september 2010

Our hot water has been restored, along with no small amount of our sanity.

The Braves are having a remarkable season, and as of today they are leading their division and are three games ahead of the Phillies. This could certainly change in the next month—only a fool would write off the Phillies in their current incarnation—but the Braves also have a pretty good lead in the wild card race should the Phillies pass them in the NL East, and it's looking likely that, barring an utter collapse, they'll be back in the postseason for the first time since 2005, when their remarkable run of 14 straight playoff appearances came to an end.

This would be a great way to cap off manager Bobby Cox's career (he announced in the preseason that he would be retiring after this season), but it sucks that Chipper Jones, a franchise player and the only player left from the 1995 World Series team, tore his ACL a few weeks ago and won't be back until next season if he returns to baseball at all (interestingly, a torn ACL is what kept Chipper from playing in 1994, which was supposed to be his rookie season, so if he retires now, his MLB career will be bookended with seasons lost to the same injury).

It also sucks that I've only been able to watch three or four games this year; even though TBS still broadcasts baseball games, they aren't the Braves network anymore, and you're much more likely to see the Yankees or the Red Sox on TBS than the Braves these days. But it's an exciting team with pitching that is as solid as any rotation since the mid-90s heyday and an offense that can put up some solid numbers behind Jason Heyward, a rookie who looks to be the most likely candidate to replace Chipper as the new face of the franchise (although the offense is what I'm most worried about if they do make it to the postseason).

As for the Orioles...well, at least they're not the worst team in the majors anymore. I mean, they're still the second worst, and they're the worst in their league, but the hapless Pirates continued bumbling and the Orioles minor resurgence under new manager Buck Showalter (they have a winning record, going 17-12, since he took over the club on August 3, compared to the 32-73 record they had this season before he was put in charge) have given the team a chance to moved into second to last place and even potentially have a shot at not being the worst team in their league by season's end.

That doesn't change the fact that it's still been a horrible season, or the fact that they are still going to finish dead last in their division (they're easily going to finish at least 10—and maybe more like 20—games behind the fourth place Blue Jays, and it's not a stretch to think that they will finish 40 games behind the Yankees or Devil Rays, one of whom will take the division while the other takes the wild card for the AL).

If Showalter can keep them on track the rest of this year and keep the momentum going next season, at least it will give the Baltimore fans some hope for the future. But when you have three teams in your division (Yankees, Red Sox, and Devil Rays) that are talented and/or rich enough to produce winning squads year after year, even a .586 winning percentage (their number under Showalter so far) won't be enough to earn a trip to the playoffs. And after such a long drought, that's what it's going to take to reinvigorate the fan base in this town.

It was a year ago today that I had the last sugared soft drink that I ever intend to drink. On September 4 of last year, I switched to diet sodas, changed my diet to focus more on proteins and whole grains (god I miss french fries), and started trying to exercise for at least 25 minutes at least five times a week (I tried to exercise every day, alternating between strength training and cardio).

The diet part has gone reasonably well—even in a non-Whole Foods grocery store (we shop at Safeway usually), there's an abundance of whole grain carbs on the shelves these days, from more common pastas and breads to pizza crusts, tortillas, and snack crackers. And even though I still have a hard time drinking diet Coke, I can't taste the difference between diet and regular in citrus-based sodas like Sprite, Mountain Dew, and Sierra Mist (so those are pretty much what I drink now when I want a soda).

I was really good with the exercise portion until March or April of this year when I started to do a lot more work around the house to get ready for Will's arrival. Whenever I would do more than half an hour of hard labor moving things or putting together furniture (and I was often doing several hours at a stretch) or whenever I would work in the yard, I would count that as my daily exercise, and when I stopped needing to do those things as often, I had gotten out of the habit of lifting weights, using the treadmill, or working out to a Wii Active routine, and I just never got back into it (because, you know, routines and newborns go so well together).

But the anniversary of my new approach to health seems like a good time to get back into it, so starting tomorrow, I'll have exercise as a part of my daily activities again. It's going to be hard to stick to a routine given Will's demanding presence in our lives and a work schedule that will get more complicated once Julie returns to her office and we have to coordinate dropping off at and picking up from daycare, but I have to find a way to keep this up.

As my monitors and their maximum resolutions have become bigger and bigger over the past few years, it's become harder and harder for me to read my own site at the font size that I have set as the default. So I've bumped that up starting today. It's not a huge change—10 pixels to 11 pixels—but it makes a big difference in readability to me.

I haven't brought my lunch to work and have boycotted the office kitchen for five years because, back in our old building (where we shared a kitchen with another office), my frozen meals would regularly disappear between 8:30 a.m. when I arrived and 1:00 p.m. when I usually ate lunch. But we've been in a new building that houses just my office for the last three years, and even though there have been reports of theft, the suspects are typically the overnight custodial and security staff since most stuff seemed to disappear from one workday to the next.

So a couple of weeks ago, I decided to start bringing in frozen meals again (I've been so pressed for time recently that I would typically end up skipping lunch altogether because I didn't have time to walk somewhere to get lunch most days), figuring that as long as I brought one in in the morning and ate it that day that I'd be safe.

And you can probably guess what what I'm going to tell you next: yesterday, my fifth or sixth day of brining in frozen meals, I put my meal in the freezer at 9:00 a.m., and when I went upstairs to heat it up at 12:30 p.m., it was gone. And I couldn't have been more furious.

There was one other meal in the freezer that had similar packaging (it was from the same line as the meal I'd brought, and they were both asian noodle dishes), and my best hope is that someone didn't remember what they'd brought and just took the first meal with that packaging that they saw, not knowing that it belonged to someone else (I took to writing my name on my lunch in the old building, even though that didn't seem to deter the thieves at all, but I didn't think I needed to do that anymore). I'm still pissed about it, but if it doesn't happen again for several more months, I'm willing to consider that it was just an honest mistake.

In the meantime, I'm going to use a suggestion from Julie that, instead of (or in addition to) writing my name on the box, I also wrap my meal in a plastic grocery bag so that no one will accidentally mistake my meal for theirs. Hopefully this will work out and I won't have any further accidental or purposeful thefts; with my current schedule, I really need to be able to bring my lunch to work with me so I can grab a quick meal in the few minutes that I seem to have free during the day, but being stolen from makes me so angry that I'd rather go without lunch than regularly deal with being a victim of theft.

I finally made it to the post office over the weekend to send back my final two discs of season 3 of Mad Men, and yesterday their replacements arrived: the two discs for season 7 of Larry David's Curb Your Enthusiasm. The first five seasons of that show just killed me; when I discovered them (via Netflix, of course), I couldn't get enough, and I often watched each episode twice before sending the discs back.

Season 6 was a bit of a bummer though, because it reflected some of Larry's real life drama of his wife leaving him for another man. Simultaneously, the plots started to spin off into wildly improbable territory, with Larry taking up with a member of the family of Katrina refugees that his wife had moved into the house as an act of charity.

I've only watched two episodes of season 7 so far (I couldn't resist a second helping after watching the first one), and it looks like the Katrina family plotline is going to be quickly wrapped up. I like some of those characters, but what I liked about this show was that it always seemed like the ridiculous coincidences in the stories had some grounding in Larry's reality, and this storyline just didn't. Combined with his obvious pain in working through his real-life divorce, it made the season feel flat and hurtful, and for once I wasn't immediately hungering for a follow-up.

But it's been over a year since I watched that season, and I miss Larry and his bizarre world, so I'm eager to get past the lingering remnants of season 6 and get back to more of the show I came to love in the first five seasons.

Will is two months old today, and he's due for another checkup. We think everything should be okay—he eats well, uses the bathroom regularly, and doesn't seem to have anything wrong with him—but he's also due to get some shots, which I'm sure isn't going to be fun.

This last week or so he's really started to smile more and even laugh a little. He's can still be pretty fussy when he's awake and not eating, but he's having more and more lucid periods where he wants to just look at stuff, and he's especially enamored of the mirror image of himself he can see when he's in his swing (we call his reflection "sky baby", and whenever he remembers about it and looks up at himself, he smiles and smiles).

We've still got a few weeks to go before he's really out of this fussier phase, but we are seeing him turn a corner, and it's nice to see a light at the end of the tunnel where we can look forward to him really developing a personality and interacting with us and the world more.


We haven't taken Will on too many outings yet—trips to the grocery store or Walmart every now and then, and a quick trip to Hampden to visit Squidfire and Atomic Books—but nothing major. So this weekend we decided to take him to Hampdenfest, because it's pretty easy to get in and out of if he was being fussy.

We met Connie and Jeff and their son Noah there, although we got there about 45 minutes before they did and we got separated after half an hour or so. But still, it was fun to take him out, and when he wasn't sleeping, he really seemed to enjoy all the new sights and sounds.

We also took him to church on Sunday for the first time, but that mostly consisted of me taking him out to the lobby to walk around with him and even down to the basement when he was really fussy (it was raining that day, so I couldn't take him outside). We did manage to sneak up for his communion blessing, but he was probably in the pew for no more than 10 minutes of the hourlong service.

Overall, he's still on the fussy side, but he's getting better, and he could certainly be worse. But I'm really looking forward to a few months from now when he'll start to turn into something other than a fickle creature of sometimes-hard-to-decipher needs.

We got a few test iPads at work a month or so ago, including one for my team (we're responsible for the web site and other online marketing efforts), but I hadn't really played around with it much because it wanted to be attached to someone's iTunes account, and since it was supposed to be for my whole team to share, I didn't want to attach it to mine. I thought I could get around this by creating a new iTunes account, but that process requires a credit card number even if you don't intend to buy anything.

So it sat on a shelf in my office for a while, until I decided last week that the issue with the iTunes account was never going to be satisfactorily resolved and it was time to just hook it up to my account and start playing with it. So when we brought Will back to my office for a diaper change and a feeding before heading back home on Saturday afternoon, I took the opportunity to get it set up and connected to the campus wireless network before taking it home.

I played with it a good amount the rest of the weekend, and while it's pretty cool (I'd still buy one for myself if the price point was below $200), there are some flaws that need to be (and likely will be) corrected in future versions. One is the weight, which many reviewers have complained about. It's a really cool device to have on the couch so you can check email and surf the web while half-watching a show (or keeping track of your fantasy football teams while watching the Sunday NFL games), but it does get heavy after a while, and I can't imagine sitting with it for two or three hours to do something like read an e-book (I didn't use to think this, but after using this first generation of the iPad, I actually believe there's space for both devices to coexist, at least for the next couple of years).

Another irritating issue is that many developers have created iPad-specific versions of their apps, but they don't give you a free version for the iPad or even a slight discount if you've already purchased the iPhone version. And worse yet, the iPad apps seem to average $5-$10 (as opposed to $1-$3 for the iPhone), so it becomes a very expensive proposition to maintain the same set of apps for both devices. Hopefully Apple will encourage developers to lower the iPad app costs and also release universal versions that will run properly on both the iPad and iPhone (or iPod touch), but right now, I'm betting most iPad customers don't think much of spending $5 or so for apps, even when they've purchased the same app for their iPhones already. But that will change as the user base of the iPad grows and the price for the entry level model comes down, and developers will hopefully change with it.

I decided to take today off after two nights in a row of driving down to DC to see shows at the 9:30 Club. Normally I still try to check work email a few times a day when I'm taking a day off (as long as I'm not out of town and really on vacation), but today I'm going to try to skip that and have a genuine day without work.

Work is more complicated and less fun than it used to be. I know that this statement is pretty much always true—when you do a good job, your work life almost always gets more complicated and less fun as they give you additional responsibilities—but I feel like I'm maxing out on how much I can handle, even with the addition of two new positions to my team within the past six months.

I'd like to think that at some point we'd get past the growing pains of all the new responsibilties and tasks that come along with additional personnel, but honestly, I think I can keep these two people busy for a couple of years with the backlog of work that we have, and my other two folks are already booked up year round (as am I). By the time we settle into maintenance mode on all the new stuff we're working on now, I'm sure that other tasks will have piled up and we'll all still be very busy.

I mean, it's good to be busy, especially in this economy. But it's not good to be so busy that you feel rushed and frantic, at least not every day, and especially when there's no end in sight.

I've gotten comfortable with most of the clear and yellow citrus-oriented diet soft drinks—7-Up, Sprite, Mountain Dew, ginger ale, etc.—but I've been struggling to find a dark cola that doesn't taste of the diet chemical burn. Diet Coke, Diet Pepsi, Diet Dr. Pepper, Coke Zero, Cherry Coke Zero—none of them worked.

I decided to give the new Pepsi Max (which I guess is their product that's equivalent to Coke Zero) a try without much hope that it would be any better than the rest, but to my surprise, it's actually pretty good. When it's ice cold, I can't taste much of a difference between what I remember of regular Pepsi and this version (it's slightly off, like the difference between RC Cola and Pepsi, but it doesn't have that diet taste).

I recently got back in touch with an old friend and found out that he now works for Apple as the lead interaction designer on one of their big software products. In one of our email exchanges, I jokingly ended with this:

Say hi to Steve for me—if he wants to send me the next gen iPad for field testing, let him know I'd be happy to help for a small fee.

His next email to me:

Steve says that you are now at the back of a very long line.

It's the iPhone 4 launch day experience all over again...

The Ravens didn't really deserve to win their first game, but they didn't really deserve to lose their second. True, the offense never really got anything going, but there was a bad penalty call at the end that may have put the nail in the coffin (and they were doing really well minimizing the stupid penalties that nearly wrecked their season last year, so it was especially crushing to see that penalty get called).

But I think I can now add the Bengals to the list of teams that, as a Ravens fan, I'm officially supposed to hate (along with the Browns, the Redskins, the Steelers, the Colts, and the Eagles). Next week is the home opener, and it's against Cleveland, so hopefully we'll be looking at a second win. But they've got to do something to get the ball to the receivers; once opponents see that they can't ignore the passing game, they'll make more opportunities for Ray Rice on the ground.

There's a stretch on the Baltimore beltway that has been labeled a work zone (although I never see any actually construction work being done), which in Maryland means that the authorities are allowed to install a speed camera if they wish. Just to make sure the revenue piles up appropriately, they also lowered the speed limit in that zone (compared to a similar construction zone on I-95 outside of DC, where the speed limit remains the same as it was pre-work zone designation).

We have never been able to tell where the speed cameras actually are, though, which means that you have to stick to the ridiculous lower speed limit for the entire work zone or risk a ticket. It seems like the only place they could put one was attached to a bridge, but we could never see one, and we wondered if they actually existed or if they were hoping the threat alone would be enough to slow people down (although it was difficult for me to believe that it was about safety and not revenue, since almost every speed or red light camera becomes seen as primarily a revenue source even if intial intentions were good). Then a coworker forwarded this video to me:

Survivor is going to be weird this season. I thought they might have voted off the daffiest person the first week, but the longer these idiots are on camera and the more words come out of their mouth, the more apparent it becomes that there are some seriously messed up people on both tribes (but especially the young folks).

Will has been doing great with his sleeping this week. Julie went in to introduce him to the woman who will be his daycare provider three days a week starting in November, and she had a semi-major freakout after realizing that there was going to be someone else caring for him during the day in the not-too-distant future. She chose to hang most of her anxiety on the fact that his sleep patterns don't match up with the daycare lady's preferred schedule, so after calming herself down, she set out to see if she could get him on that schedule using the same methods to calm him that the daycare lady uses.

And for the most part it's been working. He's been going down for morning and afternoon naps and putting himself to sleep after 3-5 minutes of fussing (we typically would hold him and rock him to sleep, and then put him in his crib after he was already asleep), and he's been sleeping a terrific amount overnight (most nights it's been 8-9 hours, but he's had a couple of 10-11 hour nights too).

So she's less freaked out about that aspect, but I think it's still hard for her to think of someone else taking care of him part of the time. Luckily, we have another month to transition—she'll go back to work next week, but we're having the three grandmothers each come up here for a week to take care of him during the day (my mom, my stepmother, and Julie's mom), and then I'm going to take the last week of October off to take care of him. I'll also be the person who drops him off at daycare in the morning, so Julie won't have to be the one actually leaving him with someone else—she'll be the person picking him up to take him home at the end of the day.

I'm sure it's still going to be tough for her—it was tough for me when I first started going back to work full time after he was born, and I don't have the same bond with him that she's developed as his mother. But I think she'll find a way to get through it.

My dad and stepmother came up for a visit over the weekend to see Will, the first time they've been able to get back since he was born in July. We had dinner Friday night, and just kind of hung out all day on Saturday. My brother was also fortuitously in town for training this week, so he got to spend some time with us all as well.

On Sunday the original plan was to go to church, but my brother was sick and we decided to meet for an early brunch to check out a restaurant we were considering for the post-baptism lunch. After that, we all headed back to the house and I got Will in his Ravens onesie for Baltimore's home opener. My dad and I sat with Will and watched the game together—we're going to keep him away from tv for the first couple of years of his life, but I'm going to make an exception for Ravens games.

They left on Monday morning, so it was a good but short visit, but they'll see him a good bit in the coming weeks—Rachel is coming up for half a week to watch him while we're at work in mid-October, and then they'll both come up for his baptism the weekend of November 7. And then there's Thanksgiving, and Christmas, and maybe a trip to Snowshoe in February. So even if they don't make any other special trips up to see him, they should get plenty of time with him in the next few months.

Whatever Dodd was sick with on Sunday he seems to have passed on to me—I was out of commission yesterday, and although I'm feeling a bit better today, I still wasn't up to going into work. I hate taking sick time when there's so much to do at work, but I'd rather be out and done with it in a couple of days than force myself to go in and drag it out for a week (and probably infect my coworkers in the bargain).

My sleep patterns were all messed up today after two days of pretty much sleeping all the time, so when I woke up at 5:00 a.m. and realized that I would likely spend the next two hours staring at the ceiling and thinking about work, I figured I might as well just go in and get credit for thinking about work.

I got in around 6:30, and so had a couple of hours with no one else in the office where I could get caught up on email and figure out my priorities for the day. I also decided to work through lunch so I could leave even earlier and pick up Will's birth announcements from the photo lab on the way home.

Will has been very chatty this week, going back and forth with Julie with coos a few times a day. She tries to capture it on video for me, but as soon as he sees the iPhone, he shuts up and just stares at it. I haven't gotten him to really chat with me, but I think I'm still enough of a stranger because of my work schedule that when he sees me, he's more interested in studying me than he is in talking. I don't take it personally, though—I'm just happy to see him developing. Every week there's something new, and I know it won't be long before he's moving around on his own and talking and becoming a real little person.

I finished season 7 of Curb Your Enthusiasm and now I'm on to season 4 of Dexter. I gorged on this show when I first discovered it, so I haven't seen an episode in many months, and it's been a little hard to get back into it. Thanks to the entertainment press, I already know how this season ends, and I'm almost more anxious for the next season, because I was never a fan of the whole Dexter-as-family-man angle they've pushed hard for the last season or two.

And even though I love John Lithgow, I'm finding his character here a bit boring and obvious, although I'm only two episodes in and we don't really know a whole lot about his motivations, etc., yet. I'm sure it will get more engrossing, but I'm tired of shows taking a third of the season (or half, if you're Mad Men) to really get going with the primary arc of the season, and I just want the writers to get into the thick of things faster.



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