december 2009

So the Ravens scraped by with a victory over the Steelers, and while it was an amazing finish, it's still a bit worrisome given that they should have had a much easier time against a Pittsburgh team that was using its third string quarterback who had only thrown one previous pass in the NFL and that was missing their defensive team leader, Troy Polamalu. They have another game against the Steelers in Pittsburgh later this year when they are likely to have both Roethlisberger and Polamalu back.

The good news is that their kicking woes may be over with the replacement of Steve Hauschka with veteran Billy Cundiff. Cundiff was dead on with a 56 yard attempt when only seconds remained in the game, even though the kick was a couple of yards short (the game was tied, so the Ravens decided to give it a try even though it was outside of his range). He then kicked the game winner in sudden death overtime, showing twice in a row that the pressure's not going to get to him.

They really need to win at least three of their next five games to have a shot at a wildcard slot, and winning four or more is really what they should be aiming for. Fortunately, the game in Pittsburgh against the Steelers is the hardest game left on their schedule (although certainly the game against the Packers in Green Bay next week is not likely to be a cakewalk), and the games against the Lions, Bears, and Raiders should be winnable, especially for a team under pressure with playoff hopes.

So it's frustrating that four of their five losses should have (and easily could have) been wins, and that at least a couple of those games were lost because of bad kicks, but they appear to have corrected that problem now, and if they are a true playoff-caliber team, the remainder of their schedule opens the door for a wildcard spot. The game next week is huge, as a win against Green Bay would set them up well for a playoff run.

Busy couple of weeks, with an average of three meetings most days. But then another reasonably long break (although that will involve more travel down south and the crush of applications this year means I'll likely put in at least a few hours of work on days that I would have otherwise taken as vacation days the week between Christmas and New Year's), and hopefully a little time to regroup before we head into the Regular Decision portion of our reading cycle, which I'm expecting to spend two to three days a week doing again this year.

There are a few interesting developments at work that could ease some of the pressure on my team, but nothing is ever for sure with this institution, so I can't make too many plans at this point. But it's nice at least to have some hope for the first time in a few years that we might be able to add some resources to my overtaxed team. It would make a fine Christmas present for us, but even if it goes through, I'm not sure it will happen before next year.

The good news: our office is going to go bowling in a couple of weeks after we send out the decision letters. The bad news: it's going to be duckpin bowling, the inexplicably-popular-in-Maryland version of bowling that was designed for either leprechauns or small children. I'm psyched about spending a workday afternoon away from the office, but I wish it was regular bowling, especially since one of my team members (who will hopefully be on my bowling team) was leader of a bowling club in college.

The local weather monkeys are telling us that we can expect 1-3 inches of snow tomorrow, meaning we'll get nothing or half a foot. Either way, it's the weekend, so no snow day. It would still be nice to see some snow on the ground after some relatively quiet seasons the past few years.

For the record, we got about seven inches of snow on Saturday. The snow fell all day, and we spent it napping and goofing off and enjoying being cooped up at home, even if we didn't get a day off work from it. The roads actually didn't get too bad—there was less accumulation there, and the plows came by pretty often.

It didn't warm up yesterday as much as they predicted, so even though the sidewalks and asphalt are snow-free, it's still on the ground and the trees and the buildings. It probably won't make it past the next couple of days, but it was nice having a winter wonderland for the weekend, especially this early in the season.

I'm not going to say the Ravens' season is over after losing to Green Bay last night, because the Packers in Green Bay was the second-toughest team left on their schedule (the Steelers in Pittsburgh is the first, although they're struggling a bit right now). But they had every chance to win that game, and it was stupid turnovers and penalties that killed them, and it makes the Detroit, Chicago, and Oakland games must-win.

When they were 3-3 and could have been 6-0, they felt like a playoff team that had just gotten some bad breaks, but with the increasingly sloppiness of the play (they haven't had a good, solid game since they played the Broncos in Baltimore in week 8) now makes me think they'll be lucky to make the playoffs. And even if they do make it, they're feeling like a first round elimination at this point.

Still, they could turn things around, tighten things up, and cruise into the playoffs riding a hot streak, because they'll need more than luck to get past potential postseason matchups like Indianapolis and Minnesota (both of whom have already beaten Baltimore this season in their only regular season meetings).

The English alphabet does not need the letter K. Discuss.

I've been watching less on Netflix recently, mostly due to time constraints and an abundance of new content on the TiVo, but I did finally get around to watching Spielberg's War of the Worlds remake and the Will Smith vehicle I Am Legend. It was interesting to watch them back to back—they're both big-name, big-budget films with sci-fi themes that tried desperately to toe the line between popcorn entertainment and serious themes.

War of the Worlds was vaguely entertaining, but it was definitely the lesser of the two films, not the least because of Tom Cruise's terrible overacting and the ridiculous premise and ending, which killed any hope this movie had of keeping you on its side. I won't spoil it, but the way the conflict resolved itself was akin to the stupidity and absurdity of the ending of Signs, where we're supposed to believe that creatures who have a Wicked Witch of the West-level aversion to water have decided to invade a planet that's 70% water populated with creatures who are themselves 70% water.

I Am Legend was a bit better, and Will Smith's performance was definitely stronger than Cruise's, but there were still some gaping plot holes and a less than satisfying ending. Zombie movies have been almost as popular as vampire movies over the past decade or so, and this is in that vein, although it's not nearly as good as the similarly-themed 28 Days Later.

If I were to encounter either War of the Worlds or I Am Legend playing randomly on television, I'd probably be more inclined to rewatch War of the Worlds, even though I thought it was the weaker film. But I'd definitely flip through all the channels first, secretly hoping to find Mars Attacks or Shaun of the Dead instead.

People I'm prepared to start a holy war with:

  • Those who think the title of the tv show Lost should be written in all-caps
  • People who don't understand what an em dash is, or when to use it, or how beautiful it is
  • The grammar nazis who cling to the notion they were taught in grade school that you should never end a sentence in a preposition

I mean, there are more groups than those that bring me rapidly to a boil when I encounter them. Lots more. But those are the folks that have been bugging me this week.

The Ravens kicked Detroit's ass yesterday, to the tune of 48-3, but this was a home game against one of the worst teams in football, and anything less than a solid thrashing would have been cause for concern. There were still stupid mistakes, most notably the fumble in the red zone on their first posession, but fewer than the past couple of weeks, although it's hard to tell if that's because the Ravens have tightened things up or if Detroit was even sloppier than they were, so Baltimore wasn't made to pay for its errors.

They've got another relative cakewalk, and another must-win game, in their homestand against Chicago next week. After that, it's on to the newly terrible Steelers in Pittsburgh, which should be winnable if the Steelers continue their awful play (but Pittsburgh and Baltimore are like Duke and Carolina—even if one or both of them are having an off year, each game between them is like a playoff game), and then finally to Oakland. The Raiders are beatable, but they're also wildly unpredictable, so you can't even count on a win against them.

If all goes well and they win at least three of those games, they also have to hope that the teams currently in the wild card hunt with them (Denver and Jacksonville are the only teams ahead of them, but there are several right behind them, too) have a worse final four weeks of the season if they're going to have a prayer of making the postseason this year.

Early Decision letters go out today. This is a big milestone in our cycle, because it's where we admit about a third of our class, and while we'll get a break now with the holidays, it's just the calm before the storm for Regular Decision, which will get underway in earnest on January 4, the first day back in the office for most of our staff.

And it could be quite a storm this year. We just read our biggest ED class ever (up 10% from last year's pool), and a similar 10% increase in the RD pool would result in about 1500 more apps compared to last year. But the scary part is that so far, we're trending at about 30% above last year for RD, which could result in an additional 3000-4000 apps even if the numbers start to drop a little bit.

Combine that with losing a counselor mid-cycle who used to read close to 2000 apps and a bunch of new part time readers who don't have the experience to crank through large numbers of files, and this could be a grind for the full time reading staff. I typically read about 400 files (40 files a day, two days a week for five weeks), but if these numbers stay where they are, I have a feeling I'm going to get drafted for another day or two per week and also tack on an additional two weeks of reading just to help them get through the crush.

Watched Terminator: Salvation on Netflix, and I was not impressed. I was hoping I would be, even after all the mediocre-to-negative reviews it garnered when it was released, because the premise is promising and I've become a huge fan of Christian Bale over the past couple of years. But this was one of his less-distinguished performances—it felt like he wasn't really invested in it (although anyone who remembers his profanity-ridden tirade that leaked a year ago knows that he took it pretty seriously).

I think the main problem with the plot was that the three main characters (Bale's John Connor, Sam Worthington's Terminator-who-thinks-he's-really-human, and Anton Yelchin's Kyle Reese, who will eventually become John Connor's father in the Terminator's time-travelling mythology) hardly spend any time together on screen, each carrying out their separate missions, unlike the first two movies where the main characters' interactions and bonding was the heart of the film.

Not bad for a Netflix rental, but given the strength of the cast and a legendary franchise that was in serious need of a reboot, I'd have to call it a failure. But still better than Terminator 3.

I'll be doing more work from home over the holiday break this year than I have in years—in addition to all my normal responsibilities, we're also starting to read Regular Decision files earlier than ever this year, and I won't be surprised to find a hundred or more (about a quarter of what I read in a typical year) already waiting for me in my queue when I get back. But today and tomorrow will be my last two physical days in the office until after the new year, and I'm anticipating a real grind to between now and Friday evening. But all I have to do is slog through it somehow, and I set myself up with a reasonable chance to have a few genuine days off over the next couple of weeks.

This may or may not be my last post of this year. I'm leaving town for a few days for the holidays, but that's not until sometime next week (I won't be going into work again, though—I'm mixing working from home with some appointments and errands). And although I'll only be gone for a few days, I am planning to try and take as much vacation as I can that last week of December, so I don't know if I'll be in the mood to post or not. If you don't hear from me again in this space or otherwise, enjoy your holidays. 2010 promises to be a very interesting year for me, with possibilities for a lot of great or not-so-great things to happen in both my personal and professional lives. Hopefully the positive aspects will win out.

Also: I'm posting the rest of my pictures for December on the photo archives link and putting my two favorites from the next two weeks on that link and the daily photo link.

december 2009
november 2009
october 2009
september 2009
august 2009
july 2009
june 2009
may 2009
april 2009
march 2009
february 2009
january 2009

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