march 2020

3.2.20
My big event this weekend was leading a service project for my alma mater, Davidson College, which has a huge alumni presence in Atlanta. I'm one of three service project coordinators for our chapter, and I usually end up doing an event in the winter, one in the summer, and one during our service project week in April (when we do three events in a week).

For the January/February event, I usually try to do the sorting at the Atlanta Food Bank warehouse, but last year they were all booked up for the weekends in February even though I reached out to them three months in advance. So we ended up going to Open Hand Atlanta, where I'd done a service project at my office the year before. I tried to go back to the Atlanta Food Bank again this year, reaching out to them in late October, but they let me know that they were actually moving to a new facility in February and wouldn't be hosting any volunteers while they transitioned. So back to Open Hand it was.

This was my fourth service project there between the Davidson groups and my office, and I thought I had worked all the jobs (there are several: weighing out portions of food into the trays, preparing those trays for the sealer, and running the conveyor belt for the sealing machine), but I got to do a new one this time: taking the trays as they came off the conveyor and loading them onto rolling racks and then moving them to the refrigeration room when the order was complete. I didn't get much of a chance to talk to folks while working back there, but I there were occasional breaks in the action when they were changing out the meal ingredients where I could mingle with the folks on my line.

Afterwards, a few of us went to lunch at the headquarters of a local microbrewery, SweetWater Brewing Company. It was right around the corner from the Open Hand facility, and they had some nice long communal tables that held everyone in our group. Will and Julie joined us for lunch there (they weren't able to attend the event itself because all participants have to be at least 15), and so she got to catch up with the Davidson folks who were there.


3.3.20
With the amount of hype and high level of expectations that have been building for Grimes new album, Miss Anthropocene, combined with her ascendancy in the tech gossip pages due to her relationship with eccentric billionaire and Tesla founder Elon Musk (whose child she is currently carrying), I fully expected the record to be a slide back from her last record, Art Angels, which was the best of her career so far. I figured there would be a few great songs, but that it wouldn't have either the focus or continued growth that she demonstrated on Art Angels.

But man, was I wrong. This is a knockout of a record, and surpasses the superb Art Angels as the best record she's made so far. It's a deeper, darker, weirder album than Art Angels, but for all of its experiments and forays into through-the-looking-glass territory of electronica-adjacent pop music, it's supremely confident, and Grimes pulls off her most ambitious concepts and ideas without looking like she's straining beyond her powers.

It starts out with the just-as-dark-as-it-sounds "So Heavy I Fell Through the Earth", a haunting, visceral track that makes you feel like you're being pulled down into the black at the core of our planet by its inescapable gravity. This sets the tone for much of the rest of the album, and she continues to walk this path in the equally entrancing second track "Darkseid", which features a scant few impressionistic lyrics in English in between hyper but ghostly verses in Chinese.

There are some tracks that hearken back to her earlier sounds from Visions and Art Angels, most notably "Delete Forever" and "You'll Miss Me When I'm Not Around". "Delete Forever" is easily the cheeriest musically, but it's still covering some deep ground lyrically as Grimes muses on the deaths of several friends from opioid addiction. "You'll Miss Me" similar dwells on death and suicide, but it's not hard to imagine this one playing in a club in a scene from the Matrix 4.

The album closes with "IDORU", perhaps its most stunning and at the same time its most straightforward track. It opens with bird sounds that wouldn't be out of place on Bjork's organic Utopia intermixed with a simple, repetitive mellotron sequence, and gradually builds to a climax of other melodies and instruments that never loses the purity of the opening sounds. It's a straight up love song that boils down to one unadorned and unironic sentiment: "I adore you."

It's an uplifting note to end the album that provides a counterbalance to the gravity of the opening track, although in the end, both songs are about the ways that love can consume and envelope us.


3.4.20
My friend Clint, whose oldest daughter was in Will's class one year and who lives around the corner from us, is a lawyer who grew up in a rural part of Georgia that is part of my recruitment territory. He was raised Mormon, but his political views are pretty progressive, so we often chat about politics when we get together, especially Georgia politics in the national context.

When we took the kids to the zoo a few weeks ago, one of the things we talked about was the Democratic primaries and the potential Democratic nominee. Back in January, I had predicted that Biden would get the nomination, based on nothing more than that the Democratic Party establishment wanted him as a candidate even though he had barely done anything in terms of campaigning or setting up ground operations in key primary and battleground states.

At the time of our zoo conversation towards the end of February, Bernie Sanders, who had been leading the polls for months on the strength of his 2016 run, had won Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada, while Biden didn't even place in the top 3 in the first two primaries and barely eked out a second place finish in Nevada (though he didn't get even half the votes that Bernie got). Bernie seemed to be building unstoppable momentum, and even though there was still Super Tuesday and many other states left to vote in their primaries, Sanders seemed to be the presumptive nominee.

So Clint asked me: Do you still think Biden is going to win the nomination? And I replied that I still did, based again on nothing more than that he was the party insider who the inner circle of the DNC establishment wanted to win the nomination. And then, in the past week, I finally got some evidence on my side: after stunning the pundits by winning South Carolina handily, Biden went on to have a banner Super Tuesday, handily winning in the southern states (Virginia, Texas, Arkansas, North Carolina, Alabama, and Tennessee) and winning close contests in surprising places like Minnesota, Maine, and Massachusetts.

Sure, Bernie still won in California, Colorado, Vermont, and Utah, and he still has enough delegates to win the nomination if he can turn things around. But it's clearly a two man race now, and it's also clear the Biden has some serious momentum despite doing nothing much more than being a household name from his eight years serving as VP under Obama. Bernie has been campaigning hard for the past five years, and suddenly the nomination seems to be slipping from his grasp just like it did in 2016.

The next few weeks will be interesting, but I still expect Biden to become the Democratic nominee. My vote in Georgia's primary may not matter much by the time we vote in a few weeks; it could theoretically all be settled by then, especially depending on who the candidates who are dropping out the race endorse between Bernie and Biden (there is little doubt that Biden would not have won Texas without O'Rourke's endorsement or Minnesota without Klobuchar's endorsement).

All I really care about is fielding a candidate who can beat Trump (although from an intellectual and policy perspective, I would have loved to see a Warren/Harris ticket, and between Bernie and Biden, Bernie is definitely more in line with my way of thinking), and it seems like Biden might nave Bernie beat there as well. Not only does he have great name recognition and the association with Obama, he also seems more centrist and everyman-friendly than Bernie, which unfortunately could be a big key in grabbing working class whites who voted for Trump but may have some reservations about him now.


3.5.20
I bought Soccer Mommy's debut album, Clean, last year, several months after it was originally released after combing through best-of lists from 2018 in search of new music. I liked some tracks—"Cool", "Last Girl", and "Skin" were the ones that really worked for me—but overall there was a little too much dream pop and a little too little of something else distinctive for me. But Will and I saw them open for Wilco last October, and even though it was a relatively brief set, it gave me a new appreciation for their sound, as live shows sometimes do.

So when their new one, "Color Theory" (forgive me, but I am not going to do the all-lowercase thing that's on the official title/tracklist), I bought it as soon as it came out. I've had a chance to sit with it for about a week now, and while I'm still absorbing it, I like it a lot better than Clean already.

The production is cleaner, brighter, and richer all at the same time, and the hooks more developed—even though the average song length is longer than Clean, the songs go by faster because there's more to engage with. There are lots of immediately great tracks, including "Circle the Drain", "Lucy" (which she previewed during the Wilco show), and "Bloodstream", and most of the others are growing on me. There's definitely still a dream pop influence, but it has been corralled into songs with a bit more structure to make them more like true pop songs.

One of my favorite moments comes in the solo at the end of the first track, "Bloodstream": it's a solo that sounds unlike anything in her other songs, full of dissonance and stutters and sharp turns—exactly the kind of solo that Nels Cline would write for a Wilco track. I like to think of her hanging out with him on the tour and jamming to a demo of the track, or her emulating his style after watching him play dozens of times.


3.6.20
Every year at my son's school, one of the music teachers puts together this massive show where students sing along to a prerecorded soundtrack that showcases some uplifting theme, and the performance of that show for parents was last night. Will doesn't have any fear about being on stage, and even though he's reluctant to sing and dance at home (at least in front of us), he always does so much more than I expect when he's asked to do those things as part of a performance.

The show is always a little longer than it needs to be—this is the highlight of this teacher's existence, and she finds ways to make herself more a part of the performance than necessary (I had a similar teacher in 4th grade)—but the kids seem to enjoy it (even Will, who doesn't always like his classes with this teacher despite the fact that he's a musician and she's a music teacher)

Even though watching Will is fun, it's always in a chorus/group context (there aren't really any solos in the show, and Will's not a good enough singer to get one of those if there were), and I personally am glad when this show is over. But this year's wasn't too bad compared to some previous ones (although it's telling that I can't really remember the theme).


3.9.20
Our weekend started with an annual tradition that seems a major part of the school social calendar in Atlanta that goes from preschool through high school: the school auction. This year's event (held last Friday night) was in the Inman Park Trolley Barn, the same place it was last year, and again we went with our friend Theresa, whose husband does not care for social gatherings.

It was a nice night—we stayed for the first part of the live auction, which we don't always do, and had some nice conversations with Will's teacher from two years ago, Will's current teacher, and the school principal. I did feel a little weird being at a big social event as we seem to be on the edge of the coronavirus becoming part of the choices we make in terms of our interactions with other people, but it's hard to judge what's appropriate at this point given that there are limited cases in the US so far. Hopefully it hasn't come to Atlanta yet and we won't regret that evening out.

Saturday was supposed to be both a concert at the Variety that I bought tickets to months ago for post punk stalwarts Wire and also the opening home game for the fourth season of the Atlanta United MLS team. I had already made the choice to attend the Wire show—I've never seen them live, and I bought the tickets long before that evening was also scheduled for an MLS game—but even if I had still been undecided, I likely would have chosen the concert because of my growing concerns about the coronavirus and the smaller number of people I would be exposed to at the theater as opposed to the stadium.

As it turns out, I didn't attend the concert either, due to a combination of concerns about the virus, being tired, and not having someone to go with (originally a friend was going to go with me, but he came down with strep throat a couple of days before the show). The band has been pretty active recently though—this has been their most productive decade since the 80s—so hopefully I'll get a chance to see them sometime in the next couple of years.


3.10.20
After finishing Sam Kean's The Bastard Brigade, I still wasn't feeling like a return to fiction even though I've got some good books waiting in my queue, so I turned instead to The World of Warcraft Diary: A Journal of Computer Game Development by John Staats.

World of Warcraft is a Massively Multi-Player Online Role-Playing (MMORPG, or MMO) game that launched in 2004 and is without a doubt the biggest success in that genre. It was the first game of its type to top 1 million active users, and at its peak it was being played by more than 12 million people globally (they don't release as many subscriber details as the used to, but it's still believed that they have around 2-3 million players consistently, with peaks going up to 5-6 million when they release a new expansion pack).

Staats was a developer at Blizzard who worked on the project from the very beginning when there were fewer than a dozen people creating the game (the IP was based on an RTS game that was one of the company's biggest successes in the 90s, and third installment of which was released in 2002).

I've been playing Bizzard games since the mid 90s, including Diablo, Warcraft, and Starcraft, and I started playing World of Warcraft in December 2004, about two weeks after it launched, and I've logged on at least a couple times a week ever since, so I was pretty interested to get an insider's perspective on both the Blizzard culture and the creation of this specific game.

But even though I am in the sweet spot for the target audience of this very niche book—a former programmer whose been playing the game for 15 years and has a general interest in the history of technology and gaming—I was still a little bit disappointed with this one. It alternated between an explanation of design and development concepts that I was already familiar with (which I realize is necessary to broaden the potential audience for the text) to somewhat repetitive descriptions of the crushing development schedule and the issues that cause the bottlenecks and delays that make 80 hour weeks necessary to get a game out the door.

What I did enjoy were the times he focused on how certain areas were developed, how the combat and questing system evolved into what I saw at release, and the design of the dungeons and raids that make up the end game experience. I still remember those areas and instances from my first year playing the game, and I would have loved to have heard more about not just the developer decisions but also the narrative decisions that went into making this immersive world.

It would be hard for me to recommend this to anyone who hasn't played the game (and more specifically, hasn't played the game since its first year of existence). I suspect the author just missed his window here—he would have sold a lot more copies and had a lot more interest back in the mid-00s when the user base was several times larger than it is now and the game was truly a cultural phenomenon.

Now it's more a nostalgia piece for the veterans of the world, and while it brought back some nice memories (and was interestingly timed with the release of World of Warcraft Classic, which takes the first release of the game and transplants it on top of the current game engine), it wasn't really valuable or insightful beyond that.


3.11.20
The models that we've been seeing for the coronavirus spread in places like China, Korea, and Italy have been painting a grim picture about our own future, and it seems that we are now on the precipice of entering that tunnel with at least a couple of months of rapid spread, overwhelmed hospitals, and tens of thousands of deaths.

Our state and local governments haven't announced anything official yet, and neither has my employer, but there's almost no way that extended closures aren't coming from at least one of those authorities. Our office made the decision yesterday to move everyone to telecommuting for the foreseeable future, and we canceled all of our on-campus April events and our spring travel for recruitment and conferences.

If everyone does what they're supposed to in terms of flattening the curve by limiting the spread of the virus (which will require minimal exposure to people outside our households and a serious uptick in sanitary practices which we do interact with others), and we can find an effective treatment that mitigates the symptoms in those who will require hospitalization, and we can find ways to rapidly test a significant portion of the population and rapidly isolate those who test positive, then maybe we can have our world start to return to normal by May or so.

But that's a lot of maybes, and that May timeframe is one that we hit only in the most optimistic models if everything goes perfectly. More reasonable models have this last through June or July, and the worst case scenario models have this going through the fall and also predicting periodic relapses until we find a vaccine and are able to produce it at the scale needed to inoculate the vast majority of the population.

There's so much we don't know right now: Can we develop a test to tell who has already had it? If so, does having it and getting over it mean that you are immune from getting it again? Will we be able to develop a test that can be rapidly processed to tell us whether you currently have it and are contagious, even if you aren't showing symptoms? Will the virus mutate, and if so, will it do so in ways that make it more virulent and/or deadly, or even mutate in ways that make it harder to spread and/or less serious?

Until we have some some definitive answers to these questions, it's really hard to predict how long this will last, especially if we don't know that curve-flattening measures will be proscribed by authorities and then followed by all citizens. It's going to be an interesting few months, and given the anti-science, anti-regulation attitude of both the national government and my state government, I'm not expecting that the most optimistic models will be the ones that apply to my community.


3.12.20
I'm eternally hopeful that we'll get a new XTC album sometime in the near future, but it just hit me that the 20 year gap since their last record, Wasp Star, is nearly three times as long as the 7 year gap between 1992's Nonsuch and 1999's Apple Venus. Those 7 years felt like they lasted forever, but they're nothing compared to the desert we're in now.

The only new songs from frontman Andy Partridge come from a collaboration with another favorite artist of mine, Robyn Hitchcock. They wrote and recorded an EP last year under the name Planet England, but for some reason it is only available in physical formats—you can't download or stream it. So while I would love to have access to these songs, it remains unheard by me.


3.13.20
Okay, so the coronavirus impacts that the data told us were coming are here. My office made the decision to close and have everyone work remotely for the foreseeable future earlier this week, but my institution officially followed suit today, telling students not to return from spring break and instead go home and prepare for virtual learning, and telling all employees that they must transition to working from home no later than March 30 (which implies that they believe social distancing measures will need to be followed far beyond that point).

Will's elementary school is also going to happen virtually at least though their spring break (which is scheduled for the week of April 6-10, the week before Easter. We had a lot of stuff scheduled for that month—MLS games, baseball games, concerts, a performance of Hamilton, etc. My guess is that none of those will happen, at least not in April, and I'm even beginning to get concerned about our summer plans—our cruise planned for early June, the Peachtree Road Race 10k that has happened every July 4th for the past 50 years, and more sporting events and concerts.

Right now it feels manageable, but the scary thing is that we don't actually know what the impact will be and how long this will last. I'm very concerned for the more vulnerable members of our family, especially my mom (who is in a very high risk category and must be cared for by a patchwork of neighbors and my sister and her friends, none of whom I have any real confidence will follow proper procedures to protect her when entering her home) and Julie's mom, who, while healthier than my mom, is a little older and lives in a 55+ community that has pretty high population density.

If everything goes well, we could optimistically start to return to normal by mid May, although it's unlikely that things will normalize enough for us to go on the cruise (fortunately, the cruise line is making a solid long-term play and allowing cancelations without penalty up until 2 days before the departure date). But honestly, it wouldn't surprise me if this stretches deep into the summer, and it's not inconceivable that some of the restrictions we're under and recommendations we're asked to follow around social distancing persist through the fall and a potential resurgence with the winter cold and flu season.


3.16.20
Our first weekend under quarantine wasn't dramatically different than many weekends, but we obviously didn't go out very much, and there was definitely that weird sense of the a world that has changed around us virtually overnight.

It feels very surreal—it's still too new to feel real—but as restrictions and closings ramp up locally and nationally, it's definitely becoming more actualized in terms of affecting our day to day existence.

Also: I'm already sick of watching ads for food I can't eat and places I can't go.


3.17.20
My office has only been working remotely for a week, and I'm already sick of Zoom meetings. Regular meetings are draining enough—I've always held that you should get credit for two hours of work for every hour you spend in meetings—but Zoom meetings are even worse, especially if you have to be on video for them.

This is the world we're going to be living in for a while, so I need to develop some strategies for it. But I also hope that as we progress through this new style of working, people will seriously reassess what actually needs a meeting and what can be handled more efficiently over email or Slack.


3.18.20
Even though it looks like Biden is now on an unstoppable path to the Democratic nomination, I'd normally still be in favoring of Sanders staying in the race, simply so that he might be able to use his significant delegate count to influence the platforms and positions of the party heading into the convention.

However, now that it's clear that the coronavirus pandemic will lead to lockdowns and difficulty voting in primary races that are, in this new context, mostly pointless except for influence/bragging rights, the right thing for him to do would be to bow out of the race so voters in states affected by the virus (which is soon to be all of them if this virus spreads the way the models say it will) don't have to make a choice between not voting or risking their health to vote (if polling stations are even open).

The right thing for the states for the states to do is to start to gear up so that the primaries (and possibly even the general election) can be done entirely via mail, but the GOP governors and statehouses that control these decisions in so many states don't have any real interest in doing that since their strategy in many states (including my own) is aimed at restricting voting to their voters and working as hard as they can to disenfranchise voters who tend to vote for Democrats, most notably young people and minorities.

Sanders is stubborn, though, and his voters are so diehard that they would support him even when they can no longer deny that he is not going to be the nominee. It will be interesting to see how long he drags this out, especially if it becomes clear that the virus is going to impact our ability to gather in groups for a while and potentially impact voter turnout.


3.19.20
I've decided to use the stay at home orders due to the coronavirus to do something that I've always thought about but never had the right block of time for: I'm going to try to grow a beard.

I've always had very fine hair, including my facial hair, and I also seem to have some spots on my face where facial hair just doesn't grow, but I've never given it a chance to really grow out to see if it might look decent with more than a few days growth.

I'm a little over a week into it now, and I want to give it at least two weeks and see how I feel about it then. I haven't explicitly let Julie know about this plan, but I have a feeling that she already knows what I'm up to and is just going to let it run its course.


3.20.20
I thought that the World of Warcraft book might be a good segue way (side note: I didn't realize segue way was written as two separate words until autocorrect changed it while writing this) back to science fiction, but I still wasn't quite ready to move away from nonfiction, so I picked up a book that had been on my list for a while but which had only been released in the Kindle format recently: Humble Pi by Matt Parker.

Parker is a mathematician and humorist, and he combines those two interests in Humble Pi, a book that's loosely about the history of mathematics, particularly applied mathematics, and highlighting episodes where small mistakes in calculation led to major issues. Even though he's Australian, it's written in a sardonic, sarcastic British style whose voice and tone remind me very much of Douglas Adams.

He covers everything from engineering disasters to issues with measurement conversion to flaws in programming languages to flaws with statistical analysis and algorithms. It covers all the issues we encounter with bad math in a world where we are increasingly dependent on accurate, unbiased mathematics and analysis to navigate our day to day lives.

I'm no mathematician, although I have a strong interest in data analysis and computer programming, but I very much enjoyed this book—it's broken up into very digestible sections, and Parker does a good job of explaining complex concepts with real world examples and a very dry sense of humor.


3.23.20
The weekend was pretty slow, which is how I suspect most weekends will be for the immediate future. Part of the way I'm filling the time is expanding my World of Warcraft playing time. I typically raid with one group two nights a week, but now I'm raiding another night and Saturday morning with another group of friends on an alt.

Another project I've taken on is the futile task of rating every song in my iTunes library. I created a playlist with all my unrated songs and then sorted them by alpha album title. This seems like it will produce a random enough mix—for instance, right now I'm transitioning from  the unrated tracks on Brian Eno's Another Green World to the unrated tracks on Public Enemy's Apocalypse '91.

Also: I shaved the nascent beard. It was starting to get really annoying, and it was also pretty clear that it was never going to grow into a real beard. I had Zoom music lesson on Friday afternoon and I just couldn't bring myself to be on camera with my instructor with that facial hair, so I got rid of it right before my lesson.


3.24.20
I've been using the same Apple extended wired keyboard for probably the last 10 years (and maybe more), but it finally developed a flaw that forced me to search for a replacement: the space key started sticking, which both affected my writing and my gameplay.

The first solution I tried was the non-extended Apple wireless keyboard, but I really missed the extended keys, and the keyboard just didn't feel quite right. So I ordered Apple's extended wireless keyboard, which arrived a couple of days later.

Everything's great for typing, even though the keyboard is flatter than the one I had been using, but it's not quite as supple as my previous one. Gaming is another matter, though—I use the upper row of function keys for a lot of my shortcuts when I'm gaming, and the size, spacing, and relationship between these keys and the number keys is off by enough that I'm constantly hitting the wrong shortcut now.

I'm sure I'll get used to it in time, but honestly, i just want my old keyboard back. I don't think I've ever used a keyboard for as long as I used that one, and it's going to take awhile before a new one feels as natural as that one did.


3.25.20
Today is our big decision release day for Regular Decision students, and it's the weirdest one in my 18 years in this profession. We transitioned to working from home two weeks ago, which has been okay so far because 1) in 2013 I shifted the office to a cloud-based platform that allows us to do all our critical functions—event planning and registration, email and text communications, data analysis, and reading application files—from any machine with a browser and access to the internet and 2) the bulk of our work reviewing this year's Regular Decision cohort was complete by March 6.

But although we were able to wrap up the internal work pretty seamlessly (and we always release decisions online-only, so that didn't have to change either), it's the follow on work that would normally be done this time of year that we're scrambling to figure out. We had to cancel all of our on-campus yield events (which typically involve a full day visit to campus by an admitted student and their parents where they can engage with panels of faculty and current students as well as get tours of campus), all of our off-campus yield events (typically hosted by alumni), and our merit scholars recruitment programs. We also offer daily programming for prospective students who are still in 10th or 11th grade, and all those had to be canceled, along with the recruitment travel we normally do in April and May to visit high schools and do consortium travel with peer schools to start recruiting next year's class.

But between Zoom (which our university has an enterprise license for) and our internal CRM (which has the ability to create and host online webinars built into the platform), we've been able to recreate significant pieces of those experiences online, so that admitted students are still getting an opportunity to interact with faculty and current students (all working remotely as well) and we're able to do virtual tours and information sessions for prospective students.

The events are not as frequent as they would have been in person, but we're also not space constrained like we are with on-campus events, where we have limited seating capacity for visitors. So we're probably going to end up interacting with a roughly similar number of students (if not more) through the virtual events as we would have if they had been able to come in person. And the good thing is that these events are much more accessible to students who live far from campus, so there will be people who are able to attend these online events who never would have been able to visit campus in person (hopefully we'll permanently add virtual events to our April calendar so we can offer richer experiences to students who can't come to campus for logistic or financial reasons).

We have a really great model for predicting yield, but we know that model will only be able to help us to a limited extent this year because of all the uncertainty in the coming months. Will we host on-campus or virtual classes in the fall? Will the start of the semester be delayed? Will international students have difficulty getting visas and arranging travel to the US? Will the financial downturn keep people closer to home and/or choosing cheaper public universities?

We've anticipated worst-case scenarios for these and many other questions and changed our strategy appropriately—admitting more students overall than the model predicts, admitting more from our region (our state and the states that immediately border us), and backup plans to go to the waitlist early if the first couple of weeks of trends point towards underenrollment by our May 1 deposit deadline—but I wouldn't be surprised if we're going to have to continue to be creative to make sure we meet the enrollment goals for this year's class.


3.26.20
I never saw Frozen 2 in the theaters—Will and Julie went to see it together a couple of weeks after it was released last fall—but Disney decided to release it to Disney+ a few months earlier than planned to help give people something new to watch in the face of lockdowns, which have led to no new movies being released and no theaters open where you could watch them anyway.

Like most kids, Will was obsessed with the original Frozen, so I know that movie better than I want to. The sequel wasn't bad as an extension of that universe, but it wasn't as good as the first one either. The plot was nowhere near as focused as the first one, and many of the setpieces just seemed to be excuses/setups for one of many, many (too many) middling musical numbers). The plot doesn't seem to be the driver here—it seems to exist to try to stitch together otherwise unrelated events and interactions into some semblance of a story.

Will's not nearly as obsessed with this one as he was with the first one, but I have a feeling I'll end up seeing this one at least a few more times this year on our Friday night movie nights (which are increasing in frequency and spreading to other evenings due to the lockdown). It's watchable, I guess, but it will be even more watchable if I pair it with a glass of wine while I'm watching.


3.27.20
After Humble Pi, I noticed that David Thorne had published a new book (it seems like he puts out a new volume of essays every year around Christmas), so I picked that up. This one is called Burning Bridges to Light the Way, which is a pretty perfect title for someone who has made a career out of writing bitingly acerbic essays about the flaws and foibles of his coworkers, his neighbors, and, in his own way, himself.

His writing career started with a website where he published email exchanges between himself and demanding coworkers and clients whose requests he would take so literally that he would deliver projects (he was a graphic designer) achingly close to what they wanted while still being very wrong, prompting a cycle of responses and replies that generated a slow boil of anger that almost always erupted into pure rage towards Thorne.

His books have moved more into the personal memoir territory (although he always has a lot of office stories as well) as he has become a full-time professional writer, and the last couple, though still very worthwhile, were a lot harder to read because he was working through some genuinely painful incidents from his past. This book still has some of that, but it's a much nicer balance where there are still some truly poignant moments, but there's a lot more humor to leaven it, and his humor isn't as cruel to his acquaintances as it has been when he's been at his most brutal.

If it weren't for the fact that his books do play out better if you read them chronologically—there are recurring characters who he doesn't bother to give much background on once they've already been featured in a book—I would probably recommend this book as the best starting point for his work. But you really should read them in order, even though his first couple of books aren't nearly as nuanced (and occasionally profound) as his later works.


3.30.20
I had finished up the first half of the 10th season of The Walking Dead and was prepared to start watching the second half of the season when they announced that, due to the shutdowns from the coronavirus, the season finale was not going to air as scheduled and instead would air sometime later in the summer.

So instead of watching the first seven episodes to be left hanging and try to remember what was going on months later when the actual finale was released, I decided instead to return to Westworld, which I had stopped watching about halfway through the second season but whose third season had just started airing.

I'm going to start by working my way back through season 2 first—I remember season 1 and get the overall story arcs from that season, but I don't remember much from the episodes of season 2 that I watched other than that the timeshifts they used in that season were far to complex to keep track of. Between that and the story arcs of some characters (particularly Maeve) that didn't seem to be as vital as I was expecting them to be, I lost interest and never really regained it.

But I'm curious to see where they go with season 3, and to understand how they get to where they are, I need to make another run at season 2. And thanks to the quarantine, I have a lot more time to invest in shows like this now. Maybe even I'll get around to a long-overdue binge of Stranger Things.


3.31.20
I can't remember where I first heard about Andy Shauf's Neon Skyline, but after hearing the opening/title track online a few times, it earwormed its way into my head so deep that I was pretty much compelled to buy the album. It's a semi-autobiographical song cycle from a singer-songwriter who sounds like a poor man's Paul Simon from the yacht rock era, a description that would normally be pretty off-putting to me, but don't be deterred by it (even though it's pretty accurate)—this record is completely enchanting if you allow yourself to fall into the narrative world it builds.

The Neon Skyline of the title references a real-life bar and restaurant in Shauf's Toronto neighborhood called the Skyline Restaurant that has been around since 1965 but which has transformed into a hipster hangout over the past few years—exactly the kind of place where an artist like Shauf would (and does) hang out with his scene. On the album, the bar is the setting for endless random nights of having a few beers with friends, intermixed with remembrances of the narrator's relationship with past love Judy. The story evolves as Judy, who the narrator still carries a torch for, comes back to town and to the Skyline, and the narrator has to find some closure around their former relationship as it transitions back to a friendship.

That is a really basic, really inelegant explanation of the plot here—the way these events play out in the 11 songs on the album is restrained and subtle and brilliant, with new revelations appearing with each successive listen. As you start to put together the story of the narrator's relationship with Judy, you start to appreciate both of their positive qualities and see both of their flaws, and understand why their relationship was doomed to failure even though it was still worth going through for both of them.

If you can listen to "The Neon Skyline" and "Try Again" and not be completely won over by their charms, then this record probably isn't for you. But if those have any appeal for you, you'll doubtless find yourself falling in love with the rich tapestry of the complete song cycle.

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