june 2010

Work on the nursery is nearly complete. All of the painting is done and the furniture is assembled, but we're still waiting on the wallpaper border that we ordered a couple of weeks ago, and we also have to get a replacement for the rocking chair we ordered. It's a little frustrating—it was the one item we really splurged on, and out of the box it came with a factory defect that causes one of the metal parts to rub against one of the wooden parts (it's a gliding rocking chair, and it's supposed to be completely smooth and silent).

The Babies R Us that we ordered it from is going to deliver a new one to us later this week and take away the old one—we had to rent a truck to go pick up the one we have, along with the crib that we got from Babies R Us, and we're not willing to incur the loss of money and time to rent another truck to pick up the replacement—but once we get the new one, it should take less than half an hour to put it together and get it in place in the room. The border won't take very long, either, so as long as that gets delivered this week too, then we should be completely done with setting up the nursery by next weekend.

That's mostly what I spend my vacation last week doing, but we also had some friends over for a cookout on Memorial Day yesterday—newly married Alisa and Sarven and my coworker Scott and his friend Miller. It was fun, but it took more time to get everything ready than I expected even though we'd gone to the grocery store and done some preparation the day before.

Normally I'd be concerned about hosting an event like that and then having to go back to work the next day after having been away for more than a week (although I did spend a portion of three or four days during my vacation doing work stuff), but today is our office "fun retreat" (seriously, they used those quotes when they sent out the email annoucement to the staff), which means I have to show up, take a bus ride to some sort of beach resort, have a very long lunch that I'm told includes an open bar, and take a bus ride back to the office before heading home.

It's going to be a busy week—we have an all day demo session with the vendors for our imaging software and about 35 representatives from a dozen different offices around the university on Tuesday, and we have a maternity ward tour and a shower scheduled for this week (I think my brother might be in town for a couple of days too)—but whatever else this "fun" day provides, it will give me a nice bridge back to the office world after a week away.

Crazy week this week. Our office fun retreat yesterday actually was pretty fun—I spent the day playing games (pool, Wii bowling, and some sort of outdoor game with beanbags), eating good food, and drinking many gin and tonics—but I'm going to pay for it the rest of the week. Last night we went on a tour of the maternity ward at the hospital where Julie will deliver, and tomorrow is an all day series of demos with seven or eight different offices around the institution and some representatives from the company that makes our document management software. Thursday is the first day when I'll actually be in the office doing work in about a week and a half, and then we're having dinner that evening with some relatives from Chicago, and Friday is our final ultrasound in the morning, a baby shower at my office at noon, and dinner with my brother after work.

Some of those will definitely be fun activities, but they're all disruptions to my routine, and the ones that happen during work hours will keep me from getting to my increasingly long to-do list that really needs to get done before the end of the month since I don't know what my availability will be come July.

It's been hard to put a lot of energy into following the Braves over the past few years as they ended their amazing streak of playoff appearances and most of the players I knew left the team or the game, and I figured when they lost nine in a row earlier this year that I could already start to write off this season. But since then, they've only lost eight games, going 22 for 30 including their current eight game winning streak (including a sweep of last year's league champion Phillies), and taking a 2 1/2 game lead in the division.

There's still a lot of baseball left to play, but it would be a pretty nice parting gift for longtime manager Bobby Cox if they could get to the playoffs for him one last time. And even better if they could bring home their first World Series title since 1995.

I finished watching the first (and so far only) season of Eastbound & Down, and I liked it pretty well. The main character, Kenny Powers, is a failed major leaguer who is returning to his hometown broke and disgraced after losing his pitching ability and getting caught up in a steroid scandal. Even though he's forced to live with his brother and his brother's family and take a job as a PE instructor at the local high school, he still acts as if he's the pampered millionaire superstar that was his life in baseball while plotting a comeback.

The character is less immediately relatable than Danny McBride's breakthough Tae Kwon Do instructor in The Foot Fist Way, but he grows on you. The cast also has a few Napolean Dynamite-type misfits, but these are offset by more realistic characters like Kenny's brother and his high school girlfriend, who also happens to be a teacher at the school where Kenny works.

It can be very scattered and uneven, but if you like Danny McBride's other work, you should like this. I'm not sure I would recommend it to those not familiar with the actor—I think it's pretty funny, but there's a certain level of raunch and bad acting that comes with his schtick that I'm guessing people either love or hate.

Folks at my office were pretty generous at our shower on Friday—in addition to several onesies and other clothing items, they also gave us a playpen, a bathtub shaped like a whale, and a stroller. Today is another shower at Julie's office, and after that, I think the only big thing left on our list will be a baby monitor, which my dad and stepmother have agreed to buy for us when we figure out which one we want (my mom gave us money to buy artwork for the nursery, and Julie's parents gave us money to buy furniture, etc.).

Today is one month from the official due date, but it was our goal to be ready for the baby's arrival anytime after June 1 (I mean ready in terms of the nursery being ready and all other supplies being on hand; I know we really can't be ready for all the changes that the baby will bring). And I feel like we're pretty much there; now it's just a waiting game.

Today is our 14th wedding anniversary, and the 22nd anniversary of our first date. We don't have anything really special planned for today—we both have to go to work, and Julie especially is trying to conserve vacation days for maternity leave—but we'll probably go out to dinner somewhere local, and we will both hopefully be able to get off work a little early.

Tomorrow night, however, is our real celebration: we're going to have dinner in Frederick at Volt, and restaurant owned by Top Chef runner-up Bryan Voltaggio. We're fans of the show, and last season was one of the best seasons so far, with Bryan and his brother Michael both making the finals (Michael won, but I actually thought Bryan was the better chef, and that the judges partially gave the title to his brother because Michael was less established and needed the money to start his own restaurant, whereas Bryan had founded Volt before he appeared on the show).

We considered going all out and doing one of the special chef's table courses where you sit in the kitchen and get a special menu different than what's available in the main dining room, but the wine pairings are a big part of that experience, and Julie wouldn't be able to participate in that aspect at all in her current condition. So maybe if it's as good as we hope we'll go back next year and do that.

Today is a big day at work: my friend Jeff, who I worked with way back in 1998-1999 at my first real IT job at Sycamore Associates, is joining my team as a web developer.

It's been a long, convoluted process that almost didn't happen at several junctures, so I've been reluctant to write about it at all for fear of jinxing it, but he sold his house in Colorado in early May, closed on a house in Baltimore in late May, and arrived in town with his wife and son about a week ago.

I originally approached him about working for me a couple of years ago when one of my team members left. The job he would have been doing then would have been more database and straight programming focused, with not much emphasis on the web, and because of that and the real estate market at the time, we didn't pursue it seriously. But late last year, my dean and the budget person for our office decided to reclassify an open position on another team into a position on my IT team, and I decided to make it a web-focused position—even though I've been the main person for our web site since I was hired, I'm able to spend less and less of my time working on web tasks, and it was really time for me to get someone who could have that as their number one priority.

I knew Jeff did a lot of stuff with web development, but I had a very specific set of skills in mind when I approached him. I would have given him the job even if he hadn't had some of those skills in his toolbox, because I know he would have learned them, but when I started to talk with him in earnest about what I wanted out of the position, it aligned almost perfectly with what he's been doing for the past several years.

Our initial talks happened way back in December 2009, and after figuring out that what I wanted from the person taking the job and what kind of job he wanted were pretty much the same thing, the next obstacle was figuring out when and if he and his family could relocate from Denver to Baltimore. At that point, they had had their house on the market for a couple of months, and they nearly had a buyer in January which would have enabled them to get out here by March or so at the latest, but that fell through at the last minute when the buyer turned out to be a bit of a lunatic.

Jeff was able to fly out for a round of interviews with my dean and several members of the leadership team in my office (I never get to interview anyone else's candidates, but since my team works with every other team in the office on fairly critical tasks, all the other team leaders want the opportunity to interview my candidates), and he impressed everyone so much that we were willing to wait a few months while he finalized his house sale and made the transition to the east coast. I was willing to put my foot down and insist that this was my candidate and I was going to wait for him as long as I needed to, but I didn't really have to—even my dean, who has a penchant for interviewing way too many candidates for our open positions, agreed that Jeff was the man for the job after interviewing him.

That was back in March, and since then we've just been waiting for his house sale to go through. The timing on this really couldn't have worked out any better—Julie and I found out we were pregnant in October, my dean gave me a new position to create in December, in January we decided on an August 1 launch date for a new web site, we had Jeff hired by April, and he's starting today. It will be a tight timeline to get the new site launched by August, but without the web developer position and with my presumed significant time out of the office in July after our son is born, it would have been impossible. And having Jeff specifically on the job makes that deadline a lot more doable—I trust and respect him as a person and a worker, and it's going to be much easier for me to hand off significant responsibility for our web efforts than it would have been to give it to a stranger given how long our web presence has been my sole domain, and how much it still means to me even though I'm not able to spend as much time on it as I'd like.

I'm very excited about this. It's almost hard to believe it's actually happening, but after a very rough couple of years, this past year has gone ridiculously well—our long-awaited child is coming into the world, I've been given another person for my team, and a good friend and colleague is going to be back in my life working side by side with me every day.

In celebration of our anniversary earlier this week, we had dinner last night at Volt, the restaurant in Frederick run and co-owned by Bryan Voltaggio, the runner-up on the last season of Top Chef, and I have to say it was one of the best dining experiences of my life, and an unexpected surprise in relatively out-of-the-way Frederick, where I used to live and work years ago.

There was a small army of wait staff; you didn't have a specific waiter for your table, but people would tend to you as necessary, keeping your table clear and your water glass full. The menu was arranged so that you had several options for each of four courses: starter, another small plate, entree, and dessert. For my first starter, I chose tuna tartare, which was wrapped in a delicate jasmine rice paper and served with a mousse of avocado and a foam made out of soy sauce. I'm not normally a fan of molecular gastronomic tricks like foams (or airs as the Volt menu referred to them), but that soy foam added just the right hint of soy sauce to the tuna, dissolving into nothing but leaving a distinct soy sauce taste behind.

My second course was a piece of pork belly with calypso beans. The molecular gastronomy trickery with this one—a "veil" of barbecue sauce—was less successful, kind of like a fruit rollup made of barbecue sauce that really didn't fit with the sophisticated tone of the dishes. But the pork belly itself was quite good.

There was also a pork belly option for the entree, but I was good and chose instead the lamb, which came with spinach, eggplant, and mushrooms. I'm not normally a big fan of lamb, so I don't order it too often, and this was easily the best lamb I've ever had. It came with small dabs of curry and sriracha, which you wouldn't have thought were enough for the several slices of lamb, but it turned out they were the perfect amount.

That was something that was astounding about each course and the dinner as a whole: the portions were constrained, but not tiny, so you were able to finish every plate and never feel like you needed more and also never feel like you were overstuffed. It was just the right amount, and the timing of the delivery of each course was impeccable.

For dessert, I actually chose the cheese plate, a selection of four artisan cheeses with toast made from walnut bread. I got a bleu, a parmesan, a cheddar, and some brie-like thing, served in that order from left to right, from strongest to mildest. They were all excellent, but I liked the bleu the best. I also had a glass of house-recommended sauvignon blanc, and it went perfectly with the cheese course.

It wasn't cheap, but for such a high quality experience, it wasn't unreasonable. We'll definitely be back for another special occasion, and we've already talked it up with enough friends that we might go with a group and sit at the chef's table in the kitchen, which has a different menu and lets you watch the kitchen staff in action. All in all a highly satisfying experience.

I have all three discs of Mad Men season 1 waiting for me on the kitchen table courtesy of Netflix, but I haven't watched any episodes yet. I tried to watch this when it first aired on A&E a couple of years ago, but after two or three episodes, I wasn't really into it, so I stopped DVRing it. But now I'm out of other shows to watch on Netflix, and it's garnered such consistently good reviews in subsequent seasons that I'm willing to give it another chance.

Eventually, that is—while those discs have been sitting unopened on the table, I've instead been watching the Netflix streams of the first two seasons of Starz' Party Down, a show that follows the lives of a group of ex- and wanna-be actors whose day job is working for a catering company. It reminds me a little bit of Extras, but you never see the cast on an actual movie or television set—they just talk about their auditions, etc. And although there are occasional guest stars—Star Trek's George Takei and 80s comedy star Steve Guttenberg are the two most prominent so far—the show doesn't center each episode around a different guest, instead focusing on the ensemble cast.

It took me awhile to connect with the characters—I struggled with remembering their names for the first few episodes—but the show has definitely gotten better as it's gone along. Typicially with Netflix streams you have to at least wait for the DVD release of a show to be able to watch the streaming version, but Party Down is in the midst of its second season, and every week at some point after a new episode's premiere on Starz, it becomes available for viewing in the streaming queue, which is pretty cool.

It has supposedly been renewed for a third season, but two of the stars have taken roles on network sitcoms, and they've already lost first season star Jane Lynch to Glee, so it remains to be seen exactly how they'll fill those holes. I guess that's the good thing about doing a show about up-and-coming actors doing a menial job while waiting for their big breaks—it's easy enough to work losses of cast members to more prominent projects into the show in a realistic way.

Busy, busy weekend. Saturday we made a trip up to Pennsylvania to buy fireworks (which is a gamble I'm hoping will pay off—Julie's due date is the end of the first week of July, but if she still hasn't given birth by July 4, I'm expecting we'll have a few friends over like we normally do, and if she's already given birth we'll have family here to celebrate, so the only way we wouldn't use them this year is if she's actually in the hospital on July 4) and then stopped by Ikea on the way back to get the one remaining piece of furniture for the nursery and some additional bookshelves for our downstairs room, where all of my CDs and many of my books will now live.

That was a relatively leisurely day compared to Sunday, when I started putting together all those bookshelves and rearranging the existing furniture downstairs. I started around 10 in the morning, and aside for a 40 minute break for lunch and a short trip to Home Depot and Radio Shack later in the afternoon, I didn't stop until around 8:00 at night. I made good progress, though—we finalized the layout of the downstairs area, I got all the bookshelves assembled and put in their place, and I got the little tv we use for the Wii and the treadmill hooked up in its new location, so the skeleton is there.

Now I just need to move all of the stuff that we've been storing in the guest bedroom onto the new shelves and then move some stuff in the guest bedroom closet, which I'm hoping to do by the end of the week depending on how busy our evenings are. But I'll definitely have it done by the end of next weekend, and hopefully all we'll have left that's out of place at that point are some randome boxes of stuff that we can keep out of the way in a corner of the guest bedroom until we figure out a long term solution.

And then all we have to do is wait...

Note to my futbol-addled fellow countrymen: two weeks ago, you didn't give a fuck about soccer, and I still don't. So quit talking about it like any of us is going to think about the sport again for another four years after the US is eliminated from contention.

I really wasn't planning to buy the iPhone 4—the improvements over last year's iPhone 3GS (which I currently own after upgrading from the original iPhone last summer) like a front-facing video camera, an improved still camera, an LED flash, a new form factor, and a higher resolution screen just weren't enough for me to justify an upgrade. But then I read about the ability of the video camera to shoot in HD, and I started looking at it more seriously.

See, we don't have a video camera, and with the baby coming, we figure it's time to get one. We were just going to get one of those Flip Cams, but since those cost about $200 for 8 gigs of flash memory and the same shooting resolution as the iPhone 4 with 32 gigs of memory, and the iPhone 4 would only cost me an extra $100, I figured it might be worth it when you throw in all those other things the iPhone can do. Plus then Julie could inherit my 3GS, which also shoots video (although not HD) and has a much improved still camera over her current iPhone 3G.

Once we made this decision, I started working on a game plan for the preorder, because the official release date for iPhone 4 (June 24) is less than two weeks from Julie's due date, so we wanted to make sure we had it as early as possible in case the baby decided to make an early appearance. Originally I had planned to show up at one of the local Apple stores a couple hours before opening on the morning preorders started (June 15), but then I read that Apple would let you preorder using an iPhone app, and that Radio Shack would also be taking preorders.

Since we have a Radio Shack right up the road that I don't think does a lot of volume, I decided to try and do an in-person preorder there, and as a backup try to preorder the new model using the Apple store app (neither Radio Shack nor the app required a deposit or payment in full). Not knowing exactly what to expect in terms of crowds, I showed up at Radio Shack about half an hour before it opened yesterday, and while I waited for it to open, I repeatedly tried to reserve an iPhone 4 at one of my local brick and mortar Apple stores using the new Apple store app. But that application kept crashing and I didn't really get anywhere.

I was the only one at Radio Shack when they opened, so I asked the lone worker about an iPhone 4 preorder, and although he seemed dimly aware of it, he was much less knowledgeable than the employees I had asked about it the previous weekend. And when he took my preorder, all he did was write down my name and phone number on a sticky note next to the cash register—he didn't even ask what model I wanted. I told him and made him write it down next to my name, but I wasn't feeling good about the way that process went, so I decided to keep trying the Apple store app.

I didn't have much luck with that either until later in the day, when I somehow got through and was able to reserve a 32 gig black iPhone 4 for release day at the Columbia Apple Store. And the Radio Shack folks made me feel a little better about their process when they called me at the number I had left with them to get my email address and confirm my preorder.

So I theorectically have an iPhone 4 reserved for me at both Radio Shack and an Apple retail store, although really, anything could happen with the glut of preorders they've had. Hopefully I'll be able to pick one up somewhere on release day, because otherwise I'm guessing it will be a month or more before they become more widely available given the extremely high demand for them right now. That's not the end of the world—my current iPhone does shoot video, just not in HD—but it would be nice to have all this wrapped up before the baby comes.

Julie is officially full-term today and it's only another three weeks until her official due date. It's right on top of us, but the time between now and whenever she delivers, especially if it's on or after her due date, is going to feel like forever. We've been waiting for this for so long...

Look, I'm no fan of the Lakers or Kobe. But I take genuine pleasure in the tears of Boston sports fans, so last night's game 7 was just about all I could have hoped for.

Since getting rid of manager Dave Trembley, the Orioles have only won 4 of their 15 games, a winning percentage of .267. Their winning percentage for all of their game this season with Dave Trembley: .278. Now I'm not saying he was or is a great manager, but he also clearly wasn't the problem with this team.

Here we are, almost halfway through the season, and they have yet to notch their 20th win (they are sitting at 19-50 for the year). If you doubled their win total—DOUBLED IT—they would still be tied for last place in their division. As it is, they are more games behind the leaders in their division—23 games back—than they have wins for the season. The next worst team in the majors, the Pittsburgh Pirates, who just came off a 12 game losing streak, are still six games ahead of the Orioles.

This team is just bad. I mean expansion team bad, and if they don't pick it up at some point (and this team is known for second half swoons, if that's even possible when you're already sitting at a sub-.300 winning percentage), record-settingly bad.

Baltimore sports fans are very loyal and very enthusiastic, but after a decade plus of being just plain awful and with no signs of getting any better, how long are they supposed to hang in there? I mean, we're not Cubs fans, for god's sake. We deserve better. We have a great stadium, decent mid-market television revenue, and an owner with deep pockets. AL East or not, this organization could find a way to win—I mean, look at Tampa Bay, currently sitting atop the AL East above the Yankees and Red Sox and only a season removed from a World Series appearance.

We had partial season tickets for several years, but we quit buying those a few years ago, partially because our schedules were becoming more difficult to navigate and partially because the team just wasn't any good and didn't seem interested in getting better. We still went to a few games a year, including Opening Day, but we didn't even make it to Opening Day last year. We haven't seen any games in person this year, and I'd be surprised if that changes—even if their play improves, this is already a lost season.

I miss the atmosphere of the stadium, but at least when we went to games, there was reasonable hope that the team could win. I don't know how anyone who's still bothering to show up (and that's unsurprisingly not many people—for games when they're playing someone other than New York or Boston, they seem to be averaging around 20,000 in attendance, about half of the stadium's normal capacity) can reasonably expect anything other than a loss at this point.

One of the reasons we set the nursery up a month early was so we could open up that room and let the cats get used to it (we had previously used it as basically a storage room that the cats weren't allowed in). We especially wanted them to get used to the crib, to make sure that they didn't start jumping in it and sleeping in it.

They pretty much ignored it for awhile—until we hung up the mobile. Shortly after that, we caught the big cat, Oliver, in the crib batting at the sea creatures hanging from the mobile's octopus arms, and we knew it was time to put the Balloon Defense into effect. This meant blowing up about 20 balloons and putting them in the crib, so that when one of the cats jumped in, they would land on the balloons and pop them with their extended claws, which would hopefully terrify them enough that they would jump out of the crib immediately and never want to go back.

And sure enough, about 10 minutes after Julie went to bed on the first night we put the balloons in the crib, we heard two pops in a row come from the nursery, and when we turned on the hall light, we found Oliver crouched on the ground, ready to take flight. Up until that point, we weren't really sure if he was still going in the crib (we had really only caught him in there that once), but now it was clear that he had been making regular visits, and that the balloons had had their intended effect on him.

We left the balloons that were still intact in the crib just in case he needed a reminder that the crib was a very bad place to visit, but so far they are all still there, and Oliver seems to have lost interest in the crib and the mobile, returning to his original spot on the rocking chair for his afternoon naps.

I knew there was a reason why, even after I was the first and only person who showed up at my local Radio Shack when they opened on June 15 to preorder my iPhone 4 from them, I continued to try to preorder one at the Apple Store closest to me: Radio Shack totally screwed me over.

Yesterday I was in a meeting from 2 to about 4:30, and when I got out, I noticed there had been a phone call from someone in my town. I didn't recognize the number, but I called it back because our home phone has been on the fritz recently and I've been giving out my cell number to a lot of businesses, etc., so I've been getting a lot more mobile calls from people not in my address book. "Radio Shack, how may I help you?", the voice on the other end said. I explained that I had gotten a phone call from them when I was in a meeting, and that it was probably related to an iPhone 4 preorder.

He put the phone down for a moment to retrieve my information, and when he got back on the line, he said that, yes, they had called about my iPhone preorder. They had gotten four iPhone 4s in, and I was third on the list. I was about to ask how I had gotten to be only third on the list when I know for a fact that I put in the first preorder at that store (I was there when the doors opened, and there was no one in the store except me and the one employee on duty when I put in my preorder), but then I figured, what does it matter, I'm getting a phone.

But instead of telling me when I could come in to pick up my phone on Thursday, he told me that since I hadn't answered when he called (mind you, they never said they were going to call back about preorders, and certainly not what day and approximate time they would call), he had called the next person on the list, and that all of the phones they were receiving on launch day were now spoken for.

So then I explained to him that I actually was the first person on the list, and that since they hadn't told me to expect a call, it would have been much more appropriate to leave a message and give me an hour or two to return the call rather than to immediately call the next person on the list. I told him about showing up first thing on the morning of the preorder and about coming in two days before that to check on procedures for the preorder to make sure that I would be early enough to guarantee my preorder. He apologized and said that he would call me first when the next shipment came in "sometime next week". "What if I'm not able to answer my phone immediately when you call then?" I asked, and he didn't have an answer for that. Then I asked to speak to the store manager.

His response, of course: "I am the manager." I spent a few more minutes telling him how poor a customer experience this had been and again explaining that I had come in two days before to understand the procedure, that I had followed their procedure exactly, and that I had also been the first person to place a preorder in his store. "What do you want me to do?" he asked, "Call one of the other people lower on the list and tell them that someone higher on the list was getting theirs?" "Yes," I said, "that's exactly what I want you to do." Then things got really surreal when he claimed that there was no list and no ranking and there weren't even really any preorders.

I reiterated my complaints one last time, said thanks when he offered no response, and hung up. I don't believe that he's actually going to call me back when a new stock of iPhones comes in, but if he does, my response, whether or not I've managed to acquire an iPhone 4 from a different retailer at that point, will be to tell him that not only am I not going to buy an iPhone from him, I'm not ever going to shop in his store again. Sure, his store is the closest electronics store to our house, but there's a Best Buy not 20 minutes away, and I'm sure there are at least two Radio Shacks in that same radius. This was a bad enough customer experience, and a bad enough response from a supposed store manager (I'm still not sure if I buy that), that I have no reason to ever give them my business again.

Luckily, I was able to somehow get a preorder in at a nearby Apple Store using the Apple Store app, and I've recieved two confirmation emails from Apple in the last week that they will have an iPhone 4 ready for me as long as I visit the store on June 24. I'm also considering hitting the local Walmart when they first open just to avoid the crowds at the Apple Store, but I'm reasonably confident that I'll find some way to get an iPhone 4 on launch day. So while I was pissed at the way Radio Shack handled the situation, I'm not nearly as irritated as I would have been if I didn't have other options.

Off to see what kind of price I'm going to have to pay for the incompetency of Radio Shack. Best case scenario, I'm in and out in 2-3 hours. Worst case scenario: I blow a whole day and still don't end up with a phone. Let's see what fate has in store for me today.

My life can now be divided into two parts: my life before I waited in line at the Apple Store Columbia for an iPhone 4, and my life after. That shit changes you, man...

Our long national nightmare is finally over. You can all now go back to your regularly scheduled lives of not giving a damn about soccer.

In other sports news: the Orioles not only finally crossed the 20 win barrier this weekend against the Nationals, but they won FOUR GAMES IN A ROW, bringing their winning percentage above .300 for the first time since mid-May. A three-game winning streak in mid-May is also the last time the team won two or more games in a row, but this current streak is the only time this year they've strung together four wins straight. Granted, these four wins were against Florida and Washington, who both have losing records and are battling for last place in the NL East, but still, before this weekend, the Orioles were hands-down the worst team in baseball.

And they still have the worst record, but with this winning streak and the epic failure of the Pirates (who are currently on a 6 game losing streak after suffering through a 12 game losing streak with only 2 wins in between, making them 2 for their last 20), the Os have a chance to change that as well—with 23 wins under their belt now, they have a real chance to surpass Pittsburgh's current 25.

I mean, they're still screwed—they have no chance to turn this into a winning season, much less a season with a shot at the playoffs, but if this group of mostly young players can gain some confidence, put together a few winning streaks, and end the season on a strong note, they have a much better chance of making a real season of it next year. And Baltimore fans deserve at least that much; it has been a long decade plus since the last winning season in 1997, and it's time to give them some real hope.

My beloved Braves, meanwhile, are having their best season since their unprecedented string of playoff appearances ended back in 2005 (they've actually had two winning seasons since then, but neither was good enough for a playoff appearance). They're currently tied for the most wins in the National League and they're leading the very tough NL East division. After struggling out of the gate and finishing April with a 9 game losing streak, they have surged over the past two months, going for 37 for 55 with a 9 game win streak and two 5 game win streaks in that period.

The Mets are breathing down their necks, and the Phillies aren't too far behind either, so a division win and/or a playoff appearance is by no means a lock, but they've at least got a decent shot, and since this is Bobby Cox's last season and it could be Chipper Jones' last season, it would be nice to end this remarkable era in the Braves' history on a high note.

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