december 2007

2007, where have you gone? It's inconceivable that it's December already.

Man, Ravens. You poor fucking bastards. You're making the Orioles look like a bunch of happy-go-lucky winners.

I just started watching the sixth season of the Sopranos (I've been watching the series of DVD using Netflix for the past couple of months), and while there have been episodes that I didn't care for as much before, the second episode of season six (in which Tony is in a coma for the entire episdoe) is the first one so far that I never, ever want to see again. I'm not that wild about the dream-oriented episodes (and this is one of those), but all the crap with his family and his "family" that goes on in between the dream sequences is just annoying.

My opinion of the series so far is that it probably should have ended after season four, but I'm going to see it through to the end. I just hope that there aren't too many of the remaining episodes that are as pointless as this one.

It snowed here for the first time this season yesterday, and although we were just supposed to get a dusting of an inch or so, it actually accumulated four or five inches out where we were. Most of that was on the bare ground, but the roads eventually picked up a bit too as the sun went down.

I had planned to work from home anyway, so I spent my workday in that kind of special silence that you only get on snowy days. I'm so glad we're approaching that part of the year where I'm scheduled to spend at least two days a week at home reading applications—I know I'll be sick of it by the end of February, but those first couple of weeks of January are always bliss.

For a while, the thrill of my new office in our new building was enough to make me look forward to going into work, because the environment was such a huge upgrade over what we had before. But that's not really the case any more; there's just been so much to do recently that I feel overwhelmed every time I look at my to-do list. Even though I scratch a few things off the list every day, I add more and more, and it really feels like the only time I make any progress in whittling it down is when I work at home where I'm not as easily distracted by meetings, phone calls, IMs, and impromptu conversations. I enjoy working at home, and my boss is very liberal about that, so it's not a big deal to do it every now and then, but now when I do it, even though I know I'm getting a lot done, I'm always worried about what's piling up at work that I won't hear about until I show up back in the office.

Last night was the normal kind of Ravens heartbreak that we've become accustomed to this season, not the soul-crushing heartbreak they put their fans through last week. I think at this point the Baltimore fans have readjusted their expectations to the point where if they manage to win another home game before the end of the season, they'll be able to cling to that as some sort of positive trend for next year.

The world was so quiet yesterday. Everyone was walking around in a fog of grey whispers.

The best thing I've seen on tv in a long, long time: the Mythbusters episode where they test whether elephants are really afraid of mice. That elephant's reaction when they spring the mouse on him is priceless.

That's only the first part of the segment; click here to see the rest of it.

This weather sucks. It's enough to put you in a bad mood without any help from the other stuff in your life that sucks. This is my memory of many of the days that I spend in England at University of York, which was built on swampland outside of York in the 1960s, and looking back on those days now, it's a wonder that there aren't more suicides or serial killers per capita in that country. It's a testament either to the British strength of will, their complete obliviousness to world around them, or their preternatural affection for alcohol. I'm guessing a bit of the second with a lot of the third.

Today is the day we mail our Early Decision letters. We had our largest applicant pool ever this year, 1055, which beats our previous record by about 60. This is also the second most terrifying day of the year job-wise, because I'm the one responsible for sending out the decision emails (the first most terrifying is Regular Decision release day, where I send out emails to another 14,000+ students with their decision).

This is my third or fourth year doing this—we didn't do decision emails when I first started—and I'm actually pretty confident in the process now, but still, one little mistake and we have a huge PR nightmare on our hands. My favorite game around this process is to log in to one of the more popular college message board sites and see how long it takes between when the first email goes out and the first post appears on the forums with a kid telling the rest of the community his decision. It's usually about two minutes, and that's just because we don't tell the kids what precise time the emails will be sent—otherwise I'm betting that the time would be less than 30 seconds, since our applicants tend to be a bit on the obsessive side.

This typically signals the official beginning of the holiday season in our office because there's only another week before Christmas week and everyone slacks off a little because January through March are so hectic. Not me, though—I'm hoping maybe I can get enough stuff done by the end of the week next week that I don't have anything hanging over my head during my vacation, but there are so many little projects I need to finish that I expect I'll be busy most of the week.

Drunken children tell the ugliest lies.

On Friday after the snail mail ED letters had been transported to the post office, my director gave everyone the rest of the day off. But since I carpool, and because I still had a lot of work to do to update our various web sites and prep the emails for sending, I stayed at work and banked the half day. And since yesterday afternoon was our office holiday party, which I was not planning to attend anyway, I decided to use my half day in the morning and skip the office party to take a whole day off.

The reason I didn't want to go to our holiday party is because it's gotten to be a pretty mean spirited affair. See, we do this thing called yankee gift swap or white elephant gift exchange, and although I've experienced this kind of thing before, the way our office does it is different. All parties like this start with everyone bringing a wrapped present and then drawing numbers from a hat to set the gift selection order. When it's your turn, you either take a wrapped gift from the pile or you steal one that someone else has already opened; if your gift gets stolen, you have the same options, the only exception being that you cannot steal a gift that has already been stolen once that round to prevent endless back and forth over the most popular gifts. This goes on until everyone has a gift and all the gifts have been opened and all the swaps are done in the final round.

When I've participated in white elephant parties before, the idea has been that everyone goes out and spends no more than a set amount (say $15 or $20) and buys something that you would hope people would actually want to receive (it's not a bad plan to purchase something that you would actually want, since there's always a chance you could end up walking away with the gift you brought). There's still some competition during the selection phase, but in general, there aren't too many people that go home with a really terrible gift.

The yankee gift swap has a little bit different take—in this one, you're not supposed to spend any money, you're supposed to bring something from home that might be useful to someone else but which you don't have any real need for. For instance, the one year I participated in my office's gift swap, I brought one of my matted photos that was a nice picture but not one that I have a lot of fondness for, and I ended up with a nice teakettle. The person who ended up with my picture was very happy, and I was happy to add something to my kitchen that I didn't already have.

The ugly part with my office comes with a slight twist to the rules, where you're not necessarily supposed to bring something functional that you don't use, but rather you're supposed to just bring something—anything—that you don't want. In the past, people have brought in giant white ceramic wedding statues, empty ant farms, broken music boxes, etc., and the worst of those gifts end up reappearing year after year as people who got stuck with them the previous year try to dump them on someone new. And although some people do bring decent gifts—there is a wine lover in the office who always brings in a few bottles of good wine that don't suit his personal taste—that almost makes things worse, because then people get locked into fierce swapping wars for the few decent items. This is further exacerbated by our rule that an item can be stolen 3 times, not just once, per round, which means that small teams get together to start to dominate possession of the top few items.

All in all, it's pretty mean-spirited, and seems to bring out the worst in people at a function that's supposed to focus on giving and sharing and all the other stuff the advertisers tell us Christmas is about. And I'd just rather not participate. This time of year has already lost a lot of its special charm for me because given our family commitments and how far away we are from everyone, Julie and I have experienced it as a hectic whirlwind of travel for the last 15 years or so, and I don't need other nonsense like my office's twisted take on a gift exchange further reducing whatever special meaning this season still holds for me.

So I just didn't go into work this year; that way I don't have to answer any questions about why I'm not going to the party, or, if I went but didn't participate in the gift exchange, why I wasn't doing that. And it felt pretty good, so I plan on doing it again next year, and every year after that until we switch to a different office gift giving tradition.

My director was promoted to a dean today, and although he'll basically have the same responsibilities, I'm sure it will come with a nice pay bump for him (which is long overdue) and it will increase his visibilty and clout on campus (and by extension, increase the prominence of our office and its mission). I don't think it's going to lead to any raises for the rest of us any time soon, but at least it might be a little easier for us to get new line items in our budget.

I got my first batch of applicant files for Regular Decision yesterday, which is far and away the earliest I've ever gotten them. Last year things were going pretty well and I didn't get a real stack of files to read until the second week of January; I think it speaks volumes about both how efficient our process has gotten and about how many applications we're expecting to recieve this year that we've gotten so many completed so early. It probably doesn't hurt that we bumped our ED deadline up two weeks, which basically gives us two extra weeks in December to start processing RD files.

But still, I think the real difference is the massive number of apps we're expecting to get this year (based on comparing trends from the past few years) and our ability to process files efficiently, which has gotten about as good as it's going to get until we make a major technology change (which we will next year when we implement our document management system). There are still a few things to get past before I can focus more on the reading of files, but I'm hoping by mid-January I'll be able to consistently take 2-3 days a week to work at home reading files until sometime in late February.

That's it for this year, as we're off to visit family tomorrow. This one hasn't been as bad at the last, but it wasn't a good one. It had it's bright spots, but losing my cousin, our favorite cat, and getting some other bad news all within a three week span a few months back really threw me off-balance, and I'm still waiting for the world to get back on its normal axis. Here's hoping next year will have more positives than negatives. Take care everyone.
december 2007
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