to see if we could get some autographs and photos of Will with cast members. There were other people there, too, but it wasn't too bad—only a couple of dozen other folks, most of whom were kids—and Will got autographs from all his favorite characters, including Willy Wonka, Charlie, Grandpa Joe, and of course, Violet (who was also nice enough to take a picture with Will).

We'll have to look for other chances to take Will to the theatre, whether it's the Fox or elsewhere—not only does he enjoy the performances, but it's also helping to keep his interest in theater high after his initial positive experience doing a play at drama camp this summer (another musical, Mary Poppins).

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