february 2010

Finally caught up with Tom over the weekend. We couldn't figure out exactly how long it had been since we last spoke, but it's been at least a couple of years, maybe more. I've really missed his sense of humor, and it was great to talk to him again and get caught up on each other's lives. Hopefully we'll get a chance to hang out in person sometime soon, but we'll at least be better about staying in touch via phone.

Groundhog Day! And it's a seamonkey day for us, too.

I've finally got a handle on how many files I'm going to read this year, and surprisingly, given how many extra files we received this year, it's below my typical number. So I'm going to pick up the slack from some other readers and take at least another 50 files, which will bring me in line with my normal totals.

Doing the math, I should only have to read about 60 files a week to finish everything by our early March deadline for completing the first reads, and normally, that wouldn't be hard at all. In past years, when I've really been able to focus on nothing but reading files by working from home, I've been able to get through 40 files in a day. But this year, with so many other projects I'm managing and so much else going on, I'm only averaging about 50 files, so I'm going to try working from home for three days a week instead of my normal two.

Hopefully this will help, but there have been many days already when answering my email and making phone calls have taken up more than half of my day, leaving me little time to read files. Luckily, if I fall too far behind, it's easy to work some extra hours at night or on the weekend to get caught up, but things are so hectic that I really value my non-work hours these days, so I'd like it if it didn't come to that.

We got five or six inches of snow yesterday, but that's supposedly just a warm up for tomorrow and Saturday, when we'll get a storm that will likely rival our December snow (the official tally, taken at BWI, was 21 inches, but we got more than two feet out where we are). Just what I wanted: a weekend spent shoveling. Maybe it won't be as bad as they think, but we're likely to get some significant accumulation that won't fall until after the workday has ended.

Our friend Leila is in DC for a meeting this week, and the original plan was to pick her up from the train station after work and host her overnight before taking her to the airport on Saturday afternoon. But the snow has changed all that: already the airline has let her reschedule her flight for Sunday, when they hope the airport will be operating again, and she's trying to move up and/or shorten her afternoon meeting so she can get on the train sooner than she'd planned.

Julie is just going to work from home, but I'm going to go in to pick up a couple things from work and get Leila from Penn Station whenever she can get there. Hopefully the snow will hold off long enough for us to get home without any major stress, and all of the early closings could actually work in our favor, as the rush hour shouldn't be as congested even though the Baltimorons will be in full-on snow panic mode at that point.

We're planning to cook at home since we're assuming the roads won't be in any kind of decent shape at dinner time (and the restaurants might not be open either), but depending on when Leila and I make it back, we might try to order out something to bring home and reheat later. Either way, we're anticipating being snowed in Friday night and all of Saturday; I just hope the roads are clear enough to get Leila to her noon flight on Sunday, although that could be unrealistically optimistic if we get 24-30 inches and the snow doesn't stop falling until sometime Saturday night.

According to my iPod shuffle, which I listened to whenver I went out to shovel snow (about five separate outings, starting at 7:30 in the morning and ending around dusk), I spent four hours shoveling snow on Saturday alone. Add in the half hour from Friday night to get the first few inches before the massive amount fell overnight, and the hour or so I spent on Sunday cleaning up the driveway, shoveling out the second car, and clearing around the heat pump, and I spent a solid five and a half hours shoveling wet, heavy snow this weekend.

Hopkins is the only school in DC or Baltimore that's open today, but given the road conditions I saw yesterday, the freezing temperatures that are preventing any melt off, and the likelihood of many, many accidents today as people try to return to work on what are sure to be treacherous streets, Julie and I are just going to work from home.

And we pretty much have to go in tomorrow, because like it or not, it looks like the third snowstorm in the past seven days is going to roll into the region on Tuesday night into Wednesday, dropping anywhere from another five to twelve inches, which means that getting to work on Wednesday is also unlikely. Maybe we'll get lucky and this one will miss us, but they've already upgraded the accumulation predictions in the last 24 hours, and luck in avoiding snowstorms doesn't seem to be something the mid-Atlantic is blessed with these days.

Well, at the last minute (6:33 a.m.), Hopkins followed the lead of every other higher ed institution in the state and closed on Monday. We were planning to work at home anyway, but not having to worry about work at all made things considerably less complicated.

I did venture out for an hour or so yesterday, however—our friend Leila, who was visiting us and scheduled to fly out on Saturday, wasn't able to get a flight back to Mississippi until Monday at noon. I stuck only to the interstates, and while at least one lane was clear the entire way, not all lanes were open, and some of the lanes were only half-open—you'd be driving along on what seemed like a plowed lane and suddenly you'd be driving over hard packed snow and ice, a dangerous situation to say the least. So most everyone stuck to a single lane, which slowed things down a bit even though there weren't that many vehicles on the road.

After the eleventh hour decision to close on Monday, Hopkins shockingly announced that they were also closing on Tuesday fairly early Monday evening, because after 30+ inches of snow around the region over the weekend, we have another storm on the way today that they are predicting could drop another 15-24 inches between tonight and tomorrow afternoon. So tomorrow is probably no good work, either, and given that it took two full days after this last storm finished up before you could even think of going out, Thursday and possibly even Friday are also in doubt, depending on just how much snow falls and when it ends.

So more shoveling ahead for me. It's quite a good workout, and I haven't had to worry about either my cardio or strength training routines since Friday, but I am getting a little sick of it.

Dodd was also supposed to visit this week, flying in on Tuesday night and flying out on Thursday, but he canceled that trip on Monday after Hopkins rescheduled the training that he was coming to Baltimore for. And it's a good thing, too—while we might have been able to make our way to the airport to pick him up, it would have been very dangerous, and he would have just ended up sitting around here today and likely tomorrow as well. Hopefully the roads will be clear enough tomorrow that we could have gotten him back to the airport for his flight home, but honestly, there's no way to be sure given the sheer volume of snow we're trying to cope with.

Snow. Snow snow snow snow snow.

It's official: Hopkins is closed for the entire week. They canceled Thursday pretty early in the day on Wednesday, and they canceled Friday before 8 p.m., although we had a pretty good idea we were going to be closed earlier in the day when the university opened all of its parking garages to local residents, which meant there would have been no place for employees to park if we had tried to come in.

This past week has been ridiculous. Ignore the official snowfall totals; they come from BWI, which always seems to get one of the lowest accumulations in the area. For last weekend's store, we got at least 30 inches out where we are west of the city, and I think it was more like 36. The midweek storm wasn't quite as impressive, but we still got a good two feet, if not a couple inches more.

Shoveling has become basically a full-time job. I have moved at least a ton of snow, literally two thousand pounds, and I suspect it's a few hundred pounds over that number, and the problem the last couple of days is that there's just no place left to put the damn stuff because it's already piled up so high.

The temperatures are getting above freezing in the afternoon each day, and sunny skies yesterday and today are at least helping to melt off the streets and sidewalks, but it's not going to get much out of the 30s for the next week or so at least, and these piles of snow are going to be around for a long time. In Baltimore, many roads that are normally two lanes or more have been reduced to a single passable lane on each side of the road, and that's not likely to change before people start returning to work in earnest next week, so I expect our commute to be a nightmare for a while.

Back to work!

I mean my regular work, instead of shoveling for hours a day, which has been my job for the past week plus.

I've watched the first couple of episodes of Caprica, which is a prequel to the revamped Battlestar Galactica series that wrapped up last year. It's set 58 years before the BSG and features the preteen child who will eventually become one of the central players in BSG, Admiral Bill Adama.

The first two episodes, including the two hour pilot, aren't nearly as strong as the early episodes of BSG, and they are almost as ponderous as some of the slowest-moving episodes in the final season of BSG, so I don't know if this show is really going to build on the success of BSG like SyFy (I still hate that new name) is hoping. There are some interesting concepts, but a lot of this stuff has already been visited and revisted in BSG, to the point where I almost wince whenever a character says "All of this has happened before, and all of this will happen again."

I'm also a little worried about the track record of executive producer Ronald D. Moore, who was one of the creative forces that dragged the dynamic, reimagined Star Trek universe of the Next Generation series into the static, ponderous territory of Deep Space Nine, which shows what happens when you move from an environment that is constantly changing (the Enterprise and the Galactica were ships that were always on the move) to a more confined setting (Deep Space Nine was a space station; and Caprica's action is set primarily in Caprica City), which can limit your storytelling options a bit more. There's also a parallel between using action to set the stage for meditating on weighty issues (as in TNG and early BSG) and focusing so much on the weighty issues that there's almost no room for action (as in DSN and, so far, Caprica).

The weight of living up to BSG's legacy and the lack of tension and action may doom this series to a single season (I'm sure they've got a contingency plan to wrap up everything if that's the case), but I'm hoping things will get better. There are some great stories hinted at in BSG that are worth telling in Caprica, but they're going to have to step it up if they expect to keep BSG fans tuned in for much longer.

Dear Winter Olympics,

The more sports that feature athletes simultaneously racing down the mountain—not trying to beat the clock, but each other—the better. Snowboards, skis, sleds, inner tubes, whatever—more of this kind of stuff would be good. Especially if these events could reduce the number of figure skating competitions.

Also, curling is pretty awesome, so a little of that during primetime would be nice.

Our last visit to see the seamonkey. Fingers crossed that this all goes well...

Happy news yesterday. More details coming sometime soon, but most of you who know us already know what it is.

Today I only have three meeting scheduled, but one of those is a four hour site visit with some folks from Georgetown. Tomorrow, my typical Day of Meetings, already has five meetings on the docket, and I wouldn't be surprised if I got pulled into one or two more. So basically it will be at least Wednesday before I actually get anything crossed off of my to-do list at work, and I'm betting that list is going to get significantly longer after all the meetings over the next couple of days. But there is some relief in sight...

We spent a few hours talking to a couple of tech guys from Georgetown about our document imaging solution yesterday, and then went to lunch with them at neighborhood favorite Paper Moon. Whenever I meet with IT colleagues like this, especially colleagues who also work in higher ed, it always strikes me how similar the challenges we face are, and how obvious the solutions seem to those of us doing the work. It's also a little heartening to get some behind the scenes info on a peer institution, and to realize that all great schools share some of the same internal dysfunctions; it makes our own dysfunctions seem a little more tolerable.

There's a lot of stuff in my personal and professional life that's coming together quite nicely in the past couple of months. I'm happy about the direction things are heading, but it's a bit unsettling; I'm not used to the world working this way, and I keep waiting for the rug to be pulled out from under me. But for the time being, I'm trying to enjoy it and keep hoping that it will all come to fruition.

Fewer than a hundred files left to read, and my deadline is next weekend, so that should be doable even if I keep getting distracted by other work tasks. It is an unbelievably strong class this year, and the fact that it's also our largest ever means there are going to be a lot of unhappy kids come decision mailing time.

It's a good position for us to be in, although it really is just the continuation of a path we've been on since my director took over the office—every year since he's been here, our applicant pool has grown in size and it's also increased in quality, meaning that we're not only attracting the attention of more and more students, but they are the kinds of students who actually have a good shot to get admitted.

Things will probably start to level off in the next couple of years as the size of the population of high school seniors starts to decrease and we reach a saturation point with our audience, so we're all bracing for the year when our applicant pool shrinks in size for the first time in a decade, but that's not going to signal a failure in our minds—it's just going to mean that we've done our job so well that we're no longer a school with tons of uncapitalized potential, but that we're finally operating at pretty close to maximum capacity.

This is more like it: twice this week they've predicted snow (we were supposed to get up to 5 inches a couple of times according to various forecasts), and it turned out to be nothing. That's kind of more what we're used to here: hype that turns into nothing, not hype that turns into back-to-back snowstorms that shut everything down for a week.

I can't wait for spring to get here this year. That's not just because of the massive snowfall, but it's certainly a factor. It's been a really cold winter, too, and I'm ready to go outside and feel warm air on my skin again.

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