september 2020

9.1.20
I've been watching the Michael Jordan/Bulls ESPN docuseries The Last Dance that started airing on Netflix earlier this year, and I finally finished a couple of days ago. Overall, this had some solid content and nice interviews commentary from virtually ever significant person from the 90's Bulls who is still alive. But...it was way too long. They producers knew they had a great story to tell, and they knew people would watch it to the end, so they dragged it out way, way too long. This would still have been an expansive series with six hour-long episodes that would have left relatively few stories untold (and no major stories untold) that we experienced in the 10 episode series that we actually got; you could have done a really tight version in four episodes.

Part of the problem is that it didn't know what it wanted to be, or very purposely wanted to be everything. Is this, as is implied by the title, an in-depth look at the Bull's 97-98 season, their last one with Jordan and Pippen and Phil Knight, the season where the team won its sixth championship in the 1990s and capped off their second threepeat? Is it a biography of Michael Jordan, starting with his childhood in Wilmington, NC, through his college career at Chapel Hill and his professional career in Chicago? Or is it a history of the Bulls, starting with Jordan's arrival in 1984 and the accumulation of talent on both the roster and the coaching staff until they started their run of championships in the 90s? Yes, yes, and yes—it attempts to be all of these things, and combined with the producers slowing down the story as we get closer to the end, it verges on becoming a bloated, insufferable mess when it could have been a brilliant documentary.

The basic structure of the episodes is that they cover part of the 97-98 season and then flashback for a significant portion of the episode to focus on some aspect of that team. At first this works because it's mostly about Jordan, who was a full participant in the documentary and whose story is one of the most amazing in sports. But then they start to diverge, giving abbreviated (compared to Jordan) biographies for other significant players, like Pippen and Rodman and Kerr, along with coach Phil Knight, Bulls GM Jerry Krause, and Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf. Eventually, when they run out of people who are truly significant in terms of the Bulls six championships, they bring in very, very tangential stories, like a biography of Steve Kerr's father (supposedly important to the narrative because Kerr and Jordan bonded over their murdered fathers) and a segment on a security guard at the Bulls arena who was part of Jordan's inner circle.

The other thing they do to drag out the series is spending an increasing amount of time recapping games as we get closer and closer to the 97-98 season, to the point where it feels like we're spending 5+ minutes on each playoff game in the 96-97 and 97-98 seasons. This felt purely like a delaying tactic meant to stretch out the series another couple of episodes, which, when combined with the extra 2-3 episodes you could get back by cutting out minor storylines from secondary or tertiary characters, is what leads me to conclude that you could have told essentially the same story in only six episodes.

I'm not a huge basketball fan, although I am a big Jordan fan—I grew up in Wilmington and saw him play in Chapel Hill when he had already become a star at the collegiate level—so maybe if I was more into the sport that would have made a difference in terms of my engagement with and perception of the series. Despite my complaints, there's still a lot to like here, and if you like sports at all, there are a lot of great sports stories embedded in this series. But it could have been near-perfect with a little editing, and it's a shame that the desire to overproduce the content to get more minutes they could air interfered with creating the best version of this story.


9.2.20
I'm bored with the video game that I spend most of my gaming time in (World of Warcraft, which is at the end of an xpac and hasn't had a content update in months) and I'm eager for the NFL to start back up, so I decided to give the latest version of Madden a try, partially because of the aforementioned boredom and partially because the cover star and featured player in the game is the Ravens' QB (and 2019 NFL MVP) Lamar Jackson.

I've bought Madden in the past, but I don't buy it every year—it's probably been at least five years since I bought a new version. It's a game that is so finely tuned at this point that there's really nothing to justify the $60+ cost to buy the latest version each year. It would make a lot more sense for them to offer it as an annual $25-30 subscription with quality of life UI and gameplay tweaks and the latest player stats, but there are enough people out there that upgrade to the latest version each year that this plan would potentially lose them money (even though I suspect there are a lot of people like me that won't pony up the full price each year but who would pay that lower price for annual updates).

It's been fun so far, especially because I can play the Ravens, who top-to-bottom last year were the NFL's most complete and most dominating team (they won 12 games in a row to finish the season and had an overall record of 14-2). It's a real joy to play the team I love and have them be great on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball. It gets me excited for the upcoming season with this team (which looks to have improved in many areas and not slipped anywhere), but I don't know how long I'll keep playing once the season starts and I'm getting my football fix that way (and/or once the new Warcraft xpac is released).

Will has started playing a little bit too, which is a bit of a surprise—he doesn't really watch football at this point, and he's not a big console gamer (he spends most of his gaming time playing Minecraft with his friends). It's nice that the game has an easy mode and has a really good helper UI so he can call and execute plays relatively easily and be successful.


9.3.20
I don't talk to my family very much on the phone, but thanks to good news from both of my youngest siblings, I've heard from both of them in the past week.

First my brother Dodd called me to tell me had had gotten a job offer after being out of work to focus on his family for a while. It's in the same career that he had when he was working previously, it's about the same commute, and it's better pay, allowing him to seamlessly pick up his profession where he left off. It's remarkable that his new employer was able to make him an offer in this climate—it's in a higher ed environment, and most of those places (including my institution) have been in a hiring freeze since the beginning of the pandemic (in our case, we've been told that the freeze is likely to last at least through next summer, which is becoming increasingly problematic as we continue to slowly bleed employees whose salary lines can't currently be backfilled).

A few days later I heard from my youngest sister, Tori, who was calling to tell me that she is pregnant again, meaning that come next February, Will will have another cousin along with Tori's current son Harvey. It's very exciting news, and I just hope this pandemic is under control by next spring so we can go for a visit (last Christmas was the last time we saw anyone in the family who still lives in NC, and I have a feeling we're not going to be getting together for Thanksgiving and Christmas this year like we normally do).


9.4.20
A few weeks ago, we decided to watch Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure with Will for movie night. He seemed to like it, but he also spent some time making fun of Bill and Ted and their stoner/surfer vibe (he especially didn't like the little guitar thing they do with their hands). We watched it hoping he might like it so we could all watch Bill and Ted Face the Music when it came out, but it didn't seem like he'd want to revisit the franchise anytime soon.

Despite that, the next week we suggested Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey just to see if he would bite, and surprisingly, he did (we have a rotation where every third week each of us gets to suggest three movies for movie night and the group votes on one of those three, so he had other choices). We watched that one, and although he still made some mocking comments, he definitely seemed to enjoy it more.

By the third week Bill and Ted Face the Music had been released, and he actually asked if we could watch it. Part of that was likely because there haven't been any new movies out for months, but I genuinely think he likes the characters despite some outward disdain for them. So we bought it (it was only $5 more to buy it than to rent it for 48 hours) and watched it together, completing the trilogy in three weeks.

I was a pretty big fan of Excellent Adventure, and I LOVED Bogus Journey (Ted and Neo are the two roles Keanu Reeves was born to play), but I tempered my expectations for this—franchises that go almost three decades between installments are rarely going to produce something worthwhile. But at least this was not a reboot with new actors (despite the presence of their daughters—Billie and Thea—mimicking their style)—it was a genuine sequel with the original actors playing characters that were appropriately aged from the last time we saw them.

I actually really enjoyed it, not just for the nostalgia trip but because I think this would have held up as a worthy conclusion to the trilogy even it had been released only a few years after the second installment. There were some really funny set pieces, and Dennis the killer time-traveling robot stole the scene every time he was on camera. And the iconic Rufus role created by the now-deceased George Carlin was filled by Kristen Schaal (Louise from Bob's Burgers), who played Rufus' daughter Kelly.

There was a time-traveling scavenger hunt similar to the first film that also echoed the Blues Brothers "getting the band back together" conceit where they put together the ultimate band by collecting great musicians throughout time, including Mozart, Louis Armstrong, Hendrix, a legendary Chinese composer, and a cavewoman drummer. There was also a callback to the trip to Hell from Bogus journey, and a lot of short time traveling moments where Bill and Ted see themselves in different alternate realities.

Well worthwhile if you like the original films at all, and I would honestly recommend it (along with the first two films) if you're looking for something funny, light, and hopeful. Bogus Journey is still the gold standard in this franchise, but this holds up as a nice bookend to the trips we started with Excellent Adventure.


9.8.20
Just because I haven't said it explicitly in a while: I miss everything about our old world. I miss going to movies. I miss going to baseball games and soccer games. I miss going with Will to swim practice and getting in a run while he's in the pool. I miss eating at restaurants. I miss going to bars. I miss walking to Thinking Man with my neighbor and playing trivia with my other friends. I miss having physical contact with people besides the two people in my immediate household. I miss being able to travel and explore other cities and see friends who don't live in Atlanta. I miss being able to plan vacations. I especially miss going to live music shows.

I miss not being angry all the time watching everyone else, whether it's my neighbors or my social media friends, violate social distancing protocols because they're so tired of waiting for this to end to. I miss all the experiences Will didn't get to have this year, many of which he'll never have a chance to do again. I miss watching him thrive in his element, whether it's playing with his friends, performing piano, or acting in a play.

We've been fairly lucky through all of this, I know—no close friends or family have gotten seriously ill or died, we both have our jobs, and we've managed to work out how to have Will do his schooling, Julie see her clients, and me do my work in a small house that's lacking the default discrete spaces that we really need. But just because our lives aren't the worst in the world doesn't mean that things still don't suck now, especially because we have no idea when this will end. Or if it ever will.


9.9.20
We're just over two thirds of the way through the Covid-shortened 60 game MLB season, and the Braves seem likely to make the playoffs, especially with the expanded playoffs. They're in first place in their division, and they've consistently found a way to win with their bullpen and late-inning offensive heroics despite the lack of a strong starting rotation.

We've watched far more baseball this summer than we have in a normal baseball season despite there being over one hundred fewer games in the season this year. It's been a while since I've felt this connected to the day-to-day standings and the game-by-game ups and downs of the team, and it's kind of nice—it makes me nostalgic for the years when I got obsessed with baseball and the Braves thanks to a college roommate who grew up in Fitzgerald, Georgia.

I still care way more about the NFL at this point—I know more about the Ravens 53 man roster and practice squad than I do about the much smaller Braves roster—but watching this team, especially with their many exciting comeback wins and unconventional path to winning, has served as a welcome distraction from a summer that was otherwise fairly boring for us. Hopefully they can continue to push for the remainder of the month and carry some momentum into the postseason.


9.10.20
Work is weird these days, but that's likely true for most people. Aside from the worked-from-home-for-the-past-six-months-and-likely-will-through-at-least-next-summer weirdness that many of us are experiencing, the particular way in which my work is weird is that we have a new president that no one has actually met, a provost position that's been filled by an interim for a year and will likely remain that way for another several months, and a recruiting season where the best we can do to engage with prospective students is the best anyone can do these days: offer virtual sessions, Zoom calls, and emails.

It's always a anxiety-producing period of adjustment when we get a new president—you never really know who they are until about a year into their tenure—but it's especially stressful this time because my bosses haven't yet had the kind of contact they normally would with senior leadership (even virtually), there's a hiring freeze and pay reductions taking place institution-wide, and we have no idea when things might get back to normal in a way where we could all feel secure about our futures, much less think about backfilling roles that we've come to depend on that are now empty.

I still feel pretty lucky for the most part—our office does a good job, I do a good job for the office, and everyone on staff has been here for at least two years, so we should be able to roll through a virtual reading cycle with relatively ease, despite some fairly significant changes to our process to accommodate the circumstances of the pandemic. But I'll sure feel a lot better if we get to a point as a country and a state where we can invite everyone back to campus and get the revenue streams fulling flowing again.


9.11.20
...


9.14.20
The Ravens played their first game of the season against division rivals the Browns, and it was a pretty convincing blowout. The final score was 38-6, but the score could have easily been much higher than that if the Ravens defense hadn't contained the Browns and kept their point total low—as in many games last season, the Ravens took star quarterback and reigning MVP Lamar Jackson out with nearly 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter.

The Browns made two stupid mistakes early that set the tone for their generally sloppy play. The first was an opening drive interception that the Ravens turned into a touchdown, and the second was a failed fake punt that the Ravens turned into a field goal, putting them up 10-0 just minutes into the first quarter.

The game was pretty much sealed a few minutes into the second half with three drives from the Ravens that started in the third quarter and ended with the opening possession of the second half. In the first drive, the Browns made an excellent punt that put the ball in the Ravens hands on their own first yard line, but Lamar took Baltimore 99 yards down the field for a touchdown. Next was the final drive of the first half, where the Ravens got the ball back with 46 seconds left on the clock and 69 yards to go. Again, Lamar made a series of surgical throws and the Ravens scored another touchdown with 6 second left.

Baltimore got the ball back to start the second half, and they scored a touchdown on that possession as well, making the score 31-6. The Browns were already defeated even with half the game to go; they were listless and unfocused and didn't even manage to put together a drive strong enough to score a field goal. The Ravens would score another touchdown in the fourth quarter after a Browns fumble, but the 10 points they scored in the first would end up being enough.

Next week it's an away game in Houston against another dynamic young quarterback, but one that Baltimore handled easily last year in another blowout similar to this week's game against the Browns. The big game on the September calendar comes the following week against the world champion Kansas City Chiefs, the only team Lamar has faced so far in his young career that he has never beaten.


9.15.20
I'm running low on episodes of The Great British Baking Show, which I used to watch when I had my lunch and when I used the treadmill—I've been restricting myself to watching one segment at lunch so a single episode can last me three workdays. At first I filled the treadmill void with the Jordan docuseries The Last Dance, but that finally ended (it needed to be a lot shorter; see rant from earlier this month), I didn't know quite what to watch, so I started watching movies that were in my watchlist on Amazon Prime.

I started with Mission Impossible: Fallout, the sixth movie in the Tom Cruise thriller/spy series. I actually really like this as a pure popcorn franchise since they moved past handing it to well-known directors (Brian De Palma, John Woo, and J.J. Abrams were the directors of the first three, each of whom had a mandate to bring their own unique stylistic flair to their entries) and started viewing the series as what it has really been all along: a showcase for Tom Cruise filled with big action set pieces and dialogue/character relationships that don't ask the viewers for too much emotional investment.

I attribute this shift to Brad Bird, who directed The Iron Giant, Ratatouille, and The Incredibles before taking on his first live-action film with the fourth Mission Impossible movie, Ghost Protocol. He does a great job of infusing real humanity into big stories, and also has a great feel for complex action sequences and meaningful but compact dialogue (I really wish he had been tapped to oversee and direct the Star Wars sequel trilogy instead of J.J. Abrams). He moved away from the attempting-to-out-serious-the-most-serious-James-Bond tone that the previous three big time directors brought to the series and introduced a lot more levity (particularly with the genius move of bringing in Simon Pegg to play the clever but somewhat cowardly and inept sidekick Benji).

The last two films have been directed by frequent Cruise collaborator Christopher McQuarrie (he also worked with the star on Valkyrie, Jack Reacher, Edge of Tomorrow, The Mummy, and the delayed-until-next-year Top Gun reboot/sequel, and while he's clearly a director in his own right, he understood all the good things Brad Bird did to turn the series around and has doubled down on those strengths.


9.16.20
We've had three people announce they are leaving our office of 40 full-time employees since the start of the pandemic, and the most recent of those was one of my two data analysts. She's been with us three years, but I could definitely feel this coming—she had a baby late last year, and in March, right after the lockdown started, she moved significantly farther from campus, going from inside the perimeter to about an hour outside it (in normal traffic—in rush hour traffic, it could easily by 1.5 to 2 hours each way).

That worked for now since we're all working from home anyway, but I had real fears about her being able to consistently do that commute, even if we only asked her to come into the office a couple of days a week. So I was surprised but not shocked when she told me that she was leaving, in part because of the new baby (and now another one on the way) and because her husband's business had grown to the point where they were going to need to hire a manager/accountant, so it made sense for her to step into that role for a variety of reasons.

It's hard for me to fathom anyone leaving a salaried job at a place with great health benefits and which is not likely to do layoffs in the near team while in the midst of a pandemic with an infant and another due next April, but just because it's not something I would do doesn't mean it doesn't make complete sense to her. Even though we had a complicated relationship—she didn't come to me with some issues that I could have helped with in the first year she was on my team, and that made it hard for both of us to trust each other for a while—but she was a genuinely smart, kind, and positive person who always made an effort to get to know her coworkers (including me—more than once she initiated casual lunch meetings where we didn't talk about work and we could just get to know each other better).


9.17.20
After Mission Impossible: Fallout, I started watching Knives Out, the stylish, old school locked room mystery from The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson. It has a strong ensemble cast, including Jamie Lee Curtis, Chris Evans, Toni Collette, Christopher Plummer, and a surprisingly good Don Johnson. But the star is current James Bond Daniel Craig, who plays a gentleman private eye with the kind of hammy American southern accent that only the British seem bold enough to pull off these days.

The art direction and cinematography are outstanding, but as a mystery story, it's a bit lacking. Without giving away too much, they tell us what actually happened pretty early on in the story, but they pretty obviously telegraph 1) that there were secondary things happening beyond what we were shown and 2) who the real bad guy is (I'm assuming this will all be obvious to everyone, since I'm not an especially big fan of this genre and it was all pretty obvious to me).

Part of the reason for this obviousness, however, is that this is also a meta-commentary on the genre, with lots of obvious cliches and with the characters themselves (especially Craig's Benoit Blanc) either obliviously ignoring these cliches in a pretty comical way or engaging in the kind of extended exposition that is a hallmark of mystery stories. One of my favorite parts in near the end, when Blanc is on an extended monologue where he's slowly unraveling the chain of events to reveal the real killer: one of the police detectives starts to interrupt him to tell him to get to the point, but his partner shushes him and lets Blanc continue, enthralled as much by his oratory style and the stereotypical, this-is-how-it-happens-in-the-movies reveal as he is by having the mystery solved.

It was a pretty entertaining film, but I don't know that I'd watch it again (whereas Fallout is definitely the kind of popcorn entertainment that I'll likely see again at some point, especially when I've forgotten the few details of the plot that I can recall, since the plot is sort of peripheral to movies like this anyway). But if you've already got Prime Video and you're looking for a way to pass the evening, this is a pretty decent choice.


9.18.20
Every week we go through so much that it seems like this year couldn't possible get any worse. And every week—practically every day—it proves to us that it can get much, much, worse. There have many dark days in 2020, but losing Ruth Badger Ginsberg just in time for Trump and the GOP to ram through a nominee who will almost certainly betray her values and attempt to undo all that she won for marginalized and oppressed people over the past three decades on the Supreme Court makes today one of the very worst.

She deserves her rest—she suffered for far too long and should have been able to retire and enjoy life before she passed—but none of us deserve what this court will do to this country for the next several decades.


9.21.20
The Ravens played their second game of the season, this one an away game against the Houston Texans. People make a lot of comparisons between the Ravens' Lamar Jackson and the Texans' DeShaun Watson, and the game was predicted to be close (but with the Ravens given a clear edge). They predicted the same thing for this matchup last year, though, and it was a total blowout—41-7 Ravens.

This year it wasn't quite that bad, but it wasn't close either. The final score was 33-16, and the play that really put the game away came in Baltimore's first series of the fourth quarter. The score was 23-13, and the Ravens were driving down the field when the Texans were able to get a stop at the 30. It was 4th and 1, and while most teams, with that score at that point in the game, would have brought in the kicker for an easy three points, Baltimore decided to go for it.

But instead of a running play where Jackson either hands it off or runs for it himself, they did a direct snap to running back Mark Ingram, which so thoroughly confused Houston that not only did he get the one yard the team needed to get a fresh set of downs, he ran 30 yards all the way to the end zone for a touchdown. That put the score at 30-13 with just over 10 minutes left in the game, and Houston would only score three more points the rest of the way.

The biggest game of the season so far—and maybe of the entire season—is next week against defending the Super Bowl champions, the Kansas City Chiefs. Lamar Jackson has only lost three games in the regular season, and two of those are against the Chiefs. The Chiefs are also the only team that Jackson has ever lost to more than once (including postseason games).


9.22.20
After Rich Larson's sci-fi short story collection Tomorrow Factory, I returned to non-fiction with Daniel Immerwahr's How to Hide an Empire: A History of the Greater United States, a book about the history of American territories and how America's empire is different than any other empire in the history of the world.

The book is divided into two parts: Colonial Empire, which delves into more traditional imperial moves based around land/resource acquisition, and Pontillist Empire, which describes out transition during WWII and its aftermath to dominating the world through cultural and economic influence and creating a global military network using a series of bases rather than invading and trying to control entire countries.

The first half is less interesting, but still provides a lot of detail that I wasn't previously aware of regarding America's successful westward expansion and the gradual incorporation of contiguous territories into the United States, and the parallel acquisition of non-contiguous territories (like the Philippines and Puerto Rico) through traditional colonial occupation strategies. This is important to understanding the history of the US, and why some territories were officially welcomed into statehood while others were marginalized as owned or de facto controlled by the US without its citizens having the same rights as citizens in the official states, but while it shows some of our early forays into non-traditional empire-building that we would fully embrace in the years leading up to and following WWII, our actions and policies during this phase of our national history is more or less the same as any empire you could look at in recorded history.

The second part is more more compelling, because that's where we use a combination of unique strengths and opportunities to revolutionize imperialism and global dominance. WWII was the main catalyst for this transformation in empire building, where advances in transportation and communication technology (like globe-spanning cargo aircraft and global telephony) made it possible for us to quickly move resources and manpower to hotspots using a network of military bases that didn't require us to take over whole countries to maintain. And advances in chemistry, forced by being cut off from the foreign sources of resources like ammonia and rubber, allowed us to permanently disentangle from colonialism as a way to ensure a steady supply of necessary goods that were previously available only in certain geographic locations.

Beyond WWII, our dominance continued through our cultural influences and through the propagation and global adaptation of our language and manufacturing standards. These areas of dominance, in combination with our still-flourishing network of military bases, allows the US to be in control of a global empire that controls much of the world through influence alone, but which has the power to back up that influence with military might when necessary.

All in all, this is a compelling book that sheds light on critical parts of American history that aren't covered in most history books. I have two minor criticisms: first, that the author spends far too much time of very detailed histories of the Philippines and Puerto Rico—it sometimes felt like the publisher wanted a higher page count and going into less relevant aspects of those countries was an easy way to get there. They other is that the author is occasionally redundant and repeats an argument in different sections of the book in very similar passages. But again, overall I enjoyed this book, learned a lot, and generally agree with the author's arguments and conclusions.


9.23.20
The Braves clinched their third straight NL East title last night with a decisive 11-1 win over the Miami Marlins. Their record stands at 33-22 in the this weird 60 game season, and we'll know who they'll play in the first round of the playoffs in the next week.

It's great for them to win a division title, especially with the odd strengths that have emerged on the team this year. They have a non-traditional but killer combination of a deep, strong bullpen and hitters that can come alive and find ways to comeback in the last inning or two of a game when they're behind. Our starting pitching has been very spotty aside from Max Fried (who is in his second full year as a starter), but the bullpen has been phenomenal—it we can just hold on and be in ranged after five innings from the starter, the bullpen gives us a very good chance to come back and win.

It will be interesting to see how this all plays out in the playoffs given the Braves recent postseason history. They haven't advanced past the first round of the playoffs since 2001, and they haven't advanced to the World Series since 1999, when they lost four straight games to the Yankees. Their odds are even lower this year with a 3 game wild card round—since 2012, a team that wins their division gets to play in a 5 game NLDS series, but as one of the many experiments in this Covid-altered season, this year the playoffs were expanded to 16 teams (8 per league) where every team has to run a gauntlet of a three game series to start things off.

The only good news is that the Braves will get to play this entire series in their home ballpark (although sensibly without any fans in attendance). But the first game will matter a ton—historically the team to win the first game in a 5 game series has a huge statistical advantage in winning the entire series, and my guess is it would be even more lopsided in a 3 game series, especially if the home team happens to win that first game.

This team has so much talent and potential, especially on offense, that it would be great to see them move deeper into the playoffs this year. But again, everything is so weird that there's really no predicting what's going to happen; even with expanded playoffs, the caliber of the teams in the first round is going to be high enough that no team is going to have a huge advantage and any of them are capable of moving to the next round.


9.24.20
Back in April, my institution lifted the cap on the number of vacation hours you can accrue in response to the Covid crises and the likelihood that no one would be able to take vacation as they might when we're not in the middle of a pandemic. This was a good move; like many people who have five or more years of service time, I'm constantly pushing my cap, and I count on longer breaks during the summer and the holidays to eat up big chunks of it to give me a little breathing space.

But then, at the end of July, when Georgia had never really reached a substantial reduction in Covid cases (and we were in fact in the midst of another surge thanks to the July 4 holiday), HR announced that they were restoring the cap, and that we only had until the end of August to get back below the threshold or we'd stop accruing any further vacation time. Even though I took a week and a half off in August (a week of that actually was a real vacation), I was still up against the cap for this month and needed to spend two days or else I'd go back over the cap.

So I picked the two sequential days on my calendar when I had the fewest meetings and took them as vacation: today and tomorrow. Since we couldn't really go anywhere, I planned to just relax, get extra sleep, read, and put in some hours on the World of Warcraft beta, which I hadn't been able to play much after a bug got everyone stuck at a certain point in progression for a week while the developers corrected it.

Unfortunately, the same thing happened when I tried to test this time. It was a different quest, but the same kind of bug: a questgiver appeared on the map but failed to materialize in the world to give the next quest. And since the quest is part of a linear chain of campaign quests, you can't just skip over it—you have to do those quests in a certain order to move forward, and you can't start quests in another zone until you have finished the campaign quests in your current zone. So everyone got stuck again, and I ended up testing for less than an hour before encountering the bug and getting stuck myself.

They recently announced that the new expansion is supposed to officially launch on October 26, but after encountering two game-breaking bugs and many, many small but irritating UI issues, terrain issues, missing objects, and just plain bad decisions regarding leveling, I have serious concerns about that date. Launch of a new xpac is always a little rough, but from what I've seen in beta, the game is near-unplayable compared to the highly polished game that has evolved over the past 16 years. I just don't see how they get from what I've seen in beta to a playable game for millions of players in the next month.


9.25.20
As I've probably mentioned before, I've been taking beginner guitar lessons since February from the same music school where Will takes piano. This school emphasizes performance as part of the learning process—something that's been great for Will—but I didn't think it really applied to the very small number of adults who are taking lessons.

But then my teacher notified me that there would be an (online) recital for the adult students and their teachers, so we picked out a song (Simple Gifts, a Shaker hymn) and I started to practice it for the recital. I actually like the song, which made it easier to practice countless times in the 2-3 weeks leading up to the recital, but I was still very nervous about performing—despite the fact that my job regularly requires me to speak to rooms full of strangers (or it did prior to six months ago, anyway) and despite it being online and not actually up on a stage, I would find myself getting panicked and making lots of stupid little mistakes when I thought about playing it for other people.

The recital was last night, and it didn't go too badly. There were only seven of us—the head of the music school, three teachers, and three students—and I went third, after the school owner and my teacher, so I was able to enjoy the rest of the performances. I flubbed one little easy part in the transition from the first section of the song to the second, but I don't think many people noticed—the more difficult parts went off flawlessly (which was lucky—I could have tensed up even more after the initial mistake, but instead I went into what-the-hell mode and was able to relax and play without thinking about it too much).

All the instructors played their secondary instrument, and the other two adults were either picking up an instrument they were once fluent with years ago or picking up a second instrument, so I was easily the least musically practiced (and talented) of the group. But I felt okay about my performance, and I'd likely do an online one again without too much anxiety. Getting up on a real stage, on the other hand...


9.28.20
In some ways, it turned out to be a good thing that I wasn't able to get overly invested in beta testing during my vacation days, because I didn't end up being able to take many hours off on Thursday and Friday after all. We got hit with a deluge of data requests from senior leadership, and I ended up working for about six hours on Thursday and three or four hours on Friday, in addition to another three or four hours over the weekend. It's kind of irritating, but that's just the way things are this year, with a very fluid situation due to Covid and a new president who we're still trying to get to know.

Last Thursday we also got a delivery of a surprise present for Will: an 8 foot inflatable Halloween spider with a light up kaleidoscope body. He's gotten really into decorating the yard for Christmas the past few years, but up until this year we only had a couple of small blowups for Halloween. So this year as small way to compensate for all that he's had to give up due to Covid, I thought it would be fun to buy him a really big inflatable to add to his collection. He was so excited when he opened it, and we took some time on Saturday to clean up the yard and clear a space for it.

On Sunday we did something special with his music school that is probably the riskiest thing we've done in the Covid era. Six students (out of hundreds) got invited to participate in a master class where they played a piece in front of a guest instructor, who then gave them tips and feedback, and Will was one of those selected. It took place in the nave of a church (the music school offices and practice spaces are in the basement), masks were required, and only immediate family were allowed to accompany the student. In additional, the guest instructor (also masked) sat more than 6 feet from the student who was playing, and the piano and piano bench were wiped down in between each person who touched the piano.

It was only supposed to last about 45 minutes, but it actually took closer to 90, which is the longest we've been indoors anywhere besides our house since the pandemic started. People were pretty good about following the masking and social distancing policies, but the family that was closest two us (two rows up in the next section over from ours) had two kids, both of whose masks kept slipping down their faces below their noses and even below their mouths. But it was a good experience for Will, and overall pretty safe, I think.


9.29.20
My mom had elective surgery yesterday, which we weren't in favor of but which also wasn't our decision. It was on her knee, one of a series of surgeries she's had over the past three years to correct issues in her knees, hips, and shoulders. She does need to have it fixed, but she was getting around okay as she was, she's still getting her strength back from her previous surgery, and Covid raises the risk level for anything medical that requires you to be around other people in a hospital environment for an extended period of time.

The surgery started later in the day than expected and took a little longer than expected, but otherwise seems to have gone well. She's theoretically supposed to be discharged tomorrow, and her friend Jane is coming down to stay with her for a few days (as Jane usually does when mom has a surgery). She and mom went to nursing school together so not only is it good to have a close friend around, it's also nice to have someone with medical experience who can keep an eye on her from that perspective.


9.30.20
UGA played their debut football game on Saturday, three weeks later than originally scheduled due to Covid. With the rearranged fall schedule, all SEC teams had to redo their calendars to play only other SEC teams, so while the season will end a week later than originally planned, UGA will play two fewer games and will have a couple of significant changes to their typical schedule. One of these is playing the Auburn game (the oldest rivalry in the SEC, and one of the oldest in the country) much earlier than normal—this will take place in week 2 instead of sometime in November. The other is the traditional season closer against Georgia Tech—because Tech is in the ACC and both the ACC and the SEC are only playing intraconference games this year, this game won't happen at all.

They kicked off the season against unranked Arkansas, and while the Bulldogs ended up with a 37-10 victory, it wasn't as easy as the final score might indicate. Not only was UGA behind 7-5 after the first half, they didn't score a touchdown, and didn't score any points until a safety in the second quarter. The offense didn't score until the series after that, when they couldn't complete a drive into the end zone and had to settle for a field goal.

Things changed drastically in the third quarter, however. After Arkansas scored a field goal to go up 10-5, UGA scored touchdowns on two consecutive offensive possessions and then added another 7 points when the defense returned an interception for a touchdown. That put Georgia up 27-10 to start the fourth quarter, where the offense would add another 10 points and the defensive wouldn't allow Arkansas to score again.

The big change was at the quarterback position, which had been seen as a position of strength back in the spring despite 3 year starter Jake Fromm leaving the team to go pro in April. In addition to Jamie Newman, a grad transfer from Wake Forest who was seen as the likely starter, the team also had JT Daniels, a former top recruit for Southern Cal who missed the 2019 season due to an ACL injury; Carson Beck, a first year prospect; D'Wan Mathis, a third year player who's struggled through injuries his first two years; and Stetson Bennet, a fourth year player who was redshirted his freshman year, transferred and started for a junior college his sophomore year, and transferred back to Georgia last year and saw limited duty as a late-game substitute/back up.

However, Newman and Daniels, the two primary options, were unavailable to start this game. Newman opted out of the season due to Covid, and Daniels had still not been medically cleared to play while rehabbing his ACL injury. Kirby Smart game the start to Mathis, who the coach saw as having the best combination of talent and upside of the remaining three quarterbacks. But Mathis struggled mightily, only competing 8 of 17 passes for 55 yards in the first half and preventing the offense, with its potent running attack, from getting in any kind of rhythm. So at halftime, Smart made the switch to Bennett.

The offense immediately looked different—Bennett was more dynamic and much quicker with his release. The first drive of the second half ended when James Cook fumbled after catching a Bennett pass, but rather than letting that mistake and field goal that Arkansas scored on the subsequent poses soon rattle them, the offense came back out and attacked on quick, effective drive that ended with UGA's first touchdown of the game. After that performance, there's little doubt that Bennett will be the starter next week for the Auburn game, even if Daniels is medically cleared to play—he showed he deserves a chance to lead this team, and Smart will undoubtedly continue to use him as long as he stays hot.

Meanwhile, the Ravens played their third game on Monday night in a primetime matchup against the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs. This team is currently the bane of our existence (along with the rest of the AFC and the NFL in general) with their dynamic young quarterback Patrick Mahomes (who signed the biggest American sports contract in history during the offseason, worth nearly half a BILLION dollars if Mahomes fulfills it in its entirety) and speedy offense.

This would have been a real signature win for the Ravens, who are trying to stake their claim as the top team in the AFC heading into Lamar Jackson's second full season after being unanimously chosen as the league MVP last season, but it ended up a loss, and a fairly convincing one at that. As with our other big-stage losses (our two first-round playoff exits in the 2018 and 2019 campaigns), our offense quickly moved away from its strengths and never really got on track. Our early-season questions/issues were highlighted—a developing offensive line that isn't blocking as well for our running backs as last season (likely hall of fame right guard Marshall Yanda retired in the offseason), and our pass rush didn't really have any penetration. And no matter how good our incredibly secondary plays, there's only so long you can keep tight coverage on a QB like Mahomes and his elusive receivers.

The good thing about this loss is that it happened early in the season and we have a lot of games to working on these issues before a possible postseason rematch with the Chiefs on the way to the Super Bowl. But it is frustrating to see a team that has otherwise been rolling over all regular season opponents since October of last year get manhandled by the team that is turning into our biggest conference rival and our biggest albatross. I have no doubt that we will beat them eventually, but until we get past the roadblocks of Lamar winning his first playoff game and finding a way to beat the Chiefs (Lamar has only lost four regular season games in his career, and three of those have been against Kansas City), questions will still remain about Baltimore's ability to win another championship.

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