november 2007

Our number of Halloween trick or treaters continues to dwindle. Here are the stats since 2000, when we first moved into this neighborhood:

2000: 130
2001: 104
2002: 114
2003: 93
2004: 97
2005: 87
2006: 86
2007: 75

So this year was far and away our worst turnout ever, although the overall trend has been in decline since our first year here. I'm not sure what to attribute this to, but I guess it has to be that this has gone from a starter neighborhood where people would move before they had kids or while they still had young kids to a more established, middle-aged neighborhood as a result of a stop on new real residential building in our area for the past few years and the housing bubble that started right after we moved here (even though the housing market declines have definitely affected prices, I think we could still get twice what we paid for this house if we were to put it on the market today).

I think another factor this year was the lengthening of daylight savings time—normally Halloween is after we revert to standard time, and it's dark by the time the kids start coming around (you're only allowed to trick or treat between 6-8 in our neighborhood). But this year, since we're still in daylight savings time, it was still light at 6, and it didn't really get dark until after 6:30, and I don't think it's any coincidence that we got our biggest surge between 6:45 and 7:15. Virtually no one came before 6:30, and we typically have 30 or so kids in the first half hour.

We also didn't seem to have any big church or civic groups this year, and we usually see at least one of those. If we had one or two of those, we could have easily matched or passed last year's total, which would have at least kept us on a plateau instead of giving us a significant drop.

Anyway. Here are our pumpkins from this year:

You might have noticed that there have been no new daily photos for the past couple of months. I knew back at the end of the summer that I wanted to take a month or two off from taking a new photo every day, and my intention was to post some of my favorite photos of the past three years to fill the content gap while I was on hiatus, but somehow I never got around to selecting and posting them.

I've done that now in the archives to maintain continuity, so feel free to browse if you're interested in which photos are my personal favorites, but going forward I should be able to post new content again for a while. I've got a backlog of shots that should take care of the rest of this month, and I'm going to start being more proactive about taking my camera with me.

Part of the reason I fell behind and needed a break this year was because last year I had it relatively easy. We took two vacations for our tenth wedding anniversary, and from the hundreds of photos I took on those two trips, I was able to yield enough usable photos to last me for five or six months worth of content, so I started getting lazy abour my photo-taking routine—after all, there was no rush to take more photos when I already had two or three months in the pipeline.

So when I started to run out of those photos in the spring of this year, I had a hard time getting my rhythm back, and it was a real effort to keep new content coming, especially because we haven't taken any vacations at all since the second of our two trips last year, and vacations have always been my most fruitful periods for gathering new photo content. I often resorted to pulling photos from my archives to supplement the new photos I was taking—not photos I had already posted once, like the ones I've posted for September and October, but ones that hadn't quite passed muster during my initial review but were perfectly serviceable when I was running short on new photos (often they weren't passed over because they were poor photos, but because they were too similar to some of the other photos that were going to be posted alongside them, a concern with disappears when I'm posting them months after the first batch had originally appeared).

Anyway. New daily photos are back, and hopefully it's the start of another long stretch of new content for that feature.

A day affter explaining to Julie how Apple put this special sensor in the bottom of the earphone jack for the iPhone that lets technicians instantly determine whether the reason an iPhone might not be working correctly is because the owner submerged it in water, I very nearly left my iPhone in my pants' pocket and put it through a wash cycle.

That would have been bad.

I have steadfastly refused to turn on the overhead flourescent lights in my office since the day we moved into our new building, but with the return of standard time and the onset of darkness at 5 p.m., I'm going to need some sort of lighting solution besides the sunlight that has sufficed as my only light source thus far. I'm still not going to turn on the flourescents, but a desk lamp is probably in order.

Two weeks until the family is here for Thanksgiving. That can't be right, can it?

I'm working at home today to try and plow through the two RFP responses we've received so far (the third is due tomorrow) for the document management solution we're going to implement next year. I've been trying to get to them all week, but there's just so much going on in the office this time of year that I've really only had about an hour of time scattered across the three workdays, and I've only been able to take a quick look at the price quotes and compare them to the quotes given to us by the same vendors earlier this summer.

It's interesting to see the different strategies at work in these quotes. One vendor has chosen to throw in a bunch of optional modules and extra implementation consulting hours, presumably so they can then negotiate back down to the prices we'd discussed earlier and make the budget people feel like we're getting a good deal. The other cut their proposal to the bone, not including any optional features, even the ones they know we will need, and not including any estimates on consulting time, but rather saying how much consulting time costs per day and that the consulting hours will be determined after we sign the contract. This makes their quote seem incredibly cheap, but doesn't really tell me how much implementing their system is going to cost me.

I'm a little bit disappointed in both approaches, quite frankly. We've already done at least one demo with each vendor in the past four or five months, they know our general price range, and the second one also knows that having a reasonable guess at complete year one costs (especially the consulting costs) was very important to us. I understand that during a formal RFP and vendor selection process, there's a large amount of gamesmanship that happens, but honestly, I'm not sure that these strategies are going to work out the way these vendors hoped they would. Neither of them has taken themselves out of the running with these actions—the decision will be based on the quality of the solution, not on petty things like this—but I think each of them just made it a little bit harder for themselves. But I guess that's just the way these things are done.

I like the things I'm accomplishing for my office in my current job. But with the increasing number of meetings, conference calls, and political negotiations that are taking up time on my daily calendar, I'm becoming more and more dissatisfied with what I have to do in order to accomplish those things. This is probably just because I'm in the midst of a relatively high profile bidding process for a new software system for our office, and there are tons of people who never took an interest in our business process before who now feel that they should have an active role in vendor selection.

I expect that type of scrutiny will die off once we sign a contract with someone, but that's at least a month away, and in the meantime there are also several other critical issues on my to-do list that need to get done by the middle of December. On the bright side, if we do actually get all this work done by then and I can avoid checking my email for a week or two at the end of the year, my Christmas holidays should be even more relaxing than normal, despite all the traveling we'll have to do.

It was Dodd's birthday on Saturday, so we took him out for a nice dinner to Fogo de Chao, which is a growing chain of Brazillian steakhouses also known as churrascos. The Baltimore franchise just opened in August and is located in the inner harbor, across the street from the ESPN Zone complex near the National Aquarium.

Julie and I had only been to one before (not a Fogo de Chao, but a Brazillian steakhouse), about two and a half years ago when we were visiting my mom in Florida, and Dodd had never been. It's quite a treat if you're a fan of steak: specially trained cooks wander the restaurant with skewers of freshly grilled meat, which they carve for you at your table. They have lamb, chicken, pork, and about a dozen cuts/preparations of beef, and when you want some, you just turn a disc next to your plate to the green side and the chefs will stop by your table with whatever they have to see if you'd like a slice. When your plate (or you) are full, you turn the disc to the red side, and they leave you alone until you're ready for more.

The reviews I'd read about the Baltimore restaurant said to try and get a table far away from the salad bar because of the constant traffic to and from that service area, and although we weren't given a choice, we ended up at a great table: it was in a back room, cordoned off from the main dining room (it's probably used for large private parties normally), which means we were immune from the constant comings and goings of patrons and staff in the main dining room, but we still got plenty of attention from the chefs. It was also in a corner, which is always a plus for me.

We started with the salad bar, but I kept my selections to a minimum; I really hadn't eaten anything all day in preparation, and I wasn't about to fill up on salad and bread before the main event. I got a few pieces of prosciutto, a couple of sun dried tomatoes, a small chunk of parmesan, a few pieces of fresh mozzarella, and a spoonful each of potato and chicken salad.

Once the salad plate was finished, the waitresses cleared it away and brought clean plates for the steak. There was a small lull as we waited for the chefs to realize that there were people in our room who were ready for the main course, but once they started coming, several came in rapid succession, and soon our plates were full. Over the course of the evening, I tried the filet mignon, the house sirloin, leg of lamb, chicken leg, another sirloin of some kind, chicken wrapped in bacon, pork sausages, and some kind of steak seasoned with parmesan and garlic. This restaurant also served sides with the meal, which I don't remember from the Florida restaurant, and although I tried to focus on the meat, they were good compliments to the steak: garlic mashed potatoes, fried polenta, and fried bananas.

Every single thing was amazing, and at the end of the night, even though we all ate a good bit of food, I still wish I had had room to sample everything. To finish off the meal, we all split a piece of their enormous strawberry cheesecake, which was a good way to come down from the meat and salt high of the previous couple of hours.

It's a fixed price menu, and it's pretty expensive, but I think I got my money's worth; I didn't really have anything to eat the day we went, and I was still full the next day, so I skipped lunch too. Probably not the healthiest way to eat, but I don't think doing this once every two or three years is going to hurt. I'm also glad I got to introduce Dodd to this kind of restaurant, because he's a big steak fan as well and really, if you like steak, this place is pretty much heaven.

Yesterday was the first of three vendor demo days we're hosting this week as part of the bidding process for our document management software. Each day we have an hour long early session with some of the higher level administrators that focuses more on the institutional applications for the software and the stability of the company, and an afternoon session that lasts two hours and goes through the functional aspects of the product for a much larger audience of people who will actually use the software.

Even though on paper it should only have taken three hours of my day, in fact it took much longer. Aside from checking my email first thing in the morning, at lunch, and at the end of the day, I spent pretty much my whole day dealing with demo stuff—getting the presentation rooms set up for the vendor reps, escorting them around the building, taking them to lunch, etc. I got one piece of real work done, but that required me to stay an extra hour, and I still barely got it done.

And I've got to do this all again on Wednesday and Thursday, plus tomorrow I have an off-campus appointment in the morning, three hours worth of meetings that will take me into the early afternoon, and then I have to leave early for another appointment. So my only chance of getting anything done this week will come on Friday, and I expect I'll be pretty wiped by then and more in recovery mode than in production mode. And then next week is just a two day week for me, during which time I'll be more concerned about prepping for visitors and fixing Thanksgiving dinner.

So I guess what I'm saying is, I sure hope there's nothing on my to-do list that absolutely has to be done before the last week of November.

I swear, it feels like it should be Friday today. Two more days of demos (including today), and then I might just have to take a day off to recover from this week. I'll probably at least work from home on Friday, because I'll really need some separation from the day-to-day office issues on my lone non-meeting day if I'm going to get anything done this week.

Wow. I've got a lot to do in the next week...

Vendors gone. Now to try to get some actual work done before the week is over.

Thanksgiving visitors start arriving tomorrow, and I still don't have a turkey.We went out to get one last night, not expecting to have any issues because we have always purchased our turkey 3-4 days before Thanksgiving so it has time to thaw, but the only ones they had left that were the kind I wanted were the 22+ pound behemoths, when what I'm looking for is a 14-16 pound bird.

Hopefully that's just because we went to the store relatively late in the evening and they'll restock tomorrow, but if not, I'll have to go with a different brand. I know that's probably not that big a deal, but I kind of have a routine about fixing the turkey, and it's one that works very well, so I'm reluctant to change any of the variables, especially since I didn't get to fix my normal menu last year and because we'll have more people this year than we've ever had.

We got the bulk of our Thanksgiving grocery shopping done last night, and we were able to find a turkey that was just about 14 pounds, which should be plenty. So far, aside from the turkey, the menu will include squash casserole, collards, broccoli and cauliflower gratin, green been casserole, marinated vegetable salad, stuffing, sweet potato casserole, and mashed potatoes. There will also be assorted breads and desserts, but I don't know exactly what those will be yet.

Since most of the family will arrive today, I'm taking Wednesday off, which means I likely won't be posting again until after the holiday. Enjoy your time off this week, and whatever you do, for god's sake stay out of the malls on Friday.

I half-considered going into work today, but after the last week, I really need a day off to recover.

Family started arriving last Tuesday, and a good portion of them were here through yesterday morning, so it was a long week, but I'd have to say it all went pretty well. We all got along pretty well considered that 8-10 of us spent the vast majority of each day in close quarters with one another, and we got to have some fun playing games and seeing some Baltimore sights.

We actually had our Thanksgiving dinner on Friday because three people were flying in late Thursday morning and we didn't want to risk a delay that would screw up the dinner schedule, because once that turkey's in the oven, there's no going back, but we ended up having a delay anyway: my parents' car was broken in to on Thursday night at their hotel, and it took until early afternoon on Friday to get the police report completed and get the broken window replaced. Luckily they were able to get in touch with me before I put the turkey in the oven, so it just got to sit in its brine for a couple of extra hours and we ate closer to normal dinner time than mid-afternoon as originally planned.

The turkey was excellent this year, and I was able to let other people into my kitchen for once so the side dishes were more equitably prepared than in years past. The only real flaw with the meal was that I either didn't cut the squash thin enough for the squash casserole or I didn't cook it long enough, so some of the pieces were still a little crunchy. Aside from that, though, I think it all turned out really well.

If you live in the Baltimore area and have even a remote interest in books, you should try to make it up to Evergreen House (just north of the Loyola campus) tonight at 5 p.m. for a book signing and lecture by Will Noel. Will is the Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts for the Walters Art Museum and he was my professor for a couple of classes a few years ago. He will be speaking about his just-published book about his work on the Archimedes palimpsest, a project that has taken a great deal of his time over the past several years.

Aside from being an interesting tale in and of itself, Will's British charm and unbridled enthusiasm for his work will make for a great lecture. The book is called The Archimedes Codex: How a Medieval Prayer Book Is Revealing the True Genius of Antiquity's Greatest Scientist, and I'm sure there will be copies on sale there if the story ends up fascinating you as much as it has me.

On Saturday, Julie's parents left, but all of my family who had come to visit (my dad and stepmother, my sister and her husband, my youngest sister, and my brother) were still around and not planning to leave until Monday (except for my brother, who lives in Baltimore), so we decided to take a trip into the city.

We got kind of a late start, and by the time we finished lunch it was close to 3, so it didn't really make sense to go to the Visionary Museum or the National Aquarium, so we just walked around the harbor for a bit before taking a quick trip up to Hopkins to look at my new office and building. As we were leaving, we also stopped by Charm City Cakes, where Ace of Cakes is shot. My sister from Florida is a huge fan of the show, so we spent a good 20 minutes looking through the windows and taking pictures of her standing beneath the sign. I'm pretty sure that was her favorite thing we did the whole weekend.

On Sunday we met much earlier and spent most of the afternoon at the National Aquarium, which we haven't been to in years, since before the new building opened. It was more crowded than I thought it would be, but it still might have been the least crowded it's ever been during one of our visits. The dolphin show was a bit disappointing—they had a four row "splash zone" that was completely unnecessary—and the rain forest exhibit at the top of the original building was less impressive than I remembered it, but it was still a good experience overall. The new building, which showcases the Australian Outback, was a little duller than expected given how huge the structure is, but we had fun watching this crazy bat on the ceiling who climbed along the netting like a monkey so he could drink out of the misters.

After that it was dinner at Bob Evan's and a round of goodbyes at the hotel; everyone who was left was leaving the following morning, and those of us who lived in the area had to go to work. All except me, I guess; I took a much-needed day off to catch up on my sleep and prepare for the next few hectic weeks at work. Hopefully by the holidays, all of this extra work I've put into the vendor selection process for our new document management system will pay off and we'll get a contract signed. Then I can focus on reading my files for a couple of months and not have to return to the document management issues until later in the spring when we'll be starting our implementation.

I ordered two of the Tara McPherson Bubble Yucky 8" dunnys (I know a word like that would normally be pluralized "dunnies", but the collecting community is quite firm that the proper spelling is "dunnys"), which is limited to 2000 pieces of 1000 pink and 1000 blue versions, because I really, really wanted the blue one, and I was hoping that by getting two I'd have a decent chance at one, and I might even get one of each.

So of course I got two pinks, which I'm not that wild about; in fact, if they had been two blues, I might have just sold the extra one and not worried about getting a pink unless I found one cheap somewhere. So now because they're sold out, I have to go through the arduous mess of finding a cheap blue one on eBay and then hoping that the even distribution between the two colors means that I'll be able to sell my pink for the same price so I don't end up investing any additional funds in getting a blue.

I know that the blind box/chase strategy, nicked from other collectible industries like baseball cards, is part of what keeps you addicted to the hobby, but sometimes it's just really annoying. Oh well. At least I pulled a bitten chase of the Gingerman holiday dunny that was released last month.

P.S.—I was going to put in links to these things so that you could get a better idea of what I'm talking about, but since they're all sold out they been removed from the Kid Robot site. <grumble>

So instead I'll link to some of the other online stores that resell them: here's the Bubble Yucky dunny and here's the Gingerman dunny. They don't have a picture of the bitten chase that I have, but he's exactly the same except one of his ears has been bitten off. There's also an ultra-rare burnt chase, but I wasn't lucky enough to pull one of those from my three boxes.
december 2007
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